The Virunga Mountains are a chain of volcanoes in the Central and Eastern Africa, located at the intersection of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The mountains are a branch of the Albertine rift mountains, which border the western branch of the East African Rift.
Virunga mountains are 8 in number and they include; Mount Karisimbi (4,507m), Mount Mikeno (4,437 m), Mount Muhabura (4,127 m), Mount Sabyinyo (3,669m), Mount Visoke (3,711m), Mount Gahinga (3,473m), Mount Nyiragongo (3,470m) and Nyamuragira (3,058m). The volcanoes are known for offering some of the most stunning and challenging hiking experiences in Africa and also inhabit different wildlife species like mountain gorillas, golden monkeys and endemic birds along their slopes. Of the 8 volcanoes, Uganda shares 3 of them and they can easily be accessed from its side and Rwanda hosts 5 of them. Below are the mountains that belong to the Virunga region;
- Mount Karisimbi (Rwanda) at 4,507 m
Karisimbi is the tallest of the Virunga Mountains and the highest peak in Rwanda. Hiking to its summit is a challenging endeavour, taking around two days. The mount is bordered by Mikeno to the north, Bisoke to the east and then Nyiragongo to the other side of the rift valley. Standing as the 11th highest mountain in Africa, the hiking trail of Mount Karisimbi is rewarded with breathtaking views and the satisfaction of conquering a significant African peak. The word Karisimbi comes from a Kinyarwanda word ‘’Amasimbi’’ which means snow. In the months of June, July and August, snow always appears on the top of this volcano.
- Mount Bisoke (Rwanda) at 3,711m
This is another popular hiking destination in Rwanda. Mount Bisoke is a dormant volcano with a stunning crater lake at its summit that lies on Rwanda – DRC border. The trek is demanding but manageable for reasonably fit hikers and can be completed in a day with a starting point at Kinigi. While at the summit, enjoy scenic views of the crater lake and Mount Mikeno peak.
- Mount Nyiragongo (Democratic Republic of Congo) at 34370m
While not technically a part of the Virunga Mountains, Nyiragongo is a stratovolcano located near them. This volcano is known for its active lava lake, making it a unique and unforgettable hiking experience. The climb is challenging and depends on the fitness of the group but usually take 4-6 hours, with overnight stays at the summit to witness the lava lake’s glow. Mount Nyiragongo hike starts from Kibati patrol post at 1989m, just 30-minute drive from Goma.
- Mount Muhabura (Rwanda/Uganda border) at 4,127m
Known as the “Guide” in Kinyarwanda, Muhabura is an extinct volcano and stands as the second-highest peak in the Virunga Mountains. The hike is demanding but offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes. It takes about 6-7 hours to hike the summit of the mountain and a high level of physical fitness is highly necessary.
- Mount Gahinga (Rwanda/Uganda border) at 3,473m
This is the smallest of the Virunga Mountains, but it offers a beautiful and less strenuous hiking experience. The peak straddles the border of Rwanda and Uganda and is named after the piles of volcanic stones found at the summit. Usually, the hike is completed within 5-6 hours up and down and a good level of physical fitness is necessary.
Car Rental services to the Virunga mountains
When going to any of the above-mentioned Virunga mountains, you can opt for 4×4 car hire services for your transfers since the vehicles have the capacity to cross through all the hard and easy surfaces. As you drive to the mountains, expect to take part in different activities including primate watching, hiking and nature walking, bird watching, cultural tours and others and detailed below;
What is done in the Virunga mountains
As you book your safari to the Virunga mountains region, you will take part in different activities considering the protected area you have visited. There are three protected areas in the region in three different countries – Mgahinga gorilla national park of Uganda, Virunga national park of D.R Congo and Volcanoes national park of Rwanda. Among the activities done in the region include the following;
Virunga region is renowned for its rich biodiversity, including a variety of plant and animal species. The Virunga National Park in the DRC, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda are protected areas within the Virunga region that are known for their diverse ecosystems and wildlife. Among these species include primates, small mammals, birds and others.
Mountain Gorilla trekking
The Virunga Mountains are one of the few places in the world where you can find the endangered mountain gorillas. Conservation efforts in the region have focused on protecting these primates, and tourists can participate in gorilla trekking, a popular activity that allows visitors to observe and interact with these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat for an hour. Among the places where the activity can be done include; Mgahinga gorilla national park of Uganda, Volcanoes national park of Rwanda and Virunga national park of D.R. Congo.
Hiking and Nature walking
The Virunga Mountains are home to a number of active volcanoes and among the notable ones include Mount Karisimbi, Mount Mikeno, Mount Muhabura, Mount Gahinga, and Mount Sabyinyo. Mount Nyiragongo, which is situated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is particularly famous for its persistent lava lake. These mountains provide an excellent hiking experience to the visitors and the beautiful view of the surrounding scenery.
The Virunga Mountains are also culturally significant, as they are home to various ethnic groups with their own traditions and customs. The communities in the region have, in some cases, been involved in conservation efforts and ecotourism initiatives.
Best time to visit Virunga mountains
Since the Virunga mountains are located in different countries, the best time for their visits is also different. In Congo, the best time is in the months of June to September and December to February which is the dry season. In Uganda, the best time to visit the regions is December to February and then June to August and then the best time to visit Rwanda is from June to September and then December to February.