Camping on the rim of a volcano, gazing down over the world’s largest lava lake is bucket list worthy for even the most intrepid travelers.
Mount Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is an active stratovolcano in the Virunga Mountain range.
The volcano's elevation is 11,385 ft and most recent eruption was in early 2016. However, the last serious eruption occurred in 2002 causing extensive damage to the nearby city of Goma and forcing 400,000 people to be evacuated into Rwanda.
How to Book
You can book a (relatively) safe guided hiking and camping excursion to the summit Mount Nyiragongo through Virunga National Park.
The park authority will allow you to purchase your permit, as well as accommodation in the summit huts for the evening.
The cost is $300 per international adult.
Travelers can also choose to add a packed meal plan (for $75) as well as appropriately sized gear (for another $25 on top of the meal plan). Both of these options come highly recommended!
By adding the meal plan and gear, a Congolese cook will join you on the hike with a pack including water, snacks (a good idea!), dinner and breakfast, tea and coffee for the summit, as well as gear - which includes a sleeping bag and blanket and waterproof and fleece layers. This frees you up to carry a small pack for your camera and essentials or nothing at all.
Check here to book the Nyiragongo Volcano trek!
Climbing the Volcano
The Nyiragongo lava lake is an undeniable bucket list item - but the trek is spectacular from beginning to end.
At the base of the volcano, you walk through vegetation and forest pathways. Soon, however you reach clearly defined, hardened lava flows, which make the trails for the majority of your climb.
Over the 3-5 hour hike, you rest at a handful of formal stop sites. The views from these sites are phenomenal, providing a birds eye view of rural farm land to the west and Goma city and Lake Kivu to the east.
Once you reach the final leg, the hike gets difficult. The terrain becomes very steep and difficult to navigate. But, the red glow from the lava below is good incentive to forge ahead!
Reaching the summit will be one of the most magical travel experiences of your life!
Generally, the hike reaches the top just before sunset. This will give you a chance to get settled in your hut and add some layers before the sun goes down and the mesmerizing, churning lava lights up.
At night, you'll go to sleep to the sound of churning lava. Early in the morning you'll wake up to have breakfast, pack, and begin your descent (eat a good breakfast! The way down is NOT easy).
Here are some good-to-know tips for the hike:
1) Brings lots of water! People often go through 5-8 bottles
2) Temperatures at the summit can reach freezing (0 degrees Celsius), and rain can be common. Pack layers so that you stay comfortable and dry as you reach the top of the mountain.
3) The facilities are basic.
4) If you don't hire the packed meal and gear there is no bedding or cooking equipment in the summit huts - you will have to bring your own.
5) Dusting up on your French will serve you well as many of the rangers and guides speak limited English.
6) Weather at the summit changes quickly! If cloud cover obscures your view of the lake, hold tight. Wind will most likely blow over soon.
7) Altitude does effect some climbers. Be aware and take as many breaks as you need!
The summit trek is no easy hike, but it is certainly worth it! Find more information on how to visit Mount Nyiragongo and Virunga National Park by visiting the park's website.