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Gorilla Tourism in Virunga gives new hope to Congo

The D.R.Congo for a long period of time has suffered corruption and political instability and a bad civil war that claimed lives of more than six million locals which has made the county a threat for travelers. The county has a lot to offer travelers and would be considered to be a travelers paradise had it not been for the political instabilities in the country.

Today as peace has come back to the Congo, the Virunga national park – Africa’s oldest park located in the east of the county bordering Rwanda and Uganda, reopened this year. The Virunga is a place worth visiting comprising of 3,000 square miles of snow-capped mountains, glaciers, active volcanoes, lush mountain forest and Savannah.

In the Virunga forest, the Congolese park rangers fighting to protect many of the world’s last 880 mountain gorillas who live in the Virunga ranges from poachers and a the big threat of the British oil company -Soco International which is planning to explore oil in the park.

The Virunga Park is now open to clients and accommodation around the park is open to travelers coming to the park to visit the southern sector to trek mountain gorillas as well as see other primates species and the beautiful landscape including mesmerizing views of the Nyiragongo lave lake.

Comparing to the growth of tourism in Congo’s neighbors of Rwanda and Uganda, the tourism potential of Congo doesn’t seem to be utilized and developed. Comparing to neighbor Rwanda, her direct revenue from gorilla permits is estimated at $15m a year. Virunga national park could generate as much or more revenue from its tourist attractions if developed and preserved. In 2010 and 2011, Virunga’s luxury Mikeno Lodge hosted 5,000 tourists, generating over $1m in revenue.

The park can be accessed through flying into Kigali airport in Rwanda for your gorilla safari then take a three-hour taxi ride to the border crossing at Gisenyi via the Goma border . The park provides secure transportation to its headquarters though clients are advised to arrange transportation services by hiring a car or booking via a local travel agency in Rwanda to different accommodations in the Virunga including – Rumangabo, where Mikeno Lodge offers 12 luxury bungalows. Excursions include spectacular Nyiragongo volcano, where trekkers can also camp in the collection of 12 shelters on the summit of Mount Nyiragongo, next to the lava lake.

Just outside the park boundary is Bukima Tented Camp, one of the main starting points for Virunga mountain gorilla treks, with six luxury tents and views of 4,437m Mount Mikeno. A shared tent is $325 per night B&B, while doubles at Mikeno Lodge are US$325. A permit to trek at Nyiragongo, including accommodation in the huts, costs $255.

It may be luxurious, but visiting Virunga will help save the gorillas, and is a statement of support for the honorable rangers who have lost many of their colleagues in recent times, fighting on the front line of conservation to protect an asset, not only for their country, but for the rest of humanity.

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