An essential part of anyone’s Kinshasa experience, whether you are here for a week or 10 years, is a trip to Lola ya Bonobo, the world’s only bonobo sanctuary. Our first visit to the sanctuary was during our first week in Kinshasa, and it was a great way to get out of the city while experiencing the craziness that is bonobo culture.
When you arrive at the sanctuary, which was founded in 1994 but has only been at its current sight since 2002 (the bonobos temporarily lived at the American School of Kinshasa, spending the nights where the students’ lockers are), there are informational displays and a video to orient you.
There is a long path to walk around the park, which is 30 hectares in size, and on the way you may run into groups of bonobos, or you may find a lot of forest and not a lot to see. On our first trip, we saw one group near the beginning of our walk and the babies and their caretakers at the end. Walking around is enjoyable in itself as you can experience the forest and get some views of surrounding savanna. You will definitely see some bonobos as the young ones and their human mamas hang out in an area pretty close to the entrance.
Bonobos are known for their social sexual behavior, and in just observing them for a few minutes you’ll see lots of different sexual activities between lots of different partners of different and the same ages and sexes. Sexual activities serve lots of purposes in bonobo society beyond reproduction.
We like to pair a trip to the bonobos with a stop at nearby Lac de ma Vallée. The artificial lake (which, as the name suggests, is in a valley) boasts a restaurant serving the usual fare and drinks. You can also bring your own food, but they’ll probably charge you a picnic fee. (We’ve always sort of avoided their eyes when eating food we brought after setting the trail for the hash and never gotten in trouble).
There is a path around the lake. It’s about 5 km long and a good way to pass the time if you have ordered food and don’t want to just sit around getting hungrier. If you are feeling adventurous, you can also take a path up out of the valley and explore the savanna. Just make sure you remember how to get back. Setting the trail for one hash had us crawling through bush in attempt to find a loop back to the lake but never succeeding. There is one really cool old abandoned house you may run into, but I don’t really remember how to get there.
The other activity available is paddle boating. The boats are old and metal, but they do seem to work. Just be careful; it doesn’t really seem like the kind of water you would want to fall into.
What to Bring: Snacks, sunscreen, water.
When to Go: Anytime. Lola ya Bonobo is closed on Monday.
How to Get There: Both the websites listed below have maps that you can use. Also, our map is helpful.
Travel Time: 45 minutes-1 hour. There is often traffic at UPN.
Risk Assessment: None, really.