REPUBLIC OF CONGO BRAZZAVILLE
As in much of Central Africa, Congo-Brazzaville has impenetrable rain forests, so settlers arrived much later here than in the rest of Africa, and except for some small groups of pygmies, the region was uninhabited until a number of Bantu tribes moved in during the medieval period. The dominant Bantu tribes sold slaves to European traders from the 15th century through the 19th, after which the French and the Belgians scuffled for control over the area. It was during that period that Pierre de Brazza, an Italian explorer working for France, founded Brazzaville.
By 1891, France had wrested complete control of the Congo River basin from its Belgian and Bantu overloads and immediately began to exploit the region's forestry and diamond industries. After several years of civil unrest (not all of which was related to the independence movement), France granted independence to the region in 1960 as part of the Congo Republic, which included both Congo-Brazzaville and Congo-Kinshasa.
French is the administrative language of the Congo. Lingala, Kikongo, Sangha and Bateke are the most widely spoken native languages. Generally, Central Africans take care in their dress, and Congolese are no exception. Brazzaville is considered the educational capital of Central Africa.
It is said that "Every Congolese leads to sing" Singing has long been used to make work less boring. Congolese are also great storytellers. Since the introduction of French and written language, Congolese novelists, playwrights, and posts have gained celebrity though out French-speaking Africa. People who have lived in the rainforest for generations know about the healing characteristics of plants that grow there. Modern pharmacists and doctors are now beginning to be study these exotic plants.
1. Internet cafés are plentiful in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire, and many hotels and restaurants offer free wireless Internet access. That said, there is virtually no Internet access outside these cities. Intrepid expats and locals have been known to set up satellite connections while living in outlying areas, and you can find the equipment for that in either of the two large cities. Newspapers and radio stations offer local news in French; for English-language news, your only option is the Internet.
2. Like other countries in the region, Congo uses the Central African CFA franc as its official currency. Crédit Lyonnais maintains the only two ATMs in the country, in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire. Keep some cash on hand at all times. Although major hotels will accept credit cards, most other vendors will not.
Famous for its welcoming culture and rich history, the Republic of congo has a well-developed tourist infrastructure.Whether you are interested in Safaris, rain forest hikes, sun-drenched beaches, or Brazzaville's vibrant mist of art, nightlife, and history Congo-Brazzaville has you covered.
The Top 10: What to Do in the Republic of Congo
1. National Parc Ndoki-Nouabalé: Besides being home to more than 1,000 species of plants, as well as gorillas, elephants, antelopes, and over 300 types of birds, National Parc Ndoki-Nouabalé is one of the country’s best-staffed parks. The virgin rain forest is not navigable in some places, and a guide is essential for walking or boat tours. Most visitors to the park arrive via airplane from Brazzaville or Pointe Noire.
2. Lesio-Louna Gorilla Reserve: The Congo is home to some 80 percent of the world’s wild gorillas and chimpanzees, and even the most nature-averse traveler will fall in love with the chimp families and majestic gorillas that romp around the country’s several reserves. Although Ndoki-Nouabalé National Park remains the best location for seeing all kinds of wildlife, Lesio-Louna virtually guarantees close encounters with primates and is quite accessible, only a short drive north of Brazzaville.
3. Brazzaville’s Waterfalls: Although Congo-Brazzaville’s waterfalls are generally not as impressive as the ones in Congo-Kinshasa, Loufoulakari Falls and the nearby Bela Falls are the exceptions that prove the rule. Cutting noisily through a tangle of untouched rain forest, these waterfalls are relatively easy to reach from Brazzaville and offer lovely panoramas of the surrounding forest.
4. Poto Poto: Perhaps Brazzaville’s most famous arrondissement, Poto Poto draws in many tourists with its sprawling market, where you can bargain with local vendors for handicrafts, food, and clothing. Traditionally part of the West African area of town, Poto Poto is also known for a laid-back and popular bar scene as well as its painting school, established in 1951.
5. Pointe Noire: This city’s convenient port (possessing the only deepwater harbor in Africa south of Dakar) and offshore oil reserves make it a center for opulence and expats, although most of the locals still live in poverty. Pointe Noire has a livelier and more expensive club scene than Brazzaville, but it is generally worth the cost. Visitors have a choice between the pricey bars on Avenue General de Gaulle and a more authentic experience in La Cité, Pointe Noire’s “African district.” The beaches outside the city are world class, and diving equipment and fishing boat rentals are readily available.
6. Northern Congo Trekking: Although driving to this part of the country is not a pursuit for those with weak stomachs (or weak transmissions), doing so affords as much authenticity as you can get in Africa, and the lifestyle in its traditional villages is vastly different from what one can observe in Pointe Noire and Brazzaville. It is possible to hire a guide from Ouesso, Oyo, or Owanda who can lead you on rain forest hikes, and will also take you to pygmy villages on request.
7. Basilique Sainte-Anne and Central Mosque: In architecturally sophisticated Brazzaville, places of worship aren’t just lovely; they’re innovative, serene, and difficult to bypass. Why would anyone want to? Basilique Sainte-Anne is a gorgeous modern Catholic church, and the Temple Mosque has attractive mosaics and a beautifully decorated inner chamber.
8. Congo Rapids: The rapids, which start and stop along the Congo River between Brazzaville and Kinshasa, are unsafe to raft on but are quite pretty and wonderful to walk along. Most of the city’s bars and clubs are nearby, so the white water is a picturesque location at which to mingle with expats and locals.
When to Go
Congo’s wet season lasts from October to May. During that time, roads tend to turn into muddy quagmires and unwitting tourists into mosquito bait. Avoid this period, especially if you plan on venturing outside of Brazzaville or Pointe Noire. Instead, visit between June and August or during the shorter dry season in December.
Darrell Hartman - Afar
ODZALA CAMPS, ODZALA-KOKOUA NATIONAL PARK, REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO