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.
The reason there aren’t many flowers in the gardens is that many of them (including quite a lot of orchids) were stolen during the pillages and when the garden was used as a military base in the 90s. They have begun reconstruction efforts, but it seems it will take a while to get back to where they were before.
Highlights include lots and lots of old trees, nice places to sit and picnic by the Inkisi River, some sad monkeys in cages, a restaurant serving the usual Congolese dishes, a hike up the hill for a great view and the stations of the cross, an unmarked crocodile pen, butterflies, and ants. Most of the park is shady so you can enjoy it even during the hottest part of the day, but if you want to walk up the hill (which we definitely recommend), be prepared for intense sun.
If you do want to spend the night, there is lodging available at the gardens themselves. We have also stayed at the Hotel Belle Vue, which is at the intersection of the main road and the turn off for the gardens. The rooms are not fancy but clean and have AC. The best part of the hotel is that they do have a beautiful view, and we really enjoyed watching the sun set from the balcony. Also the food was good, and service was surprisingly speedy.
Also our favorite place to buy veggies in Bas Congo is at the first village you go through after Kisantu when returning to Kinshasa. There’s a big market on the left hand side with great prices. Watch out for the bag boys. They’re very persistent.
When to Go: The road is accessible all year, but I would assume the gardens aren’t as pretty during dry season.
How to Get There: Take the Matadi Road approximately 130 km from Kinshasa to Kisantu/Inkisi. When you arrive in Kisantu, you turn left right after the Hotel Belle Vue. There’s a sign at the intersection for the gardens. If you cross the river, you’ve gone too far.
Travel Time: Usually takes about 2 hours but depends on traffic.
Risk Assessment: A walk in the park. Just watch out for bugs.
Contact Information: They have a website.