Republic of Congo
A land of steamy jungles hiding half the world’s lowland gorillas, masses of forest elephants, and hooting, swinging troops of chimpanzees, the Republic of Congo is on the cusp of becoming one of the finest ecotourism destinations in Africa. Boasting three excellent and little-visited national parks where everything from luxurious safaris to bush camping is possible, the main attraction to this alluring slice of Central Africa is the raw, untrammelled call of nature. However, Congo-Brazzaville (as it’s often called to distinguish it from Democratic Republic of Congo, south of the Congo River) also enjoys a pleasantly laid-back capital city in Brazzaville, some decent beaches on its Atlantic coastline and the warm and welcoming Congolese culture. For those ready to heed the call of the wild and not afraid of adventure the Congo awaits.
Parc National d'Odzala
The Parc National d’Odzala is easily Congo’s most accessible national park and a superb place to visit lowland gorillas and see other Central African megafauna in a virtual wilderness. Unlike the other national parks in Congo, Odzala has top-notch (and sadly very expensive) camps and services, and this is the closest you’ll get to luxury outside Brazzaville or Pointe-Noire. Gorilla numbers are growing and the park itself has received a much-needed boost with the work of African Parks and the Congo Conservation Company (CCC), who between them have rejuvenated the park’s infrastructure, reinvigorated ecotourism and stepped up anti-poaching patrols. Currently, the only way to visit Odzala is on an exclusive and expensive safari setting out from Brazza, so those on a budget will have to visit another of Congo’s national parks.
Parc National Nouabalé-Ndoki
A Unesco World Heritage Site since 2012, Nouabale-Ndoki is home to important populations of forest elephants, western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees and many other endangered mammals. The park also boasts over 300 bird species and is a rare example of an intact forest wilderness, completely uninhabited by human settlers. If wilderness is what you seek, Nouabale-Ndoki is the place for you.
Founded by Italo-French explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza in 1880 on the Stanley Pool area of the Congo River, Brazza has always been the junior economic partner to Kinshasa (the DRC’s capital) which faces it across the immense river. Brazzaville is by far the more laid-back and safer town, though it can also feel like a bit of a backwater by comparison. However, with some attractive modernist architecture, a gorgeous riverside embankment perfect for taking in views of the Congo River and plenty of high-quality eating options, Brazzaville has a lot of charm and character, which makes it a surprisingly pleasant place to while away time between visiting Congo’s national parks.
Parc National Conkouati-Douli
The newest of the three national parks in Congo, Conkouati-Douli was inaugurated in 1999 and is the most biodiverse of the country’s national parks. The range of habitat ranging from beaches and mangrove swamps, to savannah, to rainforest makes this park home to a huge number of species, including gorillas, chimpanzees, forest elephants, mandrills and dolphins.
Other Places Of Interest
Congo’s second largest city may be rich in oil and SUVs, but otherwise Pointe-Noire is a sprawling and rather unattractive place (even despite its seafront location). Here the shanty towns spread for miles, and in places almost abut the walled mansions of the city’s petrochemical classes. Due to the large expat community there’s a good choice of international eating options, glitzy hotels and lubricious nightclubs, but there’s little reason to visit otherwise, though there are a few attractive beaches outside the city. Most travellers will only find themselves here as a stop off if they’re heading north to Parc National Conkouati-Douli.
This wonderful modernised embankment is a great place for a stroll, and affords fantastic views over the Congo River to Kinshasa, looming in the distance. La Corniche ends at the massive Pont du 15 aout 1960, a brand-new, Chinese-built, cable-stayed bridge connecting central Brazzaville to the presidential palace. The bridge is lit up at night and looks spectacular.
These wide and powerful rapids on the Congo River can be viewed on the outskirts of Brazzaville. Most people observe the rapids from the nearby bar Site Touristique Les Rapides, but the best viewing is at the other end, down the sandy track after the bridge.