Congo safaris or Congo tours take you for an ultimate African adventure to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC or DR Congo). Known from 1971–1997 as Zaire, this Central African country has had its name changed 4 times since its inception as Congo Free State in 1884.
To distinguish it from the neighboring Republic of the Congo, sometimes it is referred to as Congo-Kinshasa or Big Congo. The DRC is Africa’s second-largest country and the world’s 11th-largest by land area.
It’s a country that occupies a vast space not only geographically but also psychologically to the Africans. Its massive wildlife reserves and rainforest jungles hosts animals that you can see anywhere else on the planet.
It is inhabited by several great ape species: the common chimpanzee, the bonobo, the lowland gorillas and the rare Mountain gorillas. It’s huge mineral deposits have yielded untold riches for most of the wrong people. It is a region of politics that are sprawling and complicated to even the most attentive.
It is hard to say one can really know Africa without knowing Congo. For all its importance, it is so easily overlooked because of its problems. But as its situations stabilize, its role in the continent and the world will grow to where it should be. It is far more than just its own country at stake. Its prosperity will mean the prosperity of all Africa. Those who make the effort to visit or go for Congo safaris will be surprised at a genuinely hospitable group of people who have adapted to life in difficult situations.
A Brief History About Congo
DRC, a country that once symbolized the brutality of European scramble for Africa, can firmly lay the sorrows of generations of colonial oppression at the feet of 2 men: Henry Morton Stanley and King Leopold II of Belgium.
It was Stanley’s river journey in 1874 that opened up the interior of African Continent to exploration and exploitation, something that King Leopold was keen to monopolies, as he turned the country into his own private kingdom for more than two decades.
He ravaged this landscape, using its people as slaves and its forests for rubber, until both were exhausted. Even after pressure from other European powers forced the Belgian parliament to declare the territory a Belgium colony in 1908, European involvement in Congo remained largely brutal and exploitative.
In 1960 a growing nationalist movement under Patrice Lumumba gained independence, paving the way for what many hoped would be a democratic future for the old Belgian colony.
Rich in natural resources and astounding beauty, independence was, unluckily, followed by decades of civil unrest, corruption and political repression. Today Congo still has plenty of problems, but there are areas, particularly along the banks and tributaries of the mighty Congo River, that offer the adventurous traveler a chance for some true off-the-beaten-track encounters.
Why Go On a DR Congo Safari?
1. To See Mountain Gorillas, Lowland Gorillas and Chimps
Uganda and Rwanda are the most popular mountain gorilla trekking destinations. They have good tourist infrastructure, are much more compact, are English speaking (French is the official language of Congo). And more importantly, have been at peace for decades.
But there are many reasons why Congo is a special place to see gorillas. It is the only country in the world where you can track both lowland and mountain gorillas. And they live conveniently close to each other, so it’s possible to see both in a single trip. For real primate enthusiasts, you can add on a chimpanzee safari, too.
Also, given how few tourists make it to Congo, the income from tracking permits is essential to ensure the ongoing protection of gorillas and their habitats. Though mountain gorilla population has increased by over 50% since 1989, thanks largely to excellent tourism and conservation programmes in Rwanda and Uganda, numbers of eastern lowland gorillas, which live only in DRC, have fallen by around 75% over a similar period.
Tourism can provide funding for the parks as well as jobs for surrounding communities, both of which are key to reversing this worrying trend. Finally, DRC is the cheapest place to see gorillas, with permits costing $US400 in comparison to $US700 in Uganda, and US$1,500 in Rwanda.
2. Climb Mt Nyiragongo - An Active Volcano
Aside from gorilla trekking there are other iconic activities on offer, most notably climbing the Nyiragongo volcano. This active volcano is situated among the peaks of the Virunga Mountains, towering giants that occupy the western edge of the East African Great Rift Valley.
Standing some 3,470 metres in height, Mount Nyiragongo is one of the world’s most beautiful and dangerous active volcanoes, in the centre of which lies the largest lava lake on the planet. Looking over the rim into this world’s largest lava lake at night is an incredible not-to-be-missed experience.