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Congo Travel Guide

The Democratic Republic of Congo is a huge country in East Africa that is surrounded by eight other countries: Angola, Zambia, the Central African Republic, Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda, Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan. It is Africa’s second largest country and home to the continent’s second largest French-speaking city. Kinshasa. It has a dense population of approximately 89,560,000 people. It was formerly known as Zaire or by the acronym DRC. A 40-kilometer-long coastline touches the Atlantic Ocean in the country’s west.

Over the years, the country has been plagued by insecurity fueled by rebels in opposition to the government. Due to these insecurities, D. R. Congo’s citizens moved from other regions of the country and flooded the capital Kinshasa, where they felt safe. The city also presents a number of employment opportunities available hence the high population witnessed there.

Democratic Republic of Congo is rich in minerals and natural resources, including gold, diamonds, oil, copper, and over 15 additional minerals and some yet to be exploited but are thought to exist. Did you know that the first atomic bombs were built with Uranium obtained from the Shinkolobwe mines in D.R. Congo?

Aside from minerals, there are spectacular natural features such as the Congo River, which is the second longest river in Africa after the Nile and deepest reported river in the world. Virunga national park, Mountain Nyiragongo and unique flora and fauna can also be found across the country’s numerous national parks and game reserves. D.R. Congo is a paradise for wildlife such as the Big 5, birds, reptiles and mammals. Some rare animal species, such as the Congolese Peafowl, Bongo, pygmy chimps known as Bonobos, the elusive okapi, and it is the only place in the world where one can trek both the mountain gorillas and the Eastern Lowland gorillas, making it a distinctive and unique country to visit.

The Congolese people are majorly French speakers and most of their music is in French, their food is also French and Belgium inspired since that’s whom they were colonized by before they got their independence. Popular local musicians are Koffi Olamide, Papa Wemba, Franco Luambo and their most common foods are fish, peas, meat, chicken, a popular meal known as poulet a la mwambe which is chicken and peanut source. Mayonaaise is also a must taste in any of their meals.

While here, you can also observe boiling magma at the top of Mount. Nyiragongo, go on adventurous wildlife drives, and take boat cruises on rivers like R. Congo, where you can see spectacular waterfalls. There is also an intriguing cultural group known as the Mbuti Pygmies, who continue to live their way of life as they did over 10,000 years ago. Visiting them provides an incredible cultural experience.

Despite having all these wonderful and great tourist attractions, travel industry in Democratic Republic of Congo is still underdeveloped, with relatively few visitors coming to the nation due to instability, particularly in the eastern region of the country, which keeps them away. Poor infrastructure is also a concern, as most attractions are located in rural areas with poorly constructed roads, making them inaccessible.

However, the government is working on all of these issues, and a lot of effort has been put in place to ensure that the tourism industry does not fall behind, such as creating more game reserves and increasing security in tourism destinations, such as over 700 army guards protecting Virunga National Park and the Mountain gorillas found there from poachers and rebels. It is expected that in the near future, the Democratic Republic of Congo will be one of the most visited countries in Africa, and all of these difficulties, such as the rebels, would have been resolved. If you want to visit Congo but are hesitant because of the current challenges, buckle up for the future is not far away.

Tourist Attractions and Activities in Democratic Republic of Congo.

Virunga National Park

The oldest African national park, established in 1925, is one of the most diverse and beautiful areas in Africa, having been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site two decades ago. This park is only a portion of the Virunga Mountain ranges, which are made up of eight mountains. It is the most visited park in Congo because it is home to endangered species such as mountain gorillas, leopards, lions, the uncommon Okapi, hippopotamuses, and chimps.

Tourists who visit the park can do gorilla trekking, which allows them to get a close encounter with these enormous primates that are akin to humans. The treks cost $450 (the lowest thus far when compared to other countries that host these species), and begin as early as 7:30 a.m., a limited number of 8 people per group are allowed to make visits per day. You only get one hour with the primates, but the entire activity takes around eight hours because it includes climbing to higher altitudes.

While visiting Virunga National Park, visitors can also go on mountain hikes, forest walks, or do chimpanzee trekking at $100 per person.

Mount Nyiragongo.

This is the second most visited site in D.R. Congo; it is an active volcano with the largest lava lake ever spotted on the earth’s crust. The lake still emits smoke that can be seen as far away as Rwanda and Uganda. When you come close to this lava, you can notice the red hot color, which is one of the main reasons why thousands of tourists visit this place each year.

People who visit this mountain should be prepared to trek to its peak because this is where the rewarding lava lake can be sighted; you may camp there for the night in cabins that have already been set up. The fee of this activity is $300 per hike.

Congo River

Not only is it the second longest river in Africa but also the deepest in the world. It is a major source of water to the country as it runs through it and is home to over 713 fish species on which the country men and women can feed on.  The river is a habitat to crocodiles, hippos and lots of water bird species.

Along the river are some waterfalls and over 40 power plants capable of supplying hydro-electric power have been constructed close to the falls like Livingstone waterfalls. Along the Congo River, tourists can enjoy boat cruises, fishing, visiting the power plants and any of the falls along it.

Livingstone falls

Named after David Livingstone a famous British Explorer, these are a collection of rapid falls along the Congo River. They begin from Malebo pool to Matadi, it is another top destination popular among tourists.

Zongo Falls

Offering one of the most spectacular views in Congo, not only do these falls offer beautiful views but the beautiful surrounding areas complete the Zombo falls package. Wanting to escape the crowded city of Kinshasa, this is the place to get away from the crowds. You can stay in any of the accommodation facilities close to the falls and also swim in its waters.

Boyoma Falls

Made up of 7 rapids with each as high as 4.5 meters along Lualaba River, these offer significant views and are also known as Stanley falls. Near the falls are the Wagenya tribe that uses ancient fishing methods such as use of baskets and arrows to catch fish.  During your visit here, you might be able to use one of these methods during your interactions with the tribe.

Valle de la Lufira

Located in Lubumbashi, this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is a valley that holds the best vegetation cover and wildlife. Most visited by those within or near the area and not able to visit any of the game parks, the park offers beautiful views of different plant and tree species, butterflies and birds flying around and lots of primates like monkeys. You can engage in nature walks, picnics, bird watching for the bird lovers while here. It’s a favorite for both foreign and local tourists.

Lukaya River

The Crystal mountains are this rivers source that flows East towards Ndjili River where it releases its waters. The river has amazing features along it like waterfalls, beaches, a lake and close to it is a path that leads to Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary where pygmy chimpanzees are kept. To get the most of this river is to view it aboard a train from Kinshasa to Matadi or Matadi to Kinshasa. The train rail passes through the river valley at two different sections.

The Congo Bloodhounds

These are specially trained dogs that were acquired to help in the conservation and protection of Virunga National Park against poachers. They have a strong sense of smell in that they can trail those who access the park illegally. They have successfully enabled in tracking mountain gorilla poachers and injured rangers.

They were trained by Dr. Marlene Zahner and when visiting the park, you can spare some time and visit them and learn more about how they were trained and how they have so far contributed to the conservation goals.

Lake Kivu

Located long the Rwandan-Congo border is one of Africa’s largest lakes. It is close to the two most popular national parks (Virunga and Kahuzi-Biega National Parks), you can swim in the lake since there are no crocodiles or hippos.

You can also fish here, relax by the banks, go canoeing or kayaking. It is a relaxing spot after the tiresome days spent at either Virunga or Kahuzi-Biega parks. Underneath the lake is a large amount of Methane gas that scientists believe might happen when exposed to the right conditions such as a volcanic eruption in any of the mountains close by and cause disaster, but this still has a long way to go since most mountains within Virunga are extinct volcanoes.

Idjwi Island

Found in the Lake Kivu on D.R. Congo side, the Island is 340 km2 wide making it the second largest Island in Africa succeeding Seychelles. It is also known as Ijwi and occupied by over 200,000 people who mostly survive by carrying out subsistence farming and fishing.

During the 18th Century, it had a kingdom that was connected to the reigning monarchy by then in Rwanda.  Once here you can hike, participate in cultural tours, cycling and also visit Lake Kivu. It takes about 2 hours to get to the Island by boat from Bukavu which is close to Kahuzi – Biega National Park.

Kahuzi-Biega National Park.

A popular tourist destination located in the Eastern region of DRC, it is close to Lake Kivu and Rwanda. It is also one of the various UNESCO World Heritage sites in Congo named after two extinct volcanoes, Kahuzi and Biega joined together by a forest to form the park. It is home to over 400 eastern lowland gorillas and other wildlife like lions, leopards, buffaloes, zebras and so much more. Trekking gorillas cost $400, visitors can participate in other activities like game drives, mountain hiking at Kahuzi or Biega mountains, bird watching and chimpanzee treks.

Salonga National Park

Another UNESCO World Heritage site located within the Congo River Basin consists of beautiful and amazing wildlife and vegetation like dense forests. It is home to animals like Salonga Monkeys, bonobos, Colobus Monkeys, Okapi, forest elephants who find the tropical rain forest more conducive and comfortable. The park is only accessible by boat along the Congo River.

Garamba National Park

Established in 1938, it is one of Africa’s oldest parks, largely covered by savanna vegetation that extends towards South Sudan and Central African Republic. The park has over 1500 elephants whose number has reduced from 20,000 due to extensive poaching; there are a few white Rhinos that face extinction if not curbed by authorities. It is home to all the big 5 safari animals, birds, giraffes and more. If interested in Safari game drives, this offers the best experience.

Museums and Historical Sites

Kinshasa the administrative center has lots of buildings holding the county’s history; you can visit the Palais de la Nation Museum, the Roman Catholics Cathedral, parliament building and more. In order to know what to visit, it’s better to hire a local tour operator who will arrange a perfect package to take you to the right places and better your overall experience.

Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary

This is an orphanage for pygmy chimpanzees also known as Bonobos all over the world though they are mostly known for existing in Congo only. This sanctuary sits on a 30 hectare forest located in Kimwenza on the outskirts of Kinshasa. It also conserves the chimpanzees that are continuously hunted by poachers for their meat and illegal pet traders.

Most of the bonobos rescued, their parents were killed by poachers leaving them orphaned. They are later on rescued, undergo rehabilitation and treatment if injured at the sanctuary. There are now more than 60 bonobos found here, the sanctuary was constructed to imitate their inhabitants in the wild. This place is also one of the most visited sites in DR Congo. It was first established in the middle of Kinshasa but later relocated to its current location in Kimwenza.

Entry Requirements to D.R. Congo.

All tourists need a Visa Card which they can apply for at Congolese embassies in their respective countries, a COVID-19 vaccination certificate, yellow fever vaccination certificate, a valid passport and other related travel documents. With these, you will be eligible to access the country.

Travel Tips when travelling to D.R. Congo.     

  • Have all your travel documents. This is the first requirement you need when thinking about going to D.R. Congo, all travellers should have a visa to enter the country and these are applied for as early as 2 weeks before your travel and this can be done online via the immigration website. An ordinary tourist visa costs $100 each. Make sure you have a yellow fever vaccination card and this document is a requirement at the airport apart from toddlers below 1 year. You can get this from your home country at a Congolese embassy.
  • It is advisable to book with a tour operator who will book your entire tour in the country. Most tour operators handle hotel bookings, transport from and to the airport, air ticket bookings, meals and also permits to different destinations. They also advise on where to go and have different packages ranging from budget friendly to luxurious excursions. A tour operator is basically your guardian angel during your trip especially in Congo which is a very large country and security is still a challenge.
  • It is better to exchange whatever currency you have to the local Congolese Francs. This is the most accepted form of currency in many areas within the country. You can also do this immediately you arrive in the country at forex bureaus.
  • Visitors are advised to tip those who have contributed to their adventure such as tour guides, potters, whoever you feel like appreciating please do so. You can also buy souvenirs from trading areas near each tourist destination like Virunga. Supporting the locals makes them feel more appreciated.
  • Always get to know about the safety of the place you are visiting, make sure there are guards or at least you feel safe while there in order to prevent you from being attacked by rebels who have been terrorizing Congo for years.

Congo Travel Packing List.

Topping the list is your travel documents like passport and Visa, permits for whatever activity you are going to do. Always pack heavy clothing to cover you during the cold weather and also some light clothes for hot periods because it’s within the tropical region, the weather tends to be hot and cold at any time of the day.

Pack some long clothes like long sleeved shirts, jackets, raincoats and scarfs. Don’t forget good hiking boots in case you plan to visit any mountain or park, a camera to capture good moments and insect repellants since some places are within the forests. Food and water can always be got within the country.

With all this in mind, whenever you are to think of a Safari destination in Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo should be part of your list.

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