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 history of DR Congo is difficult to take in, from the mismanagement of Belgium’s King Leopold to the corrupt leader Mobutu Sese Seko to the battlegrounds of Africa’s horrific “world war,” the country has experienced long periods of instability but, all hope is not lost, this African nation is staging a comeback and by most accounts, is headed in the right direction.
You have probably bumped into travel advisories for DRC when you search the internet but during times of stability, there is a magic wilderness to explore here. From national parks, and raging rivers to all the wildlife you expect in Africa. Caution is needed when you intend to travel here but DRC is the figurative heart of Africa.
First, let’s look at the best time to visit this nation and then dive into some of the tourist attractions that you shouldn’t miss when you journey here;
Since the country is crossed by the Equator, it stays mostly hot and humid throughout the year in the north. The center and south of the country are hot and humid for most of the year. However, they experience a rainy and dry season. The northern region of the country sees stable weather throughout the year. July and August are the exceptions as temperatures slightly decrease during this time.
Overall, the best time to visit the Congo is from May to September. It’s during this period that the weather is dry and cool. Nights tend to be on the cooler side, especially around the coast. Visitors in August will be more likely to spot wildlife as many animals visit the watering holes along the rivers.
BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN CONGO
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 hydroelectric power needed in Africa. Over 40 power plants have been built along the river.
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.
Lake Kivu: is one of the largest lakes in Africa. It is shared by Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Lake Kivu lies next to the great Virunga and Kahuzi-Biega National Park. Under the lake is a reservoir of methane gas which scientists believe is a disaster waiting to happen if the right conditions present themselves or if a volcanic eruption occurs among one of the Virunga volcanos.
After a long safari in Congo or Rwanda, Lake Kivu is excellent for relaxation, swimming, island hopping, visiting local fishing communities, canoeing, kayaking, biking, and other water spots. Fishing is also possible and the main catches are Nile Tilapia, Tanganyika sardines, Clarias, Haplochromis, Barbus, and Limnothrissa miodon. There are no hippos, crocodiles, or bilharzia to worry about while swimming in Lake Kivu.
Idjwi Island: Also known as Ijwi, the island is found in Congo’s section of Lake Kivu. The Island covers an area of about 340 square kilometers and is considered the 2nd largest inland island in the continent of Africa. Idjwi Island is home to about 200,000 people.
Most of them survive on subsistence farming and small-scale fishing. Idjwi island became a kingdom in the 18th Century and had a connection to the ruling monarchy of Rwanda at the time.
Tourists who visit the Virunga and Kahuzi-Biega National Parks often visit the island for cultural tours, hiking, and also to explore the beautiful lake Kivu.
Boat rides to the island from Bukavu (near Kahuzi-Biega National Park) take about 2 hours. Once there, the only means of transport is by bike, motorcycle, or walking.
Zongo Falls: The Falls of Zongo offer tourists a chance to gaze at one of the great wonders of nature in Congo. Whereas the falls are beautiful on their own, the scenery around it is equally amazing and will leave you wondering just how naturally beautiful the Democratic Republic of Congo is.
Visit these waterfalls to escape the chaos and hustle in Kinshasa for a few days and take delight in exploring the falls or swimming below them. There are several accommodation facilities close to the falls including campsites or an area for setting up a tent if you are a backpacker.
Kahuzi-Biega National Park: This national park is found in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo – near the border with Rwanda and close to Lake Kivu. Kahuzi-Biega National Park is another of the many UNESCO World Heritage sites in Congo. The gets its name from two extinct volcanoes known as Kahuzi and Biega. These two volcanos paint the landscape and are joined together by a small stretch of forest. Kahuzi-Biega National Park offers travelers the complete wilderness charm and feeling that only the Congo can provide these days.
The park is an excellent travel destination for travelers who desire to do something different or discover Africa’s last remaining true wildernesses.
Other than pristine wilderness, Kahuzi-Biega National Park is one of the last strongholds for the largest gorilla species on earth – the Grauer’s gorilla. About 400 individuals are found in the park with others found in Maiko National Park and some other reserves in the neighboring areas.
In total, about 5,000 Eastern lowland gorillas remain on Earth and they are all found in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Interestingly, despite not having the largest population of primates, Kahuzi Biega is the best place to see the Eastern Lowland gorilla. Eastern lowland gorilla trekking is the most popular activity but tourists can also register for chimpanzee tracking, visit the chimpanzee sanctuary in Lwiro, birding, mountain hiking, and nature walks to discover amazing waterfalls. Eastern Lowland gorilla permits cost $400 per person.
Okapi Wildlife Reserve: The Okapi Wildlife Reserve is one of the many beautiful attractions and UNESCO World Heritage sites in Congo which have been hidden away from much of the world. The reserve covers about 14,000 square kilometers and one-fifth of it consists of dense forest.
Okapi Wildlife Reserve rewards those who are fortunate enough to visit with amazing scenery, a chance to observe the elusive okapi, other wildlife species, waterfalls, and a cultural encounter that is second to none in Africa. To find the elusive okapi, one needs at least 3 days in the Ituri forest. The search is interesting because it is led by Mbuti Pygmies. They are the ones who know the secrets of the forest and can locate the okapi using instinct or small leads. While tracking the okapi, the pygmies will introduce you to their lifestyle of hunting and gathering in the forest.
Lola Ya Bonobo: Lola Ya Bonobo began as AAC Sanctuary Bonobo Sanctuary. At that time, it was located in the middle of Kinshasa. It later changed its name to Lola Ya Bonobo and was shifted to its current location in Kimwenza – just outside Kinshasa. Visiting Lola Ya Bonobo is an excellent option for tourists who would love to see primates but cannot visit the Lomako-Yokokala Faunal Reserve or others. It is one of the most visited places in Kinshasa and sits on a 30-hectare forest. Lola Ya Bonobo is the only orphanage for pygmy chimpanzees in the world.
Bonobos like many of Congo’s wild animals are targeted by not only pet traders but also those who only want bush meat. When an adult bonobo is killed for meat or captured by pet traders, their young are left orphaned. If the infant was not weaned at the time the mother was taken away, its chances of survival are minimal. The sanctuary helps rescue these orphaned bonobos. Those that are wounded or traumatized undergo rehabilitation before joining those already at the center. About 60 bonobos can be seen at the sanctuary. They live in similar conditions to their relatives in the wild and can forage on wild fruits or learn how to deal with any dangers lurking in the forest.
Please note that activities at Virunga National Park and mountain Nyiragongo are still on halt following the eruption of mountain Nyiragongo in 2021. It’s not yet clear when they will open but we will surely keep you updated when that happens.
With that said, we hope you enjoy your stay here!