Kisantu Botanical Gardens

Beautiful trees with species labels on them.

Beautiful trees with species labels on them.

While there aren’t many flowers, the Kisantu Botanical Gardens are a lovely place to spend an afternoon as a day trip from Kinshasa or on the way to and from other destinations in Bas Congo.

The main thing to do is to walk around and see what there is to see. When you enter, you may want to stop at the small museum/gift shop where there is a little bit of information about the gardens. If you are feeling like you want to be uber prepared, you can print out the map below (which comes from some missionaries). The good thing is that wandering is pretty easy, and there are a few signs that will lead you in the direction of different attractions.

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Mbudi Nature

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View of the river during dry season.

While there are lots of places to sit and have a beer on the banks of the Congo River, Mbudi Nature is one of our favorites. We’ve been there for countless hashes and relaxing afternoons and even baptizing a baby.

Mbudi’s best feature is that its main restaurant sits overlooking the river at the top of a bluff. From there, you have a great view of both the huge rocks on the beach below and the people hard at work breaking those rocks.

You can walk down from the bluff to the rocks along the river. There’s a steep path straight down and an easier path on the left side if you are facing the river (though the last few times we were there, the easier path involved crossing a barbed wire fence.) You can walk on the rocks along the beach, and if you continue southwest along the river for about a kilometer, you will reach a big quarry. If you ask the police for permission, you can walk around the quarry.

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Camping at the Massage Falls/Sunguza Beach

Sun setting on the Congo River (our camp site).

Sun setting on the Congo River (our camp site).

Just a short drive (30 minutes max) from the hustle and bustle of the Zongo resort is the peaceful paradise of Zongo Beach a.k.a. the Massage Falls a.k.a. Sunguza Beach. Many people visit the beach at Zongo (Sunguza Beach) for a day trip while staying at Zongo, but camping on the empty beach is a great, peaceful alternative to the roar of Zongo Falls and constant stream of people at the resort.

We arrived at the Zongo (Seli Safari) resort much later in the day than planned, so we were hoping our stop there to check in and pay would be short. After 30 minutes of the lady working at the reception unsuccessfully trying to convince us that we really didn’t want to camp because it might rain, we were off. You do need to stop at Zongo because you need to pay to camp there. Usually when people go for day trips they take a guide, but we found that a guide is really unnecessary. The route is well-marked, and if you aren’t sure you are going the right way, you can stop and ask for directions.

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Gorilla Trekking in Bukavu

Baby gorillas'  favourite place to play? On top of their sleeping mothers.

Baby gorillas’ favourite place to play? On top of their sleeping mothers.

This was not only on my Congo Bucket List, but my Life Bucket List as well. Visiting eastern lowland gorillas, the most endangered of the gorilla family, in their natural habitat? Yes please! So while going to Bukavu on a mission, my colleague and I realized we’ll be there over the weekend and immediately started planning a visit. We went to Coco Lodge, a boutique hotel near MONUSCO headquarters where a Swiss man who’s been in the Congo some 20-odd years tells you if there is space to go (there is around a 12-person limit per day to visit the gorillas), helps you schedule and organize, and off you go!

We got to the base station of the Kahuzi Biega National Park, where I was told I was too fat to comfortably hike (ummm…), but was given rain boots all the same and headed up the mountain. We were exceptionally lucky because after 15 minutes of the guides hacking at the dense plants to create a path on top of meters of jungle growth, we bumped into Chimanuka’s family. A large silverback with an even larger family, we got to hang out with him and his family.  It was amazing. Continue reading

Zongo Falls – Seli Safari Beach

About 180km from Kinshasa, there are some spectacular waterfalls. Right next to them are one of the only “resorts” close by Kinshasa, and rain or shine, dry or rainy season, an excellent trip out of Kinshasa no matter what rocks your boat.

Zongo Falls during rainy season.

Zongo Falls during rainy season.

The first time I went, not much planning was involved. We basically decided on a Wednesday, reserved on the Thursday, paid on the Saturday, bought food and drinks from the then newly opened Shoprite, and left in the infamous Landcruiser*. On our way there we saw a great market where we bought lots of fresh vegetables. One of our group, a tiny British chica in DRC for a few months, kept getting asked how old she was.  We finally asked the villagers how old they thought she was and they said three! So we burst out laughing, pointing out actual three year olds and asking if they really thought our friend was the same age as those kids.  The villagers immediately started giggling, and we thought we’d gotten somewhere until the leader of the group, a very sweet elderly woman, while still giggling said “no! you’re right. She must actually be 12. ” Continue reading

Mfuti Beach

We had heard of this beach close to Kinshasa where you can swim in the river, picnic, play games and have a wonderful escape from the craziness of the big city.  We had general directions, and though no amount of google map searching helped us find it, three and a half of us set out to find it in a large landcruiser* ready for any adventure. We drove towards Mbudi, but turned away from the river well before, and drove down a very muddy, bumpy road until we got to a big quarry. We could see the river, so we parked the car, climbed over some enormous rocks, and found a beautiful beach. Gorgeous white sand by an enormous river which seemed to be an estuary of the Congo River, surrounded by enormous black rocks – we’d found paradise. It was as if we’d found a place we could have a similar experience to a boat trip without actually have to take a boat (or paying as much)!

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The beach!

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Mbanza Ngungu Caves

 

Sadly, we didn't take pictures in the caves, but here's the after picture (mud is thanks to the road, not the caves.)

Sadly, we didn’t take pictures in the caves, but here’s the after picture (mud is thanks to the road, not the caves.)

The caves (which Wikipedia calls the Thysville Caves; Thysville is the former name of Mbanza-Ngungu) are located near Mbanza-Ngungu, about 150 km from Kinshasa. Wikipedia also asserts that the cave complex is 750 square kilometers in size, which is not surprising because they are massive. The caves are known for the threatened blind fish (Caecobarbus geertsii), which are only found in this complex of caves, nowhere else in the world.

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Les Serpents du Congo (The Snake Park)

The three vipers, headed our way

The three vipers, headed our way

“Now, these are some of the most venomous snakes in the world,” Franck explained nonchalantly as he pulled three vipers (including the Gaboon viper, which has the longest fangs and highest venom yield of all poisonous snakes) from their homes and plopped them on the ground. He drew a line, a bit too close for our comfort, and told us not to step beyond it.

We watched as they slowly inched their way toward us (the way they move is really quite bizarre), and we were starting to overcome our fear when, suddenly, the phone rang and Franck stepped away to take a call.

Though the snakes never made it past the line, or even anywhere near it, we all let out a sigh of relief when he placed them back in their barrels. Continue reading

Kinshasa Street Chicken – Yum!

It wasn’t very well-planned – a food adventure the day after a long night! We’d gone to the Marine Ball the night before where we danced a lot, drank a lot, and yelled a lot at the hotel staff trying to steal all of the guest gifts from right under our noses. Needless to say, almost everyone bailed on our lunch adventure, except for a dedicated group of three adventurers. We woke up bleary eyed, napped a bit more, dried to dress, then made our way to taste what turned out to be the best street chicken in the Congo.

We got to this one particular street bar around noon, under an enormous tree on an otherwise really ugly street. We ordered one chicken for the three of us, and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Two hours later, we tasted what, one and a half years later, is still the best chicken I have had in this country (and many others too). Continue reading