Democratic Republic of the Congo Travel Guide
Out of all the countries in Africa that are not completely war-torn, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is probably one of the most challenging to visit and explore. If you manage to successfully navigate their Byzantine visa application process, you will then be faced with a country that has had little improvement in its infrastructure since the 1950s.
Furthermore, certain provinces in the eastern part of the DRC (North and South Kivu, Orientale, north/central Katanga, east Maniema) have become known for rebel militias that rob, assault, kidnap, and even kill people indiscriminately.
Needless to say, if you are planning a trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, you will need to do some serious homework before purchasing your plane ticket to Kinshasa. If you have considerable experience traveling through minimally-developed countries in sub-Saharan Africa and are searching for a real adventure, you will find plenty of it in this country.
Currency: Congolese Francs
Languages: French, Lingala, Kingwana, Kikongo, Tshiluba
What To Do
Learn about the DRC’s complex history by visiting the Musee National de Kinshasa. Although its collection is a bit on the sparse side, it does contain artifacts dating back to the pre-Homo Sapien era in addition to items from more recent eras.
If you do not understand French, it is advisable to hire a guide that can help translate displays and explain their significance to Congolese history, as there are no signs in English throughout this institution, nor is there any staff that can speak serviceable English.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the poorest nations on Earth, so be sure to strongly consider tipping your guide after the tour if you feel that they have done a good job.
According to past visitors, the equivalent of $2 USD in Congolese Francs is an amount that will make a difference in their lives without being considered too excessive.
If you are adventurous enough to travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the first place, you may want to seriously consider taking a boat trip up the Congo River.
This can be done simply by contacting barge captains and arranging transport into the interior, but if you want to have an element of organization to your trip, we strongly recommend contacting tour agencies about these plans before arriving in Kinshasa.
Public transports that ply the Congo River rarely adhere to a schedule, can take weeks to reach certain destinations and are in various states of disrepair.
By going through a tour agency, you may be able to arrange a private boat up the river that will get you to specific points of interest in a more efficient fashion. This will cost considerably more than jumping on the public barges yourself, but it will make this once-in-a-lifetime adventure more comfortable for you, and it will fit your travel schedule better.
If you are a waterfall fanatic, be sure to take time out of your schedule to visit Zongo Falls. Located a four-hour drive from Kinshasa along a pothole-ridden road, the ponderous pace of the drive will only make this dramatic cataract more satisfying than it otherwise would be.
Considering the tremendous volume of water that cascades over this 65-metre high drop, your level of enthusiasm will be rather high once you catch your first sight of this natural wonder. Check out an adjacent local restaurant, as it offers an opportunity to try a variety of Congolese foods, and with a number of overnight accommodation options being available on-site, you won’t need to drive back to Kinshasa the same day if you don’t feel like leaving straight away.
If you are a wildlife enthusiast, be sure to take a day trip out to the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary. Claudine Andre, a Belgian conservationist, founded Lola ya Bonobo in 2002 to rescue as many of these primates as possible.
One of the unfortunate realities of life in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is that these primates have frequently been hunted for their meat by hungry people in the countryside over the years, resulting in them ending up on the endangered species list.
The adults were taken for food, while the children to fend for themselves in the wild. Claudine and her staff have worked since their park’s founding to save as many orphans as possible. Their hard work has begun to pay off, as this 30-hectare park has become home to approximately 60 Bonobos as of 2012.
This amount of space has given them enough room to interact with each other and live as if they were in the wilderness, while the park remains small enough to allow park workers to administer medical care and perform conservation work.
Through these efforts, they hope to restore the Bonobo population in the DRC to healthier numbers in the years to come.
While it is a very risky proposition to visit attractions in eastern portions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo due to roving militias, adventurous travelers that are aware of the danger may want to consider climbing to the edge of the fiery crater of Mount Nyiragongo.
Visitors here will be able to witness one of the largest lava lakes on Earth. Be sure to take plenty of warm clothes, as ascending this mountain will take you out of the jungle and into the frosty alpine.
Additionally, be sure that your tour agency comes with an armed escort, as robbers and militia members often hide along the sides of the highway in the countryside outside the city of Goma.
What to Eat
Like many other countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa, Fufu is a primary source of starch for the average Congolese citizen. A thick porridge made from maize flour, plantains, or cassava, it is pinched off and rolled into a ball with the right hand and then dunked into a bowl of peanut soup on the side before being eaten.
If you are searching for the national dish of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Moambe is what you will want to look for. Named for the eight ingredients that are needed to make this dish, it combines palm nuts, chicken, peanuts, rice, fish, cassava leaves, banana, and hot pepper sauce, all of which will create a mix of flavors that you won’t soon forget.
Those seeking something a little less adventurous will want to try some Soso na Loso. A simple chicken and rice dish that will fill you up after a long day in the jungles of the Congo or on the chaotic streets of Kinshasa, it will be a faithful standby that you will come back to more than once during your time here.