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The hidden gems of the Republic of Congo with this comprehensive visitor's guide, offering insights into its rich biodiversity, vibrant culture, and adventure-filled destinations.

In this blog, I share my personal experiences in the stunning Republic of Congo, debunk common travel misconceptions, and recount my recent gorilla trekking adventure.

Where is the Republic of Congo?

The Republic of Congo (ROC) is located in Central Africa and is bordered by the Democratic Republic of Cong (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR), Cameroon, and Gabon as depicted in the below map.

Airline Access to the Republic of Congo:

The History of the Republic of Congo

Aerial view of the Rivers of the Congo

The Republic of Congo, often referred to as Congo-Brazzaville to distinguish it from its neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), has a rich and complex history.

  • Pre-Colonial Era
    The region that is now the Republic of Congo has been inhabited for thousands of years by various ethnic groups, including the Bantu peoples. These groups established thriving societies, engaging in agriculture, fishing, and trade.
  • Colonial Era
    European exploration of the Congo Basin began in the late 19th century, leading to the establishment of French control over the area that is now the Republic of Congo. France officially colonized the region in the late 19th century and integrated it into French Equatorial Africa.
  • Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, often referred to simply as Brazza, played a significant role in the history of the Republic of Congo, particularly in its early colonial period.
  • Exploration and Colonization
    Brazza, an Italian-born French explorer, undertook several expeditions into Central Africa in the late 19th century, funded by the French government and private interests. His explorations focused on the Congo Basin, where he established friendly relations with local African leaders, including the Teke chief Makoko.
  • Establishment of French Control
    Brazza’s diplomatic skills and ability to negotiate treaties with indigenous leaders helped France establish its control over the region. In 1880, Brazza signed a treaty with Makoko that granted France sovereignty over a vast territory in the Congo Basin, laying the groundwork for the establishment of French Equatorial Africa.
  • 1881 – establishing Brazzaville
    In 1881, Brazza founded the city of Brazzaville on the Congo River, strategically located across from the existing settlement of Kinshasa (then known as Leopoldville) in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Brazzaville served as the capital of French Equatorial Africa and played a crucial role in the colonial administration of the region.


La Sapeurs in Brazzaville

La Sapeurs in Brazzaville

Establishment of Odzala-Kokoua National Park

Odzala-Kokoua National Park, located in the Republic of Congo, is a biodiverse wilderness area renowned for its pristine rainforests, diverse wildlife, and unique ecosystems. Here’s a short history of the park:

  • The Formation – Odzala-Kokoua National Park was established in 1935 as a wildlife reserve by the French colonial administration. Initially covering a smaller area, the park was expanded over the years to protect more extensive tracts of rainforest and its inhabitants.
  • The Biodiversity – The park is part of the Congo Basin, one of the world’s most significant tropical rainforest regions. Odzala-Kokoua is home to a remarkable array of flora and fauna, including forest elephants, western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, forest buffalo, and a variety of bird species. The park’s ecosystems range from dense primary rainforest to swampy marshlands, providing habitats for a diverse range of species.
  • Conservation Efforts – Since its establishment, Odzala-Kokoua has been the focus of various conservation efforts aimed at preserving its natural heritage. Conservation organizations, government agencies, and local communities work together to combat threats such as poaching, deforestation, and illegal logging, while also promoting sustainable tourism as a means of supporting conservation initiatives and local livelihoods.
  • African Parks Partnership – In 2010, the Congolese government entered into a partnership with African Parks to improve the management and conservation of Odzala-Kokoua National Park. African Parks is renowned for its successful track record in rehabilitating and effectively managing protected areas across Africa.

Overall, the collaboration between African Parks and the Congolese government in Odzala-Kokoua National Park demonstrates the potential for public-private partnerships to achieve conservation goals, protect biodiversity, and promote sustainable development in Africa’s most critical wilderness areas.

Debunking Travel Misconceptions:

Let’s address a few misconceptions around visiting Congo and at the same time answer the question – Why Visit the Republic of Congo?




Is it safe to travel to the Republic of Congo?

This was the first reaction when I told family, friends and even work colleagues and industry friends that I was visiting the Congo. There is a clear distinction between The Republic of Congo (ROC) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). While they share a border, they are worlds apart in terms of the tourist experience.

For the past 20 years, The Republic of Congo has developed into a safe, forward-thinking country with a burgeoning tourism industry. In the capital of Brazzaville, I felt completely safe to walk around and explore the local food markets at night or go for an early morning run along the promenade of the Congo River. The Congolese people are without fault, warm and extremely welcoming. New luxury brand hotels are in construction and the music and food scene is vibrant, with a French influence still felt. It is not overrun with tourist traps.

The Republic of Congo is only for the very adventurous

It is interesting to note that Odzala National Park has been in existence since the 1930’s, but it is only post 1990 that the area has truly awakened to the possibility of tourism. With both African Parks taking over management of the park itself and Sabine Platter developing SPAC (Sabine Platter African Charities) and the Kamba African Rainforest Experience. Together they are working on developing product that is accessible for all visitors. True, this is not the refined and super-curated safari experience one finds in neighbouring East Africa or Southern Africa. This is about deep immersion.

From hiking through the dense rainforest in search of the tree-dwelling lowland Gorillas, wading through the bai’s (lagoons) in waist-deep rivers to witness the elusive forest elephants, buffalo, and abundant birdlife. It’s a slow boat ride along the waterways as the Pels fishing owl swoops above you or flocks of African Greys try to settle undisturbed for a morning of feeding.

It’s a night drive in the patches of savanna’s in search of the region’s apex predator, the hyena, or even the more elusive golden cat. It’s about spending half a day in the rainforest learning about the insects, fungi, plants that make up this magical biosphere. So yes, this is an active and participative safari, but throughout your stay, the fantastic guides are on hand to guide, support and help you as you hike, canoe, wade and amble your way through different parts of the forest.

It is very safe with few large predators (no crocs and large cats e.g. lion or leopard). The guides are extremely respectful of the environment and do their best to ensure guests have as minimal impact as possible on the local ecosystems. There are bugs, which goes hand-in-hand with any rainforest environment, but as long as you wear light-weight, long sleeved shirt and long trousers you can mitigate this inconvenience.

There are currently three lodges that make up a minimum 7-night itinerary. Ngaga (Gorillas), Lango (waterways) and Mboko (land safari and waterways). They are well appointed, with all the luxury elements that you would expect from an eco safari experience. This includes super comfortable bedding, spacious rooms, inviting public areas and exceptional cuisine throughout.

So, in my personal experience, this destination is accessible to a far wider range of visitors than I had originally thought.


Top Tip: Age Restriction

The minimum age in the park is 15 years old and the oldest depends on individual health and fitness levels.

Who is the ideal traveller for the Republic of Congo?

The Kamba Rainforest Experience in Odzala region offers a truly unique nature and wildlife experience. This is not about ticking the “Big Five Box”, but for those looking for a deep dive experience that explores not only one of the world’s largest rainforests, but also how governments, NGO’s, eco-hospitality organisations and local communities have come together to develop this product.

It is an eco-experience in the true sense of the word. It will appeal to travellers who are active, who enjoy adventure, yet still are looking for a level of luxury throughout. Possibly, it may be too intense for a first-time visitor to Africa, but I would not rule this out. What a better first-time experience than visiting a region totally unspoilt and still undeveloped?

It is also a fantastic cultural immersion – it is fascinating to see how different organisations, governments and local communities have all come together to preserve this fragile environment.

What does the gorilla experience entail in the Republic of Congo?

The species of gorilla one finds in Odzala is the Western Lowland Gorilla different to the Mountain Gorillas found in Rwanda and Uganda. These are tree-dwelling apes, small in stature and certainly less habituated.

There are only three habituated families with the fourth currently being habituated. This is mostly due to the ground-breaking studies of Dr Magda Bermejo who has dedicated her life’s work to understanding the gorillas.


Gorilla Sightings

Gorilla sightings are reliable, but viewing is dependent on weather and tracking conditions. The range of tracking can be between 1 – 8km, depending on where the families are to be found. The undergrowth can be thick however and, including the time spent with the gorillas, excursions can last between 2 to 7 hours.

The apes follow a daily routine, with the group leaving their overnight tree nests in the cool of early morning and foraging on the move, until locating a productive feeding site for the day. This is the best place to view the family. For some sightings, the family will be on the move and for others will have them stationery at their habitual root mining sites.

The group size is a maximum of 4 guests plus a ranger and a tracker allowing for an extremely intimate experience. The trek departs directly from the lodge, mostly on foot, in the early morning. Guests get to spend a maximum of 1 hour with the gorillas at a maximum proximity to the gorillas of 7 metres (22 feet). Generally, one hikes in silence so as not to disturb the wildlife and to allow the tracker the opportunity to listen for the signs and no food is permitted. Currently, masks are required when guests are in close proximity to the animals.

On our first hike, we trekked for around 6 hours and in the end did not get a sighting, but on the second day, we were rewarded with a fantastic sighting of the family just 30 minutes from the lodge.

What does the overall Rainforest experience entail?

This is a summary of what my recent 7-night itinerary to the Republic of Congo encompassed, the stay was across three lodges.

Important to know: You are required to arrive the day before, so your actual first night is in Brazzaville, to be ready for the after-breakfast departure. You will also have a COVID test taken at the hotel the day before.


My 7-night itinerary to the Republic of Congo:

Day 1: Brazzaville City tour
  • Morning fascinating Brazzaville City tour.
  • Depart Brazzaville Airport (VIP Departure)
  • A 2 hour light air transfer from Brazzaville to Kamba main airstrip in the Odzala National Park. Here the team will meet you with light refreshments. Board the 4×4 vehicles for the 2.5 hours road transfer to Ngaga Lodge.
  • NB Ngaga is on a private concession outside of Odzala National Park, managed directly by Kamba. This is the site of the habituated gorilla families. This is your home for the next 3 nights.
  • Settle in and enjoy the lodge located in the heart of the rainforest
  • Evening gorilla trek briefing around the fire – do’s and dont’s

Day 2: 1st Gorilla Trek Day
  • 5:30 am early morning start of your first gorilla trek with your guide and tracker. You depart directly from the lodge
  • Depending on your sighting you could be back at the lodge by 10 am until 12 pm midday.
  • Afternoon optional activity to walk with Forest of the Guardians as they search for hunters wire traps.

Day 3: 2nd Gorilla Trek Day
  • 5:30 am another early morning start of your second gorilla trek with your guide and tracker. You depart directly from the lodge.
  • Depending on your sighting you could be back at the lodge by 10 am until 12 pm midday.
  • Afternoon optional activity to visit the chief of the Ombo village and get in-depth understanding of their way of life. Some of the villagers work for Kamba in a variety of roles.

Day 4: Canoeing Down the River
  • 9 am depart Ngaga to Lango Lodge by 4×4 vehicle to return to Odzala National Park. First stop is the main camp at Mboko for lunch.
  • After lunch make your way to the river bank where you will be given a safety briefing and get into your 2 man canoes. Enjoy an hour canoeing down the river.
  • Arrive at Lango Bai, where you will continue on foot through the bai for arrival at the Lango Lodge. Your home for the next two days.
  • Afternoon to relax at the lodge

Day 5: Forest Walk
  • Morning deep water walk through the bai in search of the forest elephant and buffalo
  • Afternoon sundowner Lagoon walk
  • Congolese feast at the lodge

Day 6: Morning Bai Walk
  • Early Morning bai walk
  • After breakfast drive the short distance back to Mboko Lodge, your home for the next 2 nights
  • Afternoon boat ride on the river
  • Night drive through the savanna

Day 7: Boating & Rainforest Walk
  • Early morning boat ride
  • Afternoon hippo pool walk or rainforest walk to explore fungi, insect and plants

Day 8: Departure Day
  • After breakfast head to the airstrip for the flight back to Brazzaville
  • Day room at the hotel if required before checking in for your international flight
  • Optional lunch at local restaurant and a visit to see the Sapeurs

In this article
  • Introduction
  • Where is the Republic of Congo?
  • The History of the Republic of Congo
  • Establishment of Odzala-Kokoua National Park
  • Debunking Travel Misconceptions
  • Gorilla Trekking Experience
  • What does the overall Rainforest experience entail?

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