Living at TASOK, the Mont Ngaliema complex was just a quick walk down the hill from our house, and I remember being told about Mobutu’s zoo my first day in Kinshasa, but there’s a lot more to the complex than the empty lion cages.
When you enter from the river road (Avenue Colonel Muzimba), the guards will ask you why you are there, and while they may be skeptical if you say you are going for a walk, just say you are going to the museum and then you’ll be free to walk around as you wish. The museum is straight up the hill and really worth the time and money to explore. When we went it was $5 a person, but more recent sources suggest that it’s $10. You’ll get a guide (who you can tip) to accompany you through the museum. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable about the artifacts, and I enjoyed walking around with her a lot more than I would have just looking at masks and having no idea what they meant. If your French isn’t great, you may want to go with a friend who does speak French and can translate.
Some of our friends consider Mobutu’s chairs to be the highlight of the museum, but I guess I got my hopes up a little high and was expecting some ornate thrones, which they are not. Still, it’s eerie to see the iconic leopard skin chair up close.
After exploring the small museum (the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium has a much more extensive collection, but they are closed for renovation till 2017), the guide walked around the park with us a bit. She pointed out some of the statues and the animal cages, showed us a view of Stanley’s steamboat at the Chanimetal harbor (they also have a small museum, which we never got the chance to visit), and took us to the European graveyard (le Cimetière des Pionniers) where many of Europeans were buried in the late 1800s.
In fact this area was the original Léopoldville, and even though I’m not a fan of the book, every time I walk up the hill I can’t help but think of Conrad’s disturbing descriptions of walking up the same hill in Heart of Darkness (or maybe those descriptions are of Matadi…).
The other highlight of Mont Ngaliema is the Théâtre de Verdure. This outdoor amphitheater was recently renovated and is being used for more and more concerts and events. The Jazz Festival was held there in 2014, and hopefully they will continue the tradition as it’s a great venue. We also got the chance to be extras in a concert scene of a movie filmed there. In addition to checking KinTonic or Voila Night in search of events there, you can look at banners hung up near the gate advertising upcoming events.
At the top of the hill, there are a few sights that aren’t open to the public, and since the area is part of an army base, I wouldn’t press your luck. Mobutu’s house, which was totally destroyed in the pillage, and the tomb of Chief Ngaliema, who signed the deal for the land with Stanley, are both located up there.
What to Bring: An ID and camera.
When to Go: Weekdays 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., weekends 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
How to Get There: Continue past the end of the Boulevard to Kintambo Magasin. Take the far right road (Ave. Col. Muzimba). Immediately after the Route de Matadi, the entrance is on the left hand side.
Travel Time: 10-15 minutes from Gombe.
Risk Assessment: Don’t forget that you’re at an army base, and you’ll be fine.