Mt. Nyamuragira's largest eruption of the century continues to attract hundreds of tourists to eastern Congo, paying at least $300 USD to spend a night next to the erupting volcano. Goma, DRC. 23rd November 2011
Mt. Nyamuragira (also Nyamulagira), located in eastern Congo's Virunga National Park, has been erupting since Nov. 6th, 2011, drawing hundreds of tourists to spend a night sleeping next to the volcano's largest eruption in a century.
For the past two weeks, tourists from around the globe have shelled out $300 per night to trek three hours through the jungle and camp less than two kilometers from the erupting volcano, boosting park revenues and tourism in the area. As conflict in Goma, The Democratic Republic of the Congo's eastern city and capital of North Kivu province bordering Rwanda, has quieted down in recent years, Virunga National Park has seen an drastic increase in tourism.
Between 2008 and 2009 tourism in the park increased from virtually zero foreign tourists to 550. Last year, park visits doubled to 1,800, and this year the number is expected to reach nearly 3,800, park officials say. Virunga National Park also hosts trips to view endangered mountain gorillas, and climbs to the crater of another active volcano, Mt. Nyiragongo where tourists can spend a night looking down into frothing molten lava.
Cai Tjeenk Willink, the park's Business Development Officer, says that "The good thing is we have high-quality attractions here: the mountain gorillas, the active volcanos, safaris with elephants, lions and leopards, the lake, a lowland forest and one of the highest mountain ranges in Africa. We have a lot to offer."
Over 60 tourists per week have trekked to Mt. Nyamulagira, according to Mr. Willink, and although the eruption continues, the number is expected to decrease due to safety concerns as the Democratic Republic of Congo prepares for countrywide elections on November 28th.
“It’s a very crucial time in tourism for the Congo…” says Mr. Willink, "if there is [election] voilence it will bash our operations." "We have hope this time the elections will pass without serious incidents".
While no incidents have been reported of tourists being attacked inside the park since tourism picked up in 2008, there have been incidents in which park rangers have been killed by rebels. Yet according to Mr. Willink, this has been in the central and northern parts of the vast 8,000 kilometer park. Currently, because of these safety concerns, tourists only go to the southern parts, easily accessible from Goma and its neighboring city of Gisenyi in Rwanda.
The cost of the trek is $300, which includes the $200 park fee and $100 for transportation and lodging. Of the $200 entry permit for Virunga National Park, 50% goes to the ICCN (Congolese Wildlife Authority,) 30% goes to Virunga National Park for infrastructure, roads, schools, and other projects which are direct investments in the community, and 20% is used by the park for operational expenses
The lava is flowing towards an uninhabited area of the park, away from any settlements and direct threats to populations living around the park.