The Virunga conservation area is an area where the Virunga Mountains, a chain of volcanoes are found. This area is shared by the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda. The area consists of eight volcanoes with Mount Nyiragongo and Mount Nyamuragira being active.
The name Virunga is derived from a local word “Ibirunga” to mean Volcanoes. The Virunga Mountains are in between Lake Kivu and Lake Edward along the western branch of the great East African rift valley. The slopes of the Virunga volcanoes are home to some of the last remaining mountain gorillas.
The Virunga Conservation Area is not only home to the mountain gorillas, but also to other wildlife like forest elephants, leopards, bushbucks, giant forest genets, bush pigs, duikers, antelopes, and various other primate species like golden monkeys, black and white Columbus monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, olive baboons, blue monkeys, De Brazza monkeys and bush babies among the rest.
The indigenous Batwa, also known as pygmies were the earliest inhabitants of the Virunga Conservation Area. The hunter-gatherers adapted to living in the ancient forests and depending on it for shelter, food, and medicine. You should not miss visiting the forest people while in the area. It’s a great experience.
The Virunga Conservation Area is also home to four national parks i.e Mount Rwenzori National Park and Virunga National Park in Congo, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. You can trek gorillas from three of these parks. Congo gorilla safaris take place in Virunga, Volcanoes is home for Rwanda gorilla trekking tours, and Mgahinga is one of the places where Uganda gorilla trekking safaris take place from. Please note that the price for gorilla permits in each of these countries is different.
List of Mountains in the Virunga Conservation Area
Mount Nyamuragira is one of the world’s most active volcanoes located in Congo similar to Mauna Loa in Hawaii. The volcano stands at an elevation of 3,058 meters above sea level with a massive 2 kilometers wide and 100 meters high caldera at the summit. The mountain has erupted at least 40 times since 1885 and the last eruption occurred in 2011.
Mount Sabyinyo is believed to be the oldest of the Virunga Volcanoes. It is located at the border of Rwanda, Uganda, and Congo. The name Sabyinyo is derived from a local word to mean “worn out teeth”. The peak of this mountain indeed resembles worn out teeth. The mountain gives an opportunity of standing in three countries at one point but can only be climbed from the Ugandan side because of its ridged nature on the Rwanda and Congo side. The hikes commence from Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Mount Bisoke is at the border of Rwanda and Congo and stands at an elevation of 3711 meters above sea level. The summit of the mountain lies in Rwanda with a beautiful crater lake. The mountain also has another crater lake; lake Ngezi that is 11 kilometers away from the summit crater. The name Bisoke is derived from a local word to mean “soaked with water” because the mountain top is ever filled with fog.
Mount Gahinga is found in the middle of Mount Sabyinyo and Mount Muhabura, right at the border of Uganda and Rwanda. The name Gahinga is derived from a local word to mean “pile of stones”. The mountain got this name because of the small piles of stones from the farmlands. The mountain stands on an elevation of 3,474 meters above sea level with a beautiful swampy caldera at the top.
Mount Nyiragongo alongside Mount Nyamuragira are two of the active volcanoes in the Virunga ranges. Mount Nyiragongo stands at 3,470 meters above sea level and is renowned for its devastating eruptions. Its lava lake flows at 97 kilometers per hour. The last eruption occurred in 2002 and lava flowed up to parts of Goma town and Lake Kivu. It destroyed a lot of properties within Goma. The eruption lasted for a whole day.
Mount Mikeno is the second highest of the Virunga massif standing at an elevation of 4,437 meters above sea level. This mountain is located in Congo near the Rwandan border. The name Mikeno was derived from a local word to mean “poor”. Mount Mikeno got its name because of the harsh slopes on the mountain that make human settlement difficult. Mount Mikeno is the steepest of all the Virunga Volcanoes. Climbing it needs experienced and technical hikers.
Mount Karisimbi is the highest of the Virunga Volcanoes, standing at an elevation of 4,507 meters above sea level. The name is derived from a local word to mean “white shell” because of its snow-capped summit. The lavas of Mount Karasimbi date back to 0.24 ma to 0.010 ma indicating that the Volcano is very young. Hiking Karisimbi requires 2 days. The hike begins from Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.
Mount Muhabura, also referred to as mount Muhavura is found at the border of Rwanda and Uganda. The mountain is the third highest of the Virunga volcanoes with an elevation of 4,127 meters above sea level. It can be seen from many parts of Uganda and Rwanda because of its slopes. The mountain derives its name from a local word to mean “guide” because of the historical use of the mountain to aid Navigation.