Democratic Republic of Congo
Carpeted by huge swaths of rainforest and punctuated by gushing rivers and smoking volcanoes, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, formerly Zaire) is the ultimate African adventure. As much a geographical concept as a fully fledged nation, DRC has experienced one of the saddest chapters in modern history, suffering a brutal 20th century of colonial exploitation, authoritarian madness and what has been dubbed Africa's first 'world war', which finally ended in 2003 with the rise of the Kabila political dynasty.
While real stability remains many years away, the presence of the world's largest UN peacekeeping force has bred some optimism among its tormented but resilient population. In the Northeast, this optimism and the small but fast-growing tourism industry centred on the incredible Parc National des Virunga were derailed by the kidnap of two British nationals in May 2018. With the park closed since, the future for one of Africa's most thrilling destinations is even more challenging.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Democratic Republic of Congo.
Wildlife ReserveLola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary
Ninety minutes west of Kinshasa, just beyond the city's sprawl, this excellent project provides a home for orphaned bonobos. Long thought to be chimpanzees, bonobos are actually a separate species known for being much more peaceful than their cousins. They're also endangered, with only around 50,000 surviving in the wild. Trails here lead around the large, forested enclosures, but the playful bonobos often hang out right at the front, especially in the morning.
National ParkParc National des Virunga
DRC's magnificent calling card is Virunga, Africa's oldest national park and home to mountain gorillas, chimpanzees and the incredible, active Nyiragongo volcano (climbed on a thrilling two-day expedition). Having been the subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary Virunga in 2014, the park grew fast in popularity until May 2018 when the kidnapping of two British nationals led to it indefinitely suspending all tourism operations. The pair were released unharmed, but management have said they won't welcome more visitors until they can guarantee their safety.
Perhaps DRC's most magnificent single sight, active volcano Nyiragongo soars above the city of Goma and the surrounding Virunga National Park and sends plumes of smoke into the sky, before becoming a flaming beacon visible for miles around after sundown. The trek to the top is an absolutely unmissable experience (when the park is open to visitors), with those who undertake the five-hour climb being rewarded with views into the volcano's explosive lava lake below.
MuseumMusée National de Kinshasa
This amazing ethnographic archive comprising some 45,000 objects has been waiting patiently for its new home, a US$10 million prestige investment from South Korea currently under construction in the Lingwala area of the city. In the meantime it's possible to visit the small exhibit here, but also to be shown the warehouses where the rest of collection is currently stored. Ask one of the museum employees about doing this – a tip is expected.
National ParkParc National de Kahuzi-Biéga
South Kivu's star attraction is this national park, where you can track habituated eastern lowland gorillas (Grauer’s gorillas) for just US$400 per person, a relative bargain! The park also contains a chimp orphanage at Lwiro (US$30 per person), where between 40 and 50 chimps are kept in excellent conditions.
Wildlife ReserveSenkwekwe Gorilla Orphanage
Provided you make it back from your gorilla track in a timely fashion, it should be possible to visit the world’s only mountain gorilla orphanage, which is integrated into the grounds of the Mikeno Lodge. Named after the silverback who died defending the Rugendo group against gunmen in the infamous 2007 massacre, the orphanage is home to four gorillas, including Ndakasi and Ndeze, both massacre survivors.
WaterfallChutes du Zongo
A popular day trip from Kinshasa despite the expensive 4WD hire (US$200) necessary to get here, the gorgeous 65m-high Zongo Falls are one of DRC's most spectacular sights. Getting to the viewpoints involves some hiking (bring shoes that you don't mind getting muddy), but watching the water roaring over the precipice into the river below is unforgettable. There's the Seli Safari Resort here, where it's possible to have lunch or overnight.
ZooSerpents du Congo
This excellent snake farm is located 28km from downtown Kinshasa and makes for a great day out. Owner Franck will gladly show you the poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes here, and you even have the opportunity to hold some of the less aggressive ones. It's important to call ahead to reserve an appointment, and also to ensure that Franck gives your driver instructions on how to reach the farm.
Formerly Stanley Falls, Boyoma Falls are a series of rapids (waterfalls is a bit of a stretch) on the Congo River spread out over 100km south from Kisangani. The last rapids are just to the east of town, which is where the Wagenia fishermen set up their innovative fishing traps. It's an interesting excursion, but sadly one where tourists are routinely fleeced and where each tour often has hidden costs. The best plan is to go with a local.
Whether it’s a guided tour of a historic landmark, private tasting of local delicacies, or an off-road adventure — explore the best experiences in Democratic Republic of Congo.