The Volcanic Virunga Mountains Range
Virunga Mountain Range

The Virunga Mountains, commonly referred to as the Volcanic Virunga Mountains, are a stunning range of volcanic mountains located in Central Africa. These mountains span across three countries: Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Virunga Mountains, also known as the Mufumbiro Mountains, are a volcanic range in east-central Africa north of Lake Kivu that stretches for roughly 50 miles (80 kilometers) along the borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. The range extends east-west, parallel to the rift basin that contains Lakes Kivu and Edward. Karisimbi, the tallest of the eight main volcanic summits, stands at 14,787 feet (4,507 metres). The term Virunga (“Volcanoes”) has mostly replaced the previous Mufumbiro (“That Which Cooks”), which is still used in Uganda. Individual volcanoes are named after Rwandans, such as Sabinio (Sabinyo; “Old Man with Large Teeth”) and Muhavura (“Landmark,” or “Guide”).

The Virunga Mountains were first seen from a distance by British explorer John Hanning Speke in 1861; in 1876, British explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley gained a clear albeit distant view of the three eastern volcanoes; and in 1894, Count Adolf von Götzen, a German, examined the two western volcanoes. The first maps were produced as a consequence of Adolf Friedrich, Duke of Mecklenburg’s, big trip in 1907-08.

The western volcanoes are accessible by road from Goma and Gisenyi (Rwanda); the remaining mountains are accessible by a ring of highways linking Goma and Rutshuru (Congo), Kisoro (Uganda), and Ruhengeri and Gisenyi (Rwanda).

The Virunga Mountains rise from thickly populated plateaus dominated by Rwandan farmers and, in certain parts, cattle herders. The southern section of Congo’s Virunga National Park contains the mountains within Congo; Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda comprises the southern sides of the central and eastern ranges; and Gorilla National Park includes the Ugandan slopes of Mgahinga. Conservation safeguards the alpine vegetation of the highlands, as well as fauna such as the golden monkey and mountain gorilla.

When thinking about gorilla tracking in the DRC, consider trekking one of these beautiful mountains. The scenery, for example, will take your breath away as you reach the summit of Karisimbi, one of Africa’s tallest mountains. Three of the eight volcanoes are presently active, while the others are thought to be extinct. Karisimbi, at 4,507 meters, is the highest of all mountains in the Virunga Range.

Here are some key points about the Virunga Mountains:

  • Location: The Virunga Range is situated along the borders of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It forms part of the Albertine Rift, which is a branch of the East African Rift System.
  • Volcanic Activity: The Virunga Mountains are part of the East African Rift System and are characterized by their volcanic nature. The range consists of several active and dormant volcanoes, including Mount Karisimbi, Mount Nyiragongo, and Mount Nyamuragira. These volcanoes add to the awe-inspiring scenery of the region.
  • Mountain Gorillas: One of the biggest attractions of the Virunga Mountains is the opportunity to see endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. These mountains are home to a significant population of mountain gorillas, and visitors can embark on gorilla trekking expeditions to observe and learn about these incredible primates. The Virunga Range is famous for its mountain gorilla populations, which can be found in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Visitors can embark on gorilla trekking expeditions to observe these incredible primates in their natural habitat.
  • Biodiversity: The Virunga Mountains are rich in biodiversity and support a wide range of plant and animal species. Besides mountain gorillas, the region is inhabited by various other primate species, such as golden monkeys and chimpanzees. It is also a haven for numerous bird species, including several endemic and rare birds.
  • Conservation Efforts: The Virunga Mountains are protected by national parks and conservation initiatives aimed at preserving their unique ecosystems and wildlife. Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are key protected areas within the Virunga Mountains.
  • Cultural Significance: The Virunga Mountains hold cultural significance for the local communities residing in the region. They are home to the Batwa pygmies, who have a deep connection to the mountains and possess a rich cultural heritage.
  • Adventure Activities: Apart from gorilla trekking, the Virunga Mountains offer a range of outdoor activities for adventure enthusiasts. These include hiking to the summits of the volcanoes, exploring the picturesque landscapes on nature walks, and undertaking mountaineering expeditions.

Visiting the Volcanic Virunga Mountains is an extraordinary experience that combines natural beauty, wildlife encounters, and cultural immersion. It is important to follow responsible tourism practices and adhere to park regulations to ensure the preservation of this remarkable ecosystem for future generations to enjoy.

Where is the Virunga Range Located?

The Virunga Mountains are located in East Africa, straddling the borders of three countries: Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The range stretches approximately 80 kilometers (50 miles) in length and runs in a north-south direction.

In Rwanda, the Virunga Mountains are found in the Volcanoes National Park, which is a popular destination for mountain gorilla trekking and conservation efforts. In Uganda, the range is part of the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, another significant area for gorilla trekking. Lastly, in the DRC, the Virunga National Park encompasses a significant portion of the range, offering diverse wildlife and stunning natural landscapes.

The Virunga Mountains are renowned for their volcanic peaks, including Mount Karisimbi, Mount Mikeno, Mount Muhabura, Mount Bisoke, Mount Sabyinyo, Mount Gahinga, Mount Nyiragongo, and Mount Nyamuragira. These majestic mountains, characterized by their lush vegetation and unique ecosystems, provide a habitat for various endangered species, including the critically endangered mountain gorillas.

Related: Where is Kilimanjaro located?

National Parks in the Virunga Range

The Virunga Range is home to several national parks in the region. Here are some of the prominent national parks in the Virunga Range:

  1. Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda): Located in Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park is famous for its population of endangered mountain gorillas. It offers gorilla trekking experiences, where visitors can hike through the forest to observe and interact with these magnificent creatures.
  2. Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo): Virunga National Park is Africa’s oldest national park and is known for its diverse wildlife, including mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants, and hippos. The park also features stunning landscapes, active volcanoes, and the opportunity to climb Mount Nyiragongo, which has the world’s largest lava lake.
  3. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (Uganda): Situated in Uganda, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is part of the larger Virunga Conservation Area. It offers a chance to see the rare mountain gorillas as well as golden monkeys. The park is also home to three volcanoes: Mount Muhabura, Mount Gahinga, and Mount Sabyinyo.

These national parks in the Virunga Range provide unique opportunities for wildlife encounters, trekking, and exploring the natural beauty of the region. Each park has its own regulations and guidelines for visitors, so it’s important to plan your visit accordingly and follow the designated rules to ensure the protection of the environment and the safety of wildlife.

More about Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park, located in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Africa’s most renowned national parks. Spanning an area of approximately 7,900 square kilometers (3,000 square miles), it is home to a diverse range of wildlife and ecosystems.

Virunga National Park, originally Albert National Park, is a park in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo and  was established in 1925 with a diverse range of ecosystems.

The park’s southernmost point is located on the northern shore of Lake Kivu, not far from the town of Goma to the east. The Virunga Mountains, which stretch into Rwanda and Uganda, are located between Lakes Kivu and Edward. The huge cloud-forested volcanoes of this range include the dormant Mikeno, Karisimbi, Visoke, and Sabinio (Sabinyo), as well as the active Nyiragongo and Nyamulagira. The Rutshuru Falls and the Mai ya Moto sulfur springs are located further north. Lake Edward takes up much of the park’s middle section. To the northeast, the Ruwenzori Mountains rise to above 16,000 feet (4,880 meters).

The park is named after the Virunga Mountains, a volcanic mountain range that stretches across Rwanda, Uganda, and the DRC. It is famous for its population of endangered mountain gorillas, which are protected within the park and attract tourists from around the world for gorilla trekking experiences.

In addition to gorillas, Virunga National Park boasts a rich biodiversity, including other primate species like chimpanzees and golden monkeys, as well as elephants, hippos, buffaloes, and various species of antelope. The park is also known for its remarkable birdlife, with over 700 recorded species.

The landscape of Virunga National Park is incredibly diverse, encompassing lush rainforests, savannas, swamps, and snow-capped peaks. It is home to several active volcanoes, including Mount Nyiragongo, which is famous for its mesmerizing lava lake. The park’s stunning natural beauty and geological features make it a popular destination for adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts.

However, it’s important to note that Virunga National Park has faced significant challenges due to political instability and armed conflicts in the region. Conservation efforts and the dedication of park rangers have been crucial in protecting the park’s wildlife and preserving its natural resources.

Despite the challenges, visiting Virunga National Park offers a unique opportunity to witness Africa’s incredible biodiversity and contribute to the conservation efforts in the region. It is a place of both natural beauty and deep conservation significance, providing visitors with an unforgettable experience in the heart of Africa.

The Virunga Range offers a unique and captivating destination for nature lovers, adventure seekers, and those interested in cultural exploration. It is a place of extraordinary beauty, biodiversity, and cultural heritage, making it a truly remarkable part of East Africa.

The 8 Virunga Volcano Mountains:

The Virunga Mountains are a series of volcanic mountains in East Africa shared by Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Great Rift Valley includes these mountains.

Virunga is an English word derived from the Kinyarwanda word “Ibirunga,” which means “Mountains.”

The Virunga region is made up of eight main volcanic ranges located between Lake Edward and Lake Kivu, along the vast East African rift valley.

Mount Karisimbi is the highest at 4,507 meters, followed by Mount Mikeno at 4437 meters, Mount Muhabura at 4,127 meters, Mount Bisoke at 3711 meters, Mount Sabyinyo at 36711 meters, Mount Gahinga at 3470 meters, Mount Nyiragongo at 3470 meters, and Nyamurangira at 3,058 meters.

Three of the eight volcanoes are presently active, while the others are thought to be extinct. Karisimbi, at 4,507 meters, is the highest of all mountains.

These mountains are all bordered by bamboo and mountain forest. Nyamurangira is the shortest of the eight volcanoes, standing at 3,058 meters.

The names of the majority of these mountains are derived from their geographical attributes and look. Mountain Sabinyo, for example, means “Old Man’s Teeth” and refers to the physical aspect of this mountain, which resembles an old man’s teeth.

In Uganda, there is a spot called the Kanaba Gap on the Kabale-Kisoro route where you can view all five of the eight volcanoes, which is a thrilling experience.

Here are the eight main volcanoes in the Virunga Range:

  1. Mount Karisimbi: With an elevation of 4,507 meters (14,787 feet), Mount Karisimbi is the highest of the Virunga Volcanoes. It is located on the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  2. Mount Mikeno: Standing at 4,437 meters (14,560 feet), Mount Mikeno is another prominent volcano in the range. It is situated within Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  3. Mount Bisoke: This volcano reaches a height of 3,711 meters (12,175 feet) and is known for its stunning crater lake at the summit. Mount Bisoke straddles the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  4. Mount Sabyinyo: Located at the intersection of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mount Sabyinyo stands at 3,669 meters (12,037 feet). It is characterized by its distinctive rugged shape.
  5. Mount Gahinga: Situated within Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, Mount Gahinga reaches an elevation of 3,474 meters (11,398 feet). It is the smallest of the Virunga Volcanoes.
  6. Mount Nyiragongo: This active volcano, reaching a height of 3,470 meters (11,384 feet), is famous for its lava lake. It is located in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  7. Mount Nyamuragira: Found within Virunga National Park, Mount Nyamuragira is one of Africa’s most active volcanoes. It stands at an elevation of 3,058 meters (10,033 feet).
  8. Mount Muhabura: Situated on the borders of Rwanda and Uganda, Mount Muhabura reaches a height of 4,127 meters (13,540 feet). Its name means “The Guide” in the local language.

List of mountains peaks in the Virunga Mountain Range

Name of mountain Location Elevation in metres Elevation in feet
Mount Karisimbi Rwanda / DRC 4,507 14,790
Mount Mikeno DRC 4,437 14,560
Mount Muhabura Rwanda / Uganda 4,127 13,540
Mount Bisoke Rwanda / DRC 3,711 12,180
Mount Sabyinyo Rwanda / Uganda / DRC 3,674 12,050
Mount Gahinga Rwanda / Uganda 3,474 11,400
Mount Nyiragongo DRC 3,470 11,400
Mount Nyamuragira DRC 3,058 10,031

How were the Virunga Mountain Ranges Formed?

The formation of the Virunga Range is attributed to the tectonic activity and volcanic processes that have shaped the region over millions of years. The range is part of the larger East African Rift System, which is a divergent boundary where the African tectonic plate is pulling apart.

The formation of the Virunga Range can be traced back to the movement of tectonic plates deep beneath the Earth’s surface. As the African plate began to split apart, magma from the mantle rose to the surface, creating volcanic activity in the region. This volcanic activity led to the formation of the individual volcanoes that make up the Virunga Range.

Over time, successive volcanic eruptions and lava flow built up the mountains and shaped their distinct peaks and slopes. The ongoing tectonic forces and volcanic activity continue to shape and modify the Virunga Range to this day.

The Virunga Range is not only characterized by its volcanic peaks but also by its lush vegetation, diverse ecosystems, and rich biodiversity. The region is renowned for its volcanic mountains, stunning landscapes, and as habitat for endangered species like the mountain gorillas.

It’s important to note that while the Virunga Range is an awe-inspiring natural wonder, it is also an area prone to volcanic activity and occasional eruptions. Efforts are made by local authorities and conservation organizations to monitor the volcanoes and ensure the safety of both visitors and the surrounding communities.

Read also: How was Mount Kilimanjaro formed?

Six of the volcanoes in the center and east are extinct. Mikeno and Sabinio are the oldest, coming from the early Pleistocene Epoch (the Pleistocene Epoch began around 2,600,000 years ago and lasted approximately 11,700 years); their craters have vanished, and erosion has imposed a jagged surface. Karisimbi, Visoke, Mgahinga, and Muhavura emerged later in the Pleistocene (approximately 900,000 to 130,000 years ago), with all save Karisimbi sporting a crater peak. Muhavura’s crater includes a tiny lake. Nyiragongo and Nyamulagira, both having huge craters, appeared at the western end of the chain not more than 20,000 years ago. Nyiragongo’s main crater is roughly three-quarters of a mile (1.2 km) broad and features a liquid lava lake.

These two volcanoes’ lava fields have remained active, with noteworthy eruptions happening in 1912, 1938, 1948, the 1970s, and 2002. A lava torrent reached the beaches of Lake Kivu on multiple occasions. The 2002 Nyiragongo eruption damaged part of the adjacent Congolese city of Goma, displacing thousands. Many smaller cones surround the larger volcanoes.

These eight Virunga Volcano Mountains offer breathtaking landscapes, volcanic activity, and opportunities for wildlife exploration, including the critically endangered mountain gorillas. Visitors to the region can engage in activities such as trekking, hiking, and volcano climbing, all while immersing themselves in the natural beauty of the Virunga Range.


About Author



Leave a Reply