The Democratic Republic of Congo known in French as République démocratique du Congo, also known as DR Congo, DRC, DROC, RDC, Congo-Kinshasa, or simply Congo is a country located in Central Africa. From 1971 to 1997 it was called Zaïre. The DRC borders the Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan to the north; Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania to the east; Zambia and Angola to the south; and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. It is the second largest country in Africa by area, the largest in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the eleventh largest in the world. With a population of over 75 million, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the most populated officially Francophone country, the fourth most populated nation in Africa and the nineteenth most populated country in the world.
Very few people know about travel in this part of the world, but Democratic Republic of the Congo offers tourists many unique opportunities to see wildlife, indigenous cultures, and geological wonders not found easily or anywhere else in Africa. In the DRC, you can trek to see both mountain and lowland gorillas in wild, meet pygmies still practising their traditional way of life in the forests, spot bonobos and okapi—two rare species not found anywhere else on earth, and climb to the summits of active volcanoes and see a boiling lava lake in the crater of the Nyiragongo. The DRC has appeared frequently news the past few years because of unrest in the eastern part of the country, but thankfully the region has come to enjoy peace over the past year, and tourists from overseas have been coming in growing numbers to enjoy its attractions.
1. The Odzala National Park. The Odzala-Kokoua National Park is in the northwest of the Republic of Congo, and is one of the most amazing protected wilderness areas in the world. The park was founded in 1935 and remains one of the most important strongholds for forest elephants and western gorilla conservation in Central Africa.
The Congo Basin is home to the second largest rainforest in the world and this natural wonder can be experienced on a visit to the park, which includes swathes of mature rainforest, as well as savanna and rivers which are home to a rich biodiversity of flora and fauna.
2. Kisantu Botanical Gardens. Located off the main road to Matadi, the Kisantu Botanical Gardens feature an arboretum of centenarian trees in a peaceful riverside setting. For visitors, the gardens offer an opportunity to while away an afternoon, amidst exotic foliage and tropical flowers. Of interest, the onsite research centre continues to investigate the science of African plants and has recently looked at ways to extend the shelf life of fruit, such as the purple mangos teen.
3. Symphonies Naturelles. Just a short distance from Kinshasa, Symphonies Naturelles is a pleasant place to while away an afternoon. Some 200 hectares / 495 acres of forest are open for visitors to explore, with opportunities to fish, enjoy the local wildlife or enjoy a meal in the park’s restaurant. There are many scenic pathways to follow, together with areas to sit down and enjoy the views, often shaded by giant bamboo. Look out for the hidden grottos and giant termite mounds.
4. Pointe Noire. Pointe Noire is the second largest city in the Republic of Congo, the commercial hub of the country, and a very popular destination with tourists in the Congo. It is the centre of the oil industry in the region and a major sea port. Tourists flock to Pointe Noire mainly to enjoy the stretch of beaches and the French atmosphere of the place which hearkens back to the colonial past and is reinvigorated by the large French expat community.
Cote Sauvage is one of the best beaches in Pointe Noire, although in fact it is a string of beaches which are picturesque and spacious, lovely for long walks, swimming and surfing. There are several hotels along the beach with volleyball courts, pools, sun loungers and bars, and visitors who are not staying in the hotels can still enjoy the facilities for a small fee.
There is a great market at the Port Side Beach where the local artisans gather to sell crafts and souvenirs. Popular excursions from the city include a trip to the nearby Diosso Gorge, or, for the intrepid, a visit to the Conkouati-Douli National Park, which is a five-hour drive away but provides a remarkable opportunity to see gorillas, chimpanzees and elephants.
5. AAC Bonobo Nursery Sanctuary. The Bonobo Nursery Sanctuary is housed within the campus of the American School of Kinshasa. Guided tours of the sanctuary are available, offering visitors a unique opportunity to see this endangered ape species. Indeed the Democratic Republic of Congo is the only country in the world where endangered bonobos (pygmy chimpanzees) are born and live in the wild. The nursery cares for and protects orphaned apes found in Kinshasa and elsewhere. This is the perfect opportunity to carry or touch these adorable little creatures. The nearby Chutes do Lukaya are an added attraction for visitors to the sanctuary.
6. Central Market of Matonge (MARCHÉ CENTRAL). Kinshasa’s Central Market is a fascinating place to visit. Fresh produce spills out onto the pavement and umbrella-shaded stalls sell a multitude of everyday items. Once the most modern market found in the entire country, the Marché Central of today looks rather worn and tired around the edges. However, what it lacks in facilities, it certainly more than makes up for in atmosphere and character.
7. VALLE DE LA LUFIRA. Last but definitely not least; this nature reserve is the ideal place for hikers, bird watchers and indeed all wildlife lovers, being particularly rich in indigenous Congolese flora and fauna. Located close to Lubumbashi, the reserve is a listed UNESCO-MAB Biosphere Reserve.
Open hours: daily