Getting There and Getting Around Africa

Arriving at Bukima, a camp where hikers can stay overnight before visiting the gorillas. Credit: Tom Bradley, www.tom-bradley.com Arriving at Bukima, a camp where hikers can stay overnight before visiting the gorillas. Credit: Tom Bradley, www.tom-bradley.com

Virunga National Park may be more easily accessed from neighboring Rwanda. It is quite difficult to travel around the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and there are fewer reliable flights into Congo than into Rwanda, where carriers from all over the world fly into Kigali, the capital, every day. Rwanda is beautiful, safe and accessible, making it easy and worthwhile to combine with a trip to Virunga.

The night before the hike, we slept in Gisenyi, Rwanda, which has plenty of lovely hotels. The Palm Garden Resort and the Malahide Paradise are particularly charming. The Virunga booking office in Goma, Congo, can be reached by crossing over at the Gisenyi/Goma border post. It took about an hour and a half to drive from the hotel to the hike’s starting point. Be aware, however, that foreigners — particularly those driving foreign-registered cars — are often targeted by Congolese law enforcement for extortion of minor bribes. (On the day of our hike up Nyiragongo, we arrived to the meeting point a few minutes late as we lost some time trying to argue our way out of a bribe after our Rwandan-registered car was stopped near Goma’s main roundabout.)

Of course, most visitors to Virunga won’t have their own cars. You can arrange for a Virunga driver to meet you at the border by emailing tourism@gorilla.cd.

To get into the DRC, you will need an international certificate of vaccination against yellow fever and a visa. At this time, it’s best to get your visa in your country of origin or residency. Some travelers have reported that their visas were rejected at the border if obtained at embassies or consulates where the traveler was not a legal resident. You can also get it at the Goma border for a fee of $280. Visa prices vary from country to country.

Virunga provides small, uninsulated cabins on Nyiragongo’s rim, each furnished with two beds. Bring a sleeping bag, warm clothes, plenty of water and food for lunch, dinner and breakfast. It’s worth packing a cookstove too. You’ll appreciate a hot meal on the crater rim.

U.S. dollars are the most common currency in the DRC. It’s especially useful to bring small bills.

Hiking the volcano costs $200 per person, plus a bit extra for transportation. If you want help carrying your supplies, you can hire a porter for $24 round trip. The prices are the same whether or not you stay overnight on the rim. Definitely opt for the overnight trip — Nyiragongo is most magical at night, when you can see the lava lake’s glow.

The Virunga park authorities are very responsive to questions emailed to tourism@gorilla.cd. Further information about the park can be found at http://gorillacd.org/ and http://www.visitvirunga.org.

Saturday, February 4, 2012 - 06:00