Trips to Congo, the last undiscovered place on the planet
Welcome to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). A mythical land open to adventure and exploration, which everyone has heard or read about, but few have dared to travel to.
Congo is a diamond in the rough for the traveller in search of authenticity, an incalculable natural heritage and an impressive cultural diversity, but be warned, it will not be easy to access.
Congo: a journey into the realities of the African continent
When you travel to Congo the overwhelming contradictions and realities of the African continent will hit you like no other country you have visited before in Africa. This is a country totally unstructured and often in chaos, very hard to navigate, with no infrastructure, immensely corrupt and quite expensive, if you don’t have a good number of months to travel “local”.
Congo, a country immensely rich in resources and at the same time unstable, volatile and corrupt at all levels. The immense wealth that Congo possesses, instead of being invested in the quality of life of its inhabitants, is a source of nightmares and endless conflicts in some regions. When we move away from the main roads, you will see that many populations live in total isolation from the outside world with very few resources.
And although the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries and covers more than half of Africa’s rainforest, due to a lack of infrastructure, ridiculously few travellers have been able to visit and enjoy any of its seven national parks and nature reserves (with the exception of Virunga). These reserves cover 13% of Congo’s territory.
Trips to Congo, traditional culture
In a country where evangelisation has reached practically every corner and hundreds of sects of all kinds flourish in every corner of the DR Congo, there are very few places and ethnic groups that preserve their ancient traditions.
If you are interested in immersing yourself in a world of initiation, where masks still connect the world of the living with the world of the spirits, we offer a wide range of possibilities for you to explore and travel with our expert Congolese partners to places where the Africa of rituals is still alive.
Among the ethnic groups that keep alive their ancestral culture or a good part of it, we find some Pygmy groups in the Equator region and in the east of the country. But if the traveller wishes to delve deeper into the world of traditional culture, we suggest a trip to the Kasai and Katanga regions. These two regions are home to a number of ethnic groups that are still traditional today.
Among all these groups, the Pende, Suku, Salampasu, Songhe stand out, an ethnic groups that knows its history, still practises its initiation rituals and is proud of its traditions. Exploring theses territories is undoubtedly one of the highlights of any trip to Congo.
Mukanda ritual, male initiation
In times of cultural globalisation, many ethnic groups in the DRC still maintain their rites of passage. In these rites of passage, boys and girls will pass into adulthood after staying in specially constructed camps and spending several months learning with their initiation masters.
The ritual of passage for men is called Mukanda and is common in many Bantu ethnic groups in DRC, Angola and Zambia. During their stay in the mukanda, the boys undergo a series of rites and experiences, some of which would seem cruel under normal circumstances. They may be circumcised.
In this Mukanda period, during which they are trained to take physical risks, they are also trained to be mentally strong so that they can resist any temptation to reveal the secrets and rites imparted to them. Under the tutelage of their guardians, the boys learn many useful skills and manners. They are taught to obey without grumbling the orders and instructions of their parents or guardians, to take part in manual labour, to eat in common with their fellow novices and to regard themselves as blood friends, and so on.
Nestled in the fertile forest and savannah bordered by the Sankuru, Lulua and Kasai rivers, the Kuba kingdom was a conglomerate of several smaller principalities of diverse ethnic origins.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Central African interior witnessed the flourishing of a kingdom that was known for its organisation, architecture, weaving, carving and traditions: the remote Kuba kingdom.
Three or four days of hard travel to reach the remains of this ancient Congolese kingdom. We organise private departures all year around from Kinshasa.
The famous fabrics and sculptures of the Kuba Kingdom
If the Kingdom of Kuba is known for anything outside the borders of the DRC, it is for its rich artistic production, which can be admired even today. The Kuba people were and are admired for their textiles, whose main raw material is raffia, a fibre produced from the huge leaves of a type of palm tree native to Africa and South America. The leaf facilitates the transformation of its fibres into large fabrics.
These fabrics can take weeks or even months to make, and their geometric embroidery is laden with symbolism. While the “raw” weaving is reserved for men, the embroidery of the cloth is suitable for women.
Lokele Country, the language of drums
The Lokele people live mainly near the Congo River in northern DRC, between the towns of Lisala and Lokutu. The Lokele people are known throughout Congo for being excellent drummers and for communicating through their traditional gongs or drums.
As in much of the Congo, modernity and evangelisation are destroying this ancient world but if you’re willing to take a motorbike taxi and travel into the remote interior of the Lokele country you’ll find ancient ceremonies and talking drums.
Kinshasa, a vibrant city
The megacity Kinshasa offers a number of fascinating sights. Museums, temples and ceremonies, nightlife, contemporary art, festivals, urban culture and movements, live music, the bonobo sanctuary, etc.
The world of small temples and sects in Kinshasa
Tucked away in the suburbs of Kinshasa are a multitude of small temples in which the most bizarre ceremonies are practised. in
Festival Kinact “Kinshasa in action”
One of the best urban festivals in Africa is undoubtedly KinAct.
Founded in 2015 by Eddy Ekete, a Congolese born in Kinshasa, and Aude Bertrand French, the KinAct Festival is itinerant in several popular neighbourhoods of the Congolese capital.
In addition to street performances, the festival organises workshops to introduce children to different art forms, such as theatre, sculpture, painting and poetry. But Kinact is not only art, it is also an open door to social criticism and awareness-raising.
Sapeurs of Kinshasa
Meetings with the urban movements include the mythical sapeurs. The sapeurs, SAPE or dandyism, is a very popular urban subcultural movement in some cities of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo. This movement is usually characterised by high fashion, luxury, expensive or designer brands, although as we will explain below, the understanding of SAPE is somewhat different depending on which side of the river we are on.
Museums, art galleries and universities. Art in Kinshasa
The National Museum, the Academy of Arts and many other secret corners of Kinshasa make Kinshasa an enormously attractive and interesting city to visit.
Academy of Arts of Kinshasa
It was in 1949 that the Ecole Saint Luc de Matadi was transferred to Kinshasa and in 1957 it was renamed the Academy of Beaux-Arts.
As for teaching, other options besides sculpture have gradually emerged. These are successively painting (1950), ceramics (1953), beaten metal (1971), advertising (1970), interior decoration (1970). Finally, a last option in the plastic arts has been added since the 2012-2013 academic year: conservation and restoration of works of art.
New cults and sects, a mix of African religion and Christianity: Tata Gonda
In the depths of the province of Central Congo, the followers of the now dead prophet Tata Gonda live in total autarchy.
Today, several hundred voluntary followers from Congo and Angola continue to follow the spiritual path of their “guru”.
Their purpose is to combat an unjust and sinful world through continuous prayer and an austere, monastic life. We visited their headquarters, located far away from prying eyes.
In total privacy, this community lives self-sufficiently according to their beliefs. They do community work, have vegetable gardens, a river with drinking water, a fish hatchery, prayer facilities, dormitories and everything else these “tropical Franciscans” could need.
In our opinion, their life is more like a hippie alternative life than a cult.
Some of the prohibitions that Tata Gonda’s disciples have are not to drink alcohol or smoke, not to wear luxurious items, and not to wash themselves with water. That is why every morning, they perform a ritual in which they cover themselves with ashes, which they use as an antiseptic.
His disciples dress in burlap sacks, a symbol of supreme humility before the face of God.
Navigation of the Congo River between Kisangani and Mbandaka
Kisangani with its old colonial buildings, its relaxed atmosphere and its location downstream of the Boyoma rapids, marks the real beginning of the navigable part of the Congo River.
From here the distance down the river to Kinshasa is more than 1,600 kilometres. Navigation is not without its problems. Strong winds, torrential rains and sandbanks are just some of the challenges that the navigators of the old boats will have to face.
From Kisangani onwards, the still narrow Congo River will widen to a width of 13 kilometres not far from Lisala.
In the middle of this huge river current, there are numerous islands covered with lush forests and inhabited by small fishing communities living in isolation.
Wagenia, ancentral fishing on the Congo river
The Wagenia fisheries located in the rapids of the Congo River near Kisangani consist of large conical traps attached to scaffolding. Driven by the current, the fish are introduced into the traps.
Trips to Congo in search of forgotten colonial heritage
The passage of time and the chaotic situation in the country have left the country’s colonial and historical heritage in a state of neglect that is close to disappearance. With the exception of the country’s historic cathedrals and churches, which are very well preserved and well worth visiting, the rest of the buildings, palaces, stations and factories from the colonial and Mobutu eras are on the verge of collapse.
If you are a lover of abandoned or semi-abandoned places, the DRC could become one of your favourite places.
Hotel Metropole in Matadi
The Metropole Hotel in Matadi, built around 1930 in neo-gothic style according to the plans of the architect Ernest Callebout, is the first multi-storey building in the Congo.
Yangambi, the ancient laboratories of the jungle
Sailing from Kisangani some 100 kilometres downstream on the Congo River, we reach this immense scientific city. Built by the Belgians in 1933, Yangambi housed until 1962 the most important research centre on the African continent for the study of tropical agriculture and forestry:
Trips to Congo: the country of infinite natural treasures
To travel to Congo is to travel to the home of more than 15,000 species of plants and animals, including more than 3,200 endemic species such as the okapi, the Congolese peacock and the bonobo. But also gorillas, elephants, chimpanzees, giraffes and more.
The mythical Congo River, its deep forests and jungles, mountains, volcanoes, savannahs… are some of the main attractions of the country and the main objective of our routes. In our expeditions and trips in Congo DRC, we will explore the untouched nature of the country.
Garamba National Park
Located in northeastern Congo, near the Central African Republic and South Sudan, Garamba National Park, a World Heritage Site, was created in 1938, making it one of the oldest national parks in Africa. With a mix of large rolling grassland savannah and dense dry forest, Garamba is the last remaining protected area for the largest population of elephants and the last remaining Kordofan giraffes in DR Congo.
Virunga National Park
Located in the far east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the World Heritage-listed Virunga National Park is the oldest national park in Africa and is considered one of the most extraordinary natural sites in the world. Two of the main activities to do in Virunga are visiting mountain gorillas and hiking to the top of Mount Nyiragongo, the active volcano that contains the world’s largest lava lake.
Trip to Congo in search of wild bonobos
Known as dwarf chimpanzees, wild bonobos are found only south of the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Bonobos share 98.7% of their genetic code with humans, making them, along with chimpanzees, our closest living relatives. Bonobos were the last great ape to be scientifically discovered.
On our trips to Congo the search for bonobos will be one of our main objectives. Where to see wild bonobos on your trip to Congo?
The first thing we have to tell you is that spotting bonobos in the DR Congo will not be an easy task. Getting to any of the places listed below is not easy. If you want to visit the Lomako reserve you will have to take one of the sometimes regular, sometimes occasional flights from Kinshasa to Boende or Basankusu, known as the bonobo capital.
Once you arrive at these research centres, you will need to spend at least 4 days to a week tracking.
These are the places open to tourism where it is possible to see bonobos
Salonga National Park
Lomako – Yokokala Wildlife Reserve
There are different habituated groups of bonobos here, which makes visiting and viewing very easy.
Salonga National Park
In the heart of the central Congo River Basin, Salonga National Park, a World Heritage Site since 1984, is the largest protected area of dense tropical rainforest on the African continent. Salonga holds 40% of the world’s bonobo population and is the only one with national park status in the DRC where bonobos can be found.
It is one of the most isolated and remote national parks in Congo and is very difficult to access. However, the best way to access Salonga is by air. Salonga is also home to many endangered endemic species, such as the bonobo, the Congo peacock, the forest elephant and the African slender-snouted crocodile.
LuiKotale Forest and Research Centre in Salonga
The LuiKotale research centre is located at the western end of the Salonga National Park. Since its establishment in 2002 it has been used by international teams of researchers and students. At LuiKotale there are two habituated bonobo groups (a third is in the works) of approximately 70 members.
Lomako Yokokala Faunal Reserve
One of the most inaccessible and remote reserves on the African continent. Several days of sailing to visit this reserve managed by a Japanese professor who has spent a lifetime studying bonobo behaviour.
To travel to the Lomako Nature Reserve you will need a minimum of two weeks.
A deep experience in the jungles of the Congo.
A mixture of forest and savannah, the Malebo community forest is perhaps the most accessible of Congo’s wild bonobo viewing sites, as it is relatively close to Kinshasa. The WWF, which manages Malebo, has developed an ecotourism initiative called Picbou. Since then, three groups of bonobos have become habituated in the region.
We organise trips to Malebo Site in the DRC all year round
Next trip to Congo focus in wild bonobos in April 2022
Next trips to Congo – Zaire
We have several trips to Congo for the coming months. You can travel privately with our local guides at any time of the year.
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