Virunga National Park has fallen on hard times recently, and its tourism industry is taking a big hit as a result. Last month, two British tourists were kidnapped, their guide killed, and driver injured, leading the park to close itself to all tourism indefinitely (the tourists were safely released). Earlier in the month, six park rangers were killed in an ambush by a rebel militia. Now that the incidents have been thoroughly investigated, Virunga National Park will reopen to visitors on June 4.
Travelers visit this nature reserve in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo for its mountainous hikes and abundance of wildlife, including the rare mountain gorillas, lowland gorillas, and elephants. It is the largest national park in the DRC, covering 3000 square miles. Prior to the recent incidents, tourism has been steadily increasing, leaving many travelers with canceled plans following the closure.
If you’ve booked a trip to the Congo before June 4 and were planning to visit Virunga, don’t let the closure ruin your trip. There are several tour operators offering safaris, hikes, and other trips in the Congo and neighboring countries like Rwanda and Uganda.
Though the park will reopen in June, the U.S. State Department has urged Americans to “reconsider travel” to the DRC due to “crime and civil unrest.” While warnings alone shouldn’t spoil your itinerary, they should certainly be taken into consideration. It’s easy to view national parks and other attractions as “safe zones” in volatile areas, but it’s important to remember that tourism isn’t immune to cultural and political hazards. Always exercise caution.