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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, but with less political instability, 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 are visited by foreigners.
While the Republic does not have a well established 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 the western gorilla. Brazzaville, located right on the banks of the Congo River, is a popular pitstop for travellers seeking out nearby adventures such as white water rafting or jungle trekking. Down the rail line, in and around 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 peaceful, although there are still a few regions in the country which are best avoided, and sometimes conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo can spill over across the border. Although not known as a popular tourist destination, the Congo is an exciting country to explore for those with a taste for adventure and a desire to get off the beaten path.
The Republic of Congo has some really exciting attractions but doesn't yet have the infrastructure to support tourism. The country is considered mostly safe for foreigners, although petty crime is a problem, and roads arein a poor condition and sometimes impassable, making it difficult to reach many ofthe 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 explore: 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 asset. 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 visitors can seek out forest elephants and gorillas, which are now so endangered that it is difficult to find them anywhere in the wild.
Pointe Noire is the second largest city in the Republic of Congo, the commercial hub of the country, and a very popular tourist. 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 entirely 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.
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 more peaceful 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 visitors 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.
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 is recognised an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International as a result of the wealth of birdlife. The park is also 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.
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 draws 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 stunning 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.
The Republic of Congo has a tropical climate with high temperatures and high humidity year-round and a lot of rainfall. The equator crosses the country just north of Liranga. There is little seasonal variation in temperature, but the climate does vary according to terrain and region. The average temperature is a humid 75°F (24°C) during the day, and slightly cooler at night. It seldom gets cold. The terrain is a variety of mountainous regions and flat coastal plains, with about 70 percent of the country covered by rainforest. It is rainy almost all year round, with a brief dry season between June and September in the south, and between December and February in the north. During the wet months the country's rivers are routinely flooded and travel by road becomes difficult.
The best time to visit the Republic of the Congo is in the cooler dry season, which is between June and August, however it is wise to note that the north remains fairly wet throughout the year. Travellers should be sure to take plenty of insect repellant and sunscreen, and should pack light, breathable clothing as well as waterproofs.
The Central African CFA franc (CDF) 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 main method of payment in the country. There are a handful of ATMs in Brazzaville that accept foreign cards, and a few in Pointe Noire. It is possible to exchange foreign currency at the larger banks.
The official language is French. Lingala and Kituba are widely spoken.
Electrical outlets in the Congo usually supply electricity at between 220 volts, 50Hz. European two-pin plugs with round or flat pins are standard.
US nationals: US citizens must have a valid passport and a visa to enter the Republic of the Congo.
UK nationals: British citizens must have a valid passport and a visa to enter the Republic of the Congo.
CA nationals: Canadian citizens must have a valid passport and a visa to enter the Republic of the Congo.
AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a valid passport and a visa to enter the Republic of the Congo.
ZA nationals: South African citizens must have a valid passport and a visa to enter the Republic of the Congo.
IR nationals: Irish citizens must have a valid passport and a visa to enter the Republic of the Congo.
NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a valid passport and a visa to enter the Republic of the Congo.
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. Visa can only be issued on arrival to those passengers in possession of a letter (Visa Volant) issued by the Ministry of Interior and Security. Visitors not holding visas issued in the country of residence could be refused entry. Visas issued in another country will only be accepted when there is no embassy of Congo (Dem. Rep.) in the country of residence. 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.
Malaria is prevalent in the Congo and a prophylaxis with Lariam, Malarone or Doxycycline is recommended for all areas. A yellow fever vaccination is required for all travellers to the Congo over one year of age. Vaccinations are also recommended for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid. Visitors should also ensure that they are up to date on their vaccinations for polio, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and tetanus-diphtheria. Those who plan on spending a lot of time outdoors and will be at risk of animal bites should consider a rabies vaccination. HIV/Aids is a concern in the Congo and visitors should be sure not to engage in unprotected sex.
Furthermore, since the outbreak of the Ebola virus in recent years, all visitors to the country are advised to abstain from consuming bush meat, as it is though to be responsible for the disease.
Medical facilities in the Congo are extremely limited, particularly in rural areas. Many medicines are in short supply and travellers should bring their own supplies of medications they require, in their original packaging, and with a dated and signed letter from a doctor detailing what the medication is and why it is required. Visitors should not drink tap water unless it has been filtered, chemically treated or boiled. Tourists should also ensure that they have comprehensive travel insurance as any serious injury or illness is likely to require medical evacuation.
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 about 10 percent is welcomed by waitors.
Although the Republic of Congo is still recovering from civil war, there have been far fewer serious episodes of conflict or violence since the 2003 peace accord. Nevertheless, most travel authorities, including the US Department of State and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, advise against travel to certain regions of the country. Brazzaville saw violent clashes as recently as April 2016, and tourists visiting the city are advised to mantain a high level of security awareness, abstain from night time travel and avoid all political protests. Travellers should avoid all travel to the Likouala province, which has been flooded by refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and all but essential travel should be avoided to the Pool region, south of Brazzaville.
Care should be taken on the road between Brazzaville and Pointe Noire, which has a history of roadblocks and robberies. The train route between these two cities is generally safer, although caution is still advised. Visitors should stay well-informed of any disruptions or unrest in the country, and in the neighbouring DRC, as violence sometimes spills over the border. Petty crime is common in the Republic of Congo and there have been incidents of violent crime against tourists. Armed robberies, vehicle break-ins and muggings are unfortunately quite common, especially near ports, outside popular restaurants and bars, and on the beaches, which should be avoided completely at night. Travellers should stay alert and take all precautions possible against crime.
There are a variety of customs and cultures in the Congo as many communities have their own traditions and beliefs. Casual clothing is acceptable; however, keep in mind that the Congolese take great pride in their appearance, and an overly casual appearance may be frowned on. Photographing military, government, and banking buildings is prohibited.
The Republic of Congo is one of the lowest-ranked countries in the world for ease of doing business due to the country's history of poverty, conflict and corruption, but 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 percent 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, due to the hot climate, suits are often worn only when meeting with government officials. The society is patriarchal and women should generally avoid wearing trousers to business meetings. 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. One of the main obstacles to doing business in the Congo is the lack of high-quality communications infrastructure, making it difficult at times to get a good phone line, or high-speed internet connection.
Landline telephones are uncommon 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 wifi. The international access code for the Republic of Congo is 242. The area code for Brazzaville is 28, and Pointe Noire 29.
Visitors to Congo do not need to pay import tax on one bottle of spirits and one bottle of wine and an amount of perfume reasonable for personal use. Men may import up to 200 cigarettes/50 cigars/227g of tobacco, while women may only bring cigarettes. Cameras may be temporarily imported by tourists, however radios, audio equipment and gifts are subject to import tax.
Republic of Congo Embassy, Washington (also responsible for Canada). Tel: (202) 726 5500.
Republic of Congo Honorary Consulate, London. Tel: (203) 077 9958.
Congolese (Dem) Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 230 6582.
Republic of Congo Embassy, Pretoria. Tel: (012) 342 5508.
United States Embassy, Brazzaville. Tel: (242) 06 612 2000.
United Kingdom Honorary Consul, Brazzaville. Tel: (242) 066 473 23/ (242) 055 513 251.
Canadian Embassy, Kinshasa (also responsible for Republic of Congo). Tel: (243) 99 602 1500.
South African Embassy, Brazzaville. Tel: (242) 660 0211.
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