The Virunga mountains are a chain of the volcanoes in north of Lake Kivu in east Central Africa, that extends 80km along the northern border of Rwanda, the DRC and Uganda, with the highest being its Mount Karisimbi at 4, 507 meters. The range also runs east west to the rift valley in which lies Lake Kivu and Edward. The star attraction of the Virunga are the mountain gorillas, unique apes that are only found in three East African countries. These mountains are also home to other primates like the chimpanzees, the golden monkeys, blue monkeys and the black monkeys and the white Colobus. There are also the forest elephants and Buffaloes as well as the very shy golden cat. The other attractions include the Djomba Gorilla Sanctuary, Rutshuru waterfalls. The Vegetation types in the Virunga Volcanoes are diverse and are divided into different broad types that include the alpine/ sub alpine, hagenia- Hypericum, mixed forest, bamboo, disturbed woodland, open grassland and swamp.
Just at the south of the mountains, there is Virunga National Park which is a home to many endangered species including the gorillas and the chimpanzees and over 400 bird species. The Virunga National Park is the oldest national park in Africa and it is one of the pioneer destinations where gorilla trekking trips commenced in Africa. The central area of this park has got mostly savannah with the species like the lions, leopards, hyenas, kobs, topis and the warthogs.The park offers unrivalled gorilla trekking at very affordable prices. Gorilla permits costs only USD400 and you can visit the gorillas anytime of the year. Other national parks you can go gorilla tracking are the Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda and the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park of Uganda.
There are many different hikes in Volcanic Mountains in the Virunga and some include;
- The Karisoke research center; this Karisoke research center in Rwanda was founded by Dian Fossey on 24 September 1967 in order to study endangered mountain gorillas. Fossey located the camp and also named it by combining the names of the two mountains. This camp has continued to function even after fossey’s murder in December 1985, this is under the auspices of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund international. By the time Fossey founded Karisoke, she feared that the mountain gorilla might become extinct by the end of the 20th century that of her mentor Dr. Louis Leakey had warned. The census also showed in 1981 that the population had fallen to 242 individuals, from a 1960 estimate of 400-500. Presently 480 mountain gorillas are known to inhabit the Virunga Mountains, which is a significant increase since. This Karisoke research center is currently the world’s best hope for the survival of endangered mountain gorillas and their ecologically critical habitat.
The Virunga Volcanoes
Mount Mikeno; this is a dormant volcanic mountain that is located in the DRC of the Congo section of the Virunga mountains along with mount Nyiragongo, Mount Nyamuragira, mount Karisimbi and mount Bisoke. This is the second highest peak in the Virunga Mountains after Karisimbi and the 13th highest mountain of Africa. Mikeno means poor and is so named for its harsh slopes that preclude human habituation. The mount lies completely in Virunga National park and is known for the critically endangered mountain gorillas that live on its slopes.
Mount Muhabura; this is known as an extinct volcano in the Virunga Mountains on the border between Rwanda and Uganda. This is the third highest of the eight major mountains of the mountain ranges that is a part of the Albertine Rift, the western branch of the eastern branch of the East African rift. This mount is partly in the Mgahinga gorilla national Park in Uganda.
Mount Bisoke; this is an active volcano in the Virunga mountains of the Albertine rift in the western branch of the East African rift. It extends the border of Rwanda and the DRC, but the summit is located in Rwanda, it’s located just 35km northeast of the town of Goma and adjacent Lake Kivu. This was a volcano created by rift action on the forming divergent boundary of the east African Rift that is slowly bisecting the African plate. This mount has got the largest crater lake of the range.
Mount Sabyinyo; this is an extinct volcano in eastern Africa in the Virunga mountains. It’s located in north east of Lake Kivu, which is one of the African great Lakes and west of Lake Bunyonyi in Uganda. The summit of the mountain is at 3,645 meters and marks the intersection of the borders of the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda. It’s also within the adjoin national parks established by these countries; Virunga National Park in the DRC , the volcanoes national Park in Rwanda and Mgahinga gorilla National Park in Uganda. These slopes here are habitant for the critically endangered mountain gorillas. This mountain carries the local nickname Old name’s teeth because its serrated summit resembles worn teeth in a gum line.
Mount Gahinga; this is a dormant volcano in the Virunga Mountains on the border between Rwanda and Uganda. Gahinga lies between Muhabura and Sabyinyo, but is the smallest of these three. Mount Gahinga is also known in the local Kinyarwanda / Rufumbira dialect as a small pile of stones, has a swampy caldera on its peak. The caldera is also believed to be about 180 meters wide. Mgahinga gorilla national Park got its name from this volcano. It has an elevation of 3,474 meters and is part of a chain of 8 volcanic mountains of the Mufumbiro ranges. The volcano chain extends across Rwanda, Uganda and DRC.
Mount Nyiragongo is also an active strato volcano with an elevation of 3,470 meters in the Virunga Mountains associated with the Albertine rift. Virunga Mountains associated with the Albertine rift. It’s located inside Virunga national Park in the DRC about 20km north of the town of Goma and Lake Kivu as well as west of the border with Rwanda. Its main crater is about two kilometers wide and has got a lava lake.
Nyamuragira volcano; also known as Nyamulagira which is an active volcano in the Virunga mountains of the DRC located about 25km of Lake Kivu. The name is derived from the Kinyarwanda verb meaning to herd cows. This has been described as Africa’s most active volcano and has erupted over 40 times since 1885. The recent eruption took place in 2010 and 2011.
The other features found in the Virunga mountains include; the Maji ja Moto Hot springs, which are located at an altitude of 950 m in the eastern part of the DRC of Congo about 38km north of the town of Rutschuru. The area contains fumaroles and hot springs with temperatures of less than 100 degrees centigrade.
Virunga Mountains is also home to the pygmies with the Twa which is a sub group of the African pygmies, being slightly larger than most pygmies. The Twa are the earliest settlers of this area who originally lived off the land as hunters and gatherers in the once extensive forests around the Virunga Mountains.