Guide to Hiking Virunga volcanoes

Commonly known as the Mufumbiro ranges, the Virunga volcanoes is a chain of 8 volcanoes positioned in the borders of the East African rift valley between lakes Edward and Kivu. The 8 volcanoes are shared between three gorillas’ national parks, (volcanoes national park in Rwanda, Mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda and Virunga national park in Democratic Republic of Congo. The three combined national park form the Virunga conservation area / Virunga massif a home to half of the worlds mountain gorillas. Mt karisimbi is the highest volcano standing at an elevation of 4,507meters (14,788ft) situated in the heart of volcanoes national park. Karisimbi derives its name from “amasimbi” a Kinyarwanda word that mean snow. Karisimbi is unique in that its summit is covered by snow in the dry months of June, July and August every year. Mt Bisoke (3,711m) is another volcano in Rwanda whose summit is in Rwanda but share borders with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mt Mikeno at 4,437 meters is a second highest peak with harsh slopes which make its hiking quite strenuous. Mount Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira are the only active volcanoes. Nyiragongo stands at 3,470 meters roughly 11,380ft whose summit hosts the world’s largest lava lake. Nyiragongo’s last eruption took place in 2006 and another eruption is to take place anytime though no specific. Mt Nyamuragira is a very active volcano believed to have erupted over 45 times since the first eruption in 1885. Mikeno, Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira are both in Virunga national park Democratic Republic of Congo.

On the other hand, Uganda hosts three inactive volcanoes in Mgahinga gorilla national park, which are Mt Muhavura (4127m/13,540ft), Sabyinyo (3645m/11,959ft) the oldest volcano and Gahinga (3474m/11,398ft). These volcanoes share borders with the neighboring Rwanda and DR Congo, which give hikers clear views of both countries from different sides.

What to expect

Expect a strenuous hiking on the steep slopes, which turns to be a life changing experience on reaching the summit. Interestingly, the mountain slopes is a home to the endangered mountain gorillas giving travelers a guarantee to see the gorillas. On reaching the summit, each volcano provides you with spectacular views of the neighboring communities, wildlife in the national park and other attraction in the neighboring countries

Hiking time

Whichever volcano you choose, hiking starts in the early morning with a simple briefing at the starting point. All volcanoes can be hiked to the summit on a single day except for Mikeno and karisimbi, which cannot be hiked on a single day. Regarding the best time for hiking, the dry season in the months of June, July, august, December and January is appropriate. However, travelers are alerted on the unpredictable weather condition at any time of the year despite the season.

Dressing code

Proper dressing is highly recommended for all travelers to ensure safe and quick hiking on the loose and slippery stepping-stones, which mostly make hiking difficult. Travelers are therefore reminded to wear hiking boots for easy movements and gardening gloves for protection on hot surfaces. More still, walking sticks are helpful providing hikers with support in ascension and descending. The un predictable weather conditions necessitate travelers to carry warm jackets, rain gears and safe sleeping bags

Porters and where to sleep

Porters are very helpful in carrying traveler’s baggage or else providing support to travelers by holding their hands in the slippery grounds. Porters are hired at only 10usd, which is an indirect support to the local livelihood, which is surely affordable. The money earned goes back to the local communities, which help to improve the standards of living for the local people in the adjacent communities. Regarding where to sleep, there are bandas on the summit or else travelers are told to carry sleeping bags if you want to have a clear view of the volcanoes at night.

Travel documents

Just like on other safari, travelers interested in hiking the Virunga volcanoes are required to have other valid travel documents. These include hiking permits, visa, passports, yellow fever vaccination certificate, and medication letters among other. The cost of the permit varies in each country.
Conclusively therefore, Hike the Virunga volcanoes rewarding you with a life changing experience.