, its neighbor across the river, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (colloquially known as Congo-Kinshasa or the DRC) is home to a sprawling, diamond-shaped swath of rain forest, where pristine lakes, waterfalls, and rivers, active volcanoes, and hundreds of different ethnic groups are all to be found. However, it outdoes the more benign Congo-Brazzaville in almost every respect: Congo-Kinshasa is larger, more dangerous, more undeveloped, and possibly more beautiful. Natural beauty notwithstanding, it is not a suitable destination for tourism at this time, especially in the northern region, where the extremely violent Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) controls many villages and rural areas, and in Kinshasa, where violent crime is commonplace.
The Top 6: What to Do in the DRC
1. Académie des Beaux Arts:
Despite its troubled recent history, many of Africa’s better painters are based in Kinshasa, either studying or teaching at the Académie des Beaux Arts. The school is home to a gallery full of local art, and it is usually possible to meet the artist and learn about his or her work firsthand before you buy.
2. Kinshasa Nightlife:
Local bars and restaurants stock a pretty good local beer, Tembo, as well as imported brews. Congolese jazz is quite popular here; the best places to hear it are the Western-style clubs on the main boulevard in Gombe and in the bars of international hotels.
3. Le Marché des Valeurs:
A cheaper option than the Académie if you’re in the market for handicrafts, Kinshasa’s vast open air-market offers a variety of textiles, food, and daily necessities. Negotiation is a must here.
4. National Parks and Okapi Wildlife Reserve:
It is not safe to travel to Congo-Kinshasa’s national parks right now. That is a shame because they can yield finer experiences in untouched rain forest than any other place in the world. The Okapi Wildlife Reserve will be a highlight if you are able to organize and conduct your trip safely. At Okapi, it is possible to visit traditional pygmy villages; the reserve also has some rudimentary camping facilities.
5. Chutes de Lukia:
Touted by local sources as a must-see, this chain of lakes outside of Kinshasa has swimming, some equipment rentals, a restaurant, and a bonobo orphanage that allows visitors to play with the small chimps.
6. Lac de Ma Vallé:
This gorgeous lake outside Kinshasa is surrounded by rain forest and, in better days, was one of the region’s top tourist attractions. Water sports rentals are available, and there is a restaurant.
When to Go
The rainy season, which lasts from April to November, makes the roads outside of Kinshasa impossible to travel on, although we don’t recommend travel in this part of the country in any case. The majority of Congolese are Catholic, and their festivals reflect that situation.