Goma, DRC

  
  - darkometer rating:  6 -
 
A city in Eastern Congo (DRC) on Lake Kivu near the border with Rwanda. Once a kind of lake-side resort for holidaymakers, the place has suffered so badly in the conflicts of the 1990s and up to the present day, that most of the tourist infrastructure is no more.
 
As the Rwandan genocide was being ended by the rebel forces of the RPF a huge refugee crisis followed, as Hutus fled Rwanda in their hundreds of thousands and poured into Eastern Congo. The refugee camps around Goma were particularly notorious, both for the humanitarian crisis taking place there (including a deadly cholera epidemic) as well as for the fact that the genocidaires of the Interahamwe militia, who had fled with the civilians to these camps, misused the camps as their new bases from which to continue their terror.
 
The reason why Goma appears on these pages is, however, a different one. As if all the human-made tragedy hadn't been enough, the town partly fell victim to its nearby volcano too: In 2002 Mt Nyiragongo erupted, draining its lava lake, which then shot a 200-1000 m wide flood wave of highly fluid, super-fast, and red-hot lava down the slopes and right through Goma. Between 12 and 40 % of the houses were destroyed (the figures available vary quite a bit) and dozens of inhabitants were killed. The airport was also affected – as a lava flow cut off the lower two thirds of the runway from the terminal.
 
The lava flow even reached the lake shore, raising fears that this might trigger a limnic eruption of the dissolved pressurized carbon dioxide and methane in the lake's depths, which could have caused millions of deaths. This did not happen, fortunately, but it remains a constant theoretical threat (see under Rwanda for more info on Lake Kivu).
 
Goma is right on the border with Rwanda – with the Rwandan city of Gisenyi on the other side directly adjacent. It is also through this border crossing that Goma is visitable for tourists at all, though not necessarily at all times. The political and security situation in the Congo, and especially the North Kivu region, remains tense and fragile. But when it can be deemed calm enough, excursions from Rwanda are possible and you can view what remains of the lava flows and some of the ruins of the houses destroyed by them (though much has been cleared up in the meantime).
 
The main reason for such excursions, however, is not so much Goma itself, but rather its threatening volcano Nyiragongo, which lures visitors up to the crater rim, because from there it is possible to view one of the world's most amazing other-worldy spectacles: an active lava lake!
 
Some tour operators (see under Nyiragongo) offer packages around such volcano climbs that also include a city tour of Goma and its lava flows. But you could also just visit Goma itself on an individual basis. Whether it is advisable to do so without the added security offered from being part of an organized tour group (with guides and guards) is a very valid question, though. At the very least, anyone intending to cross into Goma from Rwanda should carefully monitor the current security situation there before setting off.
 
(With violence having flared up repeatedly over the last few years, however, a certain risk remains at all times until the conflict has been properly  resolved … and it doesn't look like that's gonna be anytime very soon).
 
Even if not going on an organized volcano tour the general advice therefore is to rather enter Goma with a locally hired guide for extra safety and to reduce hassle. This can be organized in Gisenyi. You will also have to pay an entry fee on the border.
 
There are a few accommodation options in Goma, but one could just as well use one of those in Gisenyi on the Rwandan side of the border, in order to be – literally – on the safe side.  
  
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