Mount Nyiragongo is an active stratovolcano with an elevation of 3470 m (11382 ft) in the Virunga Mountains associated with the Albertine Rift. It is located inside Virunga National Park, in DR Congo, about 20 km (12 mi) north of Goma and Lake Kivu and just west of Rwanda’s border.
The main crater is about two kilometers wide and usually contains a lava lake. The crater presently has two distinct cooled lava benches within the crater walls – one at about 3,175 meters (10,417 ft) and a lower one at about 2,975 m (9,760 ft). Nyiragongo’s lava lake has at times been the most voluminous known lava lake in recent history.
The depth of the lava lake varies considerably. Researchers recorded a maximum elevation of the lava lake at about 3,250 m (10,660 ft) before the January 1977 eruption – a lake depth of about 600 m (2,000 ft). Researchers have recently recorded a shallow elevation of the lava lake at about 2,700 m (8,900 ft). Nyiragongo and nearby Nyamuragira are together responsible for 40% of Africa’s historical volcanic eruptions.
Nyiragongo is a beautiful stratovolcano that features the world’s largest lava lake. The volcano’s forested lower slopes are home to various animals, including chimpanzees, monkeys, and bushbuck.
Nyiragongo’s summit rim is largely devoid of vegetation and is frequently covered with snow. Visitors can peer down into a churning lava lake and see and hear hot gases exploding up, splashing a mosaic of molten lava from the edge.
Although predictable and therefore safe for tourists, Nyiragongo is greatly feared during eruptions. Because of the high silica content of its lava, Nyiragongo’s lava flows are highly fluid. During the 2002 eruption, some of Nyiragongo’s lava flows were clocked at 100 km/hr (62 mph) and reached Lake Kivu.
Treks to the summit of Nyiragongo volcano begin at the Kibati patrol post, approximately 30 minutes by car from Goma. The patrol post is less than a one-hour drive from the Mikeno Lodge in Rumangabo.
Park rangers lead all treks, and porters (unaffiliated with the park) are available for hire. The time required to reach the summit depends on each group’s average fitness but typically takes 4 – 6 hours.
Altitude sickness can be an issue for some because the climb begins at 1989m (6,525 ft) and ascends to 3470m (11,382ft) quickly. Proper hydration is the best way to adapt to the change in altitude. People prone to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) should speak to their physicians about taking preventative measures before climbing.
Fitter people can climb up and descend in one day. However, most groups choose to overnight in basic accommodation at the top (included in the permit fee).
Trekkers are advised to bring raincoats and cold weather gear. Rain showers are a common occurrence on the climb up during the rainy season, and temperatures at the summit can dip below 0°C/32°F.
Guests staying at the Mikeno lodge can arrange a packed meal service for the trip, while those coming with tour groups must supply their own. There is no food service on Nyiragongo. Porters can be hired at the base of the climb to carry loads for $12/day ($24 for the overnight trip). The maximum weight that porters are authorized to carry is 15kg.
Just outside the Virunga National Park boundary sits the Bukima Tented Camp, one of the main starting points Virunga mountain gorilla treks. The camp was initially built for researchers but is now used primarily by trekkers. As the name suggests, overnight guests at Bukima sleep in platform tents, but they are pretty plush by camping standards.
Each tent features an adjoining bathroom with running water and a nicely appointed bed and dresser for clothes. The views from the tent sites – or anywhere in camp, for that matter – are spectacular.
To the south, the picture is dominated by Mt. Mikeno, whose 4437m (14,560’) summit towers over the gorilla sector. Across the valley is Nyiragongo volcano, whose lava lake colors the night sky with a red glow.
Every few years, the Nyamuragira volcano erupts and steals the nighttime show by spewing hot lava hundreds of feet into the air. Occasionally, the mountain gorillas themselves wander into the Bukima tented camp. Although this is highly frowned upon by park staff, it never ceases to impress the guests.
Prices for the camp are based on double occupancy and include breakfast. Lunch, dinner, and drinks are available for an additional charge. Of the six tents, four feature double beds, and two are outfitted with twin beds.
Each of the twelve summit shelters on Mount Nyiragongo contains two single beds on which visitors can put their sleeping bags. Although these shelters aren’t plush, they offer a welcome escape from the elements. The cost of staying in a summit shelter is included in the permit fee.
The Mikeno Lodge is a 90-minute drive from Goma and offers large bungalows and a good restaurant. The lodge and restaurant are located within a forest and offer beautiful views of the rift valley and Nyiragongo and Mikeno volcanoes. Nature walks and visits to local places of interest can be arranged. There is an abundance of birdlife and resident blue monkeys, colobus monkeys, and baboons. Chimpanzees are also frequent visitors to the area.
The amber glow of the active volcanoes Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira can be seen on most clear nights, especially in the low season of April, May, and November, from Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge accommodation in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Many visitors who stay at the Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge are always stunned by the Virunga Volcanoes’ amazing views.
With our experience walking safari guides, we have led various trips to the Virunga Volcanoes. Some clients have summited Mt. Nyiragongo in Congo, and where we have many treks, the volcano Mgahinga, Sabinyo and Muhavura in Uganda, and Karisimbi and Visoke in Rwanda.
NKURINGO SAFARIS, our walking and trekking outfit, prides itself in promoting exceptional walking safaris and trekking safaris in Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo.
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