Perilously close to active volcanoes and lava fields, this town is constructed of black volcanic rock.

Black volcanic rocks permeate Goma’s landscape, lending it a unique look amongst the towns and cities of the DR Congo. They are everywhere – used to build walls, roads, crushed and reconstituted into bricks; the city is a mixture of diffused black and grey colours surrounded by the lush green hills which create some of the best farmland in Africa – and, on occasion, nearby volcanoes erupt and demolish the town in its entirety. Huge lava fields northwest of Goma attest to the precarious position that the city maintains.

Lava flows in the hills surrounding Goma © Julien Harneis, Flickr

Goma’s town centre was destroyed in 2002 by Mount Nyiragongo, the fourth time in a century that a major eruption had occurred in the region. It erased whatever may have existed of the area in decades past. In some older single-storey buildings, the attentive will notice that they are actually the top level of what were once two-storey buildings.

The city plods along, 2m higher than it was at the beginning of the millennium, with an increased focus on construction and development. It has been designated as tourist capital of the DR Congo, and will undoubtedly be the first port of entry for large numbers of visitors to the country. While unique in its own right as a town built on a lava flow, it is really the surrounding sights that make Goma so important – specifically Virunga Park and Lake Kivu.