Are you planning to go on a Congo Safari? Whereas the DR Congo is blessed with incredible biodiversity and natural resources, tourism is still underdeveloped. The cities are modern but the road networks connecting them to the rural countryside are still poorly developed. Local flights are possible from city to city but at a cost.
One of the reasons often pointed out for the poor tourism infrastructure in many parts of country is the relative insecurity in many parts of the country especially Eastern Congo. This insecurity has kept away tourists from visiting some of the most beautiful national parks in Africa. The insecurity is caused by rebels and militia groups who have found safety in the remote jungles in the countryside after being driven away from urban centers by government forces. They survive in these remote areas and forests by trading in game meat, mineral excavations and pet trade.
There are many amazing places to visit in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Here are ten interesting places to visit in this amazing country.
Virunga National Park: Virunga is the oldest national park in Africa and one of the many UNESCO World heritage sites in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park was established in 1925 and is located in the eastern part of the country. Virunga was at first named Albert National Park and by then included the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and parts of Mgahinga Gorilla Park in Uganda. Virunga is the most visited national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. What stands out about it apart from volcanoes and mountain gorillas is the remarkable biodiversity. Virunga is home to lions, leopards, chimpanzees, elephants, hippopotamus and rare creatures like the okapi. Gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park is the most popular activity followed closely by hiking Mount Nyiragongo.
Mount Nyiragongo: The Nyiragongo Volcano is one of the key attractions in Virunga National Park and its plumes of smoke can be seen from as far as Rwanda during the night. Nyiragongo is an active volcano with the largest lava lake on earth. Ever since 1984, the mountain has erupted 34 times with the last occurring in 2011. Every year thousands ignore the bad press and security reports from their embassies for a chance to call themselves as one of the few who have observed a lava lake up-close. When combined with gorilla trekking in Virunga and visiting the Serengeti/Masai Maraa, you would have done something that you can talk about with pride to your folks back home. Climbing Mount Nyiragongo takes two days and you will be left in awe at the sight of the lava lake. Nyiragongo hiking tickets cost $300 per person including a night spent on cabins while at the summit.
Lake Kivu: Lake Kivu is one of the largest lakes in Africa. It is shared by Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Lake Kivu lies next to the great Virunga and Kahuzi-Biega National Park. Under the lake is a large reservoir of methane gas which scientists believe is a disaster waiting to happen if the right conditions present itself or if a volcanic eruption occurs among one of the Virunga volcanoes. After a long safari in Congo or Rwanda, Lake Kivu is excellent for relaxation, swimming, island hopping, visiting local fishing communities, canoeing, kayaking, biking and other water spots. Fishing is also possible and the main catches are Nile Tilapia, Tanganyika sardines, Clarias, Haplochromis, Barbus and Limnothrissa miodon. There are no hippos, crocodiles or bilharzia to worry about while swimming in Lake Kivu.
Idjwi Island: Also known as Ijwi, the island is found in Congo’s section of Lake Kivu. The Island covers an area of about 340 square kilometers and is considered the 2nd largest inland island in the continent of Africa. Idjwi Island is home to about 200,000 people. Most of them survive on subsistence farming and small scale fishing. Idjwi Island became a kingdom in the 18th Century and had a connection to the ruling monarchy Rwanda at the time. Tourists who visit the Virunga and Kahuzi-Biega National Parks often visit the island for cultural tours, hiking and also to explore the beautiful Lake Kivu. Boat rides to the island from Bukavu (near Kahuzi-Biega National Park) takes about 2 hours. Once there, the only means of transport is by bike, motorcycle or walking.
Maiko National Park: Maiko National Park covers an area of about 10,885 square kilometers. Most of it is forest and an important global carbon sink. Like most of the National parks in the country, it is located in a very remote area. In fact, it is Congo’s most inaccessible game park. The park consists of 3 sectors – Maniema, Province Orientale and North Kivu. Maiko National Park is one of the last strongholds of the Grauer’s gorilla – also known as the Eastern lowland gorillas. These are the largest subspecies of gorillas. Other animals endemic to the Congo but found in Maiko include the Congo Peafowl and Okapi. Maiko National Park is an important conservation site for aquatic genet, chimpanzees and African forest elephants. Visitors should also look forward to spotting leopards and the elusive bongo.
Kahuzi-Biega National Park: This national park is found in found in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo – near the border with Rwanda and close to Lake Kivu. Kahuzi-Biega National Park National Park is another of the many UNESCO World heritage sites in Congo. The gets its name from two extinct volcanoes known as Kahuzi and Biega. These two volcanoes paint the landscape and are joined together by a small stretch of forest. Kahuzi-Biega National Park offers travelers that complete wilderness charm and feeling that only the Congo can provide these days. The park is an excellent travel destination for travelers who desire to do something different or discover Africa’s last remaining true wildernesses.
Other than pristine wilderness, Kahuzi-Biega National Park is one of the last strongholds for the largest gorilla species on earth – the Grauer’s gorilla. About 400 individuals are found in the park with others found in Maiko National Park and some other reserves in the neighboring areas. In total, about 5,000 Eastern lowland gorillas remain on earth and they are all found in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Interestingly, despite not having the largest population of the primates, Kahuzi Biega is the best place to see the Eastern Lowland gorilla.
Salonga National Park: Salonga National park is located within the Congo River basin and covers an area of about 36, 00 square kilometers. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site because of the dense forests and remarkable creatures that call it home. The tropical rain-forest which makes up much of the national park is so dense that new species are still being discovered. The park was declared a World Heritage site in danger since 1999 because of continuous civil wars in the eastern Congo. These civil wars have allowed poaching for bush meat to thrive. Regardless of the civil wars and poaching, Salonga remains a major tourist attraction for the future because of its extensive forests and remarkable biodiversity. Among the wildlife found in the park include the rare Congo peafowl, forest elephants, bonobos, salonga monkeys, Tshuapa red Colobus monkeys, okapi and the African slender-snouted crocodile. The road networks within and outside the park is poorly developed. Because of that, the only way to access the park is via the river.
Okapi Wildlife Reserve: The Okapi Wildlife Reserve is one of the many beautiful attractions and UNESCO World Heritage sites in Congo which have been hidden way from much of the world. The reserve covers about 14,000 square kilometers and one fifth of it consists of dense forest. Okapi Wildlife Reserve rewards those who are fortunate enough to visit with amazing scenery, a chance to observe the elusive okapi, other wildlife species, waterfalls and a cultural encounter that is second to none in Africa. To find the elusive okapi, one needs at least 3 days in the Ituri forest. The search is interesting because it is led by Mbuti pygmies. They are the ones who know the secrets of the forest and can locate the okapi using instinct or small leads. While tracking the okapi, the pygmies will introduce you to their lifestyle of hunting and gathering in the forest.
Garamba National Park: Garamba is a UNESCO World Heritage site for its collection of plant and animal life. The park was established in 1938, making it one of the oldest national parks in Africa. The park consists of endless savannah grasslands and woodlands which continue all the way to South Sudan and the Central African Republic. Garamba once home to over 20,000 African elephants but now only about 1,500 remain. Extensive poaching may soon wipe out the last known population of White Rhinos if conservationists lower their guard. Garamba is arguably the best par for standard game drives in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Visitors can view all the big 5, giraffes, hippos, antelopes and birds.
Lola Ya Bonobo: Lola Ya Bonobo begun as AAC sanctuary Bonobo Sanctuary. At that time, it was located in the middle of Kinshasa. It later changed name to Lola Ya Bonobo and was shifted to its current location in Kimwenza – just outside Kinshasa. Visiting Lola Ya Bonobo is an excellent option for tourists who would love to see primates but cannot visit the Lomako-Yokokala Faunal Reserve or others. It is one of the most visited places in Kinshasa and sits on a 30-hectare forest. Lola Ya Bonobo is the only orphanage for pygmy chimpanzees in the world.
Bonobos like many of Congo’s wild animals are targeted by not only pet traders but also those who only want bush meat. When an adult bonobo is killed for meat or captured by pet traders, their young are left orphaned. If the infant was not weaned at the time the mother was taken away, it’s chances of survival are minimal. The sanctuary helps rescue these orphaned bonobos. Those that are wounded or traumatized undergo rehabilitation before joining those already at the center. About 60 bonobos can be seen at the sanctuary. They live in similar conditions to their relatives in the wild and can forage on wild fruits or learn how to deal with any dangers lurking in the forest. In case you wish to volunteer at the Centre or contribute to the conservation of bonobos.