Mountain Hiking in the Virunga Massif – Mount Karisimbi, Mount Nyiragongo, Mikeno, Bisoke and Gahinga
The Virunga massif also popularly known as the Virunga Volcanoes range or the Virunga conservation area is comprised of a number of some of Africa’s unique and finest wildlife attractions. The region ranges from Northwestern Rwanda covering Volcanoes national park, southwestern Uganda covering Mgahinga gorilla national park and eastern Congo covering part of Virunga national park. This region though popularly known for the endangered mountain gorilla safaris that take place in the forested mountains of the three above mentioned national parks and golden monkey tracking, there way many other outstanding authentic experiences that nature lovers and adventurous tourists can enjoy while on an African safari in the Virunga Mountains. These range from forest walks, Volcano hiking, birding among others. Lets however explore more on hiking the various volcanoes the region has since its one of the less known but very interesting activity.
The Virunga massif has a total of eight Volcanoes that are evenly distributed in the three countries. They include Mountain Karisimbi which lies on the Rwanda – DRC border, Mount Mikeno in DRC, Mount Muhabura which lies on the Rwanda – Uganda border, Mount Bisoke which lies on the Rwanda DRC border, Mountain Sabyinyo which lies on the Rwanda-Uganda and DRC border, mount Gahinga which lies on the Rwanda – Uganda border, Mount Nyiragongo and Mount Nyamuragira in DRC. All these Volcanoes are very open for tourists interested in Volcano hiking and offer very remarkable experiences.
Mount Karisimbi is the highest in the Virunga massif volcanoes standing at 4507 meters above sea level. Hiking this volcano does not require any experience in mountain climbing however it’s always advisable to be done by those who are in good health and physical conditions. It takes 2 days to complete the hike; on the first day, trekkers climb and set up a camp for an overnight and on the second day they hike to the summit where they clearly view Mount Nyiragongo and then begin their descent. This mountain can best be hiked during the dry season especially from June to August when weather is very favorable easing the hike. The temperatures especially at night and early in the morning however freeze to zero degrees and hikers are therefore advisable to have suitable coats that can help them withstand the coldness.
Mount Mikeno a dormant volcano is situated in the remote DRC and usually considered the toughest Virunga Volcano to hike. It’s the second highest Volcano in the Virunga massif at 4437 meters above sea level. It has steep forested slopes and which inhabit the endangered mountain gorillas plus a number of other wildlife species including birds. Its also requires some one in a very good health and physical condition to undertake this adventure.
At the Rwanda –Uganda is the third highest Virunga Volcano – Mount Muhabura. A hike to the top of this Volcano offers great views of the twin lakes of Bulera and Ruhondo near Volcanoes national park as well as five volcanoes in the Virunga massif. Other major attractions on the volcano include the crater, which is near the summit with its unique vegetation cover as well as the endangered mountain gorillas that can be even bumped into while on the Volcano trek. Hiking mount Muhabura is also a little hectic because of its steep slope. Treks of this incredible volcano start at 7:00 am and it takes a full day to ascend and descend the Volcano.
Mount Bisoke popularly known for its crater lake on the summit is yet another interesting volcano to hike in the Virunga massif. The mountain is covered with a variety of montane vegetation at the different levels of the mountain featuring bamboo forests, bushes among others. Hiking to the summit and descending also just takes a day but nevertheless requires some level of physical fitness. Treks usually start at 7:00 am after a briefing at the national park headquarters.
With an indented summit structure, mount Sabyinyo lies at the border of Uganda, Rwanda and DRC. The mountain was actually named Sabyinyo because of its indented summit, which to the locals resembled an old man’s teeth. This forested mountain is a home to the endangered mountain gorillas and is famous for the Sabyinyo gorilla group, which is among the easiest gorilla groups to track in Volcanoes national park. The mountain is also a home to a number of Albertine bird species found in no other places in Africa.
Mount Gahinga, the smallest of the Virunga Volcanoes is also a very outstanding Volcano to hike. Hiking to its summit and descending just takes a day and offers great scenic views of the vegetation on the slopes. What’s more interesting on the Mount Gahinga hike are the volcanic caves that are explored while on the trek. This is also a dormant volcano with a crater at its summit with swampy vegetation on the floor of the crater
Very famously known for its lava lake, Mount Nyiragongo is one of the most trekked volcanoes in the Virunga massif. As earlier noted, this Volcano is situated in DRC and is among the active volcanoes on the continent. Though it last erupted in 2002, hiking to the summit of this Volcano is a very safe for tourists and gives them a chance to view the fluidly lava lake and also hear sounds of exploding volcanic gasses. Treks to the summit of Nyiragongo begin in the morning at the Kibati patrol post in DRC and getting there depends on the speed and physical conditions of the tourists. Those who are short of time can hike and descend the Volcano in a day however those with keen interested in the lava lake are recommended to have an overnight at the rim since best of views of the lava lake can be at night.
Lastly is Mount Nyamuragira, which is the most active volcano on the African continent. The Volcano has had several volcanic actions and recently an active lava lake appeared for the first time in more than 50 years.
Apart from Mount Nyamuragira, the other 7 volcanoes are open to tourist Visitation and choosing to any can never be a regrettable decision. There are always porters for hire and can help carry one luggage up and down hill. Tourists are usually led to by well-experienced ranger guides who give detailed information about the history of the any of the mountains most especially regarding the wildlife species and any other related issue in case asked by the tourists. All the Mountains can be best hiked during the peak dry seasons from June to August because rains make the tracking trails slippery and impassable. Tourists are usually recommended to carry the necessary equipment they will need on the hike like strong hiking shoes, raincoats or ponchos since sometimes rainfall is unpredictable, strong jackets and sweaters among others.