Spending the day on a sandbank may be one of my favourite escapes from Kinshasa. Buy some drinks and make some food (or not, maybe bring some raw meat and just grill it there), get on a boat, arrive at a sandbank a nice distance upriver from the city, have the tents, chairs, tables and BBQ set up for you, and just enjoy the rest of the day. What’s not to love?
There are the typical Congolese adventure-inducing things such as getting stuck on sandbanks (how many expats does it take to push a boat?), hand print sunburns, running out of gas before making it back to shore and only having one paddle to make it back, etc, but really, what is Congo without those?
One of my first trips to a sandbank was with a dog who did NOT enjoy the boat ride, but spent the next 20 minutes sprinting all over the sandbank as if it was the best thing to have ever been invented (and the squeaking sound the sand makes on the banks kind of makes you agree with the pup!). I discovered many international games, such as Finnish molkky, Swedish Kubb
(kind of terrifyingly dangerous), Irish football (which I think was really just an excuse to whack a big talker in the face with a soccer ball for several minutes), and then of course the typical beach games such as Bocce, badminton, soccer, volleyball, etc etc. But if you thought playing games was all that happened, and you’d have to be active, rest assured! Most of the time is usually spent eating snacks, then lunch, interspersed with drinks, and general frolicking in the river (if you don’t swallow the water or wander too far from the sandbank, it’s quite lovely). Basically, it’s a day at the beach, but you’re really on the river and can wave to Kinshasa. And you only have to drive ten minutes to get there from Gombe!
What to Bring: Food and drinks. Tents, chairs, tables, BBQ, coal, etc are all provided by the boat company. Sunscreen. Don’t be fooled by cloudy days! My worst sunburn comes from a cloudy day out there!
When to Go: Rainy season, because especially towards the end of dry season, the water gets too low and boats don’t go out anymore. But also don’t go at the height of rainy season – we’ve had literal territory wars when there was but one sandbank and a very rude expat who tried to chase us off the island claiming it was hers (and the 3 other groups who were also on the same island).
How to Get There: The boat leaves from either Yacht Club or Nautical Club. You drive on Ave. des Inflammables (which turns into Poids Lords) until the fork in the road (train tracks to your right), turn left, pass the Nautical Club, and continue until you see the sign to the Yacht Club on your right. The actual address is 55 Avenue des inflammables.
Travel Time: 15 minutes sans traffic.
Risk Assessment: You’ll be on the Congo River, so don’t swim too far out, make sure you have enough water/sunscreen, steer clear of crocodiles (just kidding!), and you’ll be fine! This is a dog-friendly, kid-friendly, person-friendly, and even enemy-friendly outing.
Contact Info: Donald, +243 816435151. The cost of a boat is about $400, or $40/pp if you have over 10 people (for everything included). So, it’s best to have a group bigger than 10 so make sure the prices stays at $40. Up to 25 people fit in the big slow boat, and I think 15 in the smaller faster boat, so you can always ask for the boat that suits your trip best. Make sure you ALWAYS ask for enough gas. They’ll tell you they have enough, but ask about 3 times more and then they’ll add some more. And then have to use it because they didn’t bring enough gas in the first place.