The Virunga Mountains (Virunga massif / Virunga ranges) is a block of Chain Mountains found in East – central Africa. It spans across the three countries, via the North West Rwanda covering volcanoes national park, south western Uganda encompassing Mgahinga national park and eastern Congo forming part of Virunga national park. The name Virunga is an English version of the Kinyarwanda word ‘ibirunga’ which means mountain range.
The mountain comprises of eight major volcanoes and only two of these volcanoes are active and the rest are dormant. These volcanoes are evenly distributed in three countries and they include Mount Karisimbi which lies on Rwanda-DRC border, Mount Mikeno in DRC, Mount Muhabura along the Rwanda-Uganda border, Mount Bisoke on Rwanda-D.R.C border, Mount Sabinyo which lies on Rwanda-Uganda and DRC border, Mount Gahinga along Rwanda-Uganda border, Mount Nyiragongo and Mount Nyamuragira in DRC.
The tallest volcano of all is Karisimbi which is 14,790ft high, located along Rwanda –D.R. Congo border. Hiking this volcano doesn’t require sophisticated experience in mountaineering.
However, it’s advisable to be undertaken by people who are in good health and physical conditions. Hiking takes averagely 2 days to reach the top where you clearly view Mount Nyiragongo and the eastern treasures of D.R Congo. This activity is recommended to be done during dry season which runs from June to August when the weather is favorable making hiking easier.
Standing at 14,560ft above sea level, Mikeno is a dormant volcano located in eastern DRC. It’s normally considered the toughest volcano to hike with steep forested slopes which are habitats for endangered mountain gorillas in Virunga national park, as well as other wildlife species including birds.
This is the third highest Virunga volcano located at the border of Uganda and Rwanda. Hiking this volcano offers a view of Rwanda’s twin lakes – Bulera and Ruhondo near volcanoes national park as a well as five other volcanoes of the Virunga mountain.
Also known as Visoke is famous for a scenic crater lake on its summit. The mountain is covered with a variety of alpine vegetation at different levels of the mountain featuring bamboo forests, bushes and much more. It takes a day to reach on top of this volcano.
This lies on the border of Uganda, Rwanda and DRC. It was named Sabyinyo because of its rugged slopes, which to the local people resemble old man’s teeth. It is home of endangered mountain gorillas and famous for the Sabyinyo gorilla group in Volcanoes national park. This is one the easiest gorilla group to trek on your gorilla safari to Rwanda.
It presents a challenging hike but to many it turns to be the most rewarding, as the summit is a tri-junction point where you can stand in 3 countries at the same point.
This is the smallest of Virunga volcanoes in Uganda. It is also a dormant volcano with a crater at its summit with swampy vegetation on the floor of the crater. Hiking this mountain takes a day and it offers unmatched scenic views of the vegetation to the slopes. There are also volcanic caves that can be explored while on the trek.
Nyiragongo is popularly known for its lava dammed lake, caused by the recent eruptions that almost claimed lives of people in the neighborhood. It has turned out to be the most hiked volcano of all Virunga Mountains. Located in eastern DRC, Nyiragongo is one of the most active volcanoes in Virunga ranges as well as worldwide. Hiking this mountain takes 2 days and there are mountain huts on top of the mountain where hikers spend a night and descend the following day.
This is the most active volcano on the African continent. It has had several volcanic eruptions and recently an active lava lake appeared for the first time in more than 50 years. The Virunga massif is home to variety of national parks and conservation areas that inhabit an array of wildlife; most importantly the endangered mountain gorillas.
Location of the Virunga Volcanoes
These mountains lie in the Virunga Conservation Area. This area is made up of three national parks; Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Virunga National Park in Congo.
With an area of 7800 sq.km in eastern DRC, Virunga stands out as the largest and oldest conservation area in Africa. It is located within the larger Virunga massif, with Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira volcanoes in the neighborhood. The park was gazetted in 1925 and designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979. Virunga national park is home to the threatened species including mountain gorillas, elephants, African buffaloes and much more.
With an area of about 33.7sq.km, this is Uganda’s smallest national park located in south western region. It also include a part of Virunga conservation area. The park was established in 1991 and it’s one of Uganda’s unique park that hosts both mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. Three of eight major volcanoes are found in this park including Mount Sabyinyo which is shared by all the three countries.
Located in northern Rwanda with an area of 160sq.km, Volcanoes national park borders five volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains. The park harbors mountain gorillas, golden monkeys and other endangered species.
Several tourist activities are carried out in these parks such as gorilla trekking, golden monkey trekking, cultural encounters, hiking and nature walks, lake and cave tours and so much more. It is important to note that the Virunga conservation area is the only place you can find mountain gorillas in the whole world.