Destinations

 

Welcome to Congo

Congo
Not to be confused with its embattled neighbour to the east, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo offers the same magnificent wilderness, the same mighty river, making it a far more desirable travel destination. The northern rainforests are virtually uninhabited, or rather, are uninhabitable because of the dense undergrowth and vast swampland. A whopping 85 percent of the population reside in and between the capital of Brazzaville and Pointe Noire, only 332 miles (534km) apart, and these are the main areas that foreigners visit. While the Republic does not have a developed tourist industry, having recently emerged from six years of civil war, there is still plenty to do in the Congo. The Odzala-Kokoua National Park is one of the largest in Africa and revered for its conservation of forest elephants and western gorillas. Brazzaville is located right on the banks of the Congo River and a popular launch point for white water rafting expeditions over the river's exciting rapids. Down the rail line, to the coastal town of Pointe Noire, one can savour the warm, if somewhat narrow, beaches of the Atlantic Ocean while visiting the museums in Diosso Gorge and the nearby Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Centre.Since the peace accord in 2003, the Republic of Congo has been fairly quiet, although there are a few regions in the country which are best avoided, and sometimes conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo spills over into the Republic of Congo. Although not known as a popular tourist destination, the Congo is an exciting and worthwhile country to explore for those with a taste for adventure and a desire to get off the beaten path.
 
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Information & Facts

Attraction Overview

The Republic of Congo has some really exciting tourist attractions. The country is considered mostly safe for foreigners, although crime is a problem, but the roads are poor and sometimes impassable, making it difficult to reach the amazing destinations the country has to offer. As a result, tourists tend to stick to the two largest cities, Brazzaville and Pointe Noire, which both have international airports and are linked by rail. Both cities have sights of interest for visitors and there are many natural wonders nearby to investigate: the beaches of Pointe Noire are particularly popular; Brazzaville is situated on the banks of the massive Congo River; and the dramatic Diosso Gorge is easily accessible. However, it seems a pity not to venture beyond the cities into the Congolese wilderness, as the rainforest and its wildlife are really the Congo's greatest attractions. The Congo Basin is home to the second largest rainforest in the world. The best place to experience the country's famous but relatively unexplored flora and fauna is the Odzala-Kokoua National Park, where tourists can seek out forest elephants and gorillas, which are now so endangered that it is difficult to find them anywhere in the wild.
 
Brazzaville: The capital and largest city of the Republic of Congo, Brazzaville is located on the mighty Congo River, just opposite the sprawling city of Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is the only place in the world where two capital cities face each other across a river. Over a third of the Republic of Congo's population live in Brazzaville, which is located in flat savanna terrain. The city's history has been marred by multiple conflicts, but in recent years it has been far more restive as it slowly recovers from a long civil war. Brazzaville is generally just a stopover for tourists keen to explore the Congo's rainforest or Pointe Noire, but it is an interesting city and has enough sights and sounds to keep tourists entertained for a few happy days. Landmarks include St Anne's Basilica, a beautiful church built in 1949, the Palais du Peuple, a colonial palace built in 1901, the Nabemba Tower, and the Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza Mausoleum. There are markets to be explored at Moungali, Poto-Poto and Bacongo and the city has some wonderful restaurants and views over the Congo River. The beautiful Livingstone Falls lie just on the outskirts of the city, where the Djoue River meets the Congo. The Congo River seems always to have exerted a powerful influence on the human imagination, luring explorers, adventurers and traders for centuries, and seeing the vast waterway is reason enough to visit Brazzaville for many tourists.
 
Diosso Gorge:  Diosso is a town in the Republic of Congo, situated about 15 miles (25km) north of Pointe Noire in the Kouilou Department. The town is conveniently close to Pointe Noire and has a few attractions including a small museum, a mausoleum, and the nearby Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Centre which will interest animal lovers, but it is not generally the village that attracts tourists. Erosion in the area has resulted in the dramatic scenic splendour of Diosso Gorge, often called the 'Grand Canyon of the Congo'. The lush rainforest is interrupted by red rock ridges and cliffs rising steeply out of the jungle. This beautiful and unusual landscape can be admired from two viewing platforms accessible by car. One is smaller, part of the dirt road, and more seldom visited, but provides lovely views; the other is larger and near the paved road but visitors shouldn't be surprised if local children have created a makeshift barrier to block vehicles so that they can demand payment for entry. The kids tend to be friendly, so long as you pay the small amount they ask for, and they may well offer guided tours down into the gorge. However, climbing down into the gorge can be dangerous and shouldn't be attempted without the appropriate gear and an experienced guide.
 
Odzala National Park:  The Odzala-Kokoua National Park is in the northwest of the Republic of Congo, and is one of the most amazing protected wilderness areas in the world. The park was founded in 1935 and remains one of the most important strongholds for forest elephants and western gorilla conservation in Central Africa. The Congo Basin is home to the second largest rainforest in the world and this natural wonder can be experienced on a visit to the park, which includes swathes of mature rainforest, as well as savanna and rivers which are home to a rich biodiversity of flora and fauna. Odzala-Kokoua was nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 and it is also recognised as an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International as a result of the wealth of birdlife. The park is known for its impressive variety of apes, including gorillas, and for its forest elephants. There are also many species of antelope, hyenas, buffalo, hippo and crocodiles among other things. Unfortunately lions can no longer be found in the region, although they were once common. Elephant poaching is a problem in the park, as it is all over Central Africa, and many other animals are hunted for meat. There are tour operators offering safaris and treks in the park and guides that will help track animals. Two popular camps in the park are Lango Camp and Ngaga Camp, where visitors can enjoy game drives, boat cruises and kayaking, as well as guided forest walks and gorilla treks. The best time to visit the park is between May and December.
 
Pointe Noire:  Pointe Noire is the second largest city in the Republic of Congo, the commercial hub of the country, and a very popular destination with tourists in the Congo. It is the centre of the oil industry in the region and a major sea port. Tourists flock to Pointe Noire mainly to enjoy the stretch of beaches and the French atmosphere of the place which hearkens back to the colonial past and is reinvigorated by the large French expat community. The city is served by the Agostinho Neto International Airport and flying is often the best way to reach Pointe Noire, as the train journey is not considered safe and the roads are sometimes impassable. Hotels in the city are expensive, considering the standard of accommodation, but it is easy to find one right on the beach. Cote Sauvage is one of the best beaches in Pointe Noire, although in fact it is a string of beaches which are picturesque and spacious, lovely for long walks, swimming and surfing. There are several hotels along the beach with volleyball courts, pools, sun loungers and bars, and visitors who are not staying in the hotels can still enjoy the facilities for a small fee. There is a great market at the Port Side Beach where the local artisans gather to sell crafts and souvenirs. Popular excursions from the city include a trip to the nearby Diosso Gorge, or, for the intrepid, a visit to the Conkouati-Douli National Park, which is a five-hour drive away but provides a remarkable opportunity to see gorillas, chimpanzees and elephants.
 

Business

The Congolese people are renowned for their friendliness and are generally very welcoming of foreigners. Forestry is a large part of the economy of the DRC, with roughly 60% of the country covered in tropical rainforest. Other potential cash crops include sugar, palm oil, coffee, and cocoa; other exports include sawn timber, petroleum, and diamonds. Business practices are fairly formal, however in the hot climate, suits are often worn only when meeting with government officials; women should avoid trousers. Handshakes are the acceptable mode of greeting. Office hours are generally from 8am to 12pm and 2pm to 3pm from Monday to Friday, and 8am to 12pm on Saturday.
 

Climate

The Congo has a tropical climate characterised by high temperatures with humidity around 80% and little seasonal variation. The wet season is between April and late October while the dry season is from November to March. Violent winds and squalls are also common in the wet season. Average annual precipitation varies from 1, 250 to 1, 750 mm (49 to 69 inches) while it is heaviest in the north and decreases towards the Atlantic Coast in the south. Average temperature ranges in Brazzavile are from 17 to 28 degrees Celsius (63 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit) in July to 23 to 33 degrees Celsius (72 to 91 degrees Fahrenheit) in April.
 

Communications

Landline telephone penetration is low in the Republic of Congo and landlines are often out of order due to extremely limited and poorly maintained telecommunications infrastructure. Cellular phone usage has increased hugely over the last few years. There are numerous internet cafes in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire and a number of hotels and restaurants offer free wireless internet access. The international access code for the Republic of Congo is 242. The area code for Brazzaville is 28, and Pointe Noire 29.
 

Electricity

Electrical outlets in the Congo usually supply electricity at between 220 and 240 volts. European two-pin plugs with round or flat pins are standard.
 

Getting Around

 
Airport
 
Maya International Airport
 
Brazzaville Maya Maya International Airport (BZV):  Maya Maya International Airport in Brazzaville is the Republic of Congo's main international airport. It is a joint civil and military airport with direct flights to and from Paris, Addis Ababa, Libreville and a number of other African cities. Flying to Brazzaville is often expensive; flying to Kinshasa is cheaper but certainly not hassle-free. Facilities at Maya Maya are basic but recent renovations have made it a safer, more comfortable airport.
 
Location:  Two miles (4km) northwest of Brazzaville city centre.
 
Getting to the city:  Buses and taxis are available to take passengers into the city, and some hotels offer shuttles.
 
Time:  GMT +1.
 
Transfer between terminals:  There is only one terminal at the airport.
 
Departure Tax:  US$30.
 
Airlines:  Air Cote d'Ivoire, Air France, Air Mali, ASKY Airlines, Benin Golf Air, Camair-Co, Ethiopian Airlines, Equaflight, Kenya Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Rwand Air, South African Airways, TAAG Angola Airlines, Toumai Air Tchad, Trans Air Congo and Westair Benin. The airport is the travel hub for Equatorial Congo Airlines.
 
 
Road and Rail
 
Road travel fine with car hire readily available but off road vehicles most certainly required to get to the true tourist spots one wants to visit. Rail travel is available in parts but is for the budget traveller.
 

Language

The official language is French. Lingala, Kikongo, and Kituba are all widely spoken.
 

Money

The Central African CFA franc (FCFA) is the official currency of the Republic of the Congo (along with five other central African countries). It is divided into 100 smaller units called centime. The Congo is primarily a cash economy. A few hotels in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire now accept major credit cards but cash is usually the only method of payment in the country. There is only one ATM in Brazzaville that accepts foreign cards, and a few in Pointe Noire. It is possible to exchange foreign currency at a number of banks.
 

Passport Visa

Visitors require proof of sufficient funds to cover their stay and in addition to a visa visitors must hold a letter of invitation or a hotel reservation. A yellow fever vaccination is required for all visitors over one year of age.
 
NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.  Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements with their embassy or consulate.
 

Time

Local time is GMT +1.
 

Tipping

Small tips are appreciated and often expected in the Republic of the Congo. Generally restaurants don't add a service charge so a tip of 10 percent is welcomed by waitors.
 

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