The Virunga Mountains are a chain of volcanoes in East Africa, along the northern border of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda.
The volcanic mountain range runs from east to central Africa, perpendicular to the Rift Valley in which Lakes Kivu and Edward lie. There are eight volcanoes.
Uganda shares 3 of the Volcanoes offering excellent day hikes with lots of unique and rare wildlife such as Mountain Gorillas, Golden Monkeys, endemic birds, and mountain vegetation.
The western volcanoes can be accessed from Goma and Rutshuru in DRC, Kisoro in Uganda, and Ruhengeri and Gisenyi in Rwanda.
Rwanda hosts 5 of the 8 Virunga mountain volcanoes. The hiking adventures are accessible on each of the volcanoes apart from Mt Sabinyo which has got so many craters proving to be difficult and dangerous to hike. However, the Uganda side of Sabinyo is easily hiked since the terrain is accessible.
Virunga Mountains include;
Muhavura, Sabinyo, and Gahinga are best climbed from Uganda. Visoke and Karisimbi are best climbed from Musanze, Rwanda. Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira are the youngest formed volcanoes and still active. Mikeno, Nyiragongo, and Nyamuragira are entirely in DRC though are best reached through Kigali.
All volcanoes can be climbed as day hikes apart from Karisimbi and Mikeno. On Karisimbi, be sure to bring a tent and sleeping bag as the camping spot is at 3660m. On Mikeno, the Kabara hut at 3250m is no longer usable, so a tent is needed here as well. There are no reliable sources of drinking water despite all the rain.
Mt. Muhavura and its enormous conical shape loom high into the darkness with a small crater lake at the summit. It is the third highest peak which starts the chain of the Virungas, situated on the Rwanda – Uganda border.
Reaching the peak of Muhavura requires good weather. The youngest of the chain of volcanoes, but it is still dormant. The surrounding area shows evidence of volcanic activity with giant volcanic vents visible after the land was cleared of vegetation for agriculture.
Muhavura peak is a tough climb with a 1200m steep ascend taking 7 hours but you will be rewarded with stunning views through the cloud and mist as it rolls in and out. A high level of physical fitness is a necessity for this climb.
Mt. Gahinga is a perfectly formed volcano with the route passing through formerly cultivated land, reclaimed and reincorporated back into the national park.
This trek is usually completed in 6 hours, up and down, however, a good level of physical fitness is a necessity for this climb. It is located between Muhavura and Sabinyo, which is shorter and easier to hike.
Mt. Sabinyo, the oldest volcano, provides a fantastic day trek to the summit of what is the frontier of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
As you hike up the summit you can also see the elusive bushbuck and the Golden Monkey which is endemic to the Virunga in Uganda.
It is an exhilarating one-day trek with some very steep inclines assisted by the assistance of eucalyptus ladders to reach the Sabinyo peak. From the summit, you can see the whole volcanic chain of mountains, including Mt. Karisimbi, Mt. Mikeno, and the often snow-capped Mt. Visoke.
Nyiragongo features the world’s largest lava lake with the main crater at 2 km wide and 250 meters deep containing a liquid lava pool that remains active to this date.
The volcano’s forested lower slopes are home to a variety of animals, including monkeys, chimpanzees and bushbuck. From the rim, visitors can peer down into a churning lava lake and hear hot gases exploding up through a mosaic of molten lava.
Nyiragongo is greatly feared during eruptions although predictable and therefore safe for tourists.
Treks to the summit of Nyiragongo volcano begin at the Kibati patrol post, at 1989m (6,525 ft), a 30-minute drive from Goma. The hiking time required to reach the summit depends on the average fitness of each group, but usually takes 4 – 6 hours with altitude that ascends to 3470m (11,382ft) in a short time. Trekkers are advised to bring raincoats and cold weather clothing.
This volcano emerged at the western end of the chain with the lava pool remaining active.
Mt. Mikeno is located in the central Virunga ranges in the Democratic Republic of Congo on the southern sector of Virunga National Park. An estimated 72 gorillas live on Mikeno Volcano.
Karisimbi, the highest peak of the Virunga Volcanoes, is a regular shape of a typical stratovolcano located on the Rwanda/Democratic Republic of Congo border.
The hike is a vigorous 2-day hike with camping at 3700m at the end of the first day.
Mt Visoke, a dormant volcano with a spectacular crater lake, lies on the Rwanda-DRC border. The volcano contains a spectacular crater lake.
The 6-hour hike is active though not difficult with the starting point at Kinigi, Rwanda.
Experienced hikers can get to the top of this mountain in less than 3 hours or even less and return to the base in about an hour. At the summit, you will enjoy scenic views of the crater lake and the peak of the mount Mikeno in DRC. You may trek on an easier and shorter route from Lake Ngezi Trek, a crater lake between Gahinga and Visoke.
Other adventurous activities while hiking the Volcanoes include;