Bordered to the East by the vast Congo River, the Republic of Congo is often confused with its bigger and more notorious sibling, the DRC, on the other side of the river, and this certainly hasn't done its tourist reputation any favours in recent years.
But for those intrepid enough to give the smaller, quieter and lesser-known Congo a try, they'll find that it boasts beautiful landscapes characterised by undulating virgin rainforest, waterfalls, lagoons, river rapids and swamps. These wild places are home to an abundance of interesting flora and fauna, most notably rare primate species such as mountain gorillas and chimpanzees.
While these iconic primates are the main attraction for the handful of tourists now trickling into the country, the forest is also home to several indigenous tribes, which have maintained their traditional way of life, almost entirely removed from Western civilization.
Standing in stark contrast to most of the rest of the country, Congo's fast-growing capital, Brazzaville, is a fascinating metropolis. Looking across the Congo River to the dilapidated sprawl of Kinshasa, the DRC capital, Brazzaville is by far the prettier and more appealing of the two cities, with a burgeoning arts scene, good food, vibrant nightlife, an interesting colonial heritage and welcoming locals.
Since it gained its independence from the French in 1960, the Republic of Congo has been plagued by sporadic but severe bouts of civil war and ethnic conflict, the most bloody of which followed disputed parliamentary elections in 1993 and reached its pinnacle in 1997, fuelled in part by the prize of the country's substantial offshore oil wealth, which motivated many of the warlords.
A peace accord was finally signed in 2003 and since then the country has slowly but surely been reimagining itself as a peaceful destination that is no longer defined by its torrid history, and one that deserves to be noticed and appreciated.
Republic of Congo Holiday Highlights
History & Culture – Artistic carving, folk songs, and traditional and modern dance, play an important part in Congolese culture. Most of the population lives in the south of the country, and tradition is very important. The capital city is Brazzaville on the west side of Malebo Pool on the Congo River. It is a relaxed city with plenty to see including the Basilique of Sainte Anne, the Temple Mosques, the always lively and happening Oluendze and Moungali market, the Marche Total market, the Municipal Gardens, de Gaulle house and the National Museum. Try golfing at the Cite du Djoue. Inland steamers travel the Congo and Ubangi Rivers from Brazzaville and are vital for transport and trade.
Nature & Wildlife – Odzala National Park in the central north of the Congo is an ecotourism paradise with an exceptional diversity of plants and animal. Travelers are likely to see lowland gorillas, monkeys, elephants, Grimm's duiker, spotted hyenas, lions, buffaloes, bongos, leopards and other forest mammal species as well as many bird species.
One of the best places to see gorillas in the Congo is in the Ouesso district in the Sangha Region. The area is really a challenge to access, so you'll need to find a tour operator who has experience venturing into these unpopulated areas. The Wildlife Conservation Society suggests that there are around 125,000 Western Lowland Gorillas in the area.
Trekking – One of the oldest parks in africa may be a great place to start your trekking experience in the Congo. The Odzala National Park (1935) has interconnecting walking trails perfect for day or multi-day hikes. There are forests running into Savannahs, with some trees reaching over 30 meters. There are hogs, gorillas, elephants and an array of avifauna to see. If you'd like flatter, wildlife treks, then the upcountry of the Congo includes a plateau. The Congo is right along the Equator, so there are plenty of jungle explorations to be had. The only real way to undertake such a trip is through an organized tour operator. Don't wander alone in this part of the world.
Mountain Biking – A mountain biking tour is a great way to get around the Congo. The dry season lends the only real opportunity to get out and about, unless getting stuck in meter deep mucky mud is your definition of a fun ride. If not, then there are some spectacular rides through the forests and jungles, with some interior plateau rides where distances seem infinite. A support vehicle will be required to go some of the longer distances to towns that have any real accommodation.
Water Sports – The beautiful Pointe Noire Beach makes a perfect getaway for travelers who want to participate in windsurfing, hang-gliding, surf-casting and deep sea fishing. Water-skiing is popular on the Congo and Kouillou Rivers, and the Congo Rapids are a great place for the adventurous.
Fishing – The Congo has plenty of freshwater, especially after the rainy season, which may not be the best time for a fishing tour. There are many tributaries of the Oubangi River forming the natural border to the west of the DR of the Congo. Trying your luck on the Congo River will give you over 4000 kilometers of river to practice in. Within this river alone, there are almost 700 species of fish, 80% endemic to the river itself. Lac Bleu is a tourist fishing hotspot.
When To Go
Your best bet to miss any rain in Congo is July and August. June gets less than 25 mm, so it's a dry-time to go as well, but perhaps the ground will still be muddy from the April and May battering. You'll get the most rains from January till May. The temperature reflects any other equatorial climate, so it's important to dress accordingly.
- Don't venture into the jungle alone. The last place you want to end up is in the DR of the Congo right now.
- Anything you want to do here, do it through a reputable tour operator.
- Stay away during the heavy rain season; the country becomes impassable and unbearable.
- Do not smoke or drink alcohol in public places during Ramadan.
- It is forbidden to photograph public buildings.
- Go on a walking tour of Brazzaville.
- Visit Odzala National Park and see a diversity of plants and wildlife.
- See the Diosso Gorges.
- Go fishing at Lac Bleu
- See Lowland Gorillas in the Sangha Region.