Virunga Mountains

  • Rwanda, Virunga Mountains, Nyiragongo volcano, Walkopedia
  • Rwanda, Virunga Mountains, Mount Mikeno (DR Congo) and Mount Karisimbi (Rwanda), Walkopedia
  • Rwanda, Virunga Mountains, Mount Sabinyo, Walkopedia
  • Rwanda, Virunga Mountains, Mount Bisoke, Walkopedia
  • Rwanda, Virunga Mountains,  Climbing Karisimbi, Walkopedia
  • Rwanda, Virunga Mountains, aircrew prepares to land inside the Nyamuragira volcano crater, Walkopedia
  • Rwanda, Virunga Mountains, Heart shaped volcano crater c Nyiamulagira volcano, Walkopedia
  • Rwanda, Virunga Mountains, Mount Bisoke, Walkopedia
  • Rwanda, Virunga Mountains, Mount Mikeno, Walkopedia
  • Rwanda, Virunga Mountains, Mount Nyiragongo from helicopter, Walkopedia
  • Rwanda, Virunga Mountains, Mount Sabinyo, Walkopedia
  • Rwanda, Virunga Mountains, Mt Muhabura, Walkopedia
  • Rwanda, Virunga Mountains, Mt Muhabura from Mt Sabyinyo, Walkopedia
  • Rwanda, Virunga Mountains, Mt Sabyinyo, Walkopedia
  • Rwanda, Virunga Mountains, Mt Sabyinyo, Walkopedia
  • Rwanda, Virunga Mountains, Mt Sabyinyo, Walkopedia
  • Rwanda, Virunga Mountains, Nyiragongo volcano, Walkopedia
  • Rwanda, Virunga Mountains, Nyiragongo volcano, Walkopedia
  • Rwanda, Virunga Mountains, Nyiragongo volcano , Walkopedia
  • Rwanda, Virunga Mountains, Sabyinyo group of mountain gorillas. Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda, Walkopedia
  • Rwanda, Virunga Mountains, Three Peaks Mt Sabyinyo, Walkopedia
  • Rwanda, Virunga Mountains, Virunga National Park, Walkopedia
  • Rwanda, Virunga Mountains, Volcano Nyiragongo, Walkopedia

Key information: Virunga Mountains

  • An extraordinary chain of volcanoes in central Africa, with amazing landscapes and fascinating geology, flora and fauna.
  • Some outstanding walking in truly remote, often pristine landscapes.

Walkopedia rating

(Top 100)
  • Walkopedia rating89
  • Beauty34
  • Natural interest18
  • Human interest6
  • Charisma33
  • Negative points2
  • Total rating89
  • Note: Negs: altitude, very rainy

Vital Statistics

  • Length: Your choice
  • Maximum Altitude: 4,507m
  • Level of Difficulty: Variable

This walk description page is at an early stage of development, and will be expanded over time. Your comments on this walk, your experiences and tips, and your photos are very welcome.

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Virunga Mountains: Mount Mikeno (DR Congo) and Mount Karisimbi (Rwanda) - © Flickr user MONUSCO Photos

WALK SUMMARY

This chain of 8 major volcanoes sits, just to the west of the Great Rift Valley, spanning the borders of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda. The range tops out at 4,507m, with all of the main summits over 3,000m. All but two of the volcanoes are dormant. The mountains have, needless to say, fascinating geology and thrilling landscapes, from lava flows and beautiful crater lakes to strange formations.

The mountains are home to a wonderful range of ecosystems, from thick rainforest on its lower to mid slopes to bamboo to alpine shrubs to tundra and bare rock.

The Virungas' iconic inhabitants are its mountain gorillas, which are critically endangered. Any walk here would have to include a gorilla visit as well. Other forest inhabitants include elephants, chimpanzees and other monkeys, buffalo, a variety of deer and antelope.

As well as climbing the amazing volcanoes, you can make a variety of forest walks, gorillas inspections and other hikes on the lower slopes.

You can approach the mountains from Uganda or Rwanda; the DRC remains too dangerous, other than as a quick dash across the border. Most of them can be walked in a long day, although overnights are advisable or necessary for a couple of them.

Listing the Virungas roughly from north-east to south-west, they are:

Mt Muhabura (4,127m), the third-highest of the Virungas, straddles the border between south-west Uganda and Rwanda, with amazing views north towards the Rwenzori, across the Bwindi impenetrable forest and towards Rwanda's lakes. Its crater is fascinating. This is a long, steep, demanding 8-9 hr day walk. Altitude is very likely to affect you. 

The thickly forested Mt Gahinga (the lowest of the Virungas at a ‘mere’ 3,474m) also lies between south-west Uganda and northern Rwanda, in Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla NP. Its slopes are clad in a variety of forest, you meet volcanic caves on the trail and enjoy superb views, including of the summit crater with its dank floor. Another demanding 6 hour day walk.

Mt Sabyinyo (3,645m), with a jagged summit said to resemble an old man's teeth, is on the border of all three countries, but needs to be climbed from Uganda. It can be climbed in a long 8 hour day. Wonderful views from the top, and a superb variety of vegetation as you made the ascent, including gorilla habitats.

Mt Bisoke (3,711m) also straddles the Rwanda/DRC border. It is densely but interestingly forested, and has a fine crater lake. It is a long day walk.

Remote Mikeno, the second-highest of the Virungas at 4,437m, lies inside the DRC. Both thickly forested and steep, it is said to be the most difficult of all the Virunga mountains to climb. Not currently realistic given the DRC’s instability.

Mt Karisimbi, at 4,507m the highest of all the Virungas, straddles the Rwanda/DRC border. Climb through fine tropical forest before reaching shrub and alpine zones. This is a two day hike, with a night below the summit; on the second day you climb on to summit it, then head back down to base. This is a demanding climb, where altitude will really affect you and for which you need to be well prepared. Best walked in June, July and August.

Mt Nyamuragira (3,058m), further into the DRC, is the most active volcano in Africa. It is not generally visitable.

Mt Nyiragongo (3,470m) sits just inside the DRC from Rwanda, and is a fully active volcano with a famous lava lake in its crater. While it has erupted relatively recently, it is generally safe for walkers. You can climb Nyiragongo in a long day from Rwanda, but spending a night on the rim, to enjoy the lava lake in action in the dark, is very worthwhile.

The Virungas get a lot of rainfall, and their trails are often rocky, muddy and steep. The driest times and the best times to visit are June to August. 

Have a look at the dreaded TripAdvisor so you may get good, current views on this walk.

We want to give more. Please help us by making suggestions and sending photos! Thank you!

Other accounts: share your experiences

Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.

Virunga Mountains: Mount Sabinyo - © Flickr user floschen

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

We have a lot of helpful practical information and tips about this walk, covering everything from the best books and maps, to timing and weather, geting there, possible problems, whether you need a guide and where to find them, and useful websites. This section is only open to members.

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Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.

Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.

Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

Virunga Mountains: Mount Bisoke - © Flickr user Maciej

OTHER ACCOUNTS
share your experiences

Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

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Virunga Mountains:  Climbing Karisimbi - © Flickr user Francois TerrierFollow...
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