Travel & Tourism
Famous for its welcoming culture and rich history, the Republic of Congo has a well-developed tourist infrastructure. Whether you’re interested in safaris, rain forest hikes, sun-drenched beaches, or Brazzaville’s vibrant mix of art, nightlife, and history, Congo-Brazzaville has you covered.
Not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire, also known as Congo-Kinshasa), Congo-Brazzaville nevertheless shares that region’s natural beauty and is much easier for outsiders to navigate and explore.
What to Do in the Republic of Congo
1. National Parc Ndoki-Nouabalé: Besides being home to more than 1,000 species of plants, as well as gorillas, elephants, antelopes, and over 300 types of birds, National Parc Ndoki-Nouabalé is one of the country’s best-staffed parks. The virgin rain forest is not navigable in some places, and a guide is essential for walking or boat tours. Most visitors to the park arrive via airplane from Brazzaville or Pointe Noire.
2. Lesio-Louna Gorilla Reserve: The Congo is home to some 80 percent of the world’s wild gorillas and chimpanzees, and even the most nature-averse traveler will fall in love with the chimp families and majestic gorillas that romp around the country’s several reserves. Although Ndoki-Nouabalé National Park remains the best location for seeing all kinds of wildlife, Lesio-Louna virtually guarantees close encounters with primates and is quite accessible, only a short drive north of Brazzaville.
3. Brazzaville’s Waterfalls: Although Congo-Brazzaville’s waterfalls are generally not as impressive as the ones in Congo-Kinshasa, Loufoulakari Falls and the nearby Bela Falls are the exceptions that prove the rule. Cutting noisily through a tangle of untouched rain forest, these waterfalls are relatively easy to reach from Brazzaville and offer lovely panoramas of the surrounding forest.
4. Poto Poto: Perhaps Brazzaville’s most famous arrondissement, Poto Poto draws in many tourists with its sprawling market, where you can bargain with local vendors for handicrafts, food, and clothing. Traditionally part of the West African area of town, Poto Poto is also known for a laid-back and popular bar scene as well as its painting school, established in 1951.
5. Pointe Noire: This city’s convenient port (possessing the only deepwater harbor in Africa south of Dakar) and offshore oil reserves make it a center for opulence and expats, although most of the locals still live in poverty. Pointe Noire has a livelier and more expensive club scene than Brazzaville, but it is generally worth the cost. Visitors have a choice between the pricey bars on Avenue General de Gaulle and a more authentic experience in La Cité, Pointe Noire’s “African district.” The beaches outside the city are world class, and diving equipment and fishing boat rentals are readily available.
6. Northern Congo Trekking: Although driving to this part of the country is not a pursuit for those with weak stomachs (or weak transmissions), doing so affords as much authenticity as you can get in Africa, and the lifestyle in its traditional villages is vastly different from what one can observe in Pointe Noire and Brazzaville. It is possible to hire a guide from Ouesso, Oyo, or Owanda who can lead you on rain forest hikes, and will also take you to pygmy villages on request.
7. Basilique Sainte-Anne and Central Mosque: In architecturally sophisticated Brazzaville, places of worship aren’t just lovely; they’re innovative, serene, and difficult to bypass. Why would anyone want to? Basilique Sainte-Anne is a gorgeous modern Catholic church, and the Temple Mosque has attractive mosaics and a beautifully decorated inner chamber.
8. Congo Rapids: The rapids, which start and stop along the Congo River between Brazzaville and Kinshasa, are unsafe to raft on but are quite pretty and wonderful to walk along. Most of the city’s bars and clubs are nearby, so the white water is a picturesque location at which to mingle with expats and locals.
When to Go
Congo’s wet season lasts from October to May. During that time, roads tend to turn into muddy quagmires and unwitting tourists into mosquito bait. Avoid this period, especially if you plan on venturing outside of Brazzaville or Pointe Noire. Instead, visit between June and August or during the shorter dry season in December.
Getting In and Around
Visas: Congo requires visitors to bring a passport, a visa, and a yellow fever vaccination certificate. Immigration may also request written proof of residency, which can take the form of an invitation letter or a receipt for a hotel reservation. Visas cannot be purchased at the airport: you should arrange for one in advance through your national Congolese consulate.
Transportation: Air France offers flights into Brazzaville via Paris, and the city is a destination for many African carriers. It is possible to take a ferry from Kinshasa to Brazzaville and to enter by car at the country’s borders with Gabon, Cameroon, or (more dangerously) the Central African Republic. Although Pointe Noire is mainly a stopover for commercial sea vessels, you can theoretically enter by boat here, and the city serves as a good introduction to the country, particularly for those inexperienced with the developing world.
Slow, irregular buses run between Brazzaville, Pointe Noire, and many outlying towns. Taking one of these isn’t much better than driving on your own, a method that comes with its own set of hazards: road quality is inconsistent outside the capital, and constant delays can make short trips seem eternal. There is also a train that runs between Brazzaville and Pointe Noire, but crime is an occasional worry and service can be unreliable.
Safety and Security
Concerned about your safety as you plan travel to Congo-Brazzaville? 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 Congo-Brazzaville:
Africa.com comment: Very timely and frequently updated. Perspective assumes that you ARE going to travel to Congo-Brazzaville, and seeks to give you good guidance so that you understand the risks and are well informed.
Africa.com comment: An annual ranking of the 54 African countries based on their relative personal security as determined by a highly qualified staff of an African foundation, funded by a successful African philanthropist. See where Congo-Brazzaville ranks relative to the other 54 nations in Africa.
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 Congo-Brazzaville.
1. Internet cafés are plentiful in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire, and many hotels and restaurants offer free wireless Internet access. That said, there is virtually no Internet access outside these cities. Intrepid expats and locals have been known to set up satellite connections while living in outlying areas, and you can find the equipment for that in either of the two large cities. Newspapers and radio stations offer local news in French; for English-language news, your only option is the Internet.
2. Like other countries in the region, Congo uses the Central African CFA franc as its official currency. Crédit Lyonnais maintains the only two ATMs in the country, in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire. Keep some cash on hand at all times. Although major hotels will accept credit cards, most other vendors will not.
3. Visiting foreigners are required to register with the police upon their arrival in Brazzaville and Kinshasa and again whenever they enter a different town or village. This rule is patchily enforced outside the two main cities, but registering in advance will foster goodwill (particularly in the tiny villages of the north), and may preempt harassment by corrupt officials.
4. Although French is the formal language of Congo, the local dialect may take some getting used to; its vocabulary and accent are quite different from those of European or Canadian French. English speakers are rare outside of Pointe Noire. Among locals, Lingala and Monokutuba serve as the lingua franca. If you hope to make yourself welcome, it won’t hurt to learn a few phrases.
5. Although most unrest has died down (especially in tourist areas), Congo is still recovering from its civil war, which ended in 2003. Locals will often be happy to discuss local politics with you, but be sensitive. Quite a bit of tourist infrastructure was either destroyed or allowed to deteriorate during the war, and because travel guides for this region are updated only infrequently, some sites may not live up to your expectations. Take that in stride. The country still has plenty to offer the persistent traveler, and if you don’t let minor inconveniences get in your way, you’ll be able to appreciate everything Congo-Brazzaville can give you.