Welcome to Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, also known as Congo-Kinshasa, DR Congo, the DROC, or simply either Congo or the Congo, and historically Zaire, is a country in Central Africa. It is, by area, the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa, the second-largest in all of Africa, and the 11th-largest in the world.
Since the civil wars of the past decades up until the 2000’s and the ongoing “World War” of Africa, Congo had been assigned to obscurity and often horror as a backwater, basket case, and international catastrophe of nine warring nations and 14 warring parties that constituted the most atrocious and infamous violence and corruption in Africa, and for a long time remained the symbol of colonial arrogance, African ineptitude in and corrosion of government, and the wholesale exploitation of the African continent. Today the region is going the way of Angola, or perhaps of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Colombia, and emerging from the long stagnation of civil war into an open environment for business, exceptional environment for adventure, and a volcanic upwelling of opportunities that sees Asia, Europe, and America grappling for a hand in the region.
Congo has not been a classic tourist destination since the 60’s, and has over the past 30 years been the preserve of the most daring or adventurous of travelers and businessmen…but that Congo no longer exists. Despite troubles in the Great Lakes district, thousands of miles from Kinshasa and Brazzaville and away near Goma and the borders of Rwanda, the region around the inlet and path of the great Congo River, and its forests, volcanoes, and mountains rippling out and sprawling ever eastward, constitute some of the most beautiful riches of Africa in resources, but moreover – in amazing scenery, beauty, and wildlife.
Chinese and other investment and infrastructure building have meant that roads and trains link more of the Republic of Congo and the DRC now than ever before. Roads are better and more easily traversed. A host of airlines have scrambled in including not only Ethiopian, Kenya Airways, South African, and Asky (African Sky), but Lufthansa, Air France, Brussels Airlines, British Airways, and a growing que of new entrants from further afield in the Middle East and Asia, which means cash waiting to come in and boldly forge a future for what was once the foreign investor’s elusive “heart of darkness.” Kinshasa is growing at a furious pace, has about 20 airlines going into the capital, and is barely able to keep up with itself in utilities and services for all the new construction, and internet access is now plentifully available and reasonably fast compared to the rest of Africa. European, Western, Middle Eastern, and Asian cuisine are to be found all over the cities of Congo now. Its raucous nightlife and music, however, trumps the liveliness of the cities of any of those lands’ capitals.
SGV’s ground entity is also the official ticketer team for Eththiopian Airlines in Goma and Kisangani and Mbuji Mayi, and probably by the end of 2018, Bukavu and Beni if the airline expands or triangulates more regional routes. Kisangni and the Congo River cities due west are safe and actually even quiet to walk at night, while Goma is replete with foreign organizations and NGO’s and tourists today and generally secure. The areas of the Mai Mai rebellion span the areas west and north of the great lakes and bleed into the fringes of these great lakes cities and Virunga park. Dozens of kidnappings happen inland routinely among locals and village victims on the roads and foreigners definitely are targeted for higher ransoms, at random and opportunistically. SGV is also a frequent contractor for large security companies providing security in the region, and for areas west of Virunga strict planning and travel safety tactics are 110% essential as the problem of the rebel kaleidoscope has not abated since being allowed to fester during the Cold War, and murderous groups in the far northeast make it deciedly deadly to take the wrong road or route overland. The road from Bunia Beni down to Kisangani via the Okapi Reserve has become policed and generally ok with escort, and no traveling at night, while the approach from Bukavu to Kisangani we have first hand confirmed rebel activity. The areas north of Beni and Bunia are absolutely not safe even with private professional security.
Air cargo for vehicles, motorcycles, or other from Goma to Kisangani is extremely expensive, strangely. The reason is hardly any movement of goods by air from Goma to Kisangani. The routing is: Goma – Kinshasa; Kinshasa – Kisangani. So they charge 4 times what it should be from Goma to Kisangani. The road journey is very unreliable and risky in terms of road quality, esp if it rains. The transport trucks may get stuck for a week or so in the jungle. And sometimes some of them are looted too. The trip from Kinshasa to Lubumbashi can take up to a month, if not ambushed in looted, by road. The chance that you will not run into violent rebels and theives on this road in 2018 is virtually zero.
By road for Kisangani is better from Entebbe-Kampala in Uganda to Bunia in DRC and then to Kisangani.
Only once in a blue moon we get opportunity of direct cargo from Goma to Kisangani. But that is rare. So cannot be guaranteed.
In the heart of the Congo Basin, the world’s second largest tropical rain forest after the Amazon Basin, the Congo offers the greatest river journey in the world. Even better according to shipping professionals and veteran tourists than the Amazon, of which the Congo was once a part of a long long time ago when the continents were linked. River cruises are now possible with the right homework, and trekking and safaris in the jungle are supported by the first lodges and comfortable hotels. 5 star hotels are being built all over the Congo and there are now about a dozen tourist-class hotels as well. Hostels are not a concept understood here, as generally the price of a budget hotel room comes in at cheaper than a dorm in Europe or Asia anyway.
Hotels in the capitals of Kinshasa and Brazzaville run from about $60 (but more likely a low figure for an acceptable, tourist friendly room is $80) up to $300 (5 star hotels can start at $120 however.) Hotel Africa and Radisson are known as the best hotels in Brazzaville by everyone excluding tripadvisor, who ranks based on fraudulent unverified reviews made by Indian virtual assistants who is the best, we are sorry to say, but most guests of ours like Radisson, Safir, and Hippocampe for upper/middle/and budget end, as they are reliable and well-located. In Kinshasa this is likely to change soon since American luxury brands and European rivals are poised to open some luxury chains in the capital of the DRC, with Kempinski already on the scene and Hilton Doubletree and Pullman pulling up the bar of quality. Most of all of these hotels except the smallest ones can arrange an invitation letter and visa for you within a week. Visas are now relatively easy and have drastically been eased since 2008. DRC is harder to obtain a visa for at your embassy than at the border with Zambia, Angola, or Republic of Congo. In fact the entire visa process is much tougher for DRC than ever before since 2017. Goma with a sponsored tour is the easiest entrepoint since a 2 week visa is available on arrival with a confirmed trip, but only allows 2 weeks in DRC. You can also often cross to the other side away from the capital without turning many heads, though of course it’s not advised and the best way is to pay what you must to go legally, which otherwise may amount to no more than a bottle of whiskey or a small bribe, but can be far worse. On the question of money, you do not need to carry all your cash with you to the Congo anymore as a tourist (let alone a suitcase full for business.) Both countries have ready ATM’s, but carrying cash outside of the cities is still the only way to go.
A good hotel in Mbandaka or Bumba, Yangambi, Kisangani, Lisala areas (though 1-2 star by any global standard,) is $100-150
An apartment is a minimum of $500-1500 per month with generator. More with furniture and security.
June to December is the best time to travel – It is cool and there are lots of active animals out to spot. The Chinese finished a comfortable train in 2013 that links the coast and the Atlantic Ocean to the interior, and conveys passengers (mostly businessmen and tourists) in plush first class seats. It has instantly become one of the greatest train journeys available today and the best in Africa.
The future will see a bonanza of tourist companies, mainly from South Africa and France, rushing in to set up high end safaris or else link the long overland trail to rival the popular Cape Town to Cairo route. Right now it is only Angola that prevents such a “pan-African” highway for tourists, with its stubborn visa regulations and super-expensive hotels.
There has never been a better time to visit the Congo, as popular and conventional wisdom and the press is out of tune and hasn’t caught up with the change and opportunities there yet. It is the cheapest place in Africa to have a truly incredible and totally unmanufactured journey, and by far the cheapest place to see the large African wildlife including, importantly, wild mountain gorillas.
Climate in Congo
For detailed weather information, please contact us as the climate zones vary drastically and information about optimal viewing seasons across the DRC and ROC is very hard to understand on the internet and usually contradicts each other. For a good guide to the ROC, see the below, but always ask us first:
In truth, for the micro-climates and ecological zones of the Republic of Congo, there are actually 2 dry seasons and 2 wet seasons, and weather is somewhat reversed between north and south, as if that isn’t confusing enough. All the year is good for most of trip, while only a part of the year is good for all of your trip.
Also, the more important section of your tour to consider weather-wise is the weather in the equatorial jungle, where the roads are worst in the rain of course.
Here are the real seasons, as the climate reality is the past 4 years in Congo:
The (southern) long wet season is roughly from October to January
The (southern) short dry season is roughly from February to March
The (southern) short wet season is roughly from March to June.
The (southern) long dry season is roughly from June to October.
The (northern) tropical wet season is roughly from June to January.
The (northern) tropical dry season is roughly from February to June
Therefore, (with recent climate change also experienced in the western seaboard of Africa,) knowing the cycles, and all things carefully considered, it is best to ask us or your embassy first to optimize both the convenience and the natural beauty you’d see along the way, under the best travel conditions.
General Information of Congo
Is Congo Safe?
In a word, yes. – The Congo’s capitals, tourist sites, and accessible regions are actually safer than the most popular African destinations. Brazzaville and Kinshasa are safer than Johanessburg and Nairobi, where the crime rates and murder and rape rates are astronomically higher. Travel in the Congo for all places tourists are concerned is safer than travel in South Africa or Kenya, despite the heavy reliance of those 2 nations on tourism. Popular vigilance is required, however the bad reputation of the Congo has not kept up with the times and today it is a very rewarding destination for tourism.
The national parks accessible from Brazzaville or Pointe Noire are some of the best and most untouched and rich with wildlife in Africa. Although there are nuisances with police bribery and corruption, Brazzaville is one of the more tame, friendly, and relaxed of all the African capitals, and Kinshasa has plenty of 5 star hotels and recreation opportunities. Like Lagos, Johannesburg, even Cape Town, there are some parts you should not walk at night. In Brazzaville it is generally OK to be out at night, but you should never walk out in the night alone in Kinshasa aside from a few areas (where you’ll most likely be, so don’t be afraid to go out, however always in a taxi and never alone.) None of this should not dissuade you from going, however, the Congo is in somewhat of a renaissance with a bonanza of construction and investment going on, and this is one of the most culturally rich, raw, and real parts of Africa. Statistically and practically, the Congo (excluding of course the ferocious border with Rwanda) is safer and easier and cheaper than many of the most visited places in Africa.
It was generally said that under the Belgians and then Mobutu, horrors were committed and stability was ensured. Mobutu ruled as a sort of “King of Congo” and established security – Kabila could not, and it disintegrated into violence, rape, and banditry. It is hard to tell which of the 3 periods were worse. Most people who visit Congo are familiar with many darker sides of its history, but the local people see it in terms mostly of Kabila and Mobutu only, as just about nobody was around to see the Belgians who is still alive now.
Great reads to the effect of educating yourself about the region include the books “Kind Leopold’s Ghost,” “Dancing in the Glory of Monsters,” and “The Scramble for Africa.” “Congo: Epic History of a People” is a nice new addition to the library too. The single best book we like and the definite staff pick at SGV is “Congo Mercenary” by Lt. Colonel Mike Hoare, which gives you the most relevant modern history and real taste of what to expect from the terrain. If you can only read 1 before you come, kick back with this. None of them accurately describe, or even mention at all, the current safety situation for most people in Congo, which is like most media in general. The business media is slightly ahead of the rest, but it too largely describes Congo (and sometimes Africa) as a land of happy animals and miserable war-torn people. That Congo is not the one you as a tourist will find, even if you try. Kinshasa is becoming a world-class city with all the trappings of business travel and industry, and many expats thrive here and spend decades without ever being bothered.
You will notice lots of military in green or grey uniforms, who may nod at you and exchange friendly gestures, and possibly make you feel a bit safer. Almost zero of them carry weapons in the streets, though sometimes they are known to drink heavily after hours and wander the streets stirring trouble. By and large, however, they just kill time sitting by roadsides or pacing the streets.
Do NOT, under any circumstances, take photos/video (or if you’re particularly stupid, and wish to have “free” army or police “accommodation,” for you and your guides, and an extended “visa”….and we’ve seen it all!) fly DRONES over and around police, army, or government buildings, or ports or infrastructure. It is both illegal, attracts very very negative elements to those around you, and draconian in official consequences in the Congo. Photography with permits still needs to be done with the permission of locals, your guides, and free of proximity of any of these sorts of installations or town centers.
For hotels in Kinshasa, the landscape for 2017 is upgrading well and fast but tourism is taking a dive due to political strife around Kabila’s extended reign, and tightening of the visa regime to almost ludicrous levels. The ones we recommend in downtown (where is where you want to be) are Hotel Fleuve Congo (the best – $300 and up, with breakfast wifi and AC) Hotel Leon (THE best value – $150 and up, stellar buffet breakfast, wifi and AC, and the best location and service in the city, and security guards that clearly worked out with Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Hotel Ave Maria (Best super-cheap hotel – $50 and up and includes wifi and AC. However sadly this may go out of business soon since too many budget travelers complain for getting what they pay for in Kinshasa.) Others of note are the luxury standout Hotel Memling ($200 and up- has character) and Hotel Royal ($150 and up.)
The old Intercontinental had its management and brand pull out of DRC in the 90’s when there were gunfights between commanders in the hallways of the hotel. Now it is known as the Hotel Grand, which is just abysmal compared to what’s around now, yet super overpriced. The Grand remains one of the most famous hotels in the city, but is a terrible value. Others around downtown that are fine for a stay are Hotel Fortune ($100) behind the Hotel Leon….If the only thing that matters is budget, Hotel Tex and Picasso ($50) are very far from anything. It is worth paying up for security and convenience. You will not see Kinshasa, after all a city of many many miles, 13 million people, spread out over different faces and places, the same way if you are far from everything.
A word to the wise is that the most beautiful view of Kinshasa and Brazzaville can be had on the 21st floor of the Fleuve Congo Hotel. It is easy to pull an “oops” and wander into the lounge, as you usually need to have access to an executive suite to have the privilege of coming in here.
The best bar around town is Tucanos on 30th June in Kinshasa, under the iconic Gecamines building, where they have the most cultivated selection of everything from Japanese whiskey to Brazillian Caxaca, and a super coffee shop and Brazillian BBQ on the weekends. For supermarkets, Kin Mart is the best on 30th June Street, while for food courts, there is no better place to head than Kin Deliceux, behind Kin Mart.
Every source around will tell you to check with your embassy and keep up to date, which is smart. However these are of course the cover-all, lowest-common-denominator ultimatum issued to prevent anybody from visiting anywhere with any risk. Travel everywhere in the world is risky, and while you are responsible for your safety, you should be informed but not afraid. The Congo has some serious risks, but they are often overblow and always played up by the media. There are plenty of foreigners living and traveling here today, and your home city in the west may be a great deal more dangerous than anything you see in your trip here.
VISAS AND AIRPORT HASSLES IN BRAZZAVILLE
Brazzaville has a gleaming emerald-city-like new airport that travelers to China will probably recognize for its semblance to the interior of Beijing terminal 3 in miniature. Built by Chinese work crews, the terminal and facilities are impressive and are even more modern-looking than New York, LA, or Miami at first glance…yet the process of arrival can be intimidating. Officials can at times nudge you playfully for gifts before they stamp your passport, but while a refusing but polite smile or a small gift will speed you through and nothing can happen to you. (They never detain anyone or block their entrance if you have a legitimate visa) they are playful and skilled at weaseling out liquor or cash. – One poor American backpacker transiting BZV airport had his passport paraded off by an official and when he explained he was just catching another flight, the official replied “I know I know…(smile)…but, well, my friend, what’s in it for me?!”… They are just playing with you, and even this rarely happens, so just be nice and conversational and they will give you as much welcome as anyone, often a high five or a handshake included. Most countries in the former Soviet Union will give you a far harder time at immigration than here, where they are relatively relaxed.
Visas are a snap for Congo Brazzaville. SGV or Hotels can issue you a reservation and an invitation letter and with that and proof of flights you can pickup a tourist visa at most embassies in 3 days.
VISAS AND AIRPORT HASSLES IN KINSHASA
You’d be forgiven for laughing at the miserable excuse for an airport that greets you in Kinshasa. While it is abundantly obvious that the government never put many cents into this place, it sees much more traffic than its cousin across the river. Expect scrutiny for details and discrepancies that can be capitalized upon by DRC immigration officers, and just smile and maybe hand them a bottle of whiskey or $20-50, and their confusion may miraculously evaporate. It is best to have airport pickup waiting for you, but barring that, ask around the airport officials and security to point you to a reputable taxi. Expect to pay $100 minimum (in 2013 money) for a quality taxi to anywhere in the city from the airport, but if it’s your first time you may not get away with that price without extensive argument, which is a time and cost-effective Congolese sport.
When you get to the airport it REALLY pays to have someone meet you, and getting out necessitates a $50 departure tax and if you want smooth sailing, about $25 worth of 5-dollar bills to bribe just about 3-5 people in uniform. As of 2014 Rawbank also instigated a new $5 fee for something that isn’t specified but everyone must pay that to leave too. There is little assistance and lots of hassle, and you cannot speak to anyone from the airlines at the check-in, only the miserable airport authority. Money solves everything, however, and relatively little is needed. You can as a consolation pay $40 to use a “luxury” lounge with a whole free drink (!) Keep receipts of everything, otherwise their absence WILL be capitalized upon. You will make it, so just have some humor and bare it out. If you are leaving and have lots of time to kill, there is an extension of the Grand Hotel upstairs that caters to luxury travelers if you have around $30 extra to kill.
For ATM’s, and for the country in general, local currency and U.S. Dollars are dispensed and accepted. EcoBank dispenses US Dollars, which are accepted and easy everywhere in DRC. There is also a CitiBank in town next to the American Embassy.
Visas in DRC are in theory and even in law arduous. There are lots of obstacles to getting them overseas, and they NEVER give “tourist” visas. Do not try to get a tourist visa to DRC, but a general or business visa is understood and can be granted with the right papers in order. You need to obtain a business visa if you are going to do it in advance. That said, it was as simple as $40 to show up at the Zambia border with Lubumbashi and make your way across, and $50-200 at the Angola border with the right luck. However, a crackdown has led to an end of those free passes at the end of 2013 when some embassies were heard to be profiteering from the practice. Easiest of all is to land in Brazzaville with a week to spare and do all of the major sightseeing, then cross and explore Kinshasa and the DRC for a few days. If you have an invitation from a friend or a hotel or a business contact in the DRC it is easier, however SGV and other operators regularly arrange visa invitations as well and facilitate entry and crossing.
At the end of the day you will have an easier time getting a visa to DRC than to Angola, so don’t be too confident at doing it the other way around and showing up at the Angola border hoping to finagle a visa. It has never and will never work.
DOING BUSINESS IN THE CONGO
The wild frontier of capitalism.
The Congo is brimming with opportunity and rampant with underinvestment to underemployment to undervaluation in lots of its commodities, services, and potential. Congo Kinshasa and Congo Brazzaville were together ranked the most difficult place in the world to do business, but that doesn’t seem to hold on the ground as legions of foreign investors and businessmen are filling the hotels to capacity and causing a sprawl in business tourism services and infrastructure buildup. You will not be the first, and while hotdogging miners and gem traders used to be the Congo’s profiteers, you will see everyone coming to sell and buy and build everything a modern city needs. In perhaps a particularly African calamity, lots of the money changing hands never materializes in any public services, and what public works are built are usually done by Chinese with their Chinese work crews, but the Congo is being conquered, although lots of it feels like the wild west and a frontier destination.
Chinese are among the most common travelers in the Congo and have been little liked at times, having built a reputation for cost, not quality, and surrounding them are half-truths/half-myths of wholesale robbery and extraction with and without permits of lots of the massive states’ resource wealth. They are respected and courted for their money, however, by the urban middle and upper classes. (They come into almost no interaction with the lower class) and do not face targeted violence. However, wholesale skepticism is generously lavished on the Africans as well by the Chinese- for their work ethic and capacity for trickery. The Chinese embassy in both Kinshasa and Brazzaville has better citizen services then most African’s have access to from their own governments, and plenty of Chinese restaurants abound in the capitals of the Congos and the adjoining countries as well.
Indians and Lebanese have been in the Congo since almost its conception as Zaire and as 2 adjoining nations. Lebanese were gem and metal traders, and Indians were merchants of every ware and now have expanded into selling the nervous system of Congo’s communications and IT. Indians are a respected and accommodated class in Congo. The largest hospital in Africa was built in (2013) in Kinshasa and is staffed mainly by Indians in the hopes of making DRC a destination for African medical tourism.
Nigerians and Cameroonians abound here as well and although they trade and work in just about every sector Congo needs, unfortunately they are most famous for illicit and black market sectors and are looked upon with general skepticism by the Congolese as well.
Of course the French are all over Congo as well, in various capacities as companies, expats, oilmen, aid workers, and advisors and consultants to all sorts of public processes and works.
Americans were generally the last one at the table and especially late to take advantage of the Congo’s escalating opportunities. The future looks to see more Americans do business here if investment laws and foreign corrupt business practices legislation undergoes needed reform. They are missing opportunities, and missing the party here where as everyone else has already arrived. The only Americans to make it en masse are missionaries, to a peculiar effect: Christianity married and marred with local religion.
You will always be treated with smiles and big open arms and friendliness by Congolese suppliers or clients, way more often than not…however Congolese remain initially reluctant to make a first concession or first finance a project in a partnership. Paying or giving a concession in advance is the only real way in Congo to assure a commitment, and then that may not even be enough if your client or supplier is particularly attuned to foreign courtship and has leverage. If you want to buy or sell something, or form a partnership, until you hand over your side of the deal or give a concession of commitment or investment, Congolese are very averse to budge on their position. You should try to avoid coming across as a fool or too loose with your money, as caution and scrutiny is respected, but an advance gift or deposit or assurance of some kind means everything in this part of Africa.
Aid organizations have been notorious for giving too many concessions or foolish incentives for Congolese that are taken without delivery of service or performance. A rational businessman in Africa, and especially here, will demand to hear details and see how a plan is to be executed in minutiae.
Something very important is to never accept “no problem” or “yes” or “ok” at face value. This is as often as not a ploy to make you feel good rather than confirm your question. Ask your client or supplier to explain in details or walk through how they are going to do and deliver whatever it is you’re asking. Lying and stealing are sadly and thinly veiled into accepted business and everyday behaviors among Congolese, and so make it clear from the beginning of your interaction that those are strictly monitored and guarded against and that you are not naive enough to be exploited, and that they will not be tolerated. Keep in mind that lots of these preventions are evidence-based and factual though they will appear racist, though you needn’t and shouldn’t be racist, or feel yourself that way. Even Congolese friends or employees going back decades have been found stealing and price-gouging – though business aside you can also make the best friends in your life in Congo over enough years. Set up safeguards and know where your weaknesses lie and what your liabilities are, and make contingency plans for when they get exploited and what to do. Know friendship from opportunism. Lots of stress can be avoided this way.
Triple-checking quality and delivery, even when you’re told yes, is mandatory. Expect that opportunities for theft or profiteering will be taken by the people you hire in either Congo, but in DRC where business is easier and the culture is more business-oriented, thefts from employees are not as severe nor as blatantly selfish and short-sighted as on the Congo-Brazzaville side, where service is dismal and short-term thinking infinitely more dismal.
Keep in mind that Congolese are not out to rob foreigners. They are out to profit mutually and form bridges and partnerships. They are also out to learn and while they see westerners and Asians as rich, they see them more as enriching, and don’t seek a zero sum game. You should be friendly and affable, but skeptical and always ask in detail.
Travelers to Congo, like travelers to Africa in general, should consult a doctor before coming to Congo, but after that everybody should bring and use malaria medicine. Doxycycline and malarone are the most popular, but a 3-day morning and evening dose of Artemether/Lumefantrine (“Cofantrine” is a readily availiable and reputable brand at pharmacies in Congo) will also kill off any malaria you may have in your system in the 3 days following your trip. Doctors will not tell you that in truth preventative antibiotics are not always effective, and most expats and doctors in Congo will administer this simple but potentially life-saving medicine. That said, many expats live for years there without taking any medicine at all and report feeling fine. It should be taken as a precaution especially on a visit and especially if you are going into the jungle.
You are best advised to have travel insurance, and to seek embassy help in the event of an emergency for recommended hospitals, but evacuating to better care in Europe or South Africa is probably a better bet if it is serious.
GETTING TO THE CONGO, GETTING AROUND IN THE CONGO
Most airlines fly into Pointe Noire or Brazzaville or Kinshasa from Nairobi, Johannesburg, Addis Ababa, and an array of European capitals. At this point there are not yet any direct flights from America or Asia. It helps to book far in advance, but expect a roundtrip to cost about as much as going to any other continent, provided you don’t make too many connections. There is a domestic airline called Equatorial Congo Airlines (ECAir) that is overseen and maintained by the Swiss luxury airline MRO and flight support PrivatAir, and flies 3 times a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) from Paris to Brazzaville, and once a week to Pointe Noire. As of 2014 it is also flying to Dubai, and has its sites set on, excitingly, Guangzhou and Washington DC next. It also connects Ollombo in the interior of the Republic o the Congo, and has an international flight to one of the cheapest logistical West African ports, Cotonou in Benin. ECAir is of a top standard, and is the only domestic airline the U.S.A., Russian, and Chinese embassies allow their personnel to fly because of safety concerns. All bets are off for the other domestic “scarelines,” in ROC whose notorious crash record precedes them.
Within DRC, Korongo Airlines is the most solid, operated by Brussels Airlines and flying only between Kinshasa and Lubumbashi and Johannesburg. The only other airline which gobbled up the majority of its competition and flies to just about every city in DRC, CAA, is blacklisted – but truthfully crashes less than AirFrance. Fly at your own risk. There have not been any bad reviews, however we are keeping a close eye.
Within Africa, it can be cheaper to fly with one of the new class of African emerging air carriers. Asky (African sky) is a safe, good quality, reputable new operator. The South African and Tanzanian LCC’s (low cost carriers) don’t reach Congo yet, though they will be competitivee when they do. Neither do any of the Gulf’s expanding airlines except for, to the delight of travelers, Turkish Airlines. – Turkish Airlines has positioned itself to cover traffic into most of the untapped opportunities in Africa. If you plan to travel to Africa regularly and widely, having a frequent flyer program with a Star Alliance airline (United, Turkish, Ethiopian, etc.) well pay off handsomely in slashing your inter and intracontinental airfare in Africa, including to Congo. Expensive all business-class airlines like Swiss-owned Privatair cooperate with Star Alliance as well to bring business-class travelers to the Congo, and their luxurious jets fill quickly with European, Chinese, and African business travelers.
Some of the new Congolese domestic airlines, such as Trans Air Congo and Canadian Airways Congo are not flying into Europe or USA yet and so caution should be exercised when deciding whether or not to fly with them. Equatorial Congo Airlines flies to Paris and has a safe operation, perhaps even better than Air France, which uses its jets non-stop without much turnaround time all year long and commands far higher prices yet poorer service to boot. Charter flights through a travel agency are sound if expensive, and SGV can organize these too for up to 15% discount, but private jets and helicopters based around Africa have a reputation for more security than the larger domestic airlines, who are on the blacklist. Congolese national and private airlines have some of the worst safety records in the world, so you may want to pay a bit more for the assurance.
A neat trick is to get somewhere else in Africa that is cheaper as an entry gate to the continent, and then use frequent flyer miles to get to Congo, which counts as a regional flight and so takes relatively few miles even though a price for the same ticket would be very high Adventurers and budget travelers who are flying from outside Africa have honed this trick and it works wonders. If combined with another African destination on a big continental trip, Congo can be a very affordable adventure, and compared with the prices tourists are paying for safaris or just general travel in Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Uganda/Rwanda, and South Africa (God Bless them all), Congo is far far better value and shows you almost all of the same big wildlife and better scenery, and none of these other places have the river.
The road from Goma to Walikale is still not paved, nor any longer safe. We ourselves tried from Goma up to Masisi and it was back-breaking. Even 4×4 vehicles do not ply on this route and couldn’t make it with all parts intact. The by-road approach to Walikale is from Kisangani, instead of Goma.
Though the distance is far too long (240 kms from Goma, while 445 kms from Kisangani to Walikale). Then of course, security is the primary concern. We can never take the risk of putting our clients in these circumstances, nor anybody in general. Even security “experts” with decades of military experience flop and about-face and have turned around outta there!…As of yesterday, there are at least 2 towns en-route from Goma to Walikale that now have the Mai Mai rebellion (lethally dangerous for foreigners) activity.
Kisangani has however become international airport and the tourists can directly reach here with Ethiopian Airlines. Or if they like from Goma to Kisangani by domestic airline ‘Congo Airways’ that operates 2 Airbus medium commercial jets and 1 Bombardier.
Even for Goma to Kahuzi Biega, there are now due to insurrection only two options:
a) By boat along the Lake Kivu (Speedboat Ihusi 02h45; and big slow boat/ship Emmanuel that operates daytime 6 hrs and nighttime 12 hrs).
b) By road is only now possible via Rwanda. I travelled along this route and it is excellent, not only the road condition, but the views are magnificent. It also passes through the tourist town of Kibuye with a breath-taking view of and from ‘Gorilla Hotel’ 4h30.
With serious security and a million repairs and pitstops and problems, you can drive for about 10-30 days contiguous and parallelling the Congo River to Yangambi>Bumba>Lisala>Mbandaka>Bolobo>Malebo>Kinshasa. Other interesting very dangerous but doable (not so many lethal rebels) ventures are Kisangani>Pygmy Villages>Ituri Forest>Yangambi Reserve>Back to Kisangani.
You can enter DRC from Tanzania in Tanganyika Province by taking a $50 boat. This is one of the more pleasant border crossings out there.
Plane charters run about $10,000 for getting to Basankusu- which hosts hundreds of thousands of Bonobos in the real heart of Congo (from Kinshasa or Entebbe the price is much the same.) We can also take you in with Kinavia nowadays for way cheaper.
Coming overland, it is possible to cross into the Republic of Congo near Bangui in C.A.R. or from Cameroon near Bayanga/Nola, where the borders are relatively straightforward and hassle-free as long as you have a visa. Crossing into the DRC, the Angola border is VERY intimidating and even having a visa doesn’t guarantee you a smooth ride through, or to get in at all. Several people pose as “officials” at various points of the crossing, and demand your passport or a fee or both, some even equipped with “forms” and pens and uniforms. There have been cases of foreigners with visas in order thrown in Angolan holding cells and having to pay upwards of $1000 to get out. If you are crossing into DRC, you can do so at Cabinda or Matadi.
From Zambia, crossing near Ndola towards Lubumbashi is about $40-60 visa at the border for anyone, no questions asked, and you’re on your way. (Though some tourists angrily refute this after being tricked and turned away for lack of a steep fee or in the face of intimidation.) Of course, Lubumbashi, the Congolese mining region, is a long way from Kinshasa, but travel is never entirely predictable here though a great deal safer than the Great Lakes region near Goma.
The Katanga region will go all the way to Kinshasa on a brilliant, sometimes* spotless future national highway “1” which is being built by French, African, and Chinese hands to connect the spoils of Congo’s mining region to the ocean and river ports in the Atlantic side, away at Matadi. The crossing of the DRC in ANY direction puts you at odds with 2500km of terrain to traverse. Botswana has almost exactly 100 times the amount of paved roads that the entire DRC does. A better bet is traveling by water on almost 15,000km of navigable waterways. They are safer than the roads, but not safe.
If travelers don’t know the DRC, it is best they travel with a Congolese liaison to avoid or diminish harassment, but this will include an additional cost (his expenses and a fee with regards to the time he will accompany them). The road from Lubumbashi to Kabalo and further to Kalemie is a track in poor condition. On some parts there is a need to do a detour because of missing bridges and there will be many roadblocks by officials and military to get through with official and unofficial taxation; there are 2 other options, Lubumbashi/Miwaba/Manono/Kalemie or Lubumbashi/Pweto/Kalemie to get north from Katanga; they are more commonly used to get to Kalemie; both are also infested with roadblocks. From Kalemie to Bukavu the road is a little bit better, but also infected with roadblocks as on Lubumbashi/Kalemie. The road from Bukavu to Goma, same situation, but the possibility to keep due north by boat from Bukavu to Goma is also an option. There maybe also some security issues to consider but we will have to inform with our contacts for the latest situation. For Goma to Kisangani, between Goma and Beni is not advised for security reasons from 2017; as many armed groups roam the country side and could cause problems. However the Rumangabo site of Virunga NP is accessible, best to organise through the Virunga NP administration or SGV/JT office in Goma. You can get to Kisangani via Rwanda and Uganda, crossing the border in Kasindi and going to Kisangani via Beni, Komanda, Nia-Nia.
For the areas in South Kivu, here are some advisories on distance, logistics, and safety emanating into the interior from Bukavu.
– Bukavu – Walungu 46km : 2h30 to 3h
– Bukavu – Mugogo 25km : 1h30
– Bukavu – Kabare centre 17km : 1h to 1h30
– Bukavu – Kabare/Mukongola : 22km 2h30 to 3h
The state of the road of these three zones do not really pose a problem, it is practicable with Jeep 4×4, it is outside the city. From a security point of view, currently make day drives to the 3 zones, but we recommend not to spend the night. No hotels or restaurants are proposed here.
Going south across the Congo?: 2 possibilities barring the LRA territory around CAR’s border; first possibility entering from Uganda and drive South via Bunia, Beni, than leave via Uganda and Rwanda, enter again in Goma, and continue to Lubumbashi via Kalemie; Another possibility is entering via Brazzaville and then driving to Angola, Clients who motorcucle Africa are aweome and can even stay with a motorbike friend of ours in Kinshasa.
East-West by overlanding? From Kinshasa to Lubumbashi and Zambia is not possible due to severe insecurity around the N1 between Tshikapa and Mwene-Ditu in the Kasaï Provinces. As of 2017 you will not make it.
Security is a large part of the services we offer. To find long term secure accommodation in the Congo is no problem. For security we contract security companies but only those who supply acceptable quality service. Armoured cars are difficult to find, but we can offer maximum security for visitors with security specialists with expatriates or Congolese that can accompany the client (CPO) if required, liaison officers, and armed policemen in civilian if need be.
In the words of one of the best security consultants and career intelligence professionals hired by SGV in the Congo:
– Security: some areas in the DRC are out of bounds to travel safely or to travel without any precautions. Insecure areas tend to shift and can pop-up in unexpected areas. he actual political, economic and social situation make the security situation in the DRC today volatile to a certain extent.
– Infrastructure: the infrastructure in the DRC, accommodation, roads, tele-communications, hospitals, water and electricity are very poor. Accommodation is relatively expensive and outside bigger urban areas not existing . Road conditions outside the major cities are in general ranging between poor and catastrophic. Hospitals with an acceptable level of care do besides a few exceptions not exist. Water and electricity are more absent than present. Communications are of poor quality and lack coverage outside urban areas. The impact on safety can be considerable and permanent caution is a must.
– Harassment & corruption: endemic and often an unexpected and difficult obstacle corruption:for inexperienced visitors to the DRC. Sometimes it is best to travel with a liaison who knows his way through government agencies. to subcontract a liaison of the National Intelligence Agency for more complicated travel through the country. One option is to subcontract a liaison of the National Intelligence Agency for more complicated travel through the country.
– Administration: is very slow, does not respect the same rules as in other African countries, and dealing with it requires a thorough network of good contacts and patience.
– Costs: the DRC is very expensive. Almost everything is imported and makes daily life expensive. Basic administration, basic permits and documents are often expensive and require the help of efficient local consultants to maximize a positive, clean, and timely result.
Main places to visit in DRC and some DIY costs approximate the below:
Matadi can be reached with a $13 bus from Kinshasa. Boma for $20. These buses leave when full from the bus station, and plan on an all-day, sweaty, crowded affair to make the trip happen.
Bas Congo is full of history around Boma and the inlet of the Congo River from the Atlantic Ocean, and everyone from Diego Cao to Stanley made there way up here, about a hundred kilometers of navigable waterway before you hit the abominable Livingstone Falls and the series of waterfalls that makes onward passage past Matadi literally impossible for any ship. A road (and an old railway) goes around the falls and rapids to reach Kinshasa from Matadi, where the river becomes navigable again for the whole next length up until Kisangani. Matadi has not much of note physically save a bridge (which is rare in Congo, and so for locals it’s a fascination) and the old faded colonial gem, the Hotel Metropol. In Boma you will find nearby the incredible Inga dam and Inga waterfalls, which rival Victoria Falls in Zambia/Zimbabwe for beauty, and which are little known. There are also entire villages built on oyster shells around here as well as old slave forts. Cargo ships up to a certain size can enter here at Matadi, not Panamax vessels, and the importers at the dock vie for favoritism with DRC customs.
One company, Congo Futur, is controlled indirectly by Hezbollah in Lebanon and may fund terrorism, so stay away from dealing with the company if you are thinking of doing trade in Congo. In almost all circumstances whoever you are importing with will have rivals paying and cajoling the customs to make your rates higher so their prices are cheaper and you lose the market.
There are plenty of NGO’s in Goma and it is popular to couchsurf (see couchsurfing.com) with a foreign aid worker, or make advance contact with any NGO worker, rather than to stay in a hotel in the city – which aren’t entirely safe either. If you have to pick a hotel, however, Hotel Ihusi is the best, nestled on the lakeside with a view of the blue Lake Kivu. Or ask us. There are plenty of hotels in Goma and more going up all the time. Crossing from Kigali is a snap – via Gisenyi. Have your DRC visa ready and it is one of the more comfortable gateways. There are now lots of nice boats, some even with nightclubs on them, for crossing between Goma and Bukavu. If you can make it the ride is a great time to mingle with locals en route to your safari point.
The Ituri region of the DRC hosts the Okapi wildlife reserve, which can be visited from Isiro, and hosts itself African pygmy tribes living inside the reserve as well as hundreds of birds and chimpanzees, apes, and occasional forays by renegade armies and poachers who have made tourism evaporate and murdered park staff and – anybody found inside the park. It is not advised to visit. Garamba and Okapi Park are both off at the moment.
The journey to the massive “3rd” city of Kisangani takes an unspecified number of hours or days by bus from Goma, along unlit roads some of which are occasionally overflowed by lava from the volcano. It can take as little as 3 days and as long as a week, changing buses at Butembo and Beni ($30 each but prices for foreigners can be inflated) and passing through M23 and FDLR rebel checkpoints where passports are checked relatively politely and the United Nations vehicles occasionally travel. The route to Kisangani from Bukavu is a wholesale total gamble with your life or at least your possessions and runs through a completely lawless and ungoverned tribal part of Africa. It is not under any circumstances advised to do this road. If you have to travel to Kisangani, the road from Goma is better, and you should allow at least a week and several hundred dollars in local currency. There are no ATM’s and no health care.
In the time of the crown jewel of Belgium’s African empire, the 1940’s road from Isiro south to Kisangani or eastward to Mombasa was a speedy throughway that breezed you over the mountains to the coast in 6 hours or south to the river city in 2. Nowadays it is a complete mess, subject to banditry, potholes and washouts, political terrorism, and occasionally marauding murderers…and left to rot and crack beneath trucks and in the wrangle of vines and debris, with the specter or savior of Chinese construction to get the Eastern DRC back on track all these decades later. From Isiro, expect 3 days’ travel east to the ocean (through Eastern DRC, Uganda, and Kenya) and at least 1 day’s travel south to the river at Kisangani. From Isiro, you can dip straight into the steamy equatorial Congo rainforest, or flee for the open savannas of Eastern Africa’s Great Rift Valley. If you are reading this you have likely came from the latter of the 2, and so have in mind to either turn back or else make your way further into the Congo to Kisangani. You can get a bus ticket for $13 (51500 CAF.) Bring water and mosquito repellant, and keep your wallet tight at hand.
Katanga province, home of the second largest city in DRC, Lubumbashi, is a generally safe destination and transit hub. There used to be great great wildlife in Upemba Park, northwest of the provincial capital, and even great lodges (see them at congostarsafaris.com – no longer working,) but now it is all poached out and no animals remain, unless you go very very far from the people who live in the area. Gran Karavia Hotel and Hotel Holly Bum are the best hotels in town now, but nothing to write home about.
The main use of Katanga in the eyes of Kinshasa and the world is its vast reserves of almost every metal conceivable. – Coltan, Copper, Tin, Gold, Manganese, Bauxite, Silver, Diamonds…and much more. Katanga, the source of many minerals today and the former source of the uranium for the Hiroshima bomb, is now illegally exporting uranium via Zambia. Besides this, however, it is false and uninformed to connect Katanga minerals with blood, war, rape, or child soldiers, a connection all-too generously and tenuously made by western media who do not realize that the Kivus region is hundreds to thousands of miles away through terrible jungle and that the mining there under rebel eyes has nothing to do with the long-running mining projects in Katanga.
Nevertheless, most western writers on conflict minerals have never been to DRC, and so we encourage visitors and discerning individuals to draw their own conclusions. There are a lot of rumors at play in Africa regarding this.
One of the more interesting aspects of Katangan history strangely enough involved Ireland. Hidden History, one of the cold war’s and Ireland’s most important:
The siege of Jadotville. It was the first foreign mission for the Irish army. 150 Irish soldiers held off over 2000 Katangan and French mercenary soldiers without a single loss of life on the irish side After the battle was over there were many Katangan soldiers lying dead and wounded.
The Irish even used their bullets twice. How is it possible to do this? After their ammunition was finished the officer in charge ordered the men to pick up all the empty cartridges and put them in the ammunition boxes with dynamite. The explosives were all wired together and exploded when the enemy came on them.
Eventually the Irish had no choice but to surrender. They did not get a hero’s welcome when they came back to Ireland as the government branded them cowards for surrendering. It was not until many years later that their bravery and professionalism was acknowledged. But by this time some had died with this dishonour hanging over their lives.
SGV’s ground manager back In Ireland now got first hand stories about this siege and other battles that were fought in Congo from survivers who live near him. One of them was an officer in the siege of Jadotville.
There were over 6,000 Irish soldiers sent to the Congo. Every community in Ireland was affected by this war but few Irish youth know about it today. Few Irish people know the truth about modern Congo either.
Kisangani is a dusty, heaving, monster of a rivertown with which you can board the slow long ferry to Kinshasa. Proceed at your own risk between Kisangani and Kinshasa. The ferry takes 15-20 days. There are infections, dangerous river marauders, man-eating crocodiles, and boat-riding thieves. There is also unrivaled adventure in taking the public barge…along with legendary discomfort. If you want an easier, more comfortable, and more safe way, contact us. And we not selling it like it is, we are telling it like it is.
That covers all of the inhabited parts of the Congo. The rest is all unpaved jungle. (Most of the country is unpaved jungle.) We were unable to do research on the ground in the rest of these areas. All information in this website is for reference only. We are not held liable for any travel you do in the Congo (RC or DRC) on your own accord based on our information.
KINSHASA - The Capital
“Kin La Belle” became a long-aged long-gone misnomer, as is evident in this hideous monster of an electric African city as soon as you hit its streets. Yet Kinshasa hosts some of the most vibrant faces of Africa and is no more dangerous and a great deal less dangerous than other oft-traveled cities in Africa – Lagos, Nairobi, and Johannesburg among them. Kinshasa is famed for its music, and there is a Bonobo (only endemic to DRC) preserve within an hour of the city that is very well-kept and in a natural setting that is popular with visitors.
The downside to this Kinshasa buzz is you can’t walk as many places at night besides the downtown area of 30th June Street and the areas around the embassies and nicer hotels, while in Brazza you can walk pretty much anywhere you want at any hour of the night alone and be fine and unbothered. Kinshasa is worth a visit for a few days for its music, history and culture (which is VERY strong in Africa and exported around the continent as well) and for the amazingly cute and well-run bonobo orphanage, (with the underwhelming and overrated McVallee Lake nearby which no doubt all Congolese will insist you visit)…The river journey and the national parks are the grand draw. DRC is the place to go if you want to cross Africa by river. This is the launch for the boat to Kisangani, a long way away after many twists and turns into the heart of an immense darkness.
“Avenue du tourisme” in Kinshasa is the best drive on the river, like the Pacific Coast Highway of the jungle!, totally beautiful and worth a whole day just stopping and taking in the views of the twin river capitals.
Road travel in DRC is subject to annoyances in green uniforms, and these soldiers may or may not ask for money from foreigners, but be prepared to part with pocket change or even a coca-cola along the way several times over. Keep your good humour and smile. It will smooth things with everyone you meet. Road travel is also subject to people remarking on the color of your skin in loud voices if you happen to be white. Learn to laugh as well. – You probably do look ridiculous here after all. One entity you will see to stay away from : Hezbollah controls the importer named “Congo Futur”, Blacklisted by the U.S. State Department for links to terrorism, and so if you run into individuals or are approached about any of your affairs by them as a broker, beware and steer clear.
If you want to take the commercial public ferry ALL the way down the river to Kisangani, (as it is dangerous to try to procure your own boat or even hire a smaller one for that entire length, for reasons to be elaborated on further down in this page.) it leaves Kinshasa with 2-4 platforms in tandem which become floating, filthy marketplaces, every 10-20 days. It takes about 15-20 days to traverse the river. This boat does not go into any of the natural, secluded, and more beautiful parts and fingers of the Congo River, but it is a culture shock par excellence. You need to wait and be flexible in order to secure a bunk (you probably have to rent the whole 4-bed room but that does not guarantee you’ll have it to yourself. Theft and mosquitoes and diseases are rampant on the ferry, and passengers have paid prices ranging from $100 to $800 for the same bunk. This is not a cruise ship. This is not predictable. That said, you are 100% guaranteed to have a wild time and with proper politeness and especially if you have a buddy with you, it is doable. It is very hot and not clean, and not “entirely” safe. Perhaps entirely not safe. but you can indeed see fish for sale on the platforms that have never been documented in science before.
Unfortunately, the far bend of the river on the DRC side running up to Kisangani has developed a man-eating crocodile problem, the locals having killed all the bushmeat and tossed their adversaries bodies in the river following their rowdy fighting over the years. The river crocodiles took 170+ people last year in 2012, often cleverly leaping up OUT of the water to pull them out of their boats. It is not advised to canoe or kayak in the 400km stretch of the Congo River in the DRC south of Kisangani.
The river journey is fine on the RC side up until the fork that takes you to Kisangani near the Central African Republic and Mbandaka, but your should always keep aware and safe anyway. This is not a Caribbean Cruise. It is not advisable to paddle or navigate yourself. Boats (but not usually the main ferry) are also occasionally attacked by river pirates in the DRC, who show much more speed and skill than their Somalian counterparts away in the Indian Ocean. The Somalians can’t quite jump out of and then disappear back into a bush. The good news, however, is that as of 2017 the entire river from Kinshasa to Kisangani is fine and cleared for tourist travel.
How about fishing? There are countless amazing and undiscovered species, but what about the ecological integrity? And what of these shocking monstrous tiger fish? Are they actually real?
Yes. The status of the Congo River ecosystem has been described by most biologists on the ground and in our care as being in excellent health. So healthy according to Peace Corps veterans in Congo that the foundation of river villages like Mossaka on the Alima river’s economy is freshwater fishing, and fish dances are the entertainment du jour. The state of the ecosystem has been compared to what the state of salmon fishing would have been like for the Native American Indians in the Pacific Northwest of the USA prior to colonisation by Europeans. It is as if the methods of fish harvesting employed by the people of Congo are just not sufficient to put a dent in any real way in the fish populations of the Congo river.
That said, the Golaith Tigerfish is targeted by Congolese as both a pest and for animist religious reasons and this would obviously lead to more “fishing pressure” than there would otherwise be. Still, there are hundreds and hundreds of extremely sparsely populated stretches of the Congo river. Similarly the Goliath Tigerfish will also inhabit large tributaries of the Congo like the Alima River which flows through Boundji and it is quite possible the current human interface with these ecosystems outside of Brazzaville or Kinshasa could never considerably impact the fish populations.
In the Pacific Northwest the main reason why the salmon populations have dwindled so significantly is due to the damning of all, literally all, of the major rivers in the region. And the Congo River hasn’t been impacted to any similar degree.
From an ethical point of view, if one is anti-fishing because they do not like the idea of a fish having a metal spike jammed through their mouth and then fought to exhaustion before being released, rather than the belief being predicated on conservation issues, then it is best to pass on fishing excursions in Congo or anywhere in the world. Many opinions would be that as long as the fish are returned alive and in good condition to the river, then the overall benefit (in terms of the employment to the fishing guide and enjoyment of the fisherman, and the impact to the local economy from the money spent by the fisherman to get to where they can target this species,) justifies the fish being in pain. “Don’t forget,” this view compels, “it’s not easy being a wild animal at the best of times, and a bit of metal hook in the mouth is not going to significantly impact the fish’s life.” This is not the view of SGV, but this is often the perspective of fishing enthusiasts.
Another reason that the Goliath Tigerfish may be perceived to be threatened / endangered is that it is an illusive fish by nature. In reality, it would be nearly impossible to determine the state of their population without electro-fishing a section of the Congo river and counting what floats to the surface. And even then, you would have know an idea of how that number would compare to pre-human and pre-colonialist populations. So therefore, endangered? – Probably not.
The road to “Black Lake” (Mai Ndombe) can be done from Kinshasa via mediocre muddy roads in 1-2 days, whereas the village itself has several relatives of SGV crew and affords host ground space for large tents, cooked food for our guests, and added security in the dark deep jungle. From here the massive, amoeba-like lake and its fingers and branches span for tens of kilometers in all directions and beds and grounds for the biggest tigerfish.
For the Okapi and Ituri forests, the manager of SGV’s Tiger Fishing Ops at Mai Ndombe drove the road from Bunia to Kisangani regularly in his trucks for 40 years while he was exporting coffee. In all that time he only saw Okapi twice. They were crossing the road early in the morning. This is how illusive they are. They are also a very fragile animal, and can die easily if stressed, which is probably why they are in danger of extinction if not already extinct. His son travelled this route in December and visited the Okapi reserve, but did not see any. They told him they have all been killed for food by poachers. We don’t know if this is true, but it makes it more attractive to go there and find the Okapi. We could even use this angle to organize an expedition into the forest using local guides from the reserve, but nobody has ever tried since.
It is an interesting story on how the conservationists capture the Okapi. They dig a hole, not too deep, and cover it with the leaves which the Okapi eat. When the Okapi falls in they dig a slope so he can get out again himself without force. They put stakes with the leaves hanging from them around the hole so the animal is not stressed. They back a truck up to the hole with a trail of the leaves leading to it hanging from stakes on either side. The Okapi follows this and is not stressed once he has his food. He goes into the trailer which has his food inside too.
The DRC’s other famous region is the Great Lakes, near Bukavu and Goma, more than a thousand miles to the east from Kinshasa. There are plenty of points of interest here the foremost of which is the Mountain Nyiragongo and its lava lake. The UN’s pathetic failure here in tandem with ongoing tribal and retaliatory violence has made this part of Africa the most dangerous place in the world at times, maybe in competition with Afghanistan. Not even Somalia is as rowdy nowadays. As of summer 2014 it is fine to travel to this area, but check with us and your embassy.
Travel in DRCongo can be as safe as travel in other African countries. The scenery is rich and the parks are spectacular, and both sides of the river share some common tribes languages and cultures. In all parts of the Congo vigilance and alertness pay off and keeping abreast of news is advisable. Do not walk alone at night, just as in the rest of urban Africa. And remember to relax! Being careful pays, being paranoid will only cheapen your experience.
Once you are ready to get out of Kinshasa, you can fly out via about 20 different airlines to Africa or Europe, or else take the ferry to Brazzaville which comes in at about $20 or $25 for the older crowded or the newer more empty ferries. Crossing the land border to Angola is possible but only with a visa you’ve arranged ahead of time. Visas are affirmatively NOT granted to people who show up at the border, not even with a bribe in recent years.