The Virunga conservation area, sometimes referred to as Virunga massif or the Virunga ranges, is an enormous block of land that spans across Rwanda, Uganda as well as the Democratic Republic of 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.
At an elevation of 4,127m ASL, Mount Muhabura is the 3rd highest of all the 8 Virunga Mountains and the highest on the Ugandan side, sharing borders with Gahinga and Sabyinyo volcanoes.
Standing astride Uganda and Rwanda border, Mount Muhabura has everything it takes to make it outstanding of all the volcanoes, from its towering height, lush flora on its flanks, great hiking trails and its peaks steam calmly creating one of the most beautiful views every photographer and every eye would ever love to capture.
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 extraordinary charm surpasses visual and imagination, one has to got to visit and experience it in order to tell its story.
Lying on a tri-boundary corner, at a point where Uganda meets with Rwanda and Democratic Republic Of Congo, this extinct volcano presents one of the most hardest but magnificent hiking expeditions not only in East Africa but also to the entire world. Sabyinyo stands high at an elevation of 11,959 feet (3,645m) which makes it the 2nd tallest of the three triplet volcanoes including Muhabura and Gahinga.
Mount Sabyinyo presents an ideal adventure experience and it is a perfect option for adventure enthusiasts looking for typical climbing opportunities.
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 400 meters 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 an elevation of 14,787 feet (4,507m) above sea level, Mt Karisimbi boasts the highest of all the 8 volcanoes which form the Virunga mountain range. This rather dormant volcano also doubles as the 11th tallest mountain in Africa.
Situated in North-western Rwanda, on the fringes of prime home of mountain gorillas, Volcanoes National park, Mount Karisimbi is synonymous with interesting adventure and fun. You trek through lush tropical forests, with numerous camping grounds and reaching the peak exposes you to the views of the amazing Virunga massif.
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. Mikeno is a dormant volcano located in the western, north Kivu province of Democratic Republic of the Congo in the Virunga region.
Mount Mikeno towers high at an elevation of 4,437 meters above sea level, and is the 2nd highest volcano in the Virunga ranges after Mount Karisimbi. It is as well Africa’s 13th highest mountain.
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.
Nyiragongo is so peculiar and spectacular compared to other Virunga mountains, famous for its lava lake and recent eruptions, but it’s now safe and recommendable for trekking all year round. The mountain is situated in D.R.Congo on the periphery of Virunga national park – Africa’s oldest and largest conservation area as well as hub to the endangered mountain gorillas and abundant flora.
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
Mgahinga 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.
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.