DR Congo Safari Tour Guide : Everything to know before visiting The Democratic Republic of Congo: West Africa’s equatorial region is home to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (also referred to as the DRC). The DRC is enormous and supports an astounding variety of wildlife and cultures. It is home to the second-largest rainforest on the planet, which covers hundreds of thousands of miles of the Congo River Basin and is dominated by glacial mountains and savannah elsewhere.
It goes without saying that the DRC has experienced turbulent ups and downs throughout its lengthy history, which dates back approximately 80,000 years. The area’s abundance of resources, as was so often the case, led to conflict and systemic abuse with the arrival of colonialism (in this case Belgian), and since independence in 1960, these effects have persisted. Fortunately, the DRC is currently experiencing a period of notable peace and stability, even in the historically unstable east, and the expansion of tourism is only assisting in solidifying this; its benefits to the economy and culture are obvious.
And that’s fantastic news because the DRC is a truly beautiful nation. It is the second-largest African country and ranks as the eleventh-largest country in the world. Within its enormous territory, there is enough to keep an Africa enthusiast busy for a lifetime.
For the discerning traveler, the DRC offers a wide range of destinations, from the sprawling metropolis of Kinshasa with its upscale hotels and eateries to smaller conurbations like Goma in the east. There is ample evidence that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is not just for nature lovers and offers a wealth of cultural experiences to immerse oneself in when you consider that much of Africa’s most popular music originates from the nation.
But the wilds of the DRC are sufficient justification for travel there. Along with the endemic eastern lowland gorilla, okapi, giraffe, and elephant, the jungles and foothills of volcanic peaks are renowned for their primate populations. The forests also have an abundance of birds. It is a nation full of unexpected things.
There are parts of the DRC that resemble an Alpine landscape in Europe, especially in and around the Virunga Mountains, which are home to two national parks, Virunga National Park and Kahuzi-Biega, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Every mode of safari transportation, including walking, boating, and driving excursions, allows for real frontier encounters that will give travelers a variety of thrilling experiences.
The authenticity of that frontier reality should be noted, though. Despite the fact that civil unrest has largely given way to peace, it is important to keep in mind that the DRC is still a nation that the authorities consider to be risky and not for the timid. However, this caution sums up perfectly why the DRC is a must-visit location for seasoned, daring travelers looking for a distinctive vacation.
THE D.R.C CLIMATE
The DRC has a tropical climate and is situated on the equator. While the southern highlands are cooler and drier and the eastern highlands are cooler and wetter, it is particularly hot and muggy in the equatorial river basin. Depending on where you are in the DRC, you will experience wet and dry seasons. The rainy season runs from April to October north of the equator, and the dry season runs from December to February. These seasons are reversed in regions south of the equator.
DRC SAFARI HIGHLIGHTS
With its larger size, it can be difficult to know where to begin, but fortunately, the majority of the DRC’s highlights are concentrated along its eastern border with Uganda and Rwanda. This eliminates the need for you to consider traversing this sizable state, and it also makes it possible for you to reach this location quickly from Kigali, the country’s capital. Goma, the entry point to Virunga National Park, which is home to habituated mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, and Nyiragongo Volcano, is about a four- to five-hour drive from Kigali. Lake Kivu, which is south of Goma and the best way to get to Kahuzi-Biega National Park, is a destination unto itself. Here are some of the best DRC highlights worth exploring:
- Congo River
This massive river spans 4,370 kilometers from source to mouth, twice traversing the equator, and carries more water than any other river on the continent. From Mbandaka to Kisangani, you can take a cruise that stops at towns with few or no tourists from the west and travels through the widest section of the river (20 km), Bumba, and the Yangambi Biosphere Reserve. You can travel the entire route in one month or just the first half.
- Kahuzi-Biega National Park
This national park protects mountains, rainforest, bamboo forest, marshland, and rivers, providing rich habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. It is named after two dormant volcanoes that lie dormant within its 6,000 km2 of forest. Its most well-known inhabitants are the largest gorilla species—the eastern lowland gorilla—which can be found in the rainforest. Along with bush elephants, buffalo, hippo, and bush babies, chimpanzees also call this place home.
The capital of the DRC is frequently omitted from tours, but with over 11 million residents, Africa’s third-largest city offers a significant window into urban Congo, far from the forests and volcanoes of the east. Kinshasa, formerly known as “Kin La Belle,” has undoubtedly lost much of its former splendor, but it still has a fascinating history, vibrant markets, and a significant reliance on the Congo River. The only bonobo sanctuary in the world is Lola Ya Bonobo; don’t miss it.
- Lake Kivu
The rocky shoreline of Lake Kivu, which forms the border between the DRC and Rwanda, gives way to dozens of islands. The small, c-shaped Tchegera is a charming place to unwind after gorilla tracking and is only a short distance from Virunga National Park. The largest island in Kivu is Idjwi, which has a relaxed atmosphere despite having a large population. Meet the locals, go out on the lake with the fishermen, and take in the beautiful scenery.
- Nyiragongo Volcano
One of the most active volcanoes in the world, with a lake of molten lava in its crater. You can embark on overnight expeditions to reach the 3,470-meter summit. The summit provides breathtaking views of Goma and the surrounding area, as well as the lava lake, and the four- to six-hour ascent ascends through four vegetation zones. Watch the sun rise between the Karisimbi and Visoke volcanoes after spending the night in a mountain hut on the rim.
- Virunga National Park
Near the borders of the DRC, Uganda, and Rwanda, the Virunga Mountains are home to about 1,000 mountain gorillas. Here, skilled trackers will lead you into the forest, where you will spend an hour with a habituated group—a truly magical experience. Additionally, you can go see a nearby gorilla rehabilitation program. It is possible to track two great apes in one park because this forest also houses habituated chimpanzees.
BEST TIME TO VISIT: WHEN TO GO TO THE DRC
The climate in the DRC varies a lot because of its size and topography. As opposed to the warm and muggy equatorial river basin, the southern highlands are typically cooler and drier. The wet season lasts from April to October in the northern hemisphere, and the dry season is from December to February. The wet season occurs further south from November to March, and the dry season is from April to October. Due to the possibility of extreme weather, plan your activities carefully.
N’Djili International Airport (FIH), which is situated just outside of Kinshasa, serves as the primary entry point for tourists from abroad into the DRC. South African Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Ethiopian Airlines, and Air France are just a few of the well-known airlines that fly to Kinshasa. You can book domestic flights from Kinshasa to other cities in the DRC. Every traveler to the DRC requires a visa, which must be obtained beforehand through the DRC embassy in your home country.
GETTING AROUND THE DRC
Buses and taxis are the most straightforward (though frequently rickety) internal modes of transportation, making it relatively simple to move around city centers. However, traveling outside of the major cities of the DRC is a different matter. Bridges and roads have frequently collapsed due to flooding, and main routes are frequently completely impassable. Additionally, independent overland travel through rural areas can be extremely risky due to the ongoing unrest and lawlessness. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office urges travelers to exercise extreme caution and limit travel to only what is absolutely necessary.
The majority of high-end lodging in the major cities of the DRC is of a very high caliber, offering strict security, spotless rooms, and a wide selection of food and drink options (often serving up European fare as well, or at least a version of it). Generally speaking, it’s harder to find cheaper hotels and hostels, especially if you’re looking for a good deal and a place to store your backpack safely. Ask Explore Rwanda Tours or other Local safari Company on where to stay, and keep an open mind.
DRC FOOD AND DRINK
The simplest and most cost-effective way to eat is to purchase “street food,” as is the case in the majority of African countries. Sticking to regional cuisine will help you eat healthier food, gain the respect of the community, and, until you perfect the messy art of eating stew and fufu with your fingers, amuse everyone at dinner. Fufu, or ugali, is the main dish and is served with a hot stew. This can be difficult for the European palate to get used to, but there aren’t many options in rural areas. A staple is lituma, a dish made of mashed plantains, as well as kwanga, a type of fermented bread. The River Congo provides an abundant supply of fish, and goat, though a delicacy, is the most common meat.
HEALTH AND SAFETY IN THE DRC
Before making (or starting) any travel plans, check the FCO website because stability and safety can change at the drop of a hat. Use caution at all times when crossing borders by land; ask other travelers for advice and ask border officials for more details. Overland travel is extremely dangerous due to armed gangs and rebel armies, and it may even be impossible due to the condition of the roads. There have been plague outbreaks, and there are very few hospitals outside of the capital.
All visitors to the DRC must have a current yellow fever vaccination certificate in order to enter the country. The DRC also advises getting immunized against polio, hepatitis A, typhoid, cholera, and rabies. There is a risk of malaria everywhere in the country, so prophylactic medication is strongly advised. The DRC should not be visited by women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant because there is also a risk of the Zika virus.