Many places are talked about and known for being a truly special place. We have traveled countless hours and thousands of miles to see something extraordinary. At times, there is a disappointment from so much built up enthusiasm and it just looks better in photos than in real life. For me that was Bocas Del Toro. Then there are places that have you in awe and vivid mental pictures stay in your mind for years. Photos cannot do it justice. For me that was Machu Picchu. And then there is the Nyiragongo Volcano…
We hiked for five hours from the base of Nyiragongo with two armed guards. It was a slow paced hike, with several breaks. The sun was hot and it was a clear day. After hiking up rocks that were formed by a lava river in the 2002 explosion, the ascent becomes steeper. As we get closer to the summit, the clouds surround us and the temperature drops drastically.
The eerie sight of huts on top of the volcano come into distance through a thick cloud. The mist is strong and you cannot see much, but the excitement builds. When you arrive, you rush into your hut to change your clothes. In less than one hour, you went from sweating in the hot sun to wanting a full winter getup. It is near freezing with heavy winds, and the sweat on your back is getting extremely cold.
Minutes later, you run back outside. You want to see it. Not knowing what to expect. You already saw pictures, but that doesn’t matter. You step onto the edge of the rim of the crater. And then it appears. Words are said, but sentences are not formed. Expressions are made, but none make sense. Staring into Earth, a massive pool of lava shifts around.
Just 48 hours prior, we were graced with a new fissure that erupted. Lava explodes 30 feet into the air then crashes down onto one of the two newly formed lava rivers. These rivers feed back into the Lava lake. This is the Nyiragongo Volcano.
Many come directly from the border, where a Virunga National Park employee will meet you there and then bring you to the park office to obtain your permits. You will then get your transfer to the park entrance, where you begin the hike at 9:30am. You can hire a porter to bring your bags/gear for $24 USD.
Lava Lake Viewing
You can view the lava lake at any time, but just after sunset and during the night is the best for viewing. In mid-2016 there has been a new exit point with some activity to the far right of the crater. Only days before our arrival, this activity really stepped up and was actively exploding and spewing lava, forming massive rivers and waterfalls all leading back to the lava lake. At night, the red from the lava shines bright and the color is so strong even the clouds will turn red.
What to Bring
Bring normal hiking clothes for your hike up and down the mountain. Make sure to bring a complete new set of WARM clothes for the top of the mountain that are sweat-free. It gets very cold at night, below freezing, so be sure to have layers of warm clothes and proper cold weather gear:
Hiking Gear and Clothes
Food for two days
Permits and Visas
Permits are $300 USD per person. You can book with Virunga National Park on their website https://visitvirunga.org/product/nyiragongo-volcano-trek/. Once you book the Nyiragongo Trek, you then can apply for a tourist 14-day visa, which you can also apply for a Visa directly with Virunga at http://visitvirunga.org/visa/. It will take 2-3 days for processing. Visa’s cost $105 per person.
Hire an armed guard transfer for $28 one way per person. You can also hire a 4×4 private driver from contacting the Virunga Office for around $80 USD round trip if you have multiple people. If you have time in Goma before your trip, you can likely arrange for transport for much less, as it is only a 30 minute drive from the city center.
Things to Know
The park can make mistakes and may not be the most organized at times. On several occasions, people did not receive their Visa documentation by the day they were supposed to enter the country. Make sure to call/email and obtain your visa documentation by email before going to the border. Three days prior to our already paid trip, Virunga informed us the day we paid for (which was suggested by the Virunga office themselves) was full. Luckily we were already in Gisenyi, and we went the following day instead. Someone we hiked with had paid for the armed transport with Virunga, and it never showed up for her return. Luckily we were still there and had a private driver and drove her back to Goma. Make sure to over-communicate as best you can with Virunga National Park.
How to Get to Virunga
Goma is directly across the border from from Gisenyi, Rwanda. You must cross the Grand Barriere border patrol into the D.R.C. when visiting Virunga. To get to Gisenyi, there are direct buses from Kigali and Kampala.
Other Activities in Virunga National Park
The main activities in Virunga are the volcano trek and the gorilla trek. Check out more information on Gorilla Trekking in the article “How to Pick a Gorilla Trek in Africa.”
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Visited in August 2016.