NYT 52 Places to Go’s Extreme Destination This Year is a Doozy: The Gorillas in DR Congo

When they touted Iraqi Kurdistan I took notice and duly went. The New York Times 52 Places to Go slips in an extreme destination each year that reader will gasp and shake their head. This year it is Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo. Yes, DR Congo.

Virunga 06

Watch the Netflix documentary Vuringa before you judge.

You have three options to see the mountain gorillas:

  1. Rwanda: pay a lot, need to book way in advance in a complicated process, though have the easiest logistics access;
  2. Uganda: also pay a lot, also a complicated process, plus much longer land trip and more difficult trek conditions;
  3. DR Congo: still pay a lot, book online with Virunga, they email a visa on arrival confirmation, and show up at the border with Rwanda.

I visited in December 2014. The trip was a last-minute circuit of Uganda, Burundi, DR Congo, Rwanda and Zanzibar. Only Virunga was feasible to see the gorillas and entering DR Congo heightened the excitement.

I have not yet provided a blog post in my backlog. I was, though, both my greatest animal encounter and camping overnight on Nyiragongo Volcano overlooking the roiling, largest lava lake in the world was exhilarating. Rwanda and Uganda can’t offer the volcano, nor the uplifting experiences of a community battling ferocious obstacles to rise up. I met the first female park rangers, newly graduated.

Virunga 01 Virunga 02 Virunga 03

The accommodations are luxurious by any measure. If you want to reduce costs or time in DR Congo, there are also hotels in Goma city and you can almost see the gorillas as short as a day trip from Rwanda.

Virunga 04

I will write more. For now, starting dreaming, and maybe a few of you, planning.

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  • dhammer53

    I was pleasantly surprised to see #48, Marfa Texas. Several years ago, one of the television networks did a segment on Marfa. Marfa is a little bit further than far away (from any place). I’m doing a roadtrip from Houston to San Diego, with a side trip to Big Bend National Park this summer. Guess what’s on the way from BB to San Diego? 😉

  • I saw the gorillas in Rwanda and would love to also see them from DR Congo. Looking forward to your future blog post.

  • Joey

    I went to DRC back in 2010 and saw the gorillas in Virunga/Albert National Park and hiked up Nyiragongo and loved it. Back then, I had two choices on getting that visa — applying at the DRC consulate/embassy in the USA or the one in Kigali (but this required paying a much higher fee like around $287.) I chose applying at the DRC consulate in NYC. To whoever plans to go, I suggest checking to make sure what’s the current visa process is since it can easily change.
    In addition to what RTC stated, I suggest swimming in Lake Kivu! Ok so the lake is concentrated with gas that has the potential to explode…. but it’s still a beautiful sight! And yes, people swim in it (including me during my trip.) 🙂

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Joey – great point on Lake Kivu. For those thinking of a trip, the guesthouses on Lake Kivu on the Rwanda side are a great option coming and going. I didn’t get a chance to swim due to late arrival from my Ethiopian Airlines in Bujumbura “we aren’t flying to Kigali this week” incident/

  • john

    Hmmmm, I love the idea and would do it except I am put off by the price. The volcano does make it more attractive, but $750 for an hour with the gorillas… its a hard sell. They have gorillas in Gabon; whats the difference are they lowland and smaller??