Nyiragongo Volcano Hike: 9 Things to Know

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UPDATE, MAY 2021: Nyiragongo has erupted.

In December 2019 a Gorilla Highlands team member made it to the the world’s largest bubbling lava atop Mount Nyiragongo (3,470m/11,380ft) in Virunga National Park. She chose the Democratic Republic of Congo because of the adventure and because she felt that the country needed support, based on its turbulent history and ongoing challenges with conservation. Her trip gave us a chance to update our Nyiragongo advice, and with Olivier van Pee’s photos from February 2020 we refreshed our visuals:

Atop Nyiragongo in February 2020; photo by Olivier van Pee

1. The Nyiragongo volcano hike 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.

Mt Nyiragongo hike safety — guaranteed! Tight security; photo by Marcus Westberg

2. Mt Nyiragongo hike safety — 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 A stop on the way to the top of Mt Nyiragongo; photo by Marcus Westberg

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 Nyiragongo lava lake detail; photo by Marcus Westberg

4. Get yourself walking sticks

Get a stick — or two, if you believe in the balance of things. Besides helping on the descent, you get a full body workout if you use two walking stick actively on the way up. You don’t have to be old or have bad knees to use these things! Local artisans make hand-made wooden sticks for purchase right there at the base of the mountain. They are very artistic, with burnt-in etched designs.

Last Nyiragongo Volcano Hike  metresLast push towards the top of Mt Nyitragongo; photo by Marcus Westberg

5. Dry shoes will make you happy

If your Nyiragongo hiking follows gorilla tracking, forget the idea that your ‘waterproof’ hiking boots will actually stay dry inside. The gorilla trail can turn into mud and your shoes will get that mud all over them, not just the soles. If you have the luxury of bringing two pairs go for it, or use the old trick of inserting plastic bags as a barrier between your socks and shoes to bring some relief when you set out to climb the volcanic marvel.

Meal in a Mt Nyiragongo hut; photo by Jane Mulungi

 6. Nyiragongo volcano hiking 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 ($25), and will likely want to tip him and the cook at the end (the food is amazing).

Hut for a Nyiragongo overnight Shelters for Nyiragongo trekkers; photo by Marcus Westberg

7. 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, and ideally pack an extra pair. The same apply to socks.

Lava lake between night and day Nyiragongo lava lake between night and day; photo by Marcus Westberg

8. Mt Nyiragongo hike safety — for your belongings

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

Dawn on Mount Nyiragongo; photo by Olivier van Pee

9. 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. You can, of course, also ask to pay a fine instead…

Wish to know more? Would you like to be helped with anything? Do not hesitate to contact us!

text: Miha Logar