The Virunga Mountains / Virunga Volcanoes
The Virunga massif is home to three volcano national parks which are home to the 8 Virunga volcano mountains also termed as mountain ranges. The volcano national parks that are home to the 8 Volcano Mountains include Virunga national park that is situated in the town of Goma in the southern Democratic Republic of Congo, volcanoes national park of Rwanda plus Mgahinga gorilla national park that is found in the south western region of Uganda. These mountains include mount Karisimbi, mount Mikeno, mount Nyiragongo, mount Mahabura, mount Bisoke, mount Gahinga, mount Sabinyo, and mount Nyamulagira.
Mount Nyiragongo, this is one of the active volcano mountains that are situated in the heart of Virunga national park and the mount is part of the 8 mountains in Virunga conservation massif. The mountain is famous for its lava lake which is situated in true summit elevation of the mountain about 3250 meters as well as the composite volcano that is situated inside mount Nyiragongo. Hiking this mountain offers travelers an insight to enjoy the boiling lava scenic views in the lava lake at that top of the mountain.
Mount Sabinyo, this stretches its boundaries in three countries such as Virunga national park in Democratic Republic of Congo, Mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda and volcanoes national park in Rwanda. The mountain is the oldest and it is found on an elevation of 3674 meters, there are a lot of historical cultural myths that is attached to this mountain and it can easily be hiked from Mgahinga national park.
Mount Nyamulagira, this is also an active mountain that has had about 40 eruptions with the last one happening in 2014 and it is situated in Nord-Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo and it borders mountain Nyiragongo in the north western region. Mount Nyamulagira is stands on an elevation of 3058 meters.
Mount Gahinga, this is situated in Mgahinga gorilla national park of Uganda and it is the smallest Virunga mountain that borders Rwanda. The mountain is at an elevation of 3474 meters. The mountain has caldera swamp that is about 180 kilometer.
Mount. Mikeno, this is a dormant volcanic mountain that is situated in Virunga national park and it is the second highest mountain among the 8 Virunga Mountains that are found in the Virunga massif conservation area. The name Mikeno was given to mountain to due to the poor people who were staying around the mountain.
Mount Karisimbi, the highest mountain in the Virunga conservation massif that is found in volcanoes national park is famous for mountain hiking activities. The mountain offers snow experience in the dry season in the months of June, July, and September and august thus it is worth a visit after the gorilla trekking experience in Rwanda.
Mount Bisoke, this is the fourth highest mountain among the 8 mountains of the Virunga volcano massif area, the mountain borders Rwanda where the summit of the mountains situated in volcanoes national park and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
All these Virunga Mountains offer hiking adventure experience except mount Nyamulagira and when travelers hike up the summit of the mountain they will enjoy different breath taking views of the surround environment as well getting an opportunity to encounter with different primates like mountain gorillas, golden monkeys among others as well as unique wildlife at slopes such as the forest elephant.
The Virunga Mountain in Rwanda, Congo and Uganda
The Virunga volcanoes/mountains also locally known as Mufumbiro are located in three countries Uganda, Rwanda and DRCongo. They are situated in the same region at the borders of the three countries. In Uganda, they are found in the far southwestern part in Mgahinga national park, in Rwanda they are in the northwestern in part Volcanoes national park and in the DRCongo, they are in Virunga national park in the eastern part of the country.
The word Virunga was derived from the Kinyarwanda word “ibirunga” which means “volcanoes”. These volcanoes are situated close to the western branch of the East African rift valley which is also known as the Albertine rift valley. The Virunga Mountains are also referred to as “the Virunga Massif”. The lower slopes of the Virunga Mountains are covered by tropical forests which are homes to the endangered mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. These are the main attractions that have made the three countries great tourism destinations for gorilla trekking. The Virunga Massif also boasts keeping unique species of birds known as the Albertine birds because they areas; found in this region.
This mountain range is made up of eight volcanoes in the three regions of the countries; Mount Nyamuragiira, Mount Mikeno, Mount Nyiragongo in DRC, Mount Gahinga, Mount Sabinyo and Mount Muhabura at the border of Uganda and Rwanda, Mount Bisoke, Mount Karisimbi located on the border of Rwanda and DRC. Mount Karisimbi is the highest and Mount Sabinyo is the oldest of all the volcanoes.
Apart from trekking for mountain gorillas, these mountains are hiked up on to the summits if possible. However, there is no hiking on Nyamuragira in the DRC because the volcano is still active. Nyiragongo is also active but the eruptions there can be predicted and so hiking takes place at Nyiraghongo. All national parks have guides who take tourists through the trails on the mountains. Hiking to the summits of these mountains is an incredible experience, it offers spectacular views of the vast landscape.
The eight virunga mountains
Mount Muhabura is a beautiful dormant volcano of the Virunga Massif. It is situated at the border of Uganda and Rwanda. It is the third highest with steep slopes and this makes it a hard mountain to climb. You are required to be very fit physically to climb to the summit. Those who make it to the top are rewarded with views of the Bulera and Ruhondo twin lakes, the rest of the volcanoes and the wildlife of the area like the gorillas.
Located on the border of Rwanda and DRCongo, Mount Karisimbi is the highest volcano the Virunga Massif. It elevates at 4507m above the sea level. Hiking to the summit offers views of Nyiragongo Mountain. Hikers are advised to carry heavy clothes because there are normally very low temperatures which sometimes drop to zero degrees.
Mount Sabinyo is located at the border of all the three countries; the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda. This one is believed to be the oldest volcano among of the Virunga Massif. The word Sabinyo means “old man’s teeth”. This mountain was named Sabinyo because of the top that has multiple summits looking like the teeth of an old man.
The mountain is covered by a rich forest which is home to the endangered mountain gorillas, many other primates and various bird species including Albertine birds.
Sabinyo is one of the most difficult virunga mountains to climb becuacs of the challenging g trails.
Mount Nyiragonngo is located in Virunga national park in the east of DRC. It ‘is the most active mountain in the world and hiking on this mountain is allowed. It is quite easy to hike to the summit since the slopes are not sleep. People who are very fit can hike and get back down in the same day.
When you manage to climb to the top, you’ll view the lava lake of the active volcano.
There are no hiking activities to this mountain. It is the most active volcano in Africa. Mount Nyamuragira is found in the DRC, about 25km from Lake Kivu. Recently, there was an active volcanic Lava Lake that was formed at the summit.
This is the second highest mountain of the virunga volcanoes. It is a dormant volcano at an elevation of 4,437 above the sea level. Mount Mikeno is located in DRC in Virunga national park. Hiking on this mountain offers an opportunity to see mountain gorillas, a lot op0f forest birds and other animals in the area. It is however one of the difficult volcanoes to climb because of the steep slopes.
Mount Gahinga is also referred to as Mount Mgahinga. It is a dormant volcano located on the border of Uganda and Rwanda. Ghinga means a small pile of stones hence its name since it is the smallest among all the volcanoes of virunga. Mount Gahinga can be hiked in just a day. The main vegetation on this mountain is bamboo and afro montane forests.
Mount Bisoke has its biggest part in Rwanda and a small portion is in the DRC. It is a famous volcano to hikers because of the reward offered on arrival at the summit. The summit has a crater lake of a diameter of about 400m. The mountain has different kinds of vegetation but the biggest part is covered by bamboo forests.
Mgahinga national park is located in the far southwestern part of Uganda. It is one of the two national parks in the country where gorilla trekking is done. Unlike the other park- Bwindi which has which has several; groups of gorillas, Mgahinga has only one group which is found of roaming even up to the border of Rwanda. The name of this gorilla group is Nyakagezi. The park is also has golden monkey and many bird species. The major activities of the park are gorilla trekking, birding, hiking and visiting the local communities especially the Batwa.
This is one of the very few destinations in the world where you can go for mountain gorilla trekking. It is today one of the frequented parks because it is easy to access, just about 2 hrs drive from Kigali. This park provides luxurious gorillas trekking tours and is a good site also for hiking on the volcanoes, bird watching and trekking for golden monkeys.
This is one of the most biologically diverse national parks in Africa. It is still undamaged since tourism activities have not been taking place for a long time. It has tropical rain forests where you’ll find the endangered mountain gorillas alongside other primates, mammals and lots of beautiful birds. Apart from gorilla trekking, other activities of the park are hiking, birding, nature walks and bike riding.
The highlight of travel to the Virunga Massif is gorilla trekking and hiking but there are other interesting activities to do. These are;
Dian Fossey was a primatologist and conservationist who became famous because of the research and call for protecting the mountain gorillas in the Virunga massif. She advocated for conservation of the habitat of the gorillas which had been endangered due to poaching and destruction of their habitat.
Dian Fossey went and stayed on the slopes of Mount Bisoke when conducting her research about gorillas, which she did for 18 years. She was later on murdered by poaches and was buried in the areas of the park at Bisoke. Her grave is one of the places you ought not to miss visiting if you are in Rwanda.
This endemic primate is found only in the Virunga Massif in Mgahinga national park and Volcanoes national; park. You can trek for it in any of the two parks where the local tour guides will take you through the forests in search of the golden monkey.
Visiting the communities of the Batwa
The Batwa are pygmies found in the Virunga region. They are the indigenous people of the areas around the forest since they are believed to have lived in these forests as hunters and gatherers for many years. When you go for gorilla trekking or hiking, you can as well visit their communities and get exposed to their culture and their way of living. You’ll enjoy their traditional dances and stories.
The experience of hiking on any of the Virunga Mountains is always thrilling and impressive because of what the mountains offer from the bottom to the top. The slopes are filled with lots of wild animals which you’ll keep spotting as you climb higher. On the top of the summits, you’ll have views of many surrounding areas and other volcanoes.