Travel

The allure of DR Congo

main-kinshasa

30th June Avenue, the main street in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. PHOTO | ADONIJAH NDEGE | NMG

adonijah_img

Summary

  • The city is 14 times the size of Nairobi and with a population of about 20 million residents.
  • Few people visit the city for holiday or leisure, and that can be picked from the shock registered on locals’ faces at the mention of it.
  • Humid for most parts of the year, the vast majority of visitors go for business and in some cases, humanitarian relief.

On the banks of the mighty River Congo facing Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo lies Kinshasa, a vast city that has survived economic hardships, political tensions, war and threats of diseases like Ebola and now Covid-19.

The city is 14 times the size of Nairobi and with a population of about 20 million residents.

Few people visit the city for holiday or leisure, and that can be picked from the shock registered on locals’ faces at the mention of it, from passport control officials to taxi drivers to hotel or restaurant staff.

Kinshasa is the political and commercial capital of DR Congo, sometimes fondly referred to as the heart of Africa.

Humid for most parts of the year, the vast majority of visitors go for business and in some cases, humanitarian relief.

"No one brings. People only come to take, just like our politicians," jokes Antony Bosongo, a taxi driver.

When holidaying in such less travelled destination, people ask a lot of questions. They want to know what took you there. People known to you and locals alike probe your intentions.

"There are better places to visit outside Congo. Everyone tries to leave this place and those who come to stayin nice and expensive locations,” Antony tells me during one of the trips around the city.

With vast untouched tropical rainforest and rivers meandering through the hills and valleys including the city, DR Congo has numerous attraction sites that are worth visiting.

Parc de la Vallée de la Nsele

Long hours in traffic and crowded streets can easily dissuade you from exploring the hidden treasures of Kinshasa. One such place to help visitors appreciate DR Congo for what it is, is the Nsele Valley Park.

Located roughly an hour's drive from the city centre, Parc de la Vallée de la Nsele stands high above the surrounding covered with trees near the banks of Nsele River.

It is the perfect place for a weekend getaway with friends or family, away from the chaos of the city centre.

par-de

Nsele Valley Park. PHOTO | POOL

The park is home to wildlife and rich flora. Complete with lodges, restaurants, and sports facilities, it offers affordable leisure activities

It is a magnet for visitors on a short stay and would like to visit a few places before travelling back to their home countries.

"I asked for a few places with scenic landscapes and this was top of the list. I came and it has exceeded my expectations,” said Daiam Mohamed, a Lebanese restauranteur who visited the city for business opportunities.

Lola ya Bonobo

Everything under the sun can be found in DR Congo. And for all its turnoff to most travellers, a tour can be rewarding.

Kinshasa is home to the world’s only Bonobo sanctuary. Lola ya Bonobo is just 10 kilometres from the main street and offers some quiet time with one of man’s closest ‘cousins’.

The centre serves as home to endangered Bonobos whose DNA is 98.7 percent match to humans.

“If you want to understand where you came from, tour the ‘Paradise of Bonobo’,” Bashwa Monsengo, a tour operator based in the city advises.

Congo River

The two Congos are probably the only countries in the world whose capitals serve as international borders as well.

On the edge of the over 9,000 square kilometre city is River Congo, the world’s deepest river and second-longest in Africa.

Though the bank is mostly undeveloped, the view of Brazzaville on the other side is eccentric and the width as it flows down to the Atlantic Ocean breathtaking.

In fact, the river is so wide between the two cities that one would mistake it for a lake.

brazaville

A view of Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo from Kinshasa on the banks of River Congo. PHOTO | ADONIJAH NDEGE | NMG

Along the bank there are a few restaurants and public parks where families and friends gather for parties.

For travellers eager to cross into the other Congo, a 10-minute boat ride and a visa are all they need to explore what used to be the Frech-Congo during the colonial era.

Lac Ma Vallee

For all that nature brings to the country, there are also man-made features that can pass as natural.

Surrounded by rainforest, Lake My Valley is a man-made reservoir with scenic views and trails that hikers would die for.

While the facility is mostly known for picnics and boat rides, visitors can engage in fishing among other fun water activities. There are also archery and zip- lining.

The restaurants on the shore treat visitors to real “congolaise” experience.

lake-ma

Lake My Valley, half an hour drive from the city centre. PHOTO | ADONIJAH NDEGE

Texaf Bilembo

The artistic works on display at a former textile factory would amaze travellers who love African Art.

Tefax Bilembo, on the main street, showcases works from Congolese artists. The centre is located in the upmarket area of Gombe, which hosts most hotels frequented by foreigners.

Zongo Falls

But for travellers who want to go further away from the city but at the same time experience the beauty of the heart of Africa, Zongo Falls is the perfect place.

To experience the depth of the Congo Forest and hear the roar of the river water as it falls 65 metres on the rocks at the bottom, one should start the journey early in the morning.

Zongo Falls is over 100 kilometres from Kinshasa and some parts of the road are in disrepair. That makes the journey longer but the place promises a heavenly experience.

zongo

A section of Zongo Falls, 130 kilometres from Kinshasa. PHOTO | POOL

Zongo Park is heavily forested with beautiful canopies that give way to darkness and some little shreds of light.

“This is one of the most expensive trips that we offer and we assure customers of value for their dollars,” says Grace Botongandi, a home-stay owner and a tour guide.

Drives

To get away from the crowds that characterise most parts of the city, travellers can also take drives outside the city on roads that wind through sparsely populated open fields giving way to dense tropical forests.

mobutu

Entrance to former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko’s home on the outskirts of Kinshasa. PHOTO | ADONIJAH NDEGE | NMG

The roads on Sundays are typically empty, taking taxi rides around the town to popular places like Parliament, Presidential Villa, former strongman Mobutu Ssesko’s home and the National Museum of Congo can be illuminating.