Travel & Tourism
Like Congo-Brazzaville, its neighbor across the river, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (colloquially known as Congo-Kinshasa or the DRC) is home to a sprawling, diamond-shaped swath of rain forest, where pristine lakes, waterfalls, and rivers, active volcanoes, and hundreds of different ethnic groups are all to be found. However, it outdoes the more benign Congo-Brazzaville in almost every respect: Congo-Kinshasa is larger, more dangerous, more undeveloped, and possibly more beautiful. Natural beauty notwithstanding, it is not a suitable destination for tourism at this time, especially in the northern region, where the extremely violent Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) controls many villages and rural areas, and in Kinshasa, where violent crime is commonplace.
What to Do in the DRC
1. Académie des Beaux Arts: Despite its troubled recent history, many of Africa’s better painters are based in Kinshasa, either studying or teaching at the Académie des Beaux Arts. The school is home to a gallery full of local art, and it is usually possible to meet the artist and learn about his or her work firsthand before you buy.
2. Kinshasa Nightlife: Local bars and restaurants stock a pretty good local beer, Tembo, as well as imported brews. Congolese jazz is quite popular here; the best places to hear it are the Western-style clubs on the main boulevard in Gombe and in the bars of international hotels.
3. Le Marché des Valeurs: A cheaper option than the Académie if you’re in the market for handicrafts, Kinshasa’s vast open air-market offers a variety of textiles, food, and daily necessities. Negotiation is a must here.
4. National Parks and Okapi Wildlife Reserve: It is not safe to travel to Congo-Kinshasa’s national parks right now. That is a shame because they can yield finer experiences in untouched rain forest than any other place in the world. The Okapi Wildlife Reserve will be a highlight if you are able to organize and conduct your trip safely. At Okapi, it is possible to visit traditional pygmy villages; the reserve also has some rudimentary camping facilities.
5. Chutes de Lukia: Touted by local sources as a must-see, this chain of lakes outside of Kinshasa has swimming, some equipment rentals, a restaurant, and a bonobo orphanage that allows visitors to play with the small chimps.
6. Lac de Ma Vallé: This gorgeous lake outside Kinshasa is surrounded by rain forest and, in better days, was one of the region’s top tourist attractions. Water sports rentals are available, and there is a restaurant.
When to Go
The rainy season, which lasts from April to November, makes the roads outside of Kinshasa impossible to travel on, although we don’t recommend travel in this part of the country in any case. The majority of Congolese are Catholic, and their festivals reflect that situation.
Getting In and Around
Visas: The Democratic Republic of the Congo requires a passport, a visa, and a yellow fever vaccination certificate for entry. Exit visas are also required for certain border countries. Make arrangements for all these documents before you arrive. Travelers who fly directly into Congo-Kinshasa are commonly hassled at the airport by officials, who may demand bribes or detain them without a clear reason. You are also required to register with the Direction General of Migration upon your arrival. Planes leaving Congo-Kinshasa require a visa for the destination country before you are allowed to board. Visas can be procured in at the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s embassy.
Transportation: Transportation within Congo-Kinshasa involves a choice between several evils. Even during the dry season, the roads are impassable without four-wheel drive; don’t even think about driving them in the wet season. Expensive, unsafe domestic flights can be booked on the domestic carriers Hewa Bora and Wimbi Dira. Your only other options for travel in the interior are driving or paying to ride in the bed of a commercial truck, which is unsafe and uncomfortable.
Safety and Security
Concerned about your safety as you plan travel to Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)? We at Africa.com, together with our friends, family and colleagues, travel extensively throughout the continent. Here are the resources we consult when thinking of our safety in DRC:
Africa.com comment: Very timely and frequently updated. Perspective assumes that you ARE going to travel to DRC, and seeks to give you good guidance so that you understand the risks and are well informed.
Africa.com comment: Can sometimes be considered as overly conservative and discourage travel altogether to destinations that many reasonable people find acceptably secure. On the other hand, they have the resources of the CIA to inform them, so they know things that the rest of us don’t know. See what they have to say about DRC.
1. Photography is illegal without a permit in Congo-Kinshasa. If law enforcement (or scammers pretending to be “undercover police”) catch you taking pictures of anything, especially monuments or government buildings, you will likely be harassed and probably fined. Taking pictures of locals is socially taboo, and people may react aggressively if you try to do so anyway. If you must photograph, ask permission first.
2. French is the official language, and almost all locals have at least some grasp of it. They will often speak Lingala, the tribal lingua franca, to one another, and the knowledge of a few phrases will gain you the respect and courtesy of those to whom you speak.
3. Congo-Kinshasa uses the Congolese franc (franc congolais). Some hotels and businesses will accept and give you change in American dollars. Credit cards and traveler’s checks are not accepted outside the nicest hotels in Kinshasa; use cash.
4. Internet access here is quite good for Central Africa. Although only the most upscale hotels and restaurants use wireless access, Internet cafés are common in Kinshasa and the larger towns.
5. At six in the morning and six at night, flag-raising and -lowering ceremonies occur wherever there are flags in public places. The Congolese take this ritual very seriously, and cars and individuals are expected to stop and watch respectfully or risk being harassed by the police or locals.