Congo: Erupting Volcano Becomes Tourist Hotspot

By Andrew Meldrum | November 16, 2011 | Rwanda

In Virunga National Park, tourists and park rangers view the lava fountain of Mount Nyamulagira.Photo: Virunga National Park / Courtesy

Tourists can now trek to Virunga National Park to catch a glimpse of the volcano. A volcano is spewing lava high into the sky in nearby eastern Congo. Are people running for cover and fleeing the area? No way. We are looking at the night sky to see the glowing signs of the explosions. And just a few miles away, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park is offering overnight treks to the site of the Nyamulagira volcano eruption. The dramatic volcanic eruption began on Nov. 6 and has increased in intensity. Several of its lava fountains have spouted up 200 yards in height. The molten mass then flows down into a relatively uninhabited area of the park. The rangers at Virunga Park have set up a new tented camp which is just south of the erupting volcano, and which is close but safe, according to Dario Tedesco, volcanologist with the Goma Volcanological Observatory. “This is definitely the best and most spectacular eruption of Nyamulagira I have ever seen. The 200 to 300 meter lava fountains, the closeness and the arrangement of the camping site, and finally the incredible show given by the lights of the incandescent lava made everything special... more than special,” said Tedesco. Mount Nyamulagira is one of several active volcanoes in this spot where Rwanda, Congo and Uganda meet. The volcanoes add to the adventure of the area, which hosts the world’s last populations of Mountain Gorillas. Virunga Park is working hard to compete with Volcanoes National Park, here in Rwanda, and Uganda’s national park. Virunga National Park warden, Emmanuel de Merode, spent the first night at the tented camp, describing the up-close spectacle as, “the most extraordinary experience. Given the exceptional nature of this volcanic eruption, we’ve concentrated our efforts into securing this area for visitors to reinforce Virunga’s potential as the most spectacular park in Africa.” Virunga National Park, with the help of the European Union, has driven a major effort to re-launch tourism in Eastern Congo over the past two years. Access to volcanic eruptions has never been offered to visitors before, but is now possible thanks to close collaboration with scientific experts from the Volcanological Observatory in Goma. The national park organizes the overnight trek, which includes transportation from Goma, a shared tent, mat and blanket. Visitors must bring their own food, water, sleeping bag and rain gear. The hike takes three to four hours each way and begins at Rugari, about a one-hour drive north of Goma. Ethan Kinsley, a tour operator from Tanzania who was in the first group to reach the eruption, described the experience as “beyond all our expectations.” The DRC government, in its efforts to promote tourism, has recently launched a simplified tourism visa application that can be obtained online through the Virunga National Park website. Treks to the volcanic eruption site can be booked through the tourism office in Goma or via email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Andrew Meldrum's journey to Rwanda was sponsored by the International Reporting Project (IRP). Meldrum is the deputy managing editor and Africa editor for GlobalPost.

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