Kahuzi-Beiga National Park is located in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo approximately 40 km from Bakuvu town in South Kivu Province close to Lake Kivu and the western border of Rwanda and DRC. It was gazetted in 1970 to protect and conserve the critically endangered Eastern lowland gorilla (Grauer’s gorillas) which is the largest of all gorilla subspecies in Africa.
The park is also a home to 135 mammals, 336 birds and 12 species of primates including chimpanzee. The park was named after two volcanoes Mt. Kahuzi and Mt. Beiga which make the park both mountainous and low-lying giving it a diversity of habitats where many Albertine rift endemic species can be spotted. Other species include 69 species of reptiles and 44 species of amphibians.
With approximately less 4,000 eastern lowland gorillas left in the wild today which largely live outside the protected areas, Kahuzi-Beiga National Park a UNESCO world heritage site is a home to 250 individuals. The Congolese Institute for Wildlife and Nature Conservation in partnership with other conservation organizations amidst wars has relentlessly protected the gorillas, other wildlife and their habitats. This has encouraged lowland gorilla tourism in the park for more than 6 years given that tourism helps to generate funds caring for conservation and helping people around the park with alternative sources of income to reduce poverty.
Although DR Congo has always been associated with a bad image due to civil wars, Kahuzi-Beiga National park experienced less havoc keeping it fairly safe and secure because civil conflicts largely affected the Virunga National Park in the eastern parts and Northern Kivu Province. Hence the park offers the most unsurpassed Eastern lowland gorilla trekking experience in Africa.
Throughout the conflicts and civil wars in the 1990’s, eastern lowland gorillas in the park were also affected to a lesser extent. Lowland gorillas including other wildlife were also being killed, poached and their habitat encroached upon which prompted the ICCN to establish its presence and re-launch low land gorilla tourism. Today the park receives few visitors who mainly come for Eastern lowland gorilla trekking safaris and also view other wildlife or visit communities.
In addition to conservation and protection of eastern lowland gorillas, efforts have been spearheaded through initiatives such as habituation of new gorilla families, setting up a tourist visitor center and accommodations, creation of other tourism activities like birding, volcano hiking, empowering local people, training and equipping of wildlife rangers in order to facilitate long tourist stay in park. This has also established tourism as a major source of sustainable revenues for conservation and community development.
Eastern low land gorilla trekking is the most tourist activity done in the park. Two gorilla families have been habituated while the other two are still under habituation and will soon add up to 4 families. The habituated ones are much well loved by tourists because they have large numbers including silverbacks, females, infants, juveniles and sub silverbacks.
Treks are easy if one is fairly fit since the terrain is much low-lying and less mountainous. Treks start with a briefing from the guides and all trekkers will be requested to wear masks not transmit coughs or colds to gorillas. It’s better to have hiking gears such as boots, rain jackets, packed food and camera equipment.
Trekking starts at Tshivanga the main tourist centre in the park and may last for 1 to 6 hours depending on where the guides shall locate the gorillas but time spent with gorillas is strictly one hour. Tourists need to book their DR Congo lowland gorilla safari with a safari company which can also secure for you the gorilla permits (each at $400 per person), DRC tourist visas and accommodations of course in advance. Contact your operator for more ground details.
The park can be easily accessed using your tour operator from neighboring Kigali Rwanda hence giving you a chance if possible to also trek mountain gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda. From Kigali it takes 5-6 hours crossing over the border at Cyangugu/ kamembe to the park while from Burundi it takes 3 hours to reach the park. Those in Goma city can get to the park both on water and land. There are speed boats taking 2 hours or slow ones for 6 hours via Lake Kivu.
Flights may be quick from Kigali airport to Goma but will still require short road drives to the park.