Congo

Congo safaris

You may be surprised to see the Republic of Congo as part of Expert Africa’s programme – new for 2014. It’s not a country often associated with tourism; many may associate it with Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ and flinch at the notion of a holiday there. However, for those who revel in off-the-beaten-track travel, the Republic of Congo (also known as Congo-Brazzaville) arguably offers one of the most raw and quintessentially African experiences we feature.

Often wild, and certainly untamed in parts, it’s the calmer, quieter and all together better-behaved neighbour of the more troubled Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Although many don’t distinguish properly between the two, the Republic of Congo is very different: it’s much safer, and hence very keen to distinguish itself as a peaceful and ordered place. The official language is French and it’s spoken widely, although on a day-to-day basis most people speak the local languages, Lingala and Kituba.

Don’t come to the Republic of Congo expecting a smooth, fine-tuned trip – you’ll be disappointed. Instead, come seeking adventure and a real insight into the unpolished heart of Africa and this country won’t let you down.

A safari in the Congo

The real draw – and reason for the Congo’s inclusion here – is the opening of two camps in the north of the country, which give access to the remote Odzala-Kokoua National Park and its surrounding rainforest. This protected area sits within the Congo Basin and supports varied habitats, including dense primary forest, low-lying swamp forests which break out into lush open bai’s. It’s an environment unlike anything else that we offer; an environment that few of even the most experienced Africa travellers have ever seen. These thick forests harbour species not found anywhere else and, of course, the world’s highest concentration of Western lowland gorillas. These are the real highlight, though a host of other primates, forest elephant and buffalo, sitatunga and even the rare and elusive bongo are also seen here.

Visas for the Congo have to be arranged in advance of travel, and all people applying for one will need a letter of invitation. Once you have booked a trip with us we can arrange this letter for you, which then allows you to apply for a visa. Please note that these visas can take quite a while to be processed, so it’s best that you leave plenty of time for the application.

When to safari in Congo

The Republic of Congo straddles the Equator and, as a result, its climate is broadly the same across the country; varying only slightly between the northern and southern parts. Generally, the north of the country is hotter, more humid and wetter than the south. From around September to December the Congo experiences its heaviest rains. These are followed by a short dry season in January and February; March to April brings another, shorter rainy season; then the long dry season – which is often seen as the best time to visit – is from May to August.

While the months of May to September usually have the least rain, they also characteristically have fairly constant white cloudy skies; light which photographers may find tricky. The rainy season, on the other hand, has lots of impressive thunderstorms, often followed by clear blue skies and beautiful light. However, travel during the rainy season is more challenging and less predictable, but the gamble is those few hours of perfect light for photography.

How to safari in the Congo

Currently, there is only one reliable safari operator taking visitors into Odzala-Kokoua National Park. The six-night trips have set departures and use charter flights from Brazzaville to Odzala’s only airstrip, Mboko. From January to May 2014, there will be just one set departure operating early on a Thursday morning from Brazzaville airport, which necessitates the previous night be spent in the city. From May to November, a second trip will start, leaving early on a Sunday morning from Brazzaville.

These trips link up the two camps that have opened here: Ngaga Camp and Lango Camp.

Activities on a Congo safari

In Odzala-Kokoua National Park there are two camps and each group visiting the area will spend three nights in each. The activities offered by the camps vary due, in large part, to the immediate environment and wildlife that surrounds them.

Your first stop will be Ngaga Camp, where the primary activity is tracking Western lowland gorillas. Each visitor will have two chances to track them, departing in the early morning. In the afternoon, it is possible to do a shorter rainforest walk, looking at the trees, plants, insects and maybe some of the other primates found here. There is also a lovely and uncontrived village visit on offer too.

The next three nights are spent at Lango Camp where each guest will have the chance to do a bai walk – wading through waist-high water to reach the far corners of the bai in front of the camp. Boat trips down the Lekoli River are also a highlight, while game drives offer the chance to see forest elephant, buffalo and sitatunga.

Congo in context

The Congo is a phenomenal country – untouched, wild and remote. Those seeking an unusual adventure will love it, but it is not for the faint of heart. There are lots of biting flies at Lango Camp and the rainforest is filled with insects too. None of them cause any harm or pain, but the bites can be very itchy.

Also the wildlife-viewing experience is limited, with few large mammals around and the primates elusive and skittish. The gorillas are a real highlight and, at time of writing, every guest that has been to Ngaga has seen them at least once – so this experience does make the six days worthwhile. However, it’s important to note that the gorillas are viewed in thick rainforest, often up in trees, and are still in the process of being habituated. It is not easy to get clear sightings and photographs. The experience is so untamed though that we found it much more interesting and exciting compared to gorilla trekking in Rwanda, where the gorillas are very relaxed and will sit next to you and eat for an hour. Though, perhaps we took a more relaxed approach, having already had the chance to visit Rwanda’s mountain gorillas on a previous occasion.

The Congo is probably best suited to travellers who have been to Africa before, and already experienced areas with high concentrations of wildlife. That said, ultimately this is a place for people who want to enjoy a unique environment and ecosystem; who don’t have high expectations for big game, but do want to see some wildlife and will also appreciate the smaller things such as plants and trees. So this could be ideal for someone’s first time to Africa as well, as long as they know what to expect.
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