Democratic Republic of Congo: Virunga National Park – Part 4

Before you Leave home, be Sure to Bring…

Part 1 – Intro
Part 2 – Visas & Virunga park
Part 3 – Safety
Part 4 – Kitlist & getting to Congo
Part 5 – Border crossing
Part 6 – Surviving Goma
Part 7 – Day 1 of the hike
Part 8 – Day 2 of the hike

The two day trip to the rim of Nyiragongo volcano and back requires equipment. You can hire what you don’t have from the park – as well as someone to carry your bag – but it is of course cheaper to bring it yourself.

  • Sleeping bag – a decent warm one
  • Cooking equipment (we couldn’t find any methanol for our alcohol stove in Goma, and didn’t see any gas canisters, so either bring a stove that can burn paraffin – available everywhere in Congo- or be sure to buy gas/methanol in one of the big supermarkets in Kigali on route.)
  • Lunch , dinner and breakfast
  • Enough water for a day and a half (there is no place to refill during the trek)
  • Walking trousers x1
  • Polyester T-shirt (not cotton) x2
  • Fleece layer x1
  • Down jacket x1 (or otherwise very warm coat, as it can be sub-zero at the top)
  • Lightweight waterproof coat and trousers x1 (yes, it rains in Africa)
  • Underwear
  • Wool hiking socks x2
  • Liner socks x2
  • Hiking boots
  • Sun hat
  • Sunblock (you burn easier at higher altitudes)
  • Washkit (toothbrush, mini-toothpaste, no showers on top of the volcano)
  • First aid kit (including plasters, bandage, wound cream, paracetamol)
  • Toilet roll/hand sanitizer (there is an actual toilet at the top, no it doesn’t flush!)
  • Head torch
  • Optional: pair of comfortable shoes (didn’t bother me to just wear my hiking boots the whole time)
How do I get to the Heart of Darkness?

congo virunga goma helicopter

A UN helicopter ride is perhaps not the most budget way to travel.

You could technically fly into Kinshasa, and then take a slightly precarious domestic flight to Goma. However, the cheapest and safest option is to fly into Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, and then take a inexpensive bus to the Congolese border.

Rwanda is another country viewed as a bloody hell hole by many Westerners. However, this view is out of date. Although the Rwandan genocide took place only twenty-six years ago, the nation has effectively turned a page on its dark, not particularly distant past. Rwanda is one of the fastest growing economies in central Africa, resulting in increased spending in public services and reductions in the number of Rwandans in poverty. The country is becoming a rare African success story (although not perfect – the current president, Paul Kagame, has held onto power since 2000, so about as democratic as DRC).

Kigali – Perhaps the Safest, Cleanest, Greenest and all Round Chilled out Capital of any African Nation.

When we arrived at the airport, we expected to be hounded by taxi drivers, relentless in their pursuit to take us to their brother’s hotel. Instead, one taxi driver approached us and asked if we needed a lift, we said “no,” and he said “OK”. Unheard of behaviour anywhere else on the continent!

kigali

Any city with plentiful trees gets my vote.

Kigali is a restfully hassle free place to spend a couple of days before heading to Congo. Kigali’s genocide memorial draws the most visitors (though you really don’t want to call it a “tourist attraction”), but our favourite site was the Presidential Palace Museum. Here you visit the home of former president Juvenal Habyarimana and get a feel for the lifestyle of a paranoid African dictator. This includes his demise with remnants of the plane crash that killed him still lying morbidly in the garden.

Once you’ve soaked up the relatively laid back vibes of Kigali and sufficiently pondered “how did such nice people do such barbaric atrocities?”, it’s time to head to DRC. Go to the main bus station in Kigali and you’ll find buses at least every hour leaving for Goma. Most are labelled Rubavu/Gisenyi – the end of the line on the Rwandan side just before the border. Rwanda once again proves itself as an advanced nation as there is a refreshing one ticket, one seat, one backside approach to the buses.

The journey takes approximately four hours. You’ll spend the entire trip marvelling at the beautiful Rwandan countryside as the bus rumbles over shiny paved roads up and down the hills through picturesque banana plantations. Finally, you’ll reach the bus station at the outskirts of Gisenyi where you and all the remaining passengers will pile out.

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