Located in East Africa, the Virunga Mountains are a series of volcanoes that extends along northern part of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Uganda. The range lies between the Lake Kivu and Lake Edward, and is an extension of the Albertine Rift Mountains.
Description of the Virunga Mountains
The volcanic mountain range features eight major volcanoes. Only two of these volcanoes are active, while the others are dormant. The 11,358 ft tall Mount Nyiragongo and the 10,049 ft tall Mount Nyamuragira, which are both located in the DRC, are the two active volcanoes in the range. The most recent eruptions were recorded in 2006 and 2010. The 14,787 ft tall Mount Karisimbi is the Virunga Range’s highest volcano, and the 11,923 ft tall Mount Sabyinyo is the oldest mountain in the range.
Tallest Peaks of the Virunga Mountains
The tallest peak of the Virunga Range, Mount Karisimbi, is an inactive volcano. The peak straddles the border between the DRC and Rwanda. Karisimbi is Africa’s eighth-tallest mountain, and its summit usually remains snow-capped during the dry season. The Karisoke Research Center was established to study the mountain gorillas living in the region. An expedition of 20 porters were tragically killed during a hailstorm and snowstorm in on Mount Karisimbi in 1908.
Mount Mikeno is a dormant volcano located in the DRC. It is 14,557 ft tall, making it the second tallest mountain in the Virunga Mountains range, and the 13th tallest in Africa. The mountain is part of Virunga National Park and is a critical habitat for highly threatened mountain gorillas.
Other major mountains within the range include Mount Muhabura (13,540 ft), Mount Bisoke (12,180 ft), Mount Sabyinyo (12,050 ft), Mount Gahinga (11,400 ft), Mount Nyiragongo (11,400 ft), and Mount Nyamuragira (10,031 ft).
National Parks in the Virunga Mountains Region
The mountain gorillas are a critically endangered species and the Virunga Mountains is one of its last remaining habitats. These primates are threatened by habitat loss, poaching, disease, and war. Thus, a number of protected areas in the form of national parks have been established in the mountain region.
Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park spans an area of 7,800 square km in eastern DRC and encompasses parts of the Virunga Mountains within its boundaries. The park was established in 1925, and designated as a World Heritage Site in 1979. The national park is home to several threatened species, including mountain gorillas, African elephants, and African buffaloes. In recent years, the wildlife in the park have been significantly damaged due to high rates of poaching and the Congo Civil War.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (MGNP)
Located in Uganda’s Kisoro District, MGNP is another national park whose limits include a section of the Virunga Mountains. Established in 1991, the park has an area of about 33.7 square km, which makes it the country's smallest national park. Three of the eight major volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains range are located in this national park, and it is also a critical habitat for endangered mountain gorillas. MGNP is developing as an eco-tourism destination in Uganda. Presently, however, only eight visitors are allowed in the park per day to see the great apes.
Volcanoes National Park
Located in northwestern Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park has an area of 160 square km and includes five volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains. The park protects a significant population of mountain gorillas and golden monkeys, as well as numerous other species. Several tourist activities are offered in the park, like gorilla visits, golden monkey visits, lake and cave tours, and volcano climbing activities.