Congo's erupting volcano boosts tourism

Story highlights

  • Virunga National Park in the DRC is inviting tourists on overnight treks to see an erupting volcano
  • Eight volcanoes are found in the vicinity of the national park but only two are currently active
  • Surrounding wildlife, like the endangered mountain gorillas, are out of harm 50 km away
Spewing red hot lava 300 meters in the air, an erupting volcano in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is turning the war-torn African country into an unlikely tourist destination.
Tourists have been visiting the Virunga National Park on overnight treks and in increasing numbers to witness the latest lava eruptions from the volcano, which have been flowing since November 6.
Mount Nyamulagira is considered to be the most active volcano in the area and for $300 each, around 60 to 70 volcano fans have been traveling an hour from the eastern city of Goma to the start of the trek at the Virunga National Park.
With the aid of the European Union, Virunga National Park has been a driver in boosting tourism to eastern Congo over the past few years.
Tourism officials predict that visitor numbers at Virunga National Park will rise to nearly 4,000 this year -- up from 1,800 in 2010, while Africa's oldest national park is expected to raise over $1 million in revenue for the first time in its history, according to a report in the International Business Times.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is home to eight national parks, five of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, as well as being home to many endangered species, making it ripe territory for eco-tourism.
However statistics on the country, which has been embroiled in civil war since 1998, are grim reading. It is a place where women are systemically raped, children are forced to fight as soldiers and most people struggle to survive on less than $2 a day.
But the volcano's proximity and its vivid colors are worth braving the rough terrain for, according to one of the first people to visit the area.
"We really wanted to go in," says Ethan Kinsey, a tour operator from Tanzania who was in one of the first overnight volcano treks. "(National park wardens) had to assess the safety of it and then we hiked in immediately."
On the northern side of the volcano, participants can watch lava spew out of the Earth from a tented camping site 1.5 kilometers away, which has been deemed safe by a volcanologist.
Kinsey says: "Where you look across at the volcano, there is nothing between you and it except a few piles of rock. It is really quite dramatic.
"You really don't know what is happening underneath (the ground) -- it could just blow up. But it seemed like pretty regular explosions."
Kinsey traveled into the national park with two friends and recommends staying overnight.
"The colors are so much more vivid ... It really is beautiful. We slept with our tents open so we could see it, and the tents face the volcano so we could see the explosions in the night."
Kinsey says he felt very at ease while on the trek despite the