The Nyiragongo Volcano in Congo is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It stands proudly on the border of Congo and Rwanda, sitting over 11,000 feet high. The volcano’s caldera (magma chamber) is almost one mile wide and it holds a deep lava lake. If you are looking for a hiking adventure, climbing to the top of the volcano and watching its bubbling lava at the summit is a must. So, before you decide on hiking Mount Nyiragongo, here are a few insider tips:
How to get there
In your journey to Mount Nyiragongo, start at the town of Gisenyi in Rwanda, and from there, it takes an average of 30 minutes to cross into Goma, Congo. The volcano is around 9 miles away from the town of Goma, so you need transit in order to get to the base of the volcano. You can either rent a car or pay around $20 to a taxi driver to take you to the Virunga National Park. The budget option would be to take the public bus, however it is usually overcrowded and you may end up standing the whole trip and getting tired even before the hike. The hike starts early in the morning, so make sure you reach the starting point before 9 am. It’s always easier to spend the night in Goma, so you can arrive to the base on time.
Some travel agencies like Mission Africa Safaris will offer you a private tour, but you can travel on your own if you are sure about the direction. To book the hike, you can do so using a tour company or directly from the park itself. Using the services of a tour company is slightly more expensive but they will take care of everything including transportation to and from the volcano. Also, for those that need more assistance with hiking, you can hire a porter- a person who will carry your backpack for around $24 but bring cash for tips as it is customary.
Instead of packing, you can have a “volcano-cooked” meal: pay a volcano staff person to climb the volcano and cook for you. The cook will carry snacks, drinks, and prepare dinner when you get to the summit. They will also serve belly-warming beverages to battle the cold temperatures. Though you may feel dizzy because of the altitude, it’s important to keep yourself well fed and hydrated. In addition, accommodation is included in the price if you book a tour company. Once you summit to the top of the volcano, there are 12 huts waiting, each with single beds. Bring lots of layers as the temperatures dip at night.
Be physically prepare
You don’t need to be an athlete to take on this hike, as the duration is only two days. Nevertheless, it still is very demanding, and you need to be in good health conditions. The surface is not even, and the volcano is rock-strewn. The altitude is extreme, so you may feel tired or dizzy, but don’t feel discouraged! Everyone can climb the mountain at their own pace, be it fast or slow hikers. Always bear in mind that the summit is at 11,400 feet high, so it will be hard work. Whatever else you may want to carry to the volcano, you can always give it to a porter.
Have a packing list
The conditions in the hike are quite varying and extreme, so make sure you pack everything you need. As in any mountain, the temperatures may vary from hot in the bottom to freezing cold in the peak. That said, remember to pack all the warm clothing you can. Though there is a volcano lake in the summit, you will freeze. There is also a lot of rain during the wet seasons (between March and May, and again in November) so have a change of clothes just in case. It would be a great idea if you also bring a sleeping bag to put on top of the mattresses of the huts, otherwise, you will feel cold. They are not well insulated, and the mattresses are thin. Unless you are sure you don’t get sick in high altitudes, buy some Diamox to take during the hike. Some people just feel light-headed, whereas others get dizzy.
The actual hike
There are certain requisites for going on this 3 Days Nyiragongo hike. First of all, you have to get a yellow fever shot and bring the actual certificate (the authorities will not let you inside the country without proof). You will also need the climbing permit, which will cost you around $300. It’s important that you pay this before the day of hiking, as they may all be booked up. With a tour operator, two hikers would be charged around $1000, which covers transportation, meals, and porters.
The hike starts at 6,510 feet and ends when you reach the summit, so it’s approximately 10 miles of walking up the mountain. You only get four stops of 20 minutes to rest, but not to worry if you are a slow hiker, the whole group has to stick together and take the pace of the slowest member. There will also be two armed guards, one who goes first and another one who goes at the back. They check that no one is left behind. The weather may vary from sunny to foggy in a hot minute. Beware that you may climb the volcano, but you may not be able to see the lava, as oftentimes there is fog on the top and the crater gets covered in it.