Erupting Congo Volcano becomes Tourist Hotspot

 @MarkJohansonIBT
on November 14 2011 12:39 PM
Congo Volcano
An eruption is seen from Nyamulagira volcano, 22 km (14 miles) from the city of Goma, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo November 6, 2011. The eruption appears to be on a lower section of the volcano, or in a separate caldera, with lava flowing north into a non-populated section of the park. REUTERS

An erupting volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo may just be the world's hottest tourist attraction.

Experts say Nyamulagira Volcano is in the midst of what could be its largest eruption this century, and officials at Virunga National Park are keen to make the most of the dramatic display.

They've invited anyone daring enough to go on an overnight trek to camp at a safe area set up close to Nyamulagira. The site was selected by volcanologist Dario Tedesco with the Goma Volcanological Observatory.

Due to high demand, staff at the park plan to continue the adventurous treks for as long as the eruption continues.

One of the world's most active volcanoes, Nyamulagira emits more lava than almost any other volcano on the planet. It has erupted at least 34 times since 1882, and officials say the current eruption could last days or months.

A similar eruption in 1989 continued for nine months. However, the most recent eruption in January 2010 lasted just a few days.

Nyamulagira began erupting on Nov. 6 and has several lava fountains spewing up to 650 feet into the air.

Virunga National Park is home to one of the world's last remaining populations of mountain gorillas as well as elephants, chimpanzees, and hippopotamuses.

In a statement on Monday, the park said that rivers of incandescent lava are flowing slowly north into an uninhabited part of the park and pose no danger to the mountain gorillas, which attract thousands of visitors each year.

With the aid of the European Union, Virunga National Park has driven a major effort to relaunch tourism in Eastern Congo over the past two 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. As a result, the oldest national park in Africa expects to raise over $1m for the first time in its history.

With eyes on the future, Virunga is set to open its first tourist lodge on Jan. 1, 2012, with guests paying $200 per night for one of the 12 bungalows made of lava rock walls and thatched roofs.

The majority of the park's visitors are from Belgium, the former colonial power, while roughly one in 10 is British. Officials say that 30% of the park's revenue goes toward the local community while 20% goes to gorilla conservation.

Thanks to a collaboration with scientific experts from the observatory in Goma, this is the first time the park has offered tourist access to a volcanic eruption.

Overnight trips to the volcano began on Saturday, Nov. 12. The trek takes three to four hours each way and begins at Rugari, about one hour north of Goma by car. The national park trip includes transport from Goma, a shared tent, mat and blanket.

Once in a lifetime views of towering lava fountains are free of charge.

For more information go to visitvirunga.org

Check out video footage of the Nyamulagira eruption below:

READ ALSO: El Hierro Volcanic Eruption Creating a New Canary Island?

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