Let me just start this D.R. Congo travel guide by saying that this has been one of the top underrated, hidden paradises, that is sadly hidden from publicity due to negative news, stereotypes and hearsay.
I’ll admit, I was a bit scared to go to D.R. Congo solo, especially as a woman. And I’ll also be honest in saying that many people told me not to go! It also didn’t help that the U.S. Gov’s travel advisory website said nothing good about going there, and only listed warnings for areas where “assault, robbery, kidnapping, and rape” “happen”.
But as a smart, experienced traveler, I know those terrible things can happen anywhere. And that i’s not fair to avoid ana entire country and it’s people, just because the news only tells you the bad things that happen.
So off I went to meet my guide Obed (Kumbukumbu Tours), who i had been talking to for about two years trying to plan my trip collab. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to climb and camp on Nyiragongo because it recently erupted, but everything else was absolutely magical!
Here’s everything I did in this D.R. Congo Travel Guide! If you don’t want to go alone, or plan this trip, please consider joining one of my D.R. Congo Group Trips!
Be Sure to Read my Post “Is D.R. Congo Safe?” Too!
First, Where is D.R. Congo?
For many of us who didn’t get a solid geography education in school, you may be wondering firstly, where is D.R. Congo?
It’s located in Central Africa, pretty much righ in the middle of the continent! It’s below the equator though, which means it has lush tropical landscapes, mountains, volcanoes and many lakes!
The Difference Between Congo-Kinshasa and Congo-Brazzaville
There’s a lot of different names for Congo, and they have changed over time for different reasons. The two most current names are from the re-naming of the former Zaire, and separation/creation of new countries.
- Congo-Brazzaville is the “Republic of Congo”, and is an entirely separate, independent country than D.R. Congo.
- Congo-Kinshasa is the “Democratic Republic of Congo”, in the East, and likely where you will be going.
Everyone’s Top Question: Is D.R. Congo Safe?
As I mentioned in the begining, D.R. Congo has a very bad rep for not being safe. I’m not going to lie to you, in some areas, this is true! There are STILL Rwandan and Civil War rebels, but also, they stay in certain areas.
Meaning there are designated areas that are considered safe. I personally felt very safe in all of the places I visited, because I knew they were considered safe areas, and because no one bothered me at all. In fact, everyone was very kind and welcoming!
This is solely my impression, and I must remind you that travel is always at your own risk. You must be vigilant and smart at all times! If you need reminders, read one of my may solo travel safety posts!
Also, all of the areas I mention in this D.R. Congo travel guide are places considered safe. I purposely did not go anywhere that wasn’t!
Current Problems in Congo
Aside from the groups of rebels in the areas where you should not go, there’s a couple of current problems as well. As with any country, there are many people suffering from poverty, especially those who lost their homes during the volcanic eruption.
There is little help being offered (even though Goma is one of the biggest bases for the United Nations), so the people must do things themself. That’s why tourism is so important — it can bring locals more income and jobs.
In areas near Virunga, many people also don’t have clean water to drink. If you’d like to help with a fundraising project I’m doing to bring clean water filters here, please see the Donations section below.
Poaching of course is also a huge problem, here and all of Africa. Luckily now there is sufficient funding to protect the gorillas, but occasionally they can still get caught in snare traps meant to catch game animals like antelope or buffalo that the locals eat because they can’t afford food.
That being said, again, the best way to help fight poaching, is with tourism! The more tourists that come, the more money comes, the more funding for anti-poaching, AND more jobs for locals so they don’t have to resort to killing animals for food.
Regarding safety problems; as I mentioned above, just avoid known-violence areas.
When is the Best Time to Go to Congo?
The best time to go to Congo really depends on your preference. There are dry and wet seasons in Congo, and it is said that the wet season is better to go in. I went in dry season though, and didn’t mind it at all.
Dry season is from: June – August
Wet season is from: September – May
You may automatically think that dry season is preferable, and I don’t blame you! However interestingly, the Congolese prefer wet season because “everything is more green and less dusty”. They say that if it rains, it’s only for an hour or two, then it stops.
However as a Florida native, I prefer a 0% chance of rain when I’m traveling, especially since gorilla trekking time frames can’t be changed!
Where to Arrive in D.R. Congo
The main airport in D.R. Congo is in the city of Goma. Fair warning, it is not like the airports you’re used to. That’s because tourism is not big there. Something I am trying to change in order to help the Congolese people, while also showing YOU one of the last hidden paradises on Earth!
Anyway, the aiport is used to people arriving for business, humanitarian work, or for locals. That being said, it’s a bit hectic to navigate. Your best bet is to pay an airport worker to walk you through all of the different stations that you need different things at. Like covid test checking, covid test upon arrival, yellow fever card check, visa check, and passport stamp.
You can also fly into Kigali in Rwanda, then drive 6 hours and cross the land border from Rwanda (if it’s open).
If you’re looking for a fabulous place to stay in Goma, just a few minutes from the airport, and on Lake Kivu, I would highly recommend the Goma Serena! Arriving here after being extremely stressed and worried about traveling solo in D.R. Congo was like a breath of fresh air!
The Goma Serena is the first and only luxury 5 star hotel in Goma, and has everything you need for a comfortable, relaxing stay. Well, and a fun stay as well; they even have their own nightclub!
What You Need to Enter D.R. Congo
Right now (August 2021), these are the current things you need to enter D.R. Congo. I will update it as it changes with the world situation:
- Valid passport that doesn’t expire within 6 months and has blank pages
- Congo visa (can only be obtained from a DRC embassy or an approved tour company)
- Yellow Fever Vaccine/Card
- Negative covid test within 72 hours of arrival
- Covid test upon arrival ($45)
- Immigration form (given at airport)
- Health form (given at airport)
D.R. Congo Travel Guide Essentials: Currency, Language, Religion, and Politics
The super fun section that most forget to think about before you leave!
- Currency: You can use USD! There are a few ATMs in Goma that dispense USD, or bring it from home. Many things require cash only, so I’d recommend bringing or taking out at least $500. You can also use Congolese francs, but it’s easier to use USD.
- Language: Since the French colonized Congo, most people speak French. And since it;s part of Central Africa, most also speak Swahili. There’s a few people that speak English, mostly at hotels, lodges, and tourist attractions. There’s also a large population of Rwandans (from the refugees) so Kiyarwandan is spoken too.
- Religion: Another thing that exists as a result of colonization, are the religions. This is why the main religion, for those who practice, is Christianity.
- Politics: Congo is a democratic republic, ruled by President Felix Antoine Tchisekedi.
D.R. Congo Travel Guide: Best Things to do in One Week
As this guide is already getting pretty long, I’m going to give you the bulletlist of best things to do in D.R. Congo, and make a separate post for it!
See my full guide for the 11 Best Things to do in D.R. Congo!
- Go Gorilla Trekking
- Visit local villages in Virunga
- Stay on Tchegera Island
- Relax at Goma Serena Hotel
- Shop in Goma markets
- Visit the Lava field
- Chill at Terrasse
- Take a day trip to Masisi
- Climb Nyiragongo Volcano (if it’s open again)
Best Tour Company to Book
Obviously I am biased because I absolutely loved my guide Obed from Kumbukumbu Tours, but I really do believe he is the perfect guide for your trip. Obed has made a great name for himself in the small tourism industry in D.R. Congo, and is one of the young leaders there.
You can get the best of both worlds and book one of my group trips with him and other like-minded travelers on certain dates (October 2021, or the first or second week of July 2022). My trip is longer, and includes 7 days 6 nights, including stays at the Serena, market shopping, a donation for water filters, and also airport assistance.
However if you can’t go on my dates, or want to go on your own, below are his prices, and I have a discount code for you as well!
Kumbukumbu Gorilla Tour:
Duration: 4 Days 3 Nights
Cost: $1630/person (for 2 or more people) or $1810 for solo travelers
*Get 10% off using the code ‘AfricAlyssa’
- Gorilla trekking permit
- Gorilla trek & associated fees
- 2 nights at Virunga lodge
- 1 night on Tchegera Island
- Tchegera Island transport and entry
- Ground transport
- Full time guide
- Obed’s Book!
Click Here to Fill Out a Booking Form!
D.R. Congo Travel Guide for Donations, Volunteer Work, and Giving Back
While your tourism will go a long way in contributing to the communities, there are still more ways you can help locals and the environment!
If you’d like to bring donations, try to aim for things that will go a long way. Think; water filters for villages, childrens clothing, and shoes. You can also give monetary donations to approved local organizations like the ones below. I would not recommend donating to big corporations though.
*If you’d like to donate money towards purchasing water filter systems for the Virunga villages, please drop a comment below contact me! We are fundraising to buy several, which people from my group trips will bring from the U.S. to Congo!
- Volunteer Work: I only recommend doing volunteer work if you have more than 3 weeks of your time to give. Many people want to volunteer just to feel good about themselves, but you must consider what kind of impact you’re having on others. Please don’t go to Africa with “White Savior” mentality (thinking you’re going to come for a week and “save” everyone). If you’d like to commit to existing projects for a longer period of time, check out some of the organizations below:
- Giving Back: if you can’t give a donation or volunteer, you can easily give back by sharing the good word about Congo! Post photos, talk about your experience, and get conversations going about the postive aspects of D.R. Congo!
- Giving Things to Kids, and Taking Photos: This is very important so please pay attention! It is not socially acceptable to take photos of kids in Africa. It’s actually quite offensive to the Black community, not to mention the parents of the children. Yes, I know they’re adorable, but they are not zoo animals! If you happen to make friends with a local, and they have kids, feel free to ask permission to take a group photo!
Also, you will see TONS of kids that will run to wave at you and say “bonjour!” They may also hold their hands out or ask for “biscuits”. Please do not give money to the kids, because then they will keep asking for it, and people don’t want that.
If you want to make a montary donation, find the parent, or leader in the village, and give it to them to share amongst everyone.
The same thing applies for if you want to give snacks. Check with your guide first on their opinion on this. Some say don’t give food, others say you should. But if you do, the same rule as above applies, give it to someone responsible to disperse them.
Also DO NOT use your own hands to touch the food then give it to them! Either get individually wrapped items (preferably not plastic), or hand a bag over to an adult. Also wear a mask!
D.R. Congo Travel Guide for What to Wear/Pack
Knowing what to wear in African countries is usually something I figure out once I get there. This is because I like to see what the locals wear, and try to blend in! Your regular clothes are perfectly fine, but be sure to keep in mind it can get hot during the day, and cold at night! Especially in the mountains!
You can also do what I do and shop locally once you arrive! I found a market where I bought locally made dresses for only $10! There’s also TONS of boutiques and shops in Goma! Just ask a taxi driver to take you there!
OH! And you also need certain types of clothing for gorilla trekking! I have an entire post specifically for that here!
Below are some items I wore or used often, and what I recommend to pack for D.R. Congo!
Please click the images below to see them on Amazon, and note that I get a tiny commission if you buy something! If you really want to help me out though, please see the products in my shop!
Also if you’re not sure what camera to buy or bring, check out my newly updated Camera Gear post!
Product Recommendations from My Shop!
- Long/lose dresses
- Loose pants
- Trekking pants
- Long sleeved shirt
- Long socks
- Rain jacket
- Light jacket
- Closed toed shoes
- Bug spray
- Camera backpack
- DJI pocket
- DJI mini
Please don’t forget! I work extremely hard to produce these free travel guides and posts! If it helped you, or you enjoyed it, PLEASE give it a share on social media, and follow me to keep up with more posts! You’re two minutes of effort truly helps keep my business running! Asante Sana!