DR Congo, more formally known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is a Central African nation that was previously known as Zaire. As the second-largest country in all of Africa, it boasts diverse landscapes and cultures. It has not been without its problems, including considerable political unrest and crime. In fact, many nations, including the U.S., have issued travel warnings for all or parts of DR Congo. If you do visit, be sure to exercise the recommended precautions. The nation features many extraordinary attractions that range from dense jungle to volcanic peaks.
The capital of Congo, Kinshasa, is also the nation’s most populous city with its more than 10 million residents. Founded as a trading post by Henry Stanley in 1881, the city has transformed from a fishing village to Africa’s third-largest metropolitan area. When visiting the city, you’ll want to check out attractions such as the city market of Marche des Voleurs, the national stadium, and the University of Kinshasa. Be sure to enjoy the city’s famed BBQ, which is often served by vendors along the Congo River.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kahuzi Biega National Park is located near the border of Rwanda on Lake Kivu. The park encompasses roughly 2,300 square miles that include mountains, lowland rainforest terrain, and two dormant volcanoes. As one of the last refuges for Eastern lowland gorillas, the park is extremely important to conservationists. Other animals that make their home here are Eastern chimpanzees, African forest elephants, hippos, and antelope. The park is also known for its rich array of bird species and plants.
Virunga National Park is the nation’s oldest park and is famous for its diversity. In fact, it’s one of the most diverse places in the world. It features savanna, swamps, glacial peaks, volcanoes, forests, and is part of the Congo-Nile watershed area. The World Heritage Site park is located on the border with both Rwanda and Uganda. About 25% of threatened mountain gorillas are found here as well as animals such as lions, zebra, elephants, and hippos.
Nyiragongo is an active volcano that has erupted more than 34 times in the course of the last 130 years. The volcano dominates the skyline of Goma, a city on the northern bank of Lake Kivu. Within Nyiragongo’s crater is an active lava lake that can occasionally be visited—if you dare. Scientists at the Goma Volcanic Observatory monitor the volcano’s activity, helping to determine when and if it may be visited. The volcanic peak routinely features a halo of smoke above its summit, making for an arresting view that should not be missed if you’re visiting this part of Congo.
At one time known as Stanley Falls, Boyoma Falls are a series of cataracts on the Lualaba River that merge with the Congo River. Many travelers make the trek to the falls area to see the traditional Wagenya fishing tribe employ its centuries’ old techniques for catching fish here. That cataracts are spectacular in their own right. In fact, by water volume, they represent the largest falls on the planet.
Covering an area of 1,900 square miles, Garamba National Park is located in northwestern Congo and is one of the oldest protected areas on the continent. Owing to its location near the border with politically unstable South Sudan, the park has required dedicated ranger support against poachers. The park is home to herds of elephants, giraffes, Ugandan kob, and other animals such as hippos, lions, and leopards.
The island of Tchegera is located near the northern shore of Lake Kivu and it's known for its secluded and peaceful ambiance. The island is popular with holiday seekers and honeymooners, as it features activities like kayaking and paddleboarding. Many visitors simply enjoy relaxing on its beaches. Tchegera is also known for its lush landscapes and diverse species of birds. If you’re visiting the area of Lake Kivu, be sure to spend time relaxing on this picturesque island.
The Congo River is, in itself, a major attraction of DR Congo. While travelers will get a view of the river at most parks as well as cities like Kinshasa, there’s nothing quite like getting out on the water and cruising it for a distance. There are boat operators and guides that will usher visitors along the river, stopping at villages and various islands along the way. The Congo is one of the world’s longest and mightiest rivers, so if you get the chance to drift along its course even for a short distance, you’ll never forget the experience.
Salongo National Park encompasses more than 8,900,000 acres of lush rainforest landscapes located in the Congo River Basin of Western-Central DR Congo. The park features a labyrinth of rivers—most notably, of course, the mighty Congo, the deepest river in the world and the second-longest in Africa after the Nile. The park’s pristine rainforest is home to a myriad of animal species, including African slender-snouted crocodiles, long-tailed pangolin, hippos, African golden cats, and more. This park is quite remote, so travel by boat is required.
Lola Ya Bonobo is an esteemed sanctuary for orphaned bonobos, which is one of four great apes species. Bonobos are hunted as bushmeat throughout the region and the orphans are sold illegally as exotic pets. The sanctuary protects and nurtures the bonobos and has set up a number of feeding stations where visitors can watch them interact.