Natural Richness opens up to you
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (or, simply, DR Congo) – formerly known as Zaire – may not be the first place to spring to mind when you think of tourist destinations, but this beautiful Central African nation has really come into its own in recent years and offers fascinating vistas and gorgeous locations along the rushing Congo River and the eponymous Congo Rainforest – the second-largest in the world after the Amazon. The country’s national parks are the stuff of legend – 5 of them are UNESCO World Heritage Sites – and to the east lie the African Great Lakes, natural wonders in of themselves.
Name: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Population: approximately 108 million
Surface area: 2,345,409 km2
Neighboring countries: South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, Angola, Congo, Central African Republic
The largest francophone city in the world (sorry Paris), Kinshasa has come a long since its humble beginnings as a fishing village and is now the third-largest metropolis in Africa and one of the world’s fastest-growing megacities overall. Flamboyant, loud and in your face, Kinshasa is as colourful as the sapeurs who call it home. From outdoor adventures, trips to serpent farms and foot-tapping, hip-swinging street music, there’s no end of ways to keep entertained in the DR Congo capital. Be sure to check out the city’s eclectic cuisine, which combines traditional Central African staples with cuisine from all across the globe!
Virunga National Park, Goma
The most iconic thing about DR Congo is almost certainly its silverback gorillas, and it’s in Virunga National Park that you’ll find them. But gorillas are not the only draw to this hugely biodiverse park, located in the east of the Congo Rainforest. More than 1000 species of reptiles, birds, mammals and amphibians reside within the park in addition to the mighty apes.
But it is the gorillas that remain the park’s key draw, and a full third of the global population resides within its borders. These majestic creatures live in social groups and are active during the daylight hours, making your chance to glimpse them on a DR Congo tour excellent.
The tribes of DR Congo
More than 200 ethnic groups call DR Congo home, including Bantu, Nilotic and Pygmy, and many such groups continue to live off the land using sustainable, nomadic hunter-gatherer practices.
This makes a trip deep into the rainforest a fascinating and unforgettable one, as tourists are given a chance to meet indigenous peoples whose way of life has remained unchanged for thousands of years. These famously friendly tribes are all too happy to meet outsiders and share their history, traditions and culture, and such a meeting is one of the best experiences you can have on a trip to DR Congo!
The great unknown reaches of DR Congo
There is still so much to explore in DR Congo that we couldn’t possibly lay everything out here. DR Congo is the second-largest country in Africa (after Algeria) and there is no small number of things to see and do whilst there. Beyond its world-famous rainforest, there are countless mountains, waterfalls, rivers and smaller forests to explore – Zongo Falls near Kinshasa, Ituri rainforest (home to one of the last Pygmy tribes, the African Great Lakes and Mount Nyiragongo are all very much worth seeing on a trip to the country.
This is without even mentioning the mighty Congo River, which should be on any serious traveler’s bucket list. The second-longest river in Africa (after, of course, the Nile) and the river with the second-greatest discharge in the world (after the Amazon), this rushing, roaring river epitomizes everything about the untamed heart of African wilderness and could easily be the subject of an entire tour by itself. Whether simply cruising the river or watching the Wagenya fishermen work the rapids using their unique wicker nets, there’s no shortage of unique visuals along these crashing waters! If you’re really looking to get off the beaten path, though, consider just hiring a guide and a 4WD and getting out into the bush. Who knows what you might find?
The area that would become DR Congo has been occupied for at least 90,000 years, where fishermen would frequent the Congo River and catch giant river catfish with barbed harpoons. In the first millennium BCE, Bantu people permanently settled in the area, using Iron Age technology to develop sophisticated agricultural techniques and displace many of the more traditional hunter-gatherer tribes in the area.
DR Congo infamously fell under Belgian rule in 1877, and the native population was abused to such an extent by the forces of King Leopold that even the British found their human rights violations unseemly. During this time, the population in certain areas around the Congo River fell to about half, and Leopold’s one-man stranglehold over the country was removed by the Belgian Parliament.
DR Congo achieved independence from Belgium in May 1960, under the name “Republic of Congo”. Since this name was identical to the neighboring Republic of Congo, the two countries became known by their capitals (“Congo-Brazzaville” and “Congo-Léopoldville”).
DR Congo has endured no end of trials and tribulations since its inception, but things are finally more stable and the country demonstrated a robust response to the 2020 Covid-19 outbreak.