The Virunga conservation area, also known as the Virunga massif or the Virunga ranges, is an enormous block of land that spans across Uganda, Rwanda and D.R. Congo and includes a prime population of Africa’s finest and most distinctive flora and fauna as well as unique geography.
Natively translated as “Ibirunga” in Kinyarwanda language, the Virunga region extends to include three of Africa’s famous national parks, including Volcanos national park in North-western Rwanda, Mgahinga national park in the south west of Uganda and Virunga national park in Eastern D.R. Congo.
This is arguably the most biologically diverse range on the face of earth, known famously as hub for the endangered mountain gorillas which dwell in the above listed national park, the elusive golden monkeys, an extensive block of eight volcanic mountains, among several faunal species.
Mountains / Volcanoes
The Virunga range encompasses a total of 8 volcanic mountains (some active and others dormant / extinct), all strategically aligned along the border lines of respective countries.
These include Mount Karisimbi – the highest of all, located along the Rwanda – D.R. Congo boarder, Mount Bisoke in Rwanda and D. R. Congo, Mount Sabyinyo spanning along the Uganda-Rwanda-D. R. Congo border, Mount Nyamuragira, Nyiragongo and Mikeno all in D.R. Congo, Mount Muhabura and Gahinga stand astride the Uganda-Rwanda border. All these volcanoes present remarkable hiking expeditions for travelers across all walks of life.
Mount Muhabura stands at an elevation of 4,127m above sea level making it the 3rd highest of all the eight volcanoes in the Virunga region and the highest among the two other volcanoes which it neighbors, namely Sabyinyo and Gahinga.
Standing astride Uganda and Rwanda border, Mount Muhabura does not only boasts its towering height, but a lot more amazing features which differentiates it from other Virunga volcanoes. Its smoky slopes form one of those picturesque views every photographer longs to capture. Mount Muhabura’s epic beauty goes beyond visual and imagination, one ought to experience it firsthand.
Striding across a tri-boundary point, across Uganda, Rwanda and D.R. Congo, this rather extinct volcano offers magnificent hiking opportunities not only in East Africa but also the entire continent of Africa. Mount Sabyinyo stands tall towering to an elevation of 3,645 meters (11,959 ft.), above sea level, making it the second tallest among the 3 neighboring volcanoes near Mgahinga national park in Uganda. It offers extreme adventure experiences and a perfect choice for those travelers seeking for typical mountaineering adventure.
Mount Mgahinga sits between Mount Sabyinyo and Mount Muhabura and it’s the smallest of all. The mountain is elevated at 3,474 meters above the sea level with a swampy caldera at its summit. The caldera is 180 meters wide and believed to have been a lake before.
Mount Gahinga is considerably easy to hike compared to other Virunga volcanoes. It is a dead volcano with a crater on top. Along the hike, climbers find opportunities to interact with amazing wildlife such as golden monkeys, bush backs, baboons, and so much more.
Bisoke Mountain stands at an elevation of 3711m above sea level, shared between D.R. Congo and Rwanda, but the large portion sits in Rwanda including its summit.
On its slopes there lie a scenic crater, Lake Ngezi which is 11km away from the summit and was formed after the 1957 eruption. This beautiful crater with a diameter of 400meters is what makes Bisoke an extremely exciting mountain. It is from these crater lakes, that the volcano was named “Bisoke” – a Swahili word that translates as “soaked with water”.
At 4,507m (14,787 feet) above sea level, Mt Karisimbi stands tall as the highest peak among the 8 volcanoes that make up the Virunga massif. It is a dormant volcano and 11th highest mountain in Africa.
Mount Karisimbi presents a true adventure; hiking through thick tropical forests, presenting scenic camping groups on the slopes of a dormant volcano and conquering the summit with views of the entire Virunga region. Mount Karisimbi is located in northern Rwanda, on the outskirts of Volcanoes national park – home of the mountain gorillas.
Mikeno derives its name from the local word “Mikeno” meaning “poor”. It was named so because of its rugged and harsh terrain that hinder human settlement along its slopes. It is a dormant volcano situated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo section of the Virunga ranges.
Standing at an elevation of 4,437 meters, Mount Mikeno is the second highest volcano in the Virunga Mountains after Mount Karisimbi. This elevation as well makes it the 13th highest mountain in Africa.
Mount Nyiragongo is a real vigorous Strato-volcano with a height of about 3470m and with a spectacular crater on top which is about 2 kilometers wide and a lava lake.
This mountain is so interesting and spectacular compared to the others, well known for its lava lake and the frequent eruptions, but it’s now open for hiking all year round. The mountain is located in DRC on the periphery of Virunga national park which – oldest park in Africa and home to the endangered mountain gorillas plus numerous other floral species.
Nyamuragira is a large shield volcano and one of Africa’s most active volcanoes. This active shield volcano has an elevation of 3058 meters and has a caldera on its summit, which is approximately 2 kilometers wide and walls that rise up to about 100 meters high.
National Parks along the Virunga Conservation Area
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
This national park is part of the larger Virunga massif, bordering Rwanda from the south, D. R. Congo in the East and Bwindi national park in the north. Mgahinga national park is located in the south eastern corner of Uganda; well known for its impressible numbers of mountain gorillas, rare golden monkeys, primates, forest mammals, amphibians and amazing bird life.
Volcanoes National Park
The name Volcanoes national park is synonymous with mountain gorillas; this popular destination is Rwanda’s prime tourists’ magnet, perched comfortably in the north western province. Volcanoes national park is only 2 hours’ drive from the bustling Kigali city, easily reached on a well tarmacked road, it is without doubt that Volcanoes national park is the most visited park in Rwanda.
It shelters a reasonable number of mountain gorillas, as well as golden monkeys, rare primates, bird species, pleasant vegetation, as well as lively community tours.
Virunga National Park
Virunga National park is not only Congo’s most famous national park but Africa’s oldest national park and the world’s second oldest park. The park is unique and interesting in every sense of the phrase. Coupled with numerous habituated families of mountain gorillas, endangered chimpanzees, bonobos, forest mammals, and the neighboring Nyiragongo Mountain which offers amazing hiking adventures to any travelers who makes their way to eastern Congo.
The park is found on Congo’s eastern border with Rwanda and Uganda, and easily accessed through Goma border.