Virunga is the oldest national park in Africa, and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The incredibly diverse habitat, home to endangered mountain gorillas, has a troubled past having been subject to poaching, armed militia and civil war. The local rangers are incredibly dedicated to protecting the park, and over 130 have been killed to date carrying out their duties. We recommend you watch the very informative Virunga film, to understand the context of the national park and the complex issues of the region we will be in.
The Rwenzori Mountains, AKA ‘The Mountains of the Moon’, are a world heritage site and the (rapidly retreating) equatorial glaciers are one of the sources of the Nile. The mountains straddle the border between DRC and Uganda and are home to many endemic flora and fauna species, which include giant lobelia, forest elephant, numerous birds and several primate species. The park has regular visitors, but as the majority approach from Uganda we can expect to be the only team on the DRC side of the peaks in the Northern section of Virunga National Park.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is understandably one of Uganda’s most popular tourist destinations. The park’s diverse ecosystems, which include sprawling savanna, shady, humid forests, sparkling lakes and fertile wetlands, make it the ideal habitat for classic big game, ten primate species including chimpanzees and over 600 species of birds. Set against the backdrop of the jagged Rwenzori Mountains, the park’s magnificent vistas include dozens of enormous craters carved dramatically into rolling green hills, panoramic views of the Kazinga Channel with its banks lined with hippos, buffalo and elephants, and the endless Ishasha plains, whose fig trees hide lions ready to pounce on herds of unsuspecting Ugandan kob.
This expedition will encompass travel through a variety of terrains with habitats varying from thick jungle-type vegetation at low levels to African-alpine vegetation and rocky lava flows at higher altitudes. We will be following known routes but, as they are not well trodden, we can expect these to be overgrown and badly maintained. We can also expect the paths to be very steep and wet, involving challenging scrambling on rocky, overgrown and mossy terrain. You should be prepared for river crossings and deep mud / bogs in places, which will hinder speed of progress.
July is the driest time of the year in DRC with daytime temperatures expected to be between 20°C and 30 °C. Please note however that temperature will decrease with altitude, and at night it is not uncommon to experience frost and minus temperatures in altitudes above 3,000m. In July the Rwenzori Mountains have a small drier weather window. These mountains get a staggering 3.5m of rain a year. Although the DRC side is drier than the Ugandan side we should all still expect to see a lot of precipitation.
You will have experienced Secret Compass staff with you, with extensive experience of leading groups in remote locations and over difficult terrain.
We are working closely with the Virunga National Park authorities who will provide the permissions, porters and park rangers to assist us in these remote parts of DRC.
In Rwanda and Uganda we will eat in local restaurants and cafes, whilst in the National Park meals will be a combination of fresh local produce and dehydrated ration packs with snack-style lunches. The first meal provided by Secret Compass will be dinner at the hotel in Kigali on 6th July. The last meal provided by Secret Compass will be breakfast at the hotel in Kigali on 20th July.
International flights. You need to organise your own international flights. You need to be in Kigali (Rwanda) by 1800 on 6 July 2019 and are free to depart anytime on the 20th July. We have a unique partnership with Student Universe (part of Flight Centre, and don’t worry you don’t have to be a student); a specialist team of travel consultants who understand us and our destinations, and who have a team dedicated to helping Secret Compass teams. They have a 24-hour assistance helpline and access to the best fares. Fill in a contact form or call (UK) 0844 560 9799 for assistance in booking international flights. Please keep transits through African cities longer than normal to help get your baggage on the same flight as you!
It is advised that you wait for confirmation from Secret Compass that this expedition is a confirmed departure prior to booking your flights, and/ or that your travel insurance covers your flight costs in the event of cancellation by Secret Compass (see Section 9 of our Terms and Conditions). Expeditions will be confirmed when they hit minimum numbers and team members will be informed immediately.
We will be taking a domestic flight to travel from Goma to Mutwanga by plane.
We will be travelling from Kigali to the DRC border by minibus. Road transport within DRC will be in park authority 4x4s or minibuses. We will also be returning to Kigali through Uganda in a large minibus.
The majority of the journey will be by foot. Although the ascent of the volcano will be made with only 2 days of supplies, you should be aware that there will be days in the Rwenzori Mountains where you may be required to carry a full expedition pack with all your gear and food and a share of the group kit. Further details on terrain is provided below, but you should be prepared for scrambling as well as trekking.
In Kigali and Uganda we will stay in comfortable mid-range hotels on a twin-share basis. There is a free shuttle bus from Kigali airport to the hotel on arrival and departure days.
In the Volcano Sector, the team will stay in a permanent camp made up of safari-style tents. These are on a twin or triple basis.
On our night at the summit of Nyiragongo we will be staying in basic huts shared between two. These provide limited protection from the elements and you will require sleeping bag and mat.
During the main expedition phase, we will aim to sleep in shelters and mountain huts. These provide limited protection from the elements and you will require a sleeping bag and mat. Due to the size and condition of the huts it may be that some of the team will sleep in tents. Tents will be provided by Secret Compass.
Reality of living wild for days. Occasionally people on our expeditions are not prepared for camping for multiple days. Living in these conditions can degrade your health and increase fatigue. You need to be highly organised so that your night and morning routine is done efficiently and quickly. If you are inexperienced at camping, it is essential that you get as much practice as possible prior to the expedition.
Secret Compass staff will be carrying at least two methods of communication, usually a Satellite Phone and a DeLorme two-way communication device. These will be used for regular updates to head office and for emergencies. Unfortunately, routine communication between team members and family/friends is not possible – please reassure them that no news is good news! If there is an emergency and someone needs to contact a team member, they can contact Secret Compass’s Operations Room on +44207 096 8428 who will endeavour to pass a message on within 24hours.