Virunga Mountains

Virunga Mountains

The Virunga chain of volcanic mountains in East Africa is shared by Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Uganda. The name Virunga is derived from the Kinyarwanda term "Ibirunga," which means "mountains." It is also referred to as the "Mufumbiro Mountains" and is a group of 8 distinct mountains situated close to the huge East African Rift Valley between regions of Lake Edward and Lake Kivu.

The tallest of the eight volcanic mountains in this area is Mount Karisimbi, which rises to a height of 4,507 meters. Mount Mikeno, 4437 meters, Mount Muhabura, 4,127 meters, Mount Bisoke, 3711 meters, Mount Sabyinyo, 36711 meters, Mount Gahinga, 3474 meters, Mount Nyiragongo, 3470 meters, and Nyamuragira, 3,058 meters comes last.

Only three of the eight volcanic mountains are believed to still be active and capable of spontaneous eruption, leaving the other six dormant.

The names of these mountains are largely derived from their topographical features and appearance. For instance, Mountain Sabyinyo, whose name means "Old Man's Teeth," describes the mountain's physical appearance, which resembles an old man's teeth.

In Uganda, there is a location called Kanabe Gap along the Kabale-Kisoro Road where you can see all five of the country's eight volcanoes.

A sneak peek into each of these unique Virunga mountains

Mount Karisimbi

With a height of 4507 meters, the tallest of the eight mountains and the eleventh highest in Africa is a dormant stratovolcano. It is surrounded by Bisoke in the east, Mt. Mikeno in the north, and Nyiragongo on the border with the DRC in Rwanda. Locals called it a white shell because of its snow-capped peak; this name, “amasimbi” in Kinyarwanda, subsequently gave rise to its current name.

Due to its challenging terrain and widely recognized mountain gorillas, trekking this mountain is challenging but extremely rewarding. The journey to the summit takes two days, with the first resting place being at 3,700 meters. You can see a range of different animal species, like golden monkeys and several bird species, while out on your journey. You can also pay your respects to Diane Fossey's tomb because it is her work that is credited with making gorilla trekking possible. Permits for hiking this mountain cost USD 400 per person.

Mount Mikeno

This extinct volcano, which has a height of 4437 meters and is situated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Virunga National Park, is the second-highest mountain in the Virunga ranges. Due to its rocky, steep slopes that restrict human activity, Mikeno meaning "poor" was associated with this mountain.

As a result of its lush slopes and foliage, mountain gorilla hiking and treks are encouraged.

Mount Muhabura

It is an extinct volcano that is also known as Mount Muhavura and is situated in the Mgahinga and Volcanoes National Parks in Rwanda and Uganda, respectively. It is the third-highest peak in the Virungas at 4,127 meters, but its slopes are the steepest. Travelers from a distance utilized Muhabura, which means "guide," as a guide.

Even though it only takes one day to reach the peak, it is the most challenging to climb due to its steepness. Even experienced hikers will find this hike difficult. You can only swim in the Crater Lake at your own risk at the summit, which has fresh, clear waters. You'll observe and encounter a variety of animal species on the trekking trail, including gorillas, elephants, buffaloes, birds, and even monkeys. It is possible to organize hikes for $85 in both Rwanda and Uganda.

Mount Bisoke

Mount Bisoke, also called "Visoke," rises 3,711 meters above sea level and is located in the Virunga and Volcanoes National Parks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, respectively. Its greater part is located in Rwanda, and it features two crater lakes: Lake Ngezi, which is located in Midway, and one at the top. Bisoke is one of the active volcanoes with its last eruption recorded in 1957.

The mountain's lush bamboo forests and other plants are perfect for gorillas to live in, giving it a haven for the endangered species. It takes around 4-6 hours to climb the mountain back and forth and is commonly paired with gorilla trekking. You cannot take pictures of gorillas you encounter while hiking; this extra activity is only allowed for those who are on a gorilla trek. In Rwanda, hiking costs $75; gorilla trekking costs $1500; and in Congo, it costs $450.

Mount Sabyinyo

An extinct volcano that is only separated from Mount Muhabura, its next-door neighbor, by a 20-meter-diameter crater lake. Because of its jagged peak, which resembles worn-out teeth more like a gap between two teeth, Sabyinyo is known as the "Old Man's Tooth." The word "binyo" also means teeth in the Luganda dialect, which is widely spoken in Uganda. It may be found in Uganda's Mgahinga National Park and serves as a boundary for Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Since the terrain in the other countries is so rugged, trekking is now limited to Uganda; however, preparations are in place to establish trails there as well. Due to its steep slopes, most of Uganda's hiking trails are composed of handcrafted ladders. Along your trek, you will see many types of vegetation, from dense woods to shrubs and bamboo plants. Other species live here as well, like buffaloes, monkeys, and mountain gorillas, and you might see them. When you reach the top, you can simultaneously see all three countries. Permits for hiking are at $85 per person.

Mount Gahinga

The phrase "a small mound of stones" is how the word "Gahinga" is translated from the native Kinyarwanda/Rufumbira dialect. This dormant volcano is located in Kisoro District's Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, close to the border between Uganda and Rwanda. The caldera on the mountain is thought to be 180 meters wide. It is easier to climb compared to Mount Sabyinyo and takes about 6 hours to hike. Along with the hike, there are numerous things to partake in, such as tracking gorillas and golden monkeys, bird watching, and cultural visits to nearby settlements. Permits are only $85.

Mount Nyiragongo

Nyiragongo, an active volcano with a lava lake at the top and one of Congo's most popular tourist destinations, is the only spot in Africa where visitors are permitted to have a close observation of the lava lake.

It is the second-shortest mountain in the Virunga ranges, standing at 3470 meters. Hiking doors were opened in 2014, and it takes around 4-6 hours to get to the summit, where you may spend the night by a lava lake. Due to its popularity, hiking permits are $300.

Mount Nyamuragira

It is the shortest of the eight mountains at 3,058 meters and is an active composite volcano that may be found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Known as Africa's most active volcano, it has erupted more than 40 times since 1885, with the most recent eruption taking place on November 8, 2011. The Kinyarwanda term "Kuragira," which means "herd cows," is the source of the mountain's name. Large volumes of Sulphur dioxide have been emitted into the atmosphere by these periodic eruptions. A 500-meter-deep lava-dammed lake may be seen at the summit of the mountain after a hike up it.

Since all of these mountains are in the same region, it is better to trek them during the dry season when the routes are less slippery and muddy and the rain is less likely to interrupt the hikes.