Democratic Republic of Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the largest country in Central Africa. With its impressive area of 2,345,410 square kilometers, it is the second largest country on the continent after Algeria and the 11th largest in the world. It borders the Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania (via Lake Tanganyika), Zambia, Angola and the small exclave of Angola – Cabinda.
History. The lands of what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been inhabited since the Paleolithic age.
However, until not long ago this part of Africa was still quite unknown to Europeans. The most amazing is that even today there are places where no man has gone before.
For a long period of time the impenetrable jungle, dense network of rivers and specific climatic conditions were challenging even to the most stubborn colonists. The first European to reach these lands was the Portuguese navigator Diogo Cão.
During the Berlin Conference of 1884 – 1885 the territory of nowadays DR Congo was declared a colony of Belgium and started rapid exploitation of the unprecedented natural resources in the country.
The colonial period in this part of Africa continued short compared with other African states. The country is independent since June 30, 1960.
Nature. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the most unknown and wild places in the world.
The majority of its territory is occupied by a vast plain in the basin of Congo River and its thousands of tributaries. The plane is covered with some of the most impenetrable and dense forests on the planet.
The jungle covers 3/4 of the area of the country and is home to approximately 11 000 different species of plants, over half of which are trees.
About 10% of the native plant species are found only in the Congo Basin. Some of the trees here reach astounding height of about 50 meters above the ground.
The equatorial forest is home to several hundred species of animals. Many of them are found only here and others are even still unknown to science.
Among the most famous representatives of the wildlife in the country are gorillas, chimpanzees, okapis (relatives of giraffes), leopards, crocodiles, African forest elephants, hippopotamuses and many others.
The dense forest is home to a number of poisonous insects, snakes and frogs. The Congo River system is home to a huge variety of freshwater fish.
Coastline. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has a small outlet to the Atlantic Ocean. The coastline, approximately 169 km long, is occupied mainly by bright sandy beaches and is slightly indented. In some places the shore is steep, although not very high, with orange and red hues.
There are very few settlements in the area. The mighty Congo River flows into the Atlantic to the south, forming part of the common border between Congo and Angola.
Climate. Most of the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has a very hot and humid equatorial climate with year-round high temperatures between 30°C and 36°C and almost daily precipitations.
Nights are generally very warm with temperatures usually between 20 and 22°C.
The combination of hot, muggy weather and high humidity makes the climate among the most unbearable in the world, especially for people living in cool climate regions.
The average amount of precipitation in most areas is more than 2000 mm per year. The northern and southern regions of the country fall within the subequatorial climate zone.
The average year round temperature is similar, but the rainfall is seasonal, and the relative humidity is much lower.
Most mountainous areas in the East of Congo have a much cooler mountain climate, and in the highest parts are possible even heavy snowfalls.
Population. According to the World Bank the population of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is approximately 65.71 million in 2012. About 70% of the residents are Christians.
Significantly smaller is the number of people professing Islam. There is also a large number of local residents professing traditional indigenous beliefs.
The official language is French, but other languages such as Kikongo, Tshiluba, Swahili and Lingala are also very common. The country’s population is rapidly increasing, but the quality of life is still very low.
The average female life expectancy still remains below 57 years! In the deep recesses of the equatorial forest live pygmies.
They are the local indigenous residents and live in total isolation from modern civilization.
Their way of life is completely different from the cities. They are totally dependent on hunting and food such as wild fruits they find in the jungle.
Economics. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the 10 poorest countries in the world. Approximately ¾ of the population is employed in agriculture.
Education is underdeveloped, and the endless problems in health care system seem even worse on the background of the numerous tropical diseases in this part of Africa.
Although poor, the country has huge resources of minerals. The most important exports are diamonds, oil and coffee.
What to try while in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? The national Congolese cuisine is dominated by cassava, yams, maize and rice. The population traditionally consumes large amounts of tropical fruits. Freshwater fish and goat meat are the most popular meat products.
Among the most delicious dishes in the country is swordfish skewers with fresh vegetables, and it goes perfectly with a glass of traditional local palm wine. Do not miss to try fufu – the main local food, which is based on cassava, bananas and yams.
It has a texture that is very similar of raw dough and is usually eaten with fingers as little pieces of fufu are dipped in sauce or soup.
What not to miss while in DR Congo? Start your trip from Kinshasa, the enormous capital of Congo. The city is an unimaginable chaos of people, cars and noise.
Among the biggest attractions are its colourful markets, especially the central market Grand Marché. This is probably the best place to feel the spirit of the vibrant city in its full diversity and simplicity.
Among the most famous places in Kinshasa is the tomb of the former President Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who was killed in 2001.
One of the greatest architectural sites in the country is the Kisantu Catholic Cathedral (Kisantu is a small town near the capital Kinshasa).
Do not miss the small resort town of Kinkole, located on the bank of Congo River in the vicinity of Kinshasa.
Another exceptional place, a must for any visitor to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is Lac de ma Vallé – a gorgeous little lake in the middle of the African jungle, which offers a great opportunity to experience the wildlife of the African country.
An important place on the tourist map of DR Congo is the town of Lubumbashi. This is a small mining settlement that has recently become very popular with tourists.
The town is famous for its beautiful cathedral. Among the leading natural attractions is the Virunga National Park, the second oldest in Africa after Kruger. It is known for its active volcano Nyamuragira.
It would be interesting to catch a glimpse of Lake Tanganyika, located in the Great Rift Valley, at least for a while. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo there is a waterfall that is considered to be the largest in the world.
In reality, it looks like more as a rapids than as a waterfall, and for this reason it usually does not appear in lists of the largest waterfalls in the world.
It is known for its raging muddy waters that fiercely descend faster and faster through the increasingly narrow riverbed.
When to visit the Democratic Republic of Congo? The best time to visit the country is in June, July and August. This is the period with the most scarce precipitations.
How to get to the Democratic Republic of Congo? The easiest way is to get to the DRC is to fly from Paris, Brussels, Istanbul and a number of cities in Africa such as Johannesburg, Nairobi and Casablanca.
Risks. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is not a regular tourist destination. Even after the end of years-long internal conflicts, the country is still quite a dangerous place to visit.
If you travel outside the regular tourist routes there is an increased risk of being kidnapped, robbed or even killed!
Furthermore, the risk of infecting with tropical diseases in the Congo Basin is among the highest in the world.
About six weeks before the trip, you should visit your GP and ask for full details about how to protect yourself from tropical diseases in the region of Central Africa.
He or she will inform you about all the required and recommended immunizations and will give you guidance on how to spend your time in the Congo in good health.
Among the greatest dangers in the area are malaria, typhoid fever, yellow fever, hepatitis A and others.
Be very careful with the food and water you consume. Do not trust the water running through the tap and drink only bottled water!