Image by Luc Huyghebaert

Virunga NP & Kahuzi-Biega NP, DRC

Primate Pandemonium

£3,995 pp sharing

At a Glance

Dates: July 16th - July 25th, 2022

Extension: 12 nights in Katanga Province, available for £4,750 pp sharing

Prices: £3,995 pp sharing (with a £900 single supplement)​, excluding flights.

In a sentence: Arguably offering some of the most exciting primate possibilities on the continent, this eastern sliver of the Democratic Republic of the Congo reveals its secrets slowly - but, with luck, guests may even spot the elusive owl-faced monkey.

Overview

Primates are amongst the most diverse groups of mammals in Africa, with over 200 species. Many of these are highly-localised and threatened by hunting and habitat destruction. For several species, a narrow sliver of arduous terrain in the far east of the DRC is the last remaining stronghold. Some, like the Foa's red colobus, are too difficult to access even now but others, such as the Ulindi River red colobus and the owl-faced monkey, are just about gettable, with a hefty dose of luck. Combined with the magical gorilla trekking in Virunga and Kahuzi-Biega, this is an itinerary that's hard to beat for any primate enthusiast.

Itinerary

Day One

Goma

On arrival into Goma International Airport, you will be met by your Pictus Safaris tour leader and the rest of your group and you will transfer directly to the world-famous Virunga National Park. The afternoon is set aside to explore the surrounds of the lodge, with a nature walk in the early evening, before some much-needed rest before tomorrow.

Day Two

Virunga NP

Early this morning, we transfer to the park headquarters for a briefing from the rangers before we set off on a truly humbling experience - tracking eastern gorillas. The walk can last anywhere from an hour to all day, often over arduous terrain, but it will be well worth it. On reaching a habituated group of these critically endangered animal, we will spend a magical hour in their company. With luck, we will be graced with the presence of a huge silverback, a dominant male, as well as adorable youngsters. The hour will simply fly by and, before long, we will have returned to our comfortable lodge.

If time permits, another nature walk this evening will offer a great chance to locate the smaller mammals that call Virunga home.

Day Three

Nyiragongo

This morning we head to the most imposing feature in the region - the Nyiragongo Volcano. Overlooking the city of Goma, this active volcano is a life-giver, in its fertile slopes, but can also be destructive, as lava flows towards the city every few decades. Today we will hike up Nyiragongo, accompanied by expert rangers, meandering up the slopes until we come upon one of Africa's most spectacular sights, the lava lake deep within the crater. Making for an incredible spectacle, the lake occasionally belches out lava and we can observe this against the dark night's sky tonight, as we camp near the crater rim.

Day Four

Goma

After a final morning visit to the crater of Nyiragongo, we will return to Goma. This afternoon, there will be a tour of the city of Goma before the night is spent in a modern and comfortable hotel.

Day Five

Lwiro

This morning we head to the city of Bukavu, taking a speedboat from Goma harbour, and arriving by early afternoon. The afternoon will be spent in the fascinating Lwiro area, home to a rather dispiriting array of captive snakes and primates, but also one of the largest libraries on the continent. We will overnight at a basic but historic guesthouse in Lwiro.

Day Six

Kahuzi-Biega NP

Today we head directly for the beautiful and historic Kahuzi-Biega NP. As we arrive, we will join a trek to once again spend time with a family of gorillas, this time the eastern lowland population for which this park is famous. A further hour spent with this stunning species is always hugely rewarding, and afterwards we will continue on a forest walk to identify any further mammals or birds we may come across.

After checking in to our excellent lodge accommodation, we will enjoy dinner before some well-earned rest after a long day of travelling.

Days Seven to Nine

Kahuzi-Biega NP

Three full days are set aside to maximise our chances of spotting two threatened and elusive species - the Ulindi River red colobus and the owl-faced monkey. The former is now extremely rare in Kahuzi-Biega, where it was once abundant but huge hunting pressure has rendered it possibly extirpated. Owl-faced monkey is more achievable, although it will take a slice of luck and a long hike through the upland sector of the park to secure a sighting.

Day Ten

Bukavu

This morning we return to Bukavu, where the tour ends. Guests may choose to fly from Bukavu, or overland to Rwanda. For those continuing on to Katanga, you will spend the night in Bukavu in a luxury hotel.

Day Eleven (Extension)

Goma, Kalemie and Lubumbashi

Travel is never easy in the DRC, and today is no exception. Leaving at dawn, we take a speedboat back to Goma from Bukavu. In Goma, we transfer to the airport for a 70-minute flight to Kalemie on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. After a brief stop here, it is a further 75-minute flight to the largest city of Katanga, Lubumbashi. After a long day of travelling, we will transfer directly to a local hotel for some well-earned rest.

Day Twelve (Extension)

Kundelungu NP

This morning we head to Katwe, where the entrance gate to Kundelungu is situated. After going through entry formalities, we will check in to the basic park guesthouse, before enjoying an afternoon game drive in the park. There can be no disguising that this park has been poorly managed in recent years, with poaching and mining devastating the biodiversity here. However, some wildlife still remains, and Kundelungu is undoubtedly a beautiful park even when the wildlife eludes us. The rivers in the park are excellent spots for otter-watching, and it is likely this is where we will spend much of our time this evening, before returning to the guesthouse.

Days Thirteen to Fourteen (Extension)

Kundelungu NP

Two full days in this little-visited park are sure to reveal many of its mammals and birds, but a real highlight is the visit to Sofoi Falls which, at well over 1,000 ft, is one of the tallest waterfalls in the region.

Day Fifteen (Extension)

Lubumbashi

Today we transfer back to Lubumbashi and overnight in a comfortable hotel.

Day Sixteen (Extension)

Lubumbashi

Today we spend a full day in this bustling and historic city. Real highlights include the St Pierre et Paul Cathedral and the Mazembe stadium, as well as several ancient temples.

Day Seventeen (Extension)

Bunkeya & Kyubo

Early this morning we head to the town of Bunkeya, best-known for its rich history and association with King Musiri. We will have ample time to visit Musiri's tomb and museum before we continue on to Kyubo, where we overnight in a comfortable lodge.

Day Eighteen (Extension)

Kyubo

Surely the highlight of any visit to Katanga, Kyubo Falls are a majestic sight rising up from the Lufira River. A full morning here lends itself to spectacular photographic opportunities, and the afternoon will be spent at the hydro-electric dam that the falls help to power

Day Nineteen (Extension)

Upemba NP

Today we make a beeline for Upemba National Park, aiming to arrive by early afternoon. Upemba was once one of the richest ecosystems anywhere in Africa but, sadly, it has in some ways come to the same fate as Kundelungu. There are still many things to see, though, and Upemba is recovering under the careful stewardship of the Forgotten Parks Foundation. Our key targets on this afternoon's drive will be the endemic Upemba lechwe, as well as the rare bush elephant, zebra, sable, roan, buffalo and even leopard. We will overnight at the basic park guesthouse.

Day Twenty (Extension)

Upemba NP

A full-day game drive in Upemba is a great chance to spot a number of savanna species today, and the birding in the park is particularly excellent.

Day Twenty-One (Extension)

Lubumbashi

A long drive takes us back to Lubumbashi, where we will overnight in a good local hotel.

Day Twenty-Two (Extension)

Tour End

Today you will be transferred back to Lubumbashi Airport for your homeward flight.

Please be aware that whilst we make every effort to follow the above itinerary as closely as possible, circumstances may occasionally arise that mean the tour deviates from the itinerary.

Dates and Prices

This tour will run in July 2022, aiming to take advantage of the driest month of the year, which enhances game-viewing and makes travel easier. This tour dates for this itinerary are from July 16th to July 25th, with the extension ending on August 6th. 

The cost of this trip is £3,995 per person excluding international flights, with a £900 single supplement. The 12-night extension to Katanga is priced at £4,750 per person with no single supplement. This includes all meals in national parks, accommodation and wildlife-focussed activities. Drinks other than water are not included. To secure a booking, a deposit payment of £1,800 plus any single supplement must be paid.

Flights and Visas

Pictus Safaris do not offer flight booking services. However, we do recommend the use of travel comparison websites such as skyscanner.net or momondo.com to identify the best fares, and then booking with the airline directly where possible. This will reduce the likelihood of complications and fees should any issues with your booking arise. If you wish to spend an additional night in Kinshasa at the end of your tour, we can arrange this for you at an extra cost. 

British nationals do require a visa to enter the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Clients of other nationalities are advised to check well before travel whether they require an entry visa. Details of the process for obtaining a tourist visa for the DRC are complex, and will be provided to you upon booking. The cost of a DRC entry visa for UK citizens is £80 - this must be obtained from your nearest DRC embassy, which for UK citizens will be in London. To acquire a tourist visa for the DRC you will require a valid passport, two passport photos, a completed application form, proof of your address, proof of Yellow Fever vaccination, a Letter of Invitation (provided by Pictus Safaris), a bank statement, and a copy of your itinerary.

Please also note that there is a departure tax of $50 plus 5000 Congolese Francs payable on your departure from Bukavu Airport.

Weather and What to Bring

The weather in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in July is mild and dry, with maximum temperatures of around 21 degrees Celsius. At night, temperatures will drop to around 13 degrees Celsius.

A full packing list will be circulated at least two months prior to departure. Pictus Safaris will be able to provide one extra set of binoculars and two spotlights per group, and clients are welcome to bring additional camera, videography and scope equipment should they wish to. Please note that the use of drones is not permitted in many protected areas. We strongly recommend bringing comfortable, loose-fitting and neutral-coloured clothing on safari - please do not bring camouflage clothing. We recommend against dark coloured clothing (e.g. black or dark blue) as this attracts biting flies. Worn-in hiking boots with ankle support are a must, as are sunglasses, sun protection and a hat. 

Do also remember to budget for any expenses not included in the cost of the trip, including for gratuities and additional activities. We recommend bringing US Dollars.

Safety and Security

We understand that for some potential visitors, the security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a concern. Pictus Safaris take the safety of clients extremely seriously and we are in constant communication with our ground operators to monitor the security situation in all of our destinations.

The security situation in the east of the DRC is poor, and particularly around Goma and Virunga, crime is common. This rarely impacts tourists, but clients are advised to exercise extreme caution throughout this tour.

All Pictus Safaris clients must have travel insurance to travel with us. As travel to the DRC is advised against by national travel advisory bodies, most travel insurance policies will not be valid here. We recommend High Risk Voyager insurance as it covers medical evacuation from remote areas. Please note that coverage for the DRC is not included in annual multi-trip High Risk Voyager policies, so a single-trip policy may need to be taken out.

Image by Luc Huyghebaert

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