Formerly known as the Zaire, the Democratic Republic of Congo is the second largest country in Africa. She borders South Sudan, The Central African Republic, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania, Angola, Zambia and the Republic of Congo. The capital Kinshasa has the highest population of residents in Africa – About 14,950,000 residents. It is also the second largest French speaking city in Africa. The high population in Kinshasa is attributed to the insecurity in some parts of the country. Residents also find it easier to get employment opportunities and basic social services.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is a country with great natural resources and wonders. Apart from gold, diamonds and oil, the Congo has over 15 other mineral resources. I should point out at this point that the uranium ore used to build the first atomic bombs were got from the Shinkolobwe Mines in the country. Minerals aside, Congo is a paradise for wildlife and nature lovers. From Africa’s big 5 animals to birds and reptiles, the country has it all. The Congo is home to wildlife species found nowhere else on earth including the elusive okapi, bongo, bonobos (pygmy chimpanzees), Congolese Peafowl, eastern lowland gorillas and mores. It is only in the Congo where tourists go on a gorilla safari and track both wild mountain gorillas and Grauer’s gorillas (Eastern Lowland gorillas). Other beautiful attractions include active volcanoes, waterfalls.
There are also incredible cultural experiences with tribes like the Mbuti Pygmies. These pygmies still live like they used to over 10,000 years ago. Stay with the Mbuti pygmies for a week and you will go back home with amazing stories to tell your friends. Cultural experiences aside, there are also amazing physical features like the Nyiragongo Volcano. The experience of observing the boiling Magma on top of these mountain revivals any game drive you will do in the Masai Mara or the Serengeti National Park. But there is more. Congo is blessed with amazing waterfalls and endless rivers. Following the river Congo by boat for a month will give you an opportunity to appreciate the country’s natural beauty and tourism potential.
Whereas the Democratic Republic of Congo is blessed with incredible biodiversity and natural resources, tourism is still underdeveloped. The cities are modern but the road networks connecting them to the rural countryside are still poorly developed. Local flights are possible from city to city but at a cost. One of the reasons often pointed out for the poor tourism infrastructure in many parts of country is the relative insecurity in many parts of the country especially Eastern Congo. This insecurity has kept away tourists from visiting some of the most beautiful national parks in Africa. The insecurity is caused by rebels and militia groups who have found safety in the remote jungles in the countryside after being driven away from urban centers by government forces. They survive in these remote areas and forests by trading in game meat, mineral excavations and pet trade.
Best Things to do in Congo
Visit Museums and Historical buildings in Kinshasa
As the center of power and economic activity, Kinshasa is home to many prominent buildings worth visiting. They include the National Museum of Kinshasa, Palais de la Nation, the parliament building the Chapel of the American Baptist Missionary Society and the Roman Catholic Cathedral. A tour of the city can be arranged with the help of a local tour operator or an experienced private Guide. The best place to get a genuine Guide is at your hotel or by arranging for one through your host or contact in the country.
Visit the Marché Central:
This market it found in Matongé and is the main one in Kinshasa. Visiting the market provides numerous opportunities to observe the local people doing business and going about with their daily lives. You can also choose to buy fresh tropical fruits, vegetables, grains, herbs, second hand clothes or brand new Congolese fabrics. Most of the stalls in the central market are open and only covered by umbrellas except for the larger ones. By the time you leave the market, you would have mingled with the real people of time and learnt something about their way of life.
Visit the Congo River:
After the Amazon, the Congo River is the second most extensive river system in the world. It is the deepest river in the world with an overall volume that is second only to the amazon. Water from the river helps contribute to the remarkable scenery and biodiversity in much of the countryside. The river is home to over 713 species of fish, crocodiles, hippos, birds and waterfalls. Talking about waterfalls, the Congo River is capable of supplying all the hydro-electric power needed in Africa. Over 40 power plants have been built along the river.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has produced some of the finest guitarists in Africa. Music is a great export and stars like Sam Mangwana, Papa Wemba, Franco Luambo, Koffi Olomide, Pepe Kalle, Tabu Ley and Madilu System are household names in many parts of Africa. The Congolese style of Music ranges from Ndombolo, Congolese rumba and soukous. Congolese Musicians stood out much earlier than their counterparts in other countries because they learnt the art of producing high quality records. They spent more time in the studio and produced songs with great meaning, depth and instrument separation. While in Congo, don’t forget to buy a few Vinyl records to take with you back home.
Taste Congolese Food
Congolese food is heavily influenced by French and their Belgium colonizers. Mayonnaise is a favorite of the locals in the urban centers and can be mixed with peas, manioc, fish, meat, salads and chili pepper. Other readily available foods include beef brochette, roast chicken and roast goat. Do not forget to taste capittaine or the locally bred chicken with peanut source – also known as poulet à la mwambe. There are countless high-end restaurants in Goma, Lubumbashi, Bukavu, Kisangani and Kinshasa offering both local food and international cuisines. A large expatriate community consisting of aid workers and UN employees in the cities means one can also find restaurants serving Indian, Lebanese, Chinese and other continental dishes.
Go Gorilla Trekking in Virunga
Mountain gorillas are one of the most fascinating creatures on earth. Virunga National Park allows tourists to have close encounters with these majestic creatures at a relatively cheap price. Permits cost $400 and there are 6 habituated gorilla groups in Virunga. Gorilla trekking in Virunga starts after the briefing at 7:30am. Only 8 trekkers may visit a gorilla group in a day. Tracking the gorillas takes you deep in the forest hence allowing you to see many of the park animals. It takes about 2 hours to find the primates but you are allowed only one hour with them. After observing the primates, you would need another 2 hours to get to the starting point of the trek.
Formerly known as Stanleyville, Kisangani is the 3rd largest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is surrounded by tropical forests on all sides by forest and rapidly growing as rural citizens migrate to the urban centers. There is a lot to do in Kisangani. Among the activities include visiting the Boyona waterfalls, shopping at the local markets, eating Congolese food from one of the many restaurants, marveling at the unique city architecture, visiting one of the museums, going to the zoo or botanical gardens. The University of Kisangani is a key attraction in the city as is the catholic cathedral in the central market.