Mount Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is Africa’s most active volcano and home to the world’s largest permanent lava lake. At over 200 m across, the lava bubbles and boils at 2000 degrees C, with gas explosions and spurts of lava up to 10 metres high.

Intrepid travellers can cross the border from Rwanda into conflict-torn Congo, and then hike for 6 hours for the chance to spend a night at the top of this incredible mountain.

If you’re lucky, as I was, the clouds will clear and you’ll get to spend hours watching the molten rock frothing and churning like a bubbling cauldron.

It looks like a portal into the centre of the earth or a great fiery chasm. Little wonder that the name ‘Nyiragongo’ means ‘smoking mountain’, and the locals believe it’s the gateway to Hell.

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The huge lava lake of Nyiragongo is 200 m across

The molten rock is bubbling at 2000 degrees C

The name Nyiragongo means ‘smoking mountain’

The volcano looms over the nearby city of Goma


Residents must be on their guard against eruptions


Conflict is still ongoing in DR Congo

Three armed guards accompany every group of hikers

Everyone must stick together in case of possible trouble


It’s a steep but manageable climb

Guards make sure everyone is OK

The views on the way up are spectacular

As we neared the top the mists rolled in

At first the crater was full of cloud, but finally it cleared


The lava lake is mesmerising

Gas explosions and spurts of lava pop like fireworks

The lava cools and cracks as it reaches the surface

From below, the searing red heat lights up the smoke

We couldn’t tear ourselves away

When the volcano last erupted in 2002, lava like this poured out

40% of the city of Goma was destroyed. People fled for their lives


For now, the volcano is biding its time

But from the top you can see just how close the city is

It sounds like an ocean or a waterfall – watch with the sound on: