The equatorial rainforests of Congo set the scene for unbelievable wilderness experiences, from gorilla & chimp trekking to canoe trails through the forest and hiking the Nyiragongo crater.
Of all the countries of Africa, DRC is closest to “Tarzan’s Africa.” You can very easily imagine him swinging on a vine right in front of you as you travel through this country, visited mostly by adventurer travelers.
DRC is an experience and asks for active people who – with all respect for nature and local culture – like to learn, observe and have no objection against social contact: People who are not afraid to taste local fruit and food, not afraid to walk in the mud and jungle.
Carpeted by huge swathes of rain forest and punctuated by gushing rivers and smoking volcanoes, DRC is the ultimate African adventure. There is absolutely nothing neither soft nor easy about it but for a memorable African immersion this is the place to explore.
History & Economy:
Independence from Belgium in 1960 may have been the beginning of a new chapter for DRC but this Central African country has a human history that stretches back to prehistoric times.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, formerly Zaire) has one of the saddest chapters in modern history: from the brazen political folly of King Leopold of Belgium to the hideously corrupt kleptocracy of maverick leader Mobutu Sese Seko and the blood-stained battlegrounds of Africa’s first ‘world war’. At the time of its independence in 1960, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was the second most industrialized country in Africa after South Africa. It boasted a thriving mining sector and its agriculture sector was relatively productive. Since then, corruption, war and political instability have been a severe detriment to further growth, today leaving DRC with a GDP per capita among the worlds lowest.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is extremely rich in natural resources, but political instability, a lack of infrastructure, deep rooted corruption, and centuries of both commercial and colonial extraction and exploitation have limited holistic development. Besides the capital, Kinshasa, the other major cities, Lubumbashi and Mbuji-Mayi, are both mining communities. DR Congo’s largest export is raw minerals.
People & Culture:
DRC’s predominantly young population (nearly 85% of DRC are under 30) is made up of four man ethnic groups that include; the famous bantu ethnicity that make up almost half of the entire population and live dispersed in an area approximately 2/3 of DRC- from the north, to the border with the Central African Republic, to the southeast in Katanga. Other ethnic groups include the Sudanese, immigrants from the north who came between the 14th and 16th century and settled mainly on the northern border between the rivers Ubangi and Uele.
The Pygmies/Bambutis are Congo’s oldest inhabitants. They are exceptional hunters who are especially skilled in using poisonous arrows. The pygmies are monogamous and live in non-hierarchical family communities mostly in the forests of the Ituri region.
Last are the Nilotics and the Hamites that settled in the north East and Eastern Congo. Other tribes include the Baka, Babinga and the Batwa.
French is the official language in the D.R.Congo. Of the 200-odd local languages and dialects, the major one is Lingala, spoken primarily in Kinshasa and along the rivers. You’ll hear more Kikongo west of Kinshasa, Tshiluba in the south and central areas, Swahili in the East and North East. The vast majority of DRC consider themselves Christian.
Landscape & Wildlife:
It has been said that the Democratic Republic of Congo is the country around which all other African countries revolve. Straddling the equator, DRC is the second largest country in Africa after Algeria with a surface area of 2,345,000 km² (two thirds the size of Europe) dominated by vast rain forest jungles, scattered outposts and tribal strong-holds, equatorial rainforests and active volcanoes – truly one of the most untamed countries on the surface of the earth. The D.R.Congo has a western gateway to the Atlantic along a 40 km coastal strip of Tropical Island.
In the past, the Democratic Republic of the Congo wasn’t accessible for tourists. Two subsequent wars made travel practically impossible. Now that the political situation has stabilized, tourists are able to visit this magnificent country again.
Home to some of Africa’s elusive animals like; the mountain Gorillas, bonobo, okapi, bongo and Congo peacock, the country is in many ways defined by its rich natural diversity and friendly people.
Changing the face of African travel, the DRC has opened up Central Africa’s great equatorial rainforests. Intrepid travelers now walk through sunlit jungle in search of mountain gorillas and other forest habitants.
DRC’s scenic beauty, diverse culture and the Nyiragongo Crater have made its charming landscape an ideal tourists’ paradise. The Geography of Democratic Republic of Congo makes it one of the most unusual destinations on earth. Home to such elusive animals as the bonobo, okapi, bongo and Congo peacock, the country is in many ways also defined by its friendly, warm people.
Sparsely populated in relation to its area, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is home to a vast potential of natural endowment and has managed to keep most of its tropical forests and wetlands intact, epitomized by the superb Virunga National Park. Here, over 13 000 km² of primary rainforest provides Central Africa’s most important sanctuary for gorillas and crater lakes of lava. DRC accommodation is limited to a pair of fly-in lodges but it’s worth the effort to travel there: the sensitively designed eco-lodges deliver comfort and adventure in equal proportions, and something of a pioneering spirit fills the people who you meet in them. Expert guides lead you along forest paths clouded with dazzling butterflies; boatmen take you down lazy brown rivers to the calls of tropical birds.
The best game viewing is at Garamba National park, a marshy forest clearing where open water, good grazing and vital minerals in the soil attract Africa’s hardest-to-see animals. Northern white rhinoceros, herds of elephants, bush pig and forest buffalo wallow in the mud. The most dramatic wildlife experience, however, is deep in the less visited kahuzi-Biega’s interior where Grauer’s gorillas 9low land gorillas) still live in unprecedented numbers. Finding them is tough work – the rainforest does not give up its secrets so lightly – but the reward is an hour in the company of a habituated gorilla family, complete with curious infants, moody teenagers and poker-faced silverbacks.
Raw, real and perfect for experienced safari travelers with a thirst for adventure, the DRC is Africa’s newest travel destination. It’s also one of the most under-developed, so take the uncertainty out of arranging a Congo safari and speak to us about creating an itinerary that delivers it as a complete stand-alone tour package or in combination with other African safari destinations and the Indian Ocean islands.
It is very rare that a new destination opens up in Africa, so the debut of DRC’s untamed rainforests is the most exciting development this decade. We predict that the DRC will become a very busy destination – but for a few precious seasons, the intrepid travelers who go there will experience a truly wild, unspoilt safari.
Kinshasa: Once touted as Kin la Belle (beautiful Kinshasa), locals have long since redubbed their chaotic capital ‘Kin la Poubelle’ (Kinshasa the trashcan).
Eastern DRC: Although the classic image of the DRC is that of a steaming untamed jungle, the part of the country that most travelers see is the very Far East; an area of cloud-scraping volcanic mountains; Nyiragongo – lakes of lava and those lumbering giants, the mountain gorillas. All this is best experienced in the breathtaking Virunga National Park.
Boyoma Falls: Although Niagara Falls is the most famous water fall of the world, as far as volume is concerned, the Boyoma Falls (formerly known as the Stanley Falls) on the river Zaire in Africa takes the cake. Seven cataracts in the Lualaba River, central Congo (Kinshasa). The falls extend for 60 miles (100 km) along a curve of the river between Ubundu and Kisangani.
Lola ya Bonobo: Founded by Claudine Andre in 1994, Lola ya Bonobo is the world’s only sanctuary for orphaned bonobos. The sanctuary has been located just south of the suburb of Kimwenza at the Petites Chutes de la Lukaya, Kinshasa, in the DRC. Although the bonobos are in captive, they live in an environment similar to the wild. They can forage among dozens of edible plants and fruiting trees, compete for mating opportunities, and learn to avoid dangers such as stepping on venomous snakes just as they would in the wild.
Lubumbashi: Known to locals as L’shi or Lubum, this languid yet likeable city was known as Elizabethville during the Belgian colonial period. Founded in 1910 as a hub for the extraction industry, it suffered willful neglect during the Mobutu years, but briefly found a starring role as the legislative capital from 1999 to 2003.
Kinkole: On Sundays and holidays Kinshasa’s jetsetters descend to the little ‘beach’ town (you wouldn’t really describe it as having a beach and you certainly wouldn’t want to swim here) well east of Kinshasa, to drink beer, eat the country’s best liboké de poisson (fish cooked in banana leaves) and listen to live music. The action starts around midday, but peaks after dark.
Garamba National Park: located in Orientale Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa. Established in 1938, one of Africa’s oldest National parks. Garamba is (or at least was) the home to the world’s last known wild population of Northern White Rhinoceros. The park is also well known for its African elephant domestication programme started in the 1960s, which managed to train tourist-rideable animals.
Salonga National Park: Africa’s largest tropical rainforest reserve. Situated at the heart of the central basin of the Congo River, the park is very isolated and accessible only by water. It is the habitat of many endemic endangered species, such as the dwarf chimpanzee, the Congo peacock, the forest elephant and the African slender-snouted or ‘false’ crocodile.
Bukavu: DRC’s most attractive city, which crawls along a contorted shoreline at the southern tip of Lake Kivu, is the base for visiting the criminally under visited Parc National de Kahuzi-Biéga, Virunga’s little-known neighbor, where you can track habituated eastern lowland gorillas (Grauer’s gorillas). It’s often possible to get permits (US$400 per person) for same-day hiking.
Kisantu: Kisantu, 100km out of Kinshasa, has many colonial-era relics, including the incongruously large Cathèdrale Notre Dame de Sept Douleurs and the 222-sq-km Jardin Botanique de Kisantu, with trees from around the world. There’s a small natural history museum, a cactus garden and a pleasant restaurant.
Okapi Wildlife Reserve: Created to protect prime habitat of its bizarre namesake mammal, this is one of the biggest (1,372,625 hectares) parks in DRC. In addition to the okapis there are 17 resident primate species here and a fairly healthy elephant population.
A DRC safari is infused with a priceless and rare sense of authentic adventure – from start to finish you encounter sights, sounds and scents that are unique or unusual, from the cathedrals and monuments of Kisantu, to the dark heart of the rainforest and the lava drenched lake of the Nyiragongo.
Weather is everything in knowing when to go to the DRC. An equatorial setting means the DRC’s temperatures – and humidity levels – are high more or less all year: the average daytime temperature is 25°C (77°F) with nights recording between 17°C (63°F) and 20°C (68°F). Annual rainfall ranges from 1100mm to 2000mm and the year is divided into two seasons: frequent heavy rains from November through May south of the equator and from April to November in the north, whilst along the equator itself there is only one season. The higher regions of the East have a fairly temperate weather. Planning on combining a visit to the DRC with other East African safari destinations? Read our advice on the:
- Best time to visit Uganda
- Best time to visit Kenya
- Best time to visit Tanzania
- Best time to visit Rwanda
- Best time to visit Zanzibar
There’s nothing like up-to-date, relevant travel information direct from the experts – get Sun Africa Expeditions’ essential DRC travel advice before you go.
Money & Spending
The DRC uses the Congolese Franc as its currency but safari travelers are unlikely to encounter it. DRC’s international hotels and the country’s few wilderness lodges accept US dollars, GB pounds and Euros.
The rates for our recommended accommodation include all meals and drinks (with the exception of premium wines and champagne, and premium liqueurs and spirits) as well as a laundry service (underwear is not washed due to local customs). Any extra payments or gratuities can be settled in the above foreign currencies – in cash – on check-out.
Provided the service is good, it is customary to tip lodge staff and guides in the foreign currency of your choice. The amount depends on the staff member’s role and the size of your group – enquire with one of our Safari Experts for in-depth tipping guidelines; they’d be happy to share their knowledge with you.
Average daytime temperature: 25°C (77°F)
Average night-time temperature: 17°C (63°F) – 20°C (68°F).
Rainy seasons: November to May (long rains) south of Equator; April to November (North of Equator) whilst along the equator itself there is only one season. The higher regions of the East have a fairly temperate weather.
Refer to “best time to visit DRC ” for details on when to visit for gorilla trekking and game viewing.
What to Pack
Packing for a warm and humid equatorial climate means plenty of comfortable, light and loose-fitting clothing, sun protection and insect repellent. You will need rain gear as well, advisable even out of Congo’s two rainy seasons, and a warm fleece for the occasional cool night. Malaria is a risk all year throughout the country and precautions are strongly advised. Consult a medical professional over what medication to bring.
If you plan to go gorilla trekking, make sure you pack trousers and long-sleeved tops, gaiters or long socks to wear over your trousers and comfortable hiking boots (break them in before your trip).
Flights & Getting Around
DRC is serviced by 21 Airports. The four major airports include; Kinshasa International Airport, N’Dijili International Airport, Goma International Airport and Bangoka International Airport. Most DRC Airports are served by a number of African carriers as well as Air France from Paris. Regular flights to Nairobi mean easy international connections as well as no-fuss East African safari and beach holiday add-ons.
There’s little reason to delay once you have arrived in Brazzaville: charter flights will transfer to your safari accommodation. Road transfers to lodges and local drives are in 4X4 vehicles but most game viewing activities are conducted on foot or by boat.
Visa & Passport Requirements
With the exception of citizens from neighboring countries, all visitors require a visa to enter the Democratic Republic of Congo; visas are not issued at the airport. The single entry tourist visa is usually sufficient. On arrival, your passport must be valid for six months and you may be asked for proof of your tour, lodge or hotel reservation – a physical copy of your booking confirmation is acceptable. A yellow fever certificate is required by all visitors except infants under a year old.