Nyiragongo Mountain is one of the eight volcanoes found in the Virunga ranges – an area spanning across three East and central African countries, Uganda, Rwanda and DRC. Nyiragongo is situated in the western part of the massif on the outskirts of Virunga national park.
This mountain is so interesting and spectacular compared to the others, well known for its lava lake and the frequent eruptions, however it’s now open for hiking all year round. The mountain is located within the Virunga national park which is the oldest park in Africa.
Mount Nyiragongo is a real vigorous Stratovolcano with a height of about 3470m and with a spectacular crater on top which is about 2 kilometers wide and a lava lake. The lake situated in the crater has two different lava benches in the crater walls. These lava benches have different levels i.e. one which is about 3,175m and the other is about 2,975m above sea level. The Nyiragongo Mountain is also responsible for the past volcanic eruptions that happened in Africa.
Mount Nyiragongo has erupted for about 34 times since 1882, including the times where eruptions took almost a year. It is home to the largest lava lake on top of any known mountain in the world. The lava lake on top is about 60 feet high and with a wide steep-side cinder cone which was created on the crater base.
Hiking the Nyiragongo Mountain starts from about 1,994 meters (6500 feet) and visitors hike for an estimate of 5000 feet to make it 11,500 feet to reach the summit of mount Nyiragongo. The hiking expedition lasts for about 8 kilometers which is quite not a difficult distance giving some signs of how steep the hike can allow travelers to gain such type of altitude in the shortest distance.
The hike to mount Nyiragongo is divided in to four sections; each distinguished with a rest stop. It must be noted by hikers that in this site weather plays significant role in the experience you get from the adventure. Hiking during dry season is the best time compared to hiking in the rainy seasons, because rain makes the experience a bit tougher, however hiking on this mountain is done throughout the year.
First section is the simple warm up; this is a long trail where hikers conquer about 250 meters in altitude. This is a gradual trail with less of climbing spots. This stretch is the longest distance before reaching the resting spot 1 which is about 25-30% of the total distance.
The second section is called the lava road. Here, the terrain changes from woody trail to loose lava rock. Here rocks are small and loose making it more of a balancing play. There is some altitude gains especially at the end of this trail. The biggest risk for hikers here is that the rocks are slippery and loose.
The third section has some lava rock and gaining Altitude. Here the rock becomes loose craggy rock pieces, but no longer smoother lava rock. The best thing about this section, hikers can chose where to step and not to step. This is an enjoyable section for travelers.
The longest is the steep stretch which is a continuous segment of the hike. Here, hikers gain significant altitude for all the duration of this segment with large steps on lava rock as the hike continues to the summit. At the end of this segment, hikers reach the 4th resting spot. This point has a small cabin that marks the last stop before hiking to the summit.
The final segment is the summit with the lake lava marked with extremely steep climb. On this segment you will definitely feel the real change in the altitude if you didn’t feel it either in the third or the four segments. On the top of the mountain you can see the lava lake with its spectacular views. The two cabins are in a row right at the top just a few feet of the volcano and the other set of the cabins situated a few feet down the mountain.
Note that hiking to the summit of Mount Nyirangongo takes about 5 hours, depending on weather and relative speed of hikers. Mount Nyiragongo can be accessed through Kigali international airport taking about 4 hours’ drive through Gisenyi, crossing into D.R. Congo via Goma boarder and to Goma town which is the nearest town to Virunga national park with an estimated distance of about 20 kilometers.
To get to Kibati ranger station, it is recommended that visitors use 4×4 land cruiser safari vehicles as the road conditions may worsen especially during rainy seasons.