DRC Travel Guide: Essential Facts and Information

Mature male Silverback gorilla looking at the camera, picking his teeth.
••• Silverback Gorilla, DRC.

Ger Bosma/ Getty Images

The second largest country in Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is well-known for its political instability. During the 20th century, the country was subjected to a brutal period of Belgian colonial rule; and its years of independence since then have been plagued by civil war. Although the DRC has very little infrastructure for tourists, it is home to Virunga National Park, one of the best places in the world to see the critically endangered mountain gorilla. For those wanting to explore Africa's last frontier, the DRC's lush rainforests, active volcanoes and chaotic cities provide abundant opportunities for adventure.

Note: Virunga National Park was closed due to violence in May 2018, but is expected to re-open in 2019. Before traveling to the DRC, check the latest travel warnings and advisories.

Location

The DRC is located approximately in the center of the African continent. It shares land borders with nine countries, including Angola and Zambia to the south; Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda to the east; South Sudan and the Central African Republic to the north; and the Republic of the Congo to the west.

Geography

With a total land mass of 875,312 square miles/ 2,267,048 square kilometers, the DRC is the second largest country in Africa and the 12th largest in the world. It is slightly less than a quarter of the size of the United States.

Capital City

The capital of the DRC is Kinshasa.

Population

In July 2017, the CIA World Factbook estimated the population of the DRC to be just over 83 million people. The average life expectancy is just 57 years; while the most populous age bracket is 0 - 14 years old. There are more than 200 African ethnic groups living in the DRC, of which the four largest are the Mongo, Luba, Kongo and Mangbetu-Azande tribes.

Language

The official language of the DRC is French. Four indigenous languages (Kituba or Kikongo, Lingala, Swahili and Tshiluba) are recognized as national languages, and of these, Lingala is the lingua franca.

Religion

Christianity is the primary religion in the DRC, with 50% of the population identifying as Roman Catholic and 20% identifying as Protestant.

Currency

The Congolese franc is the official currency of the DRC. For accurate exchange rates, use this online currency converter.

Climate

The DRC is located on the equator and has a tropical climate. It's especially hot and humid in the equatorial river basin, while the southern highlands are cooler and drier and the eastern highlands are cooler and wetter. The dry and rainy seasons depend on your location within the DRC. North of the equator the rainy season lasts from April to October and the dry season lasts from December to February. South of the equator, these seasons are reversed.

When to Go

The best time to travel to the DRC is during the dry season, when the weather is slightly less humid, the roads are in better condition and disease-carrying mosquitoes are less prevalent. Check when the driest months are for your chosen destination.

Key Attractions

Located on the Ugandan border, Virunga National Park is the oldest national park in Africa. It covers 3,000 square miles/ 7,800 square kilometers of dense rainforest, volcanoes and ice-capped mountains. This wilderness is home to a quarter of the world's critically endangered mountain gorillas, as well as chimpanzees, eastern lowland gorillas and the rare okapi antelope.

The DRC's eastern border is also home to Nyiragongo, a volatile active volcano that stands some 11,382 feet/ 3,469 meters tall. Nyiragongo had its last major eruption in 2002, and experts believe that another is due imminently. Nevertheless, intrepid visitors can join an organized hike to the volcano's lava lake, which is thought to be one of the largest in the world.

Kahuzi-Biega National Park is a worthy alternative to Virunga. It is famous for its eastern lowland or Grauer's gorillas, and offers multi-day treks for those that want to see them in their natural habitat. The park is also a Birdlife International-certified Endemic Bird Area, with 42 out of 349 recorded bird species found exclusively in this region.

Getting There

The DRC's main port of entry for overseas visitors is N'Djili International Airport (FIH), located just outside Kinshasa. Several major airlines offer flights to Kinshasa, including South African Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Ethiopian Airlines and Air France. From Kinshasa, you can arrange domestic flights to other destinations within the DRC. All visitors to the DRC need a visa, which must be arranged in advance through the DRC embassy in your country of residence.

Medical Requirements

An up-to-date yellow fever vaccination certificate is a requirement of entry for all visitors to the DRC. Other vaccinations recommended by the CDC include polio, hepatitis A, typhoid, cholera and rabies. Malaria is a risk throughout the country, and it is highly advisable to take prophylactics. Pregnant women (or those trying to conceive) should not travel to the DRC as Zika virus is also a risk.