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.
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. ”
We stopped a little further to have a picnic on the side of the road where we found some hidden train tracks, and then arrived at Seli Safari Beach about 3.5 hours after leaving Kinshasa. Seli Safari has several accommodation options, which are listed below in order of price. We chose the chalets which turned out to be good value for the money. Though we had to go out of the room to the bathroom, the bathrooms were very clean and easy to use.
- Tents (with mattresses inside, comfortable if you have your own sleeping bag)
- Chalets (separate bungalows with a double bed or twin beds, basic bathroom and an outdoors one that is shared with other chalet guests. Very clean and comfortable)
- Hotel Rooms (part of the main structure, a pleasant experience if you’re looking for a relaxing escape)
- Bungalows (same price as the hotel rooms, but each house is separate. Almost every single bungalow has a story, like bats, no hot water, etc, so I don’t recommend these)
- Residences/Houses/Villa (super luxurious, king size beds, flat screen tvs, stove and full-sized fridge. Two bedrooms in each with a living room in the middle, so it comfortably fits 6 people, can fit up to 10 if people are ok sleeping on mattresses and sofas)
As we arrived, we started to see dark clouds coming, so we quickly walked over to the falls and were blown away by their presence. You stand opposite the impressive water fall and get splashed with an amazing spray, which both soaks you and apparently, makes you happier.
On a high from the falls, we rushed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. Though Seli Safari has a restaurant, I highly recommend renting a paillot and BBQ, and bringing your own food. There are paillots all along the river, and with homemade food and a fresh BBQ, few experiences are better in the Congo. Especially since you don’t have to wash your own dishes. Around dinner time, it started to rain and get pretty chilly, so I was glad to have brought a jacket.
It was a lovely evening and we turned in early, hoping for sun shine the next day. We were glad to see it, but when we tried to make it to the Massage Falls, the road was too muddy for us to get out of the hotel. We waited a few more hours, visiting the Zongo Falls again and once we were told the route would be passable, we started to head back home. Now, there are two roads to Zongo. We’d arrived on the first, shorter road, but after rain it becomes impassable so we took the longer road. Considering that road is a grand total of 50km and it took us 5 hours to get back to the main road, you can imagine the state of the “better” road. We got stuck in really slippery clay mud no less than five times, though considering each time was right in front of a village where the villagers all came out to help push us out of whatever ditch we’d ended up in, I started to think they may have planted the slippery mud there themselves! At one point we had to pull to the side because six trucks overloaded with workers going back to the mines they were working on got stuck on the exact same point, and we had to wait until each one got stuck, pushed out, passed us, and the truck behind got stuck in turn.
In subsequent trips (because a 7-hr return trip never deterred me from going back!), I noticed a vast improvement on the longer road (and a vast deterioration of the shorter one, I think at this point it’s not even a possibility to take anymore), and with gravel over the really slippery areas, I don’t dread rain at Zongo as much as I used to!
What to Bring: Depending on the experience you are looking for. If you want to camp, bring a sleeping bag or sheets/pillows. You don’t really need extra equipment for the other accommodation options. No need for special shoes, the walk to the Falls is very short and even flip flops are fine. However, I would suggest bringing enough food and drink for your stay there, as these are overpriced at the resort. There are some excellent fruit and veggie markets on the way there, so stock up!
When to Go: The Zongo Falls experience depends on the season. During dry season, you miss out on the spray but you can walk out further to see the Falls from different angles, while during rainy season, particularly in October/November and April/May, the falls are enormous and impressive, but you can’t swim. Go during all seasons and decide which you prefer!
How to Get There: Take the road to Matadi and drive towards Kisantu. The first road appears before Kisantu (which is about a 2-hr drive from Kinshasa), but it’s been closed so you go past it to the second road. This is past Kisantu, soon after the bridge, and there is a sign on the right for where you have to turn to continue the 56 km to the resort. The entire trip is around 180-190km.
Travel Time: A UN car takes about 4 hours to get there, cars without speed limits will be of course faster. Route de Matadi (or N1) is one of the best roads in the DRC, but it is also overrun with trucks transporting goods from Matadi to elsewhere in the country, so drive carefully. There are also no lights on most of the road, so avoid nighttime driving if you can. This trip can even be done in one day if you leave early enough in the morning and are comfortable driving back at night (and it didn’t rain the night before).
Risk Assessment: There is really no risk to going to Zongo. It’s an excellent escape from Kinshasa, with some beautiful scenery on your way there and at the Falls themselves. Do not take pictures of the dam close by, however, it’s illegal and causes unnecessary security headaches. Zongo Falls is a high-risk malaria location, so always have mosquito spray with you!
Contact Information: You have to reserve and pay for your stay at Seli Safari ahead of time. Up-to-date contact information can be found here, and the offices are located on Boulevard 30 Juin in front of UNDP/Fleur de Sel Restaurant.
* This landcruiser plays a role in several adventures, including Mfuti