Kahuzi Biega National Park is a prestigious national parks, the only place where travelers can see the Eastern Lowland gorillas. This Park was named after the two dominant Volcanoes i.e. Mount Kahuzi standing at 3,308 meters/10,853 feet and Mount Biega standing at 2,790 meters/9,154 feet above sea level.
Kahuzi-Biega a UNESCO World Heritage Site was gazatted in 1970 with an aim of protecting the Eastern lowland Gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri) and occupies an area of 6000 square kilometers characterized by marsh, wetlands, Riparian and tropical rainforests. The luxuriant Tropical rainforest of this park is prominent for over 1178 plant species, over 136 mammal species and about 350 bird species including 42 species endemic to the Park. The most prominent wildlife in this Park are the Eastern Lowland gorillas, and other mammal species include African forest elephants, Albertine Owlet, Eastern Chimpanzee, Hippos, Lowland Bongo, Giant Forest hogs among others. With these captivating attractions (mountains, wildlife and bird species), the main tourist activities in this Park.
The Eastern Gorilla
The eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri) or Grauer’s gorilla is a Critically Endangered subspecies of eastern gorilla endemic to the mountainous forests of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Important populations of this gorilla live in the Kahuzi-Biega and Maiko National Parks and their adjacent forests, the Tayna Gorilla Reserve, the Usala forest and on the Itombwe Massif.
It is the largest of the four gorilla subspecies. It has a jet black coat like the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), although the hair is shorter on the head and body. The male’s coat, like that of other gorillas, greys as the animal matures, resulting in the designation “silverback”.
There are far fewer eastern lowland gorillas compared to western lowland gorillas. According to a 2004 report there were only about 5,000 eastern lowland gorillas in the wild, down to fewer than 3,800 in 2016, compared to over 100,000 western lowland gorillas. Outside their native range, only one female eastern lowland gorilla lives in captivity.
Eastern lowland gorillas are the largest subspecies of gorilla and the largest living primates. Males weigh between 150 and 209 kilograms (331 and 461 lb.) based on four males, females of 76 kilograms (168 lb.) although this had a small sample size. Males stand between 1.69 to 1.96 metres (5 ft 7 in to 6 ft 5 in), while females reach 1.6 meters (5.2 ft). An older weight calculated based on eight wild adult males is 169 kg.
Things to Do
Lowland Gorilla Trekking
Kahuzi-Biega National Park is a haven to the largest gorilla group-the Eastern lowland gorillas and the only place in the world to track these sub-species of gorillas. The Eastern lowland gorillas are differentiated by their heavily built bodies, longer faces, large hands, short snouts and fewer nose prints than their mountain gorilla counterparts. There are currently only two (2) habituated gorilla groups (Mugaruka and Chimanuka) available for tourism in this Park, and gorilla permits cost $400 for foreign non-residents, $200 for East African residents and $20 for Congolese Nationals. Unlike gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda, tourists who track gorillas from Congo are provided with masks to prevent the possibility of spreading human diseases like flue and cough to the gorillas. Tracking usually involves hiking through the dense jungles of the Park for about 30 minutes to 6 hours and culminates into meeting face to face with these gorilla species, and tourists are allowed to take strictly one hour with them.
Kahuzi-Biega National Park is a home to over 350 bird species including 42 species that are endemic to this Park and other four species (including Congo Peafowl, Rockefeller’s sunbird, African green broadbill and Yellow-crested helmet-Shrike) that are included in the IUCN Red List. This makes this Park a perfect bird watcher’s Paradise. Other bird species that call this Park home include the Rwenzori Turaco, Shelley’s Crimsonwing, Grauer’s broadbill and Grauer’s warbler
With the remarkable beauty and the numerous wildlife and bird species, tourists can visit this Park for Nature walks that lead to fascinating sites. One of the popular trails is the Tshibiti waterfalls trail that leads tourists to three magnificent waterfalls. You will enjoy the pleasant sounds of the birds as they sing up on the trees and the cool air that blows when you are for nature walks in the forest. After hiking through this forest, you will understand and appreciate the beauty of nature that the Park offers hence a memorable experience.
This is always conducted for Mount Kahuzi that takes about 7 hours including 4 hours to ascend through the Bamboo zone and Sub-alpine zone and 3 hours to descend to the starting point. While at the peak of mount Kahuzi (highest point of the Park), you will be rewarded with an excellent view of Bukavu town and Lake Kivu. Another climb is done on mount Bugulumiza that starts next to the Tshivanga Visitor Center and goes through some of the most wonderful spots including the home range of the Chimanuka gorilla group till the peak that rewards you with the most fascinating views of Mount Kahuzi and Mount Biega together with the breathtaking landscapes. The hike to the peak and back takes 3 hours. Tourists can also opt for the hike to the second highest peak in the Park i.e. Mount Biega hike that takes about 6 hours to and from the Peak
Visit to the Lwiro Sanctuary
Lwiro Sanctuary is a center for rehabilitation of Orphaned monkey species and Chimpanzees, and is a home to over 55 rescued Chimpanzees and 75 orphaned Monkeys. This Sanctuary was established in 2002 and is found near the Tshivanga Visitors Center. Visiting this site costs only $25 per person per day.
Best Time to Visit
Kahuzi Biega National Park is open to travelers throughout the year. Although the recommended time to visit the park is during the dry season, it is important to know that the park is dominated by tropical montane rain forests. Thus it rainy any time in the forest. Therefore it is important that travelers carry strong rain jackets that will help them in case it rains. December is one of the month months to visit the park it is has an evergreen vegetation due to the fact that it shares part of the rainy season and dry season this it has fresh vegetation that attract wildlife in the forest of Kahuzi Biega thus offer classic wildlife viewing in the park.
We usually recommend the dry season where there are little or no rains expected in that period. This is during the months of January to February, which is the short dry season and in June, July, August and September the long dry season.
In the dry season, there is easy movement in the park since travelers trek the lowland gorillas. Hiking Mount Biega and Kahuzi is also difficult during the wet season since the ground is slippery. The dry season also makes it easy to access Kahuzi Biega national park due to the fact the roads and trekking trails are passable. During the dry season, the roads are not muddy and slippery.
Where to Stay at Kahuzi-Biega National Park
Much as there are interesting attractions in Kahuzi Biega National Park, there are no lodges or hotels within the Park, but some Accommodation facilities exist within Bukavu Town and they include Lodge Coco, Panarama Hotel, Orchids Safari Club in Bukavu, Hotel Horizon, Eden Hotel and Hotel Mutudu.
How to Reach Kahuzi-Biega National Park
This Park is located in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) about 40 kilometers west of Bukavu and near the Southern shores of Lake Kivu and the Rwandan border. Kahuzi-Biega National park can be accessed by road, water and air transport. While using air transport, you land at Kigali International Airport then drive for 7 hours to Cyangugu (Rusizi border) and then connect to the Park. Tourists already in Congo can access the Park though Goma border. Most of the roads in DRC are in poor condition; therefore tourists are advised to use 4WD vehicles for an adventurous and memorable safari in Congo.
This Park can also be accessed from Burundi (3 hours drive) where you will cross to Rwandan border then to Cyangugu. Tourists from Uganda will have to first connect to Musanze (Rwanda) then to Rwanda via Cyanika border.
If you are already in Goma and wish to reach the park by water, there are ferries from Goma to Bukavu and travel across Idjwi Island on Lake Kivu. A public slow-boat takes 5-6 hours while a speed boat takes only 3 hours.
In conclusion, the Eastern lowland gorillas are unique gorilla species harbored in the dense tropical rainforests of Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Tourists interested in tracking these rare sub-species of gorillas can only do it from the Kahuzi-Biega National Park for and adventurous and memorable tracking experience.