The Virunga Mountains
The Virunga Mountains are the key points one should know about the areas surrounding the mountains and what you should expect to find on a trip. The Virunga Mountains are 8 famously known mountain ranges that lie on the northern border of Rwanda and Congo and south western part of Uganda. The Virunga Mountains are all volcanic mountains but most of them are dormant. Only one mountain of the 8 is an active volcano that is Mount Nyiragongo found in DRCongo. These mountains lie within the left hand of the Albertine Rift, a western branch of the East African Rift valley. The eight Virunga mountains include Mount Karisimbi, Mount Mikeno, Mount Muhabura, Mount Bisoke, Mount Sabinyo, Mount Gahinga, Mount Nyiragongo, and Mount Nyamulagira.
Within these mountain ranges is also where the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas are found and have made home over the years. These Virunga mountains are shared by the 3 countries and some are even found in all the three countries while some are found in just 2. Mount Karisimbi, also the highest of the 8 Virunga mountains, is shared by Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is at an elevation of 4,507 meters. A hike to Karisimbi is a 2-day activity as you will overnight at one of the shelters then complete the hike the following day. You will need to be well prepared and equipped for such a hike, have a change of clothes both warm and protective also make sure to prepare your meals but you can hire a chef from the park headquarters. Karismibi hike is offered by the Volcanoes national park at a charge of 400 USD for the hiking permit per person. This fee, however, does not include meals, walking stick, and camping equipment generally so check in with your tour organizer to arrange these as well. This mountain experiences snow on its highest peak thus the name Karisimbi which was derived from a local word “amasimbi” which means snow in Kinyarwanda. The months of June, July and August are when you can see the snow on the top of this dormant volcano.
Mount Mikeno is the second-highest of the 8 virunga mountains at an elevation of 4,437 meters and is only found in the DRCongo. The Mikeno mountain is home to the mountain gorillas of Virunga national park which stay at the slopes of this mountain. You may not be offered a hike up this mountain but it can be seen from a distance while at the Bukima police patrol post where most gorilla treks start from. Mount Mikeno is a dormant volcanic mountain and is also the 13th highest mountain of Africa. Mikeno mountain derived its name from the local people around there who believed the region was poor because of the tough slopes of the mountain that prevented the people from settling around there. This Mikeno mountain totally falls in the Virunga National park.
Mount Muhabura, at an elevation of 4,127 meters, is another of the virunga mountains and is found in Rwanda and Uganda. Hikes to Mount Muhabura start from Mgahinga gorilla national park of Uganda and a hiking permit goes for 75 USD for the foreigners who are interested in this one day hike. This fee is hike fee along with guide fee however does not include porter or any refreshment fee so ensure to book a porter in case you have heavy luggage. This is most visible of the volcanoes from both Uganda and Rwanda because of its high slopes. Muhabura is also an extinct volcano as no activity has been seen from this mountain in many years. At the top of this mountain is a swamp at the caldera but the views are rewarding as you are able to see Rwanda, Uganda, and Congo if you are standing at the exact spot for that view.
Mount Bisoke, one of the most commonly hiked volcanoes of Rwanda is the fourth highest of the Virunga mountains at an elevation of 3,711 meters. Bisoke is shared by both Rwanda and the DRCongo but the hikes on this volcano are done on the Rwanda side from Volcanoes National Park as that is where the summit if the volcano is located. A permit to hike Bisoke goes for 75 USD per person inclusive of hiking fees and guide fees. If you need extras like hiking stick, you may hire from the park headquarters before you set off for the hike. Also if you have heavy luggage, it is advisable to hire a porter to carry for you and this porter can also double as a company and a morale booster as they keep next to you until you get back to the foothill of the mountain. The Bisoke summit has rewarding views with a crater lake at the top with a lot of birdlife. This is a one day hike so you do it and connect back to Kigali or opt for a cultural tour in the evening.
Another of the 8 virunga volcanic mountains is Mount Sabinyo, located in all the three countries that is; the DRCongo, Rwanda, and Uganda. Mount Sabyinyo is at an elevation of 3,674 meters. This is the oldest of all the ranges and its name was given by the locals who would relate the mountain ranges of Sabyinyo to an old man’s teeth because of their serration form and in Kinyarwanda, teeth are known as “Irinyo”. Mount Sabyinyo is exactly at the intersection of the three countries’ borders and is also the join between the three national gorilla parks that is Volcanoes National park of Rwanda, Virunga national park of DRCongo and Mgahinga gorilla national park of Uganda. This mountain carries a lot of cultural value and importance to the people living around its slopes. A permit to hike Sabinyo also goes for 75 USD and can be hiked from the Ugandan side offered by Mgahinga gorilla national park.
The sixth Virunga volcano is mount Gahinga which is one of the smallest but spreads out in both Uganda and Rwanda. It is at an elevation of 3,474 meters. The name Gahinga was derived from its physical appearances like a pile of stones which are known as Gahinga in the native language of the area that is Kinyarwanda and Rufumbira. The permit to hike Gahinga is 75 USD and can be obtained from Mgahinga gorilla national park that was also named after this mountain. This is a one day hike that is done on the Ugandan side. The summit has rewarding views and you may have a barbeque lunch at the top beside the 180 meters wide swampy caldera. You may encounter the golden monkeys on your hike to the Gahinga summit along with other bird and animal species.
Mount Nyiragongo, one active volcano of the 8 Virunga volcanoes stands at an elevation of 3,470 meters in the borders of the DRCongo. Mount Nyiragongo is located within the Virunga National park borders. The Nyiragongo mountain is a favorite of the hikers as the reward at the top after conquering the hike is the most rewarding as you get to see boiling lava at all times of the year with the last eruption being recently in 2002. This hike is offered by Virunga national park and a permit goes for about 300 USD per person inclusive of hike and guide fee only. You can hire meals and camping equipment, known as the Virunga backpack at 100 USD from a trusted operator or directly from the park. This is a two-day hike where you will be expected to spend a night at the summit in the shelters so be well packed for this experience. The temperatures at the top of the volcano can go as low as 0 degrees so be sure to have warm clothes to avoid hypothermia. We have over the years been organizing trips to Mount Nyiragongo so get in touch and let us give you a deeper insight into planning your visit to Mount Nyiragongo.
Mount Nyamulagira is one of the forgotten volcanoes but has shown some activity over the years with about 40 previous eruptions in the past years with the last one being in 2011. Nyamulagira is also in the boundaries of the DRCongo just neighboring the Nyiragongo. Mount Nyamulagira is elevated at 3,058 USD meters. You may not be able to book a hiking trip to Mount Nyamulagira because of the underdevelopment of the region but you may book a helicopter for the above views.