8 Things You Should Know before Hiking Nyiragongo

Nyiragongo crater

Over the weekend two Gorilla Highlands media team members trekked Mt Nyiragongo (3,470m/11,380ft), the hottest mountaineering destination of central Africa. This active volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that last erupted in 2002 and may explode again any time will be added to the Gorilla Highlands Video Map. Producing the video might take a while, however, useful tips should be served fresh…

Staring into Nyiragongo lava

1. The experience is out-of-this-world

The feeling of standing on the edge of a gigantic volcanic crater and staring at the red-hot bubbling lava lake cannot be captured with a camera. “Unreal”, “stunning, amazing, humbling”, “coolest thing I’ve ever done” are some of the written assessments on TripAdvisor where the experience scores maximum points. Everything else on this listicle is of secondary importance. If you can do it, definitely do it. It is likely to be among the highlights of your life.

AK-47 in Virunga NP ranger's hands

2. Trust people on the ground

The DRC seems to be too big to manage (it’s about the size of western Europe) or at least too rich (its mineral deposits are extraordinary) not to tempt selfish foreign players. This is why it is crucial to check the security situation first. Do not rely on travel advisories put together by bureaucrats in capital cities far away. Their top priority is to protect their backs and they will always err on the side of caution. In short: they would prefer you never go to Congo. Focus instead on what the authorities of Virunga National Park have to say. Their interest – possibly higher than your own government’s – is to make sure nothing happens to you. Any bad news would hit them too hard to be worth the risk. So when they open Nyiragongo for hikers, they do it because it is safe.

Resting during Nyiragongo hike

3. You do not need to be extra fit

The two days of Nyiragongo hiking are demanding. The most tiresome element are volcanic rocks that wobble under your feet but there is also the sheer distance and altitude factor. The good news is that you will not be in hurry. The trek is timed in a way that allows even a slow person to make it. You might take 7 hours instead of 4 but you will reach the crater and then have a night of rest before the descent. Your legs may hurt for some days afterwards but you will be fine.

Lava lake detail

4. It is full-board, and it isn’t

Hikers who pay for the complete package directly to the park are often surprised that it isn’t as all-inclusive as they thought it would be. Better keep 100 dollars in small denominations in your pocket because you might need to pay your porter ($24), and will likely want to tip him and the cook at the end (the food is amazing).

Hut for a Nyiragongo overnight

5. Forget that you are on a continent that is supposed to be hot 

It is going to be freezing up there. Bring twice as many layers of clothes as you think you might need, and then some more. Pack some warm gloves for sure.

Lava lake between night and day

6. Do not forget your yellow fever certificate

If you arrive to the Congolese border without the yellow booklet, they will charge you $70 to make you one. With vaccination or without it.

Last Nyiragongo metres

7. Mind your belongings

We are conditioned to lose our reservations high in the mountains, and protecting your money and valuables is one such example. Simple huts at the top of Nyiragongo have no locks. What you have might tempt a desperate porter, or even a fellow hiker with strange hobbies.

Old and new Virunga National Park signpost

8. One day this will be the Gorilla Highlands too

The Gorilla Highlands initiative started in Uganda, is now progressing into Rwanda and should, one beautiful, peaceful day, encompass eastern Congo as well. We want responsible tourism to benefit impoverished populations and the DRC is thus a natural destination for us. Sadly the country is not yet stable enough to associate our budding regional brand with it too closely. That’s why we will, for now, present Nyiragongo as an unforgettable add-on to a visit to the Gorilla Highlands.

Thanks to Virunga National Park for providing us with a free Nyiragongo package. Begin your trip planning by studying their excellent website. If you don’t feel like organising the whole tour yourself, you can contact us.

text: Miha Logar; photo: Marcus Westberg

Lava lake by day

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