Goma, and The Virunga, Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa)
First Impression: Well it’s the Congo so my first impression was definitely mired by the country’s reputation but once I took off the grey tinted glasses, I saw a vibrant city that is still being rebuilt from the 2001 Nyiragongo eruption. All over town there is evidence of the volcanic rock that streamed through the city, people have rebuilt homes and walls out of the rock so the city has this very depression era, gritty coal mining town feel just simply because of the blackness of the rock.
Where I stayed: Caritas Guesthouse, feels like a throwback to another era. The rooms were basic but it was considerably cheaper than staying in the Virunga and we had the added benefit of being able to explore Goma’s culinary scene. The food was not great at Caritas but we enjoyed sitting outside drinking coffee next to Lac Kivu.
What to wear:Around Goma just cover your knees and dress casually, no fancy jewelry, flashy clothes or tech. For Gorilla tracking you must wear long pants and socks (tuck your pants into your socks to avoid red ants getting into your business). Camisole or t-shirt is fine as it’s hot and a hat would be a good idea. For the Nyiragongo trek bring layers-for the climb: hiking pants or leggings, hiking boots (the lava rocks roll and poke through regular trainers-my friend was in pain), t-shirt or camisole for the bottom half with a long sleeved shirt wrapped around my waist for the top part. Once at the top, gloves, warm hat, sweater and wind proof jacket, extra layer of pants (leggings), warm socks. A pocket rain poncho would also be wise as it did rain a bit which is not uncommon.
What I did: Nyiragongo Volcano Trek, Gorilla Tracking in the Virunga, eat local Congolese food, drink a Primus, have a coffee next to Lac Kivu, have a drink and food at Nyumbuni Lounge.
- Don’t wander after dark, get a taxi to and from your hotel but during the day was completely fine and people were lovely.
- Don’t take photos of anything in town unless you’re with your guide.
- Read up on the recent history of the region and delve deeper into colonial history if you can because you cannot truly appreciate the Virunga and Congo life unless you understand what people have been through.
- If coming overland from Rwanda I recommend hiring Amahoro Tours, a Rwanda based company that facilitates everything including your DRC Visa and transfer from Kigali. You get the added bonus of driving through Rwanda’s absolutely awe-inspiring countryside.
Off the beaten path: Eat at Magali Fan Club.
Last Impression/Wishes for “next time”:
I would have liked to have gone Market Shopping and gone out dancing to Congolese music but we had very early mornings and not a lot of time otherwise. I have always wanted to explore the Congo but sadly, until the country becomes more stable, it really is a fool’s errand to delve much deeper than Goma and the Virunga or Kinshasa.
***Recently (May 2018) 2 tourists were kidnapped in the Virunga en route to trek Nyiragongo; their guide was also taken and the ranger accompanying them was killed, thus the Virunga has been shut to tourists until further notice.