Virunga Massif is a geological term used to describe the section of earth crust or an area marked by faults, and the region covers an area of over 8000 square kilometers bordering Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Northwestern Rwanda and South-western Uganda. The Virunga Massif contains 8 spectacular Volcanoes that span across the there countries (Uganda, Rwanda and DRC) and covers three wonderful and beautiful National park i.e. Mgahinga National park of Uganda covering 33.7 square kilometers, Volcanoes National park/Parc National des Volcanoes (PNV) of Rwanda covering an area of 163 square kilometers and Virunga National Park/Parc National des Virunga (PNVi) of DRC covering 7800 square Kilometers.
The chain of 8 volcanoes that make up this wonderful Virunga Massif include Mount Mikeno, Mount Nyamuragira (active) standing at 3063, Mount Nyiragongo (active volcano) at 3462 meters, Mount Karisimbi the highest standing at 4507 meters, Mount Bisoke, Muhabura, Sabinyo-the oldest Volcanoes and bordered by the three countries stands at 3634 meters and Mount Gahinga. The Virunga Massif is a branch of the magnificent Albertine Rift Mountains that span the western Arm of the East African Rift Valley and connects to its Eastern limit at Rwenzori Mountains. This region is so volatile when it comes to volcanoes eruptions because it has two active mountains that include Mountain Nyamuragira and Mount Nyiragongo (that constitute of two-fifth of Africa’s active Volcanoes).
When it comes to vegetation and habitats, you will be amazed by what this region is comprised of. It is composed of one of the most exceptional diversity of habitats that include Lakes at the lower slopes, marshlands and peat bogs, Savanna and Lava plains, lowland equatorial forests and high altitude equatorial forests at the higher slopes and the high altitude glaciers and snowfields of Mountain Rwenzori appear at the Eastern border of the Virunga massif, which make this region exceptionally beautiful. With its varying altitude, this region has outstanding and varying vegetation zones that include the Bamboo zones, Hagenia-Hypericum woodland, Alpine/Sub-alpine zone, disturbed woodland, open grassland and marshlands/swamps.
Mount Karisimbi is the highest of all the eight Volcanoes, the highest mountain in Rwanda and the 6th highest mountain in Africa standing at 4507 meters/14,790 feet above sea level. This Volcano lies in the Rwanda-DRC border. This is one of the Volcanoes that tourists can visit for an invigorating hiking adventure and it usually takes 2 days to ascend and descend this fascinating Mountain, and is considered the most strenuous to Climb but is so rewarding to climb it. The most interesting feature on this Volcano is its white-capped summit as a result of sleet and hails that accumulate from the frequent storms.
This dormant volcanic Mountain has the second highest Peak of all the 8 Virunga Volcanoes standing at 4437 meters/14,560 feet above seas level, and lies in only Democratic Republic of Congo.
This Volcano is the third highest with a height of 4127 meters/13,540 feet above sea level and is situated in the Rwanda-Uganda border. Muhabura or Muhavura is a Rukiga word for “guide” and climbing this Volcano takes at least 8 hours and rewards tourists with the breathtaking views of other Volcanoes, the canopies of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Rwenzori Mountains, Lake Edward and Lake George
At a height of 3711 meters/12,180 feet, it is the 4th highest volcano within the Virunga Massif and is situated on the Rwanda-DRC border. Bisoke is a Swahili word that means soaked with water because there is a Crater Lake at the summit and midway this Mountain. Climbing this mountain usually takes 6 hours to ascend to and descend from the Summit of this Volcano.
Mount Sabinyo is the 5th highest Volcano in the Virunga Massif standing at 3674 meters/12,180 feet above sea level. This is one of the oldest Volcanoes and is shared by three countries (Uganda, Rwanda and DRC) this Volcano derives its name from its appearance where by its peaks are gapped like an old man’s teeth resulting from erosion by time and elements, hence Sabinyo (meaning old man’s teeth). Climbing this Volcano is mainly done from the Ugandan side because the Rwandan and Congo sides are rugged and very steep, but reaching to the Peak leads you to one of the Peaks (the third) which act as a junction to the Uganda-Rwanda-Congo borders.
The 6th highest Volcano standing at a height of 3474 meters/11,400 feet above sea level lies in the Uganda-Rwanda border. ‘Gahinga” is a Rukiga word meaning “pile of stones” because there are piles of stones in the farms at the base of the Mountain, and climbing this spectacular Volcano takes just 6 hours (ascending and descending). Much as climbing this mountain is often ignore by tourists, The few tourists who endeavor to climb it are rewarded with a stunning view of a swamp on its summit.
Second lowest Volcano in the Virunga Massif standing at 3470 meters/11,400 feet above sea level and is located within the Democratic Republic of Congo. This Volcano together with Mount Nyamuragira are the only two active Volcanoes in the Virunga Massif (hence account for at least two-fifth of Africa’s total eruptions). The recent eruption of this Volcano was in 2010 where over 200,000 people were displaced and houses destroyed. Climbing this Volcano however rewards tourists with one of the most spectacular views of the Lava Lake found on its summit.
The lowest of the Virunga Volcanoes stands at 3058 meters/10,031 feet above sea level and is situated in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is one of the most active Volcanoes among the 8 Volcanoes in the Virunga Massif.
In conclusion, with the existence of fascinating Volcanoes within the Virunga Massif, tourists who visit Uganda, Rwanda or the Democratic Republic of Congo can combine mountain climbing with gorilla trekking and have a memorable African Safari Experience.