Nyiragongo Volcano Trek – climbing to the largest lava lake in the world
Nyiragongo Trek Quick Facts
Location: Virunga National Park
Days Needed: 1
Estimated Cost: $400 USD
Value: 200% Worth it! One of my top travel experiences I’ve ever had.
Why you should visit the Congo?
What if I told you the coolest experiences I have had while traveling were in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Has the DRC ever been on your bucket list? Well, it should be! I’ve already written about the gorilla trek, and now it’s time to reveal the other major attraction in the DRC, the Mount Nyiragongo volcano trek.
P.S – it makes sense to book the gorilla trek and volcano hike together. Also, there are other activities like kayaking Lake Kivu, so add an extra day to your Congo itinerary to explore Goma.
Is it safe to visit the Congo?
I woke up with a natural high the morning after my Congo gorilla trekking experience. I was eager to head back to Virunga National Park to participate in the Nyiragongo volcano trek.
My excitement turned to fear when I checked my phone and received a message stating, “5 rangers in Virunga National Park have been shot and killed.” I immediately looked at my travel buddy, Jordan, and questioned if coming to the Democratic Republic of Congo was a foolish mistake. Should we still participate in the volcano hike in the same park where poachers killed rangers the previous day?
After consulting our local friend, John Paul – (featured in Local Lingo), and visiting the Virunga Park office, we felt assured that it was still safe to climb the volcano. Unfortunately, ranger deaths are common in Virunga. These rangers risk their lives to protect the park and conservation efforts. If there were any potential threat to tourists, Virunga National Park would close its doors.
Think about it…Virunga National park is the biggest driver of tourism in the DRC. If anything happened to a tourist it would ruin business; therefore the safety of tourists is the highest priority.
With this information, we still decided to climb Nyiragongo on that day, and it was 100% worth it.
Full Disclosure: Virunga National Park had its first incident regarding two British tourists, who were kidnapped for two days in May 2018. The tourists were not harmed physically. The park closed for 10 months to reinvest in safety measures, but just reopened in Feb 2019! Don’t let this one unfortunate incident deter you from booking a trip with Virunga National Park.
5 Reasons Why You Should Climb the Nyiragongo Volcano
- It’s the largest lava lake in the Lava lakes are extremely rare, as there are only 6 lava lakes in the world. The others are located in Erta Ale – Ethiopia, Kilauea – Hawaii, Mount Erebus – Antarctica, Mount Yasur – Vanuatu, and Ambrym – Vanuatu.
2. You can also go gorilla trekking! The cheapest gorilla trekking permit is in the DRC, so might as well achieve two once in a lifetime experiences in one trip.
3. Support Virunga National Park and tourism in the Congo. All revenue that Virunga receives from the permits supports the park’s rangers and the local communities that live within a day’s walk of the park. The money makes a significant impact, considering fewer tourists frequent this country due to safety concerns.
4. The hike was not as hard as all the blogs stated! Yes – it is strenuous, but this is a manageable hike for the average healthy person. There is no rush to get to the top, and everyone can go at his or her own pace.
5. It gives you a chance to explore the Congo. The DRC is not a backpacker friendly country due to its violence and political instability. It is not recommended to travel throughout the country. Goma and Virunga National park are safe for tourists, so the Congo volcano hike is a great way to be introduced to a new country.
The Nyiragongo Volcano T
If you like to hear stories and know my first hand experience on the trek than you are in the right place! Otherwise, if you are only interested in logistics than skip to the next section.
So who else is crazy enough to hike a volcano in the Congo?
Once my friend Jordan and I agreed to still go on the hike, our driver picked us up at 8 am from our hotel and dropped us off at the Kibati entrance. Twelve other brave trekkers from all over the world met us. Here was the breakdown:
– 5 tall men from Russia who were intimidating, with their professional hiking equipment and RBF’s (resting bitch faces)– can guys have resting bitch face?
– An older Sri Lankan couple that we met the previous day on the gorilla trek. They were looking for an adventurous holiday and chose the Democratic Republic of Congo #oldercouplegoals
– A younger American couple that was also University of Pennsylvania Alums! (#Quakerpride and yes – our university mascot is a Quaker). This couple quit their jobs in LA and added the DRC and Ethiopia to their one year around the world travel itinerary. Their Instagram is @ourradicalsabbatical and has serious travel inspiration with photos from places that are off the beaten path.
– A Belgian man in his 50s, who was no stranger to the DRC, since he does business between the DRC and Belgium. He bought his 18-year-old son to the DRC to celebrate his birthday. A Congolese man who was a business partner accompanied them.
Let’s start climbing!
With our eclectic group, we were ready to ascend the mountain. I was nervous to begin the Nyiragongo volcano trek, but I was pleasantly surprised since the first section was a breeze. At our first rest stop, our chef came by and offered some nuts as a snack, while our porter grabbed us water. (The gear package we purchase from Virunga included a chef and snacks). After a 15-minute break, the group was ready for the next section, which also wasn’t too hard!
In total there were 5 rest stops, and each gave plenty of time to recover. Although each section got more vigorous, no one was rushing in the group, and we hiked at a leisurely pace. The age in our group ranged from 18 to 50+, and only one person, the Congolese guy, had some issues since he had bad knees.
Suggestion Time – Talk to the rest of the people on the hike! One of my favorite things about the Nyiragongo volcano trek was the other people in the group. I love traveling to less popular countries because other travelers who decide to visit tend to be pretty interesting people. The third section of the hike was a bit difficult, yet I distracted myself by engaging in an informative discussion with the Belgian father in the group. Since he works in the DRC, I was curious about his opinion of the way Belgium has impacted the country. He gave me a history lesson of Belgium in the DRC, which is pretty f**d up. Read more about it here.
The Best Moment – making it to the top
The last section of the hike was the most exciting. Once I saw the huts at the top, I immediately had a flashback of all the previous photos I’ve seen of the lava lake when I researched it and was anxious to see it up close and personal. Once we reached the summit, I immediately went to the edge, and my mouth dropped in awe. LAVA IS SOOOO COOL!!!
Note: I was so happy to have the hired chef because he made hot tea, which was the perfect companion for my cold hands to observe the lava.
As the sun started setting and it became darker, the lava lake became more and more beautiful. The red color intensified and I could see the lava crackle and pop. Honestly, I could’ve stared at the lava for hours. Who needs a television, when lava can entertain you!
Nyiragongo Volcano trek has the most rewarding view at the summit. I challenge you to find a trek that has something as sensational at the end! (Seriously, leave me a comment if you know of a cooler hike. I’m always up for new adventures!)
The next morning, I sadly said goodbye to the lava lake and started the 4-hour hike downwards. The Nyiragongo volcano trek has officially ended. After the hike, the guide thanked each of us for trusting the park and not canceling after the news broke out about the rangers. I tipped my chef, porter, and guards and our driver picked us up to drop us off at Goma airport for our flight at 3 pm.
Our time in the Democratic Republic was over, and we had miraculously survived.
Nyiragongo Trek Guide – Full logistics for booking the Congo volcano hike
How To Book
Hiring an external guide is not
To save money, I recommend booking via my friend John Paul since he can find lower prices than the Virunga website. He will cater to your budget and is one of the most interesting men I’ve met while traveling. You can contact him on WhatsApp +243 990 622 714
Nyiragongo trekking is expensive, but trust me – it’s worth it!
The total expenses range from $450 to $650, depending on how many optional things you add.
Here is the cost breakdown:
$300 – permit for Nyiragongo Volcano Trek
$105 – Congo Visa, which can be arranged directly with www.visitvirunga.com. Give your visa more value by also going gorilla trekking in the DRC.
$50 to $70: Transportation to Kibati, the starting point in Virunga National Park. Kibati is only 30 minutes from Goma, yet a 4x4 is needed since the road conditions are bad. You can book transportation easily via Virunga’s website ($70), but if you want a lower price than contact John-Paul.
$20 – $60+ : Tipping. Tipping all the guides is important – at least $10 per person. If you hire a chef and porter tip each at least $10 as well. I originally tried to tip my porter $7, because I ran out of money, and he told me that it wasn’t enough. Luckily I was able to borrow $3 from someone else, but the rangers, porters, and chef all work hard and rely on tips for their livelihood. If you can afford the trek, then you can afford to tip.
$25 – Porter for 15 kg. Make your life easier and book a porter. Also, note that by booking a porter you are helping create employment for the local community.
$100 – Extra gear package (sleeping bag, warm clothes, & rain jacket) and cook that provides breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Not necessary, but worth it.
$10 – Locally made walking stick – Skip this purchase. My friend bought one but didn’t need it.
Should you hire a cook and porters?
You can hike without hiring a cook and porter, but if you have flexibility in your budget, I recommend the package. First, once you climbed for 5 hours up the mountain, the last thing you want to worry about is making food. My friend and I, and the Penn couple were the only people who hired a chef. The food was much better than expected. Even as a budget backpacker I was happy to splurge for these added benefits.
I also definitely recommend a porter, unless you are an experienced hiker who usually always carries your own camping equipment. If not, hire a porter and help support the local economy. Also, if you are struggling at all, your porter will always wait for you and give you words of encouragement.
What to bring?
If you purchase the gear package than not much else is needed. I recommend the following items:
- Hiking Boots – Click here to review my favorite hiking boot.
- Waterproof hiking pants
- Hat and Gloves
- Headlamp or flashlight
- An extra pair of socks
- An extra sweater – even though the package includes warm weather gear, it can get very cold at the top and it’s better to be over prepared versus unprepared.
If you don’t hire the gear/chef package you’ll also need:
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping bag liner to ensure you stay warm
- Warm weather gear
- Rain Jacket
- 3L of water
- Food – Pack lunch, dinner, and breakfast. I suggest bringing food that does not require heating up.
If you want to cook, then you’ll also have to pack:
- Cooking equipment
Where to Stay?
If you only plan to hike the volcano, then you can stay in Gisenyi, Rwanda the night before, in order to have more accommodation options.
Gisenyi Recommendation: Inzu Lodge
Backpackers recommend Inzu lodge since it offers great value. You can find a bed for <$40 and are provided with stunning views of Lake Kivu. The food also has rave reviews.
If you also plan to go gorilla trekking as well then look at the accommodations I posted in the complete guide to gorilla trekking in the DRC.
How to get there
The volcano hike entrance is much closer than the gorilla trek starting point.
The meeting place for the hike is Kibati and the briefing starts at 9:30 am.
Cross the Grand Barrière border right when it opens at 8 am. Contact Virunga or my friend John-Paul to ensure you have transportation from the border to Kibati.
The drive to Kibati is 30 minutes. Expect your driver to pick you up from your hotel at 8 am to leave enough time.
Additional Tips and Tricks
- Get Allianz travel insurance. All other bloggers mention that their insurance (usually world nomads), won’t’ cover them in the DRC, but Allianz Insurance covers every country! Unfortunately, I can’t make any affiliate income from Allianz, but I always want to provide my readers with the BEST information out there for THEM and not me.
- An East Africa Visa is terminated once you visit the DRC. Make your travel plans and purchase visas accordingly.
- There are only two bad things from the hike. 1 )the huts smelled like pee – you’ve been warned -, and 2) Trying to find the restroom at night is hard. Bring a flashlight
- Even though we did the Nyiragongo volcano trek during the rainy season, we lucked out and did not have one droplet. If it were raining it would have been way less pleasant, but the clothing package we purchased from Virunga National Park included a poncho.
- Stay in Goma an extra day and go kayaking in Lake Kivu
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