Although the classic image of the DRC is that of a steaming untamed jungle, the part of the country that most travellers see is the very far east; an area of cloud-scraping volcanic mountains, lakes of lava and those lumbering giants, the mountain gorillas. All this is best experienced in the breathtaking Parc National des Virunga.
Known to locals as L’shi or Lubum, this languid yet likeable city was known as Elizabethville during the Belgian colonial period. Founded in 1910 as a hub for the extraction industry, it suffered willful neglect during the Mobutu years, but briefly found a starring role as the legislative capital from 1999 to 2003.
On Sundays and holidays Kinshasa's jetsetters descend to the little 'beach' town (you wouldn't really describe it as having a beach and you certainly wouldn't want to swim here) well east of Kinshasa, to drink beer, eat the country's best liboké de poisson (fish cooked in banana leaves) and listen to live music. The action starts around midday, but peaks after dark.
DRC's most attractive city, which crawls along a contorted shoreline at the southern tip of Lake Kivu, is the base for visiting the criminally undervisited Parc National de Kahuzi-Biéga, Virunga's little-known neighbour, where you can track habituated eastern lowland gorillas (Grauer’s gorillas). It's often possible to get permits (US$400 per person) for same-day hiking.
Kisantu, 100km out of Kinshasa, has many colonial-era relics, including the incongruously large Cathèdrale Notre Dame de Sept Douleurs and the 222-sq-km Jardin Botanique de Kisantu, with trees from around the world. There's a small natural history museum, a cactus garden and a pleasant restaurant.