We decided we wanted a nice hike outside of Kinshasa for the weekend, since there are limited opportunities to walk in the city. Our tour guide picked us up from Kinshasa and drove us to Menkao, which is a city outside of central Kinshasa but still in Kinshasa Province. When we got out of the vehicle, we were met by many locals, curious why we were there in all our backpacking gear. Our tour guide handled our passport and visa information with DGM and organized motos to bring our tents and extra luggage to the camp site in Karo village (31 km from Menkao). Then we started our trek.
The trek was on the road from Menako to the village of Mayi-Ndombe, situated on the river. It was the road all the motos and villagers take to get from one village to the next to bring amenities and supplies, ultimately leading to the river. I am not exactly sure we actually knew what we signed up for when we agreed to trek 31 kilometers the first day. I think we were all just pretty desperate to walk. It was tough. The scenery was mainly elephant grass, but the company was great and it was nice to see the villages along the way. Every time a moto passed, we had to get over to the side of the path. At one point we ran out of water, so luckily Vodacom worked and our guide was able to arrange for motos to bring water to us. We walked a total of 6.5 hours the first day, taking an additional 1.5 hours for lunch and water breaks.
As we got closer to Karo village, we saw a beautiful full rainbow, which made that walk all the more worth it. It was a challenge that took a lot of motivation. We got to the village just in time for sunset and rested in the schoolhouse while the tour guide set up our tents. Adorably, there was a child’s face poking through every window to see who these foreigners were. The guide had invited a cook who made a delicious local meal, and we each then slept in our own tent. The next day, despite all the blisters and aches, we woke up and continued 6km to Mayi-Ndombe, which took about 2 hours. For the first part of it, about 50 children from Karo village followed us since we were their entertainment for the morning, until an older boy chased them back home. As we were reaching the river, the elephant grass turned into beautiful rolling hills and then gorgeous views of the river.
After successfully reaching Mayi-Ndombe, we hung out for a few hours while the cook prepared lunch. We entertained the Mayi-Ndombe village kids with music and games. We then got on a boat and relaxed for three hours during the boat ride, watching life along the Congo River. Once we reached Kinkole, we disembarked and our guide organized a car back to Kinshasa for us. Overall, it was a great weekend break from Kinshasa, and while physical fitness is key, mental motivation was probably the most important part.
What to Bring: Bring all clothes and toiletries you will need for hiking and camping. Also, bring a headlamp, sleeping bag and rain coat. You will carry only the things you need while hiking with you. Everything else (like a second bag) will be sent with the motos. The guide will provide you a tent, food and cushion to put the sleeping bag on.
When to Go: You can go any time of the year, but go at your own risk during rainy season. We were lucky to not get much rain. We did experience a light shower, but that brought the rainbow.
How to Get There: The guide picked us up from a central location in Gombe and drove us to Menkao, which is about an hour away from downtown Kinshasa.
Travel Time: It was about an hour from Gombe to Menkao. Our hike the first day took eight hours, including rest time. The second day the hike took about two hours. The boat trip back to Kinkole was roughly three hours and then one hour from Kinkole to Gombe, depending on traffic.
Risk Assessment: It is best to go with the guide because he maintains the relationship with the local villages. In Karo, we used the schoolhouse for a dining hall, they gave us access to their bathroom, and we basically camped in the middle of the village. The tour guides took turns standing watch all night to make sure everything was OK. While perhaps you could do this alone, since we were following the path, we were definitely thankful to have the guide after we ran out of water.
Contact Information: Serge from Danico Tours, +243816858699, http://www.danicotours.com