Adventure awaits those willing to hike the most active volcano in Africa, to find the World's largest active lava lake at the top of one of Virunga's National park's volcanoes.
The lava lake is absolutely spectacular and if you’re visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo and are moderately fit, it’s worth the time, energy and money to embark on this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The trek is essentially divided into five sections, with each marked by a rest point,When hiking, you should bare in mind that weather plays a huge factor in your experience. During your hiking, you may either be hit by rain and hail storm for about ¾ of your hike which makes the experience a bit tougher than it would typically be, or on the other hand , there will be no rain experience on a good weather day which is much more enjoyable.
The first segment is a simple warm-up; essentially a long trail where you’ll gain about 250 meters in altitude. It’s very gradual and there’s not a great deal of climbing except for a couple of notable spots. This stretch is one of the longest for distance so by the time you reach rest stop 1, you’ve gone about 30% of the distance but made very little in altitude gains.
The terrain changes dramatically in the second segment (lava rock road), where the entire segment is composed of loose lava rock. The rocks are small and mostly loose so it’s more of a balancing game although there are some altitude gains towards the end of this segment but most of the gains are gradual at the beginning. The only biggest risk here is slipping on the lava rocks since they’ll be moving under your feet the entire stretch.
The lava rock and gaining stage.
The terrain here changes again during the third segment and the lava rock continues but differently in that, there are longer stretches of smoother lava rocks rather than the loose craggy rock pieces, since there are still a number of loose stones and therefore, the disturbing issue is discovering which rocks are loose under your feet and which are solid. I will say that the lava rocks look very smooth and slippery – especially when hiking during a torrential downpour with rain and hail – but the lava rocks actually have a decent grip so you won’t slip as much as you may think! Good hiking shoes are necessary to give you that grip though. Hiking are not a must wear, but decent hiking shoes will help you scale the lava rock more easily. Also do note that your, ‘waterproof’ hiking shoes won’t stand a chance if you’re trekking in the rain during your Mt. Nyiragongo hike. The rain, if there is any, streams down the center of the trail (it looks like a stream or waterfall coming from the top and making its way to the bottom) and for stability’s sake you’ll find yourself putting your foot right in the middle of a deep puddle. Altitude gains are much more noticeable during this stretch but if you’re moderately fit the pace should be fine. You’ll be trekking relatively slowly and the focus is more on stability and watching your footing than it is an actual cardio or leg workout.
Long steep stretch-4th stage
This is the longest, continuously steep segment of the trek, whereby you will be gaining the significant altitude for the time taken in this segment with wide steps on the lava rock as you proceed towards the summit.There is a continuous weather change which is fairly dramatically, and getting much colder as you ascend upwards.You therefore need to pull out your rain coat for such moments. You will then reach the 4th rest point at the end of this segment, where there is a little cabin that marks your last stop before you make the final climb to the top. If it’s not raining, they recommend that you change into dry clothes at this point to avoid hypothermia when you reach the top. If it is raining, like it was in our case, then you will continue with your wet clothing and change when you reach the top since you will be required to carry at least a pair of changing clothing. Segment 5-the cabins. If you haven’t felt any altitude experience in the third or fourth segments, then you will definitely feel more of the thinning air during this time of the hike since the final segment is a short but extremely steep climb. The cabins are so close and everyone can go at their own pace and continue towards the top for the most part. You will personally have no issues with the segment in terms of it being strenuous or in dealing with altitude, but on rainy days it may be a challenge since you will have to keep your head down the entire time. The guiding rule would probably be to go at your own pace for this section. You may find it easier to continue using the same momentum, climbing as quickly as it is reasonable considering the steep rock face. For others dealing with altitude may induce headache and dizziness, a slow and steady pace then prove better. You therefore have to do what works better for you as you draw closer to the finishing point.
The cabins are separated into a couple of rows with two cabins right at the top within a few feet of the volcano, and another set of cabins a few feet further down the mountain face. Either way you’re not far from the top, but getting one of the two top cabins will allow you to go in and out more easily when you want to glimpse the lava lake. It is quite literally freezing at the top. Between wearing wet clothes and dealing with 30 degree temps and extreme wind, it can feel absolutely brutal and cutting, therefore it is advisable to change into warm and dry clothes immediately and try to warm up. You may have genuine concerns of hypothermia and frostbite with the deadly rain , wind and the freezing temps concoction but after changing and warming up, you will be fine.
.See the lave lake once you have made it to the top,- the main reason as to why you trekked in the first place. The trek is worth the steps even in terrible weather because you will encounter the world’s largest active lava lake boiling and bubbling. You will hear it, smell its sent, you will also be able to watch the lava flow even while seated at the top, It’s amazing to see in real life and pictures don’t do it justice.
On your arrival to the top, you may find a bit of a mist hanging over the lake which obstructs the view slightly and by 7:00pm the vibrant neon orange lake is clearly visible whereby you will see the pop and the bubble from the bench viewing platform on the Volcano’s edge. The cabins at the top are within a few meters of the volcano so you’ll be able to watch the lava show at any point from when you arrive. The cabins are extremely basic with two mats and two pillows in each room, but they do the job. You will have brought up a sleeping bag and a fleece liner for your bag to sleep in which will add necessary warmth. If your trek is cold and wet like, change into dry clothes immediately and get into your fleece to warm your body up so you can better enjoy your time at the top.
When you book your Mt. Nyiragongo hike through Virunga National Park, a cook will join you at the top. Who will prepare dinner and breakfast for your group in the comfort of a warm hut that he turns into a kitchen and living space for your group.
Birthrooms and toilet facilities-There is an out house, precariously perched further down the mountain face. You’ll have to descend about 40 feet down the lava rock before reaching a little hut with two toilets. By day, it’s totally fine and doable. By night, it’s not worth the risk. The night sky is pitch black and even with a head torch or flashlight there’s not enough light to sufficiently see. All things considered in bathrooms are actually pretty nice. Bring your own toilet paper.
Tips for embarking on your hike
There is a tone of pressure when you’re descending a mountain as steep as this and the pain that you’ll feel in general will be more joint related than it will be muscle related. Know that once you’ve made it to the third stop on your way up, turning around will be difficult if not impossible. You’re with a group so it’s not worth risking it for you or for your group if you don’t think your joints will allow you to make it to the top.
If you’re somewhat physically fit and determined you should have no issues and will be in for one of the coolest sights of your lifetime.
What to Pack
- Good Walking Shoes–You don’t have to strain for hiking boots(but preferable) , but a good pair of hiking shoes are a must! You can also opt for a pair of Adidas AX2, which are much more comfortable from the get-go though but dont do the greatest job at keeping water out.in case of rain Warm Clothes: Pack warm clothes and even You’re better off having extra layers and warmth so as to comfortably enjoy watching the lava lake boil and bubble at night.
- Rain Gear: A lightweight rain jacket with hood will help protect from potential down pours during your hike; a rain poncho is provided in the Virunga-provided volcano pack if you’ve opted for it.
- Hat + Sunscreen: Sun protection – it’s the jungle! Lots of sun and heat at the bottom, mixed with heavy showers for the ultimate packing conundrum.
- Headlamp/Light: There’s no light at the top as the camp is very basic – bring a headlamp or a flashlight to help light the way from your camp to the cooking hut to the lava lake.
- Camera: A camera is a must for the journey and the lava lake though I found my iPhone did a great job of capturing images. Something to record movies is great, too, to capture movement in the evening.
- Portable Chargers: There’s no electricity (you already knew this), so bring pre-charged portable chargers to help boost the power of your mobile devices.
- Change of Dry Clothes (In a Dry Bag): Between sweat and rain your hiking clothes will likely be extremely dirty and wet by the time you get to the top! Bring a change of dry clothes – including socks! – to change into. If you can, bring a dry bag to protect from the elements. If you’re traveling from Bukima Tented Camp or Mikeno Lodge, you’ll be provided with a ‘Volcano Pack’ which includes a rain poncho, warm long-sleeved sweater, thermal sleeping bag, fleece liner for your sleeping bag, drinking water and a packed lunch. If you’re not staying at one of the Virunga National Park accommodations, you’ll want to pack those items on your own. The trek is not easy but it’s worth every step to get to see such a remarkable natural wonder! If you’re somewhat physically fit and determined you should have no issues and will be in for one of the coolest sights of your lifetime
- MAKE SURE TO ARRIVE AT THE KIBATI STATION (trailhead for Nyiragongo) BY 9:15 AM ON THE DAY OF YOUR CLIMB. Hikers typically arrive at the volcano at between 6:30 – 7:00 am the next morning and arrive back at Kibati station by 11:30 am. If one intends to fly out of Kigali on the same day, then make sure to schedule your departure flight AFTER 6 pm.
- Summit Shelters – Each of the twelve summit shelters 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
- Meal Plan ($75) – includes snacks, lunch, and dinner on Day
1 and breakfast and snacks on Day
2. Water is also included for both days.
- Meal and gear package ($100) – includes meal plan plus a sleeping bag, jacket, fleece top, hat and rain poncho.
- Porters ($24) – can be hired at the base of the climb to carry loads for $24 round trip (gratuity not included). The maximum weight that porters are authorized to carry is 15 kg. Porters can be arranged by speaking with a Virunga National Park ranger at the Kibati station.
- Hiring a potter. Be prepared to hire a porter ( at $24 each round trip, plus extra for tip),even if your hike will take a 25 – 30 pound backpack up this incline which is extremely difficult.It’s absolutely not worth it to find out half way through that you can’t continue with the heavy load.