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Touring Around Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo | Bizarre Globe Hopper

Goma is a buzzing border town in the eastern part of Africa’s biggest state; the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On the other side of the frontier is Gisenyi in Rwanda. This border isn’t easy to cross, but when you can do it, don’t skip the chance to get to know the town of Goma on your way to Virunga or Nyiragongo.

Goma is the capital of the province of Northern Kivu, on the Northern shores of the Lake Kivu. Further east in this province there has been (and still is, just in a minor scale) ongoing conflicts between guerilla groups and government troops. So, unfortunately, that area is still mostly a no-go for travelers. But it’s still perfectly safe to visit Goma.

A woman walking in the street in Goma, DRC, in front of a wall made out of the volcanic rock, left from the last eruption of Nyiragongo.

Goma is only about 20 kilometers away from the most active volcano in the world – Nyiragongo. During the last big eruption of Nyiragongo in 2002, the lava flow reached all the way to Goma. A fissure 13 km long opened in the southern flank of the volcano and reached the outskirts of Goma in a few hours.

Lava streamed from three spatter cones at the end of the fissure and flowed in a stream of 200 to 1000 meters wide and 2 meters deep through Goma. During the eruption, 400 000 people were evacuated from the city across the Rwandan border to Gisenyi. The lava also covered the northern end of the runway of Goma’s International Airport and reached all the way to Lake Kivu.

You can still see the remnants of the lava, big piles of volcanic rock, everywhere around Goma.

But not all of it is a useless waste; people have even used it to build fences.

Everywhere around Goma there are still piles of the volcanic rock, left from the last eruption of Nyiragongo in 2002.
In Goma, many fences are built out of the volcanic rock, too.

Goma Tour is Something to Remember

In the center of a traffic circle, just across the border with Rwanda, stands an enormous, golden-colored statue of a man with a chukudu.

It was quite a communistic-like statue in its grandiloquent way – a pretty odd feature to see in the middle of Africa. Made me feel like that I suddenly wasn’t in Africa anymore.

A communist-styled statue stands in a roundabout in the middle of the center of Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Two girls walking in the street in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

You can take all walking Goma tour, too, if you want. However, it may be a bit riskier sometimes. So, depending on your guide, the areas you’re going to visit, and the gear you bring with you, I’d consider whether to take a tour in a car or by foot.

Most of the time of our Goma tour we were touring around in a car, accompanied by our guide, Tresor, and our driver. Tresor was telling us comprehensive details about Goma while we tried to take some decent photographs from the open window.

The reception wasn’t always friendly. Sometimes we saw unsatisfied expressions when people noticed my camera. And on the occasions when we were on the streets, I saw that Tresor was looking around efficiently all the time.

I almost said to him that I could take care of myself just fine, but decided not to, and instead, I concentrated on shooting some decent frames.

But people’s faces weren’t all gloomy, sometimes we also confronted some warm smiles and pure interest.

A couple walking in the street in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Chukudu – Eastern Congo’s Traditional Transport

The boy in the picture below is riding a chukudu. The chukudu is a two-wheeled vehicle, handmade out of wood and used for transporting various freight in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Chuduku is a native transporter of the eastern Congo.

The chukudu usually has a bulky frame, two small wheels (often of wood, sometimes wrapped with rubber), handlebars, and a pad for the rider to place their knee on while propelling the vehicle with their leg. On a downhill, the rider stands on the deck like a kick scooter. On the flat ground, the rider can put one knee on the deck and push the ground by the other foot.

In 2008, chukudus were selling for as much as US$100 with a cost of materials of nearly US$60. Also, in 2014 they cost $50 to $100 and were used to earn up to $10 per day, in an area where most people live on less than $2 per day. So, they aren’t cheap, but they make lives much easier for the poor people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

A boy riding on a chukudu, a traditional two-wheeled vehicle.
A typical traffic scene in Goma, DRC.

While chukudus rule on the lava-torn, bumpy, and muddy roads of the outskirts areas, scooters swirl on the paved roads of Goma. Motorcycle taxis seemed to be the top mean of transport for the local people, and there was a guy on a scooter with an extra helmet on their hand on almost every corner.

The office of the Doctors Without Borders organization behind the barbed-wire fence in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Around the NGOs and the Army Headquarters in Goma

Outside of the center of Goma, there are countless houses behind tall fences, topped with barbed wire. Most of them are the headquarters of different NGOs. We drove by the HQ of the “Doctors Without Borders,” among others.

However, all of the buildings weren’t of NGOs. Further on the outskirts, there were also many military outposts. Some of them were of the UN (part of the MONUSCO project), and some were of the Congolese Army.

The presence of soldiers was imminent in Goma. I remember when we once stopped by in a local shop to buy some more water and all of a sudden, three UN soldiers popped in – in full combat gear. I didn’t quite know which one to feel; secure or unsafe.

On the other hand, it made me feel more secure but then again, the presence of the UN military made it crystal-clear that they were there for a reason.

A moto-taxi is a popular way to get around in Goma, DRC.
A moto-taxi driver waits for clients on the outskirts of Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Stopping By at the Harbor Area of Goma

We also drove by the Goma’s harbor area, which is usually one of the shadiest areas in any city, in any town, anywhere in the world.

Here in Goma, it seemed pretty quiet, but the general atmosphere in the area right beside the harbor seemed like a place I wouldn’t necessarily want to wander in alone.

After our Goma tour, we went to grab some cold beers. Our guide, Tresor, and Dan, our local tour manager, took us to a local bar made in a small shack-like house – a place we never would’ve found by ourselves. We had a good time sharing a drink, and in the end, visits like these are some of the most interesting ones to have during your travels.

You can stop for a day or two in Goma on your way to climb the volcano Nyiragongo or to see the mountain gorillas of the DRC. But if you ever have a chance to go to Goma; go! It will be an experience to remember.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, the Virunga National Park and Mount Nyiragongo are now closed to tourists at least to the end of 2018! 

But you can still go to visit Goma and other parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and taking a Goma tour will still make you see a bit more original African city.

At the small harbor area of Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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Join us in touring around the border town of Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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