Republic of the Congo
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The Republic of the Congo  is in Central Africa. The country is also known as Congo-Brazzaville to distinguish it from its giant eastern neighbour, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa). It is bordered by Gabon, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola (the exclave of Cabinda).
The Republic of the Congo's sparse population is concentrated in the southwestern portion of the country, leaving the vast areas of tropical jungle in the north virtually uninhabited. Thus, Congo is one of the most urbanized countries in Africa, with 85% of its total population living in a few urban areas, namely in Brazzaville, Pointe-Noire, or one of the small cities or villages lining the 332-mile (534 km) railway which connects the two cities. In rural areas, industrial and commercial activity has declined rapidly in recent years, leaving rural economies dependent on the government for support and subsistence. Before the 1997 war, about 15,000 Europeans and other non-Africans lived in Congo, most of whom were French. Presently, only about 9,500 remain.
While Congo's regions are diverse, there is one constant you can rely on: about 80% of the entire country is covered in the dense Congo Rainforest.
Visas are not available on arrival, and showing up without one can cause many things you will want to avoid at all costs (fines, passport confiscation, etc.)
For tourist visas you need to obtain an invitation letter from Congo and print and take that with a copy of your plane tickets to the nearest Republic of Congo Embassy, with a usual processing time of 3 days for $100.
CTT ( Congo Travel and Tours ) can arrange a letter and tourist visa within 1-2 days. Mikhael's hotel in Brazzaville, Ledger Plaza Maya Maya, and other expensive but excellent 5-star hotels can also arrange an invitation letter upon booking a room.
Maya-Maya Airport (IATA: BZV ICAO: FCBB) in Brazzaville is linked by flights to by Air France, Douala in Cameroon, Addis Ababa and Kinshasa by Ethiopian Airlines, Nairobi and Casablanca. More routes and foreign carriers are under negotiation.
Pointe Noire (PNR) has additional connections including some truly luxurious private airlines such as Swiss-run PrivatAir, in addition to a host of the large commercial companies and a few domestic Congolese airlines ferrying over to Brazzaville.
The brand new Chinese-built BZV airport looks like a super-modern emerald city from the wizard of Oz. Kinshasa's is so run down and horrible looking that you almost laugh at the juxtaposition. Your entrance is usually smooth and comfortable and the airport is secure. Make sure you have all your documents in hand. Lines are not long and officials smile generally, though a well-placed bribe of even $5 will make you speed through VIP style.
The airport information desk in the arrivals terminal is friendly, multilingual, and excellent, and has on hand tourist information and safe taxis and transportation options. For quick questions the US embassy is almost in walking distance from the airport.
It's safe to drive in the Republic of the Congo. A good sealed road goes north from Brazzaville, but only as far north as President Sassou's hometown of Oyo. Beyond Oyo, the roads get very bumpy and are totally impassable in the rain. It is also very hard to get a rental car you drive yourself.
As of 2013 the road between Brazzaville and Pointe Noire is excellent, and the road connecting Pointe Noire and Cabinda is also excellent. SUV's can be purchased in Pointe Noire for half to a third of their selling price in Brazzaville, and resold there.
In direct competition with the road between Brazzaville and Pointe Noire for tourists, there is a new jungle train that leaves twice a week from the capital and takes 8-13 hours to reach the coast. You can book the train as part of a tour in Congo to enjoy the stunning scenery from first class cabin, or show up a week in advance to haggle for your ticket and seat birth if you're more flexible on time and cash.
Small but safe motorized or traditional boats can be arranged through tour agencies in the Congo. They include life jackets and petrol and run between Brazzaville and scenic riverside villages, hotels, and restaurants overlooking the river and rapids. Mami Wata has large boats for 12-15 people, and CTT (www.congotravelandtours.com) has boats for 1-10 people for day trips or 5-7 day river voyages to many locations and scenery along the Congo River. The ride is generally very safe and the wildlife and riverlife is spectacular.
Passenger and VIP ferries operate daily between Brazzaville and Kinshasa roughly every 2 hours between 8AM and 3PM. Prices for the ferries are: US$15 for the passenger and US$30 for the VIP ferry. The VIP ferry is recommended as these are brand new boats and are not as cramped. A valid visa for both countries is required in either direction. The bureaucracy at either end require some time. Entry and exit procedures in Brazzaville are "easy" and straight forward and people are very helpful in assisting to get through without troubles. In contrast, these procedures are a bit difficult in Kinshasa and depend much on whether you are an individual traveller or assisted by an organisation or an official government representative. There are also speed boats to hire, either in a group or alone (price!), however, it is not advisable to book them as they really speed across the river along the rapids. Barges follow the Congo, then the Oubangui, rivers right up to Bangui.
Cars cost $150-300 per day, plus petrol (expensive in the Congo especially for most SUV's.) Almost all drivers speak solely french. English or Chinese or German guides can be procured for $50-100/day. (French guides much cheaper.)
In Brazzaville, taxis are green. 700 CFA generally gets you around a neighborhood. This goes up to 1000 CFA at night. Drivers are generally fair with prices, and haggling is not required before getting in. Shared minibuses and taxis go just about everywhere else and prices are cheap but you have to be extremely patient, tolerant, and time rich, and they aren't particularly safe and comfortable, let alone roadworthy for getting to National parks.
The new Congo Ocean Railway, the Epic Jungle Train of Africa, is now open for 2013. Tickets are best reserved in advance or as part of a tour. The ride is spectacular and takes a full day. You finish at Pointe Noire's lovely renovated station.
Odzala National Park - Visitors have reported seeing hundreds of lowland gorillas, monkeys and even elephants in Odzala. The park has five camps with eating facilities and trips can be arranged for a maximum of four people. With long days and plenty of hiking, you will need to be in good physical shape.
Congo River - Speaks for itself- Africa and the world's most famous river adventure.
The Congo Tank Graveyard - A special hidden spot outside Brazzaville city limits with hundreds of rusting old tanks from the great war of Africa over the Congo. Quite eerie and unique.
Ndoki (far north) and Douli (far west) National Park - In the far ends of the country, Congo shines brightly in the same league with Tanzania and South Africa for wildlife, and far above them for scenery.
Louana National Park - See the gorillas before they're gone! This is your best and perhaps cheapest chance to see gorillas in a wild setting!
See more at www.congotravelandtours.com
There is an artisan mart, as well as boutiques in the market near the BDEAC (Banque Developpement pour les Etats de l'Afrique Centrale). Really beautiful jewelry, masks, paintings, and other artwork.
The Central African CFA Franc is the official local currency. The U.S. dollar is not widely accepted. Currently, the exchange rate is 530 CFA to the U.S. dollar, but fluctuates daily. All business is conducted in cash. Small change is very scarce and hard to come by. Do not accept torn or taped banknotes.
The first thing everybody needs to know is Casino Supermarket in Brazzaville. - Anything under the sun that an expat or visitor would want for there stay/tour/party. The beer and drinks selection is amazing, as is the general stock of food from around the west and Asia. Very impressive.
There is good and healthy Chinese food at Osaka Restaurant, in Pointe Noire. The average price for a meal was US$12-18. All meals were served in nice clean dishes, the restaurant is indoors and has AC, with a back-up generator, just in case. Some of the workers speak English and French.
There are several great restaurants in Brazzaville. Any taxi driver can take you to one of these nicer places (5000 - 15000 CFA). Most places are closed on Sundays. Expect beers to be overpriced here (1000 to 2000 CFA).
Noura (Lebanese) and Mami Wata (everything) are as of 2013 the best places to eat in Brazzaville. Really great and generally $10-20 for a meal all-in.
Palm wine is a local favorite in the village. Beer is the favorite in town next to Fanta, Coke etc. There is also a local red wine (SOVINCO) imported from Gabon and the "brique", a liter of imported, mostly Spanish wine from the box.
There is a big price range on beer (500 to 5,000 CFA) depending on what neighborhood and type of bar/restaurant you're at.
Produced in Congo under Heineken supervision: N'Gok (meaning "Crocodile", blond, Congolese), Primus (blond, Belgium, Central Africa), Mütsig (blond, French Alsace Region), Guinness (dark, Ireland), and Turbo King (dark, Central Africa)
Imported: Heineken and Bavaria
If the above is too much there is also water of various local and imported brands sold in 1.5 litre plastic bottles.
The best hotels (western standard) all start at $200
Hotels do not go much below $150 in the 2 cities. For a cheap but good option, Hotel Hippocampe has been known to give away rooms for $80-100. Tour agencies usually get discounts and have access to cheapest rooms in both cities.
In Brazzaville, petty street crime targeting foreigners is rare. There is of course occasional crimes of opportunity, like muggings and pick pocketing near the ports in Pointe Noire and Brazzaville at night, and sometimes in the Congolese neighborhoods surrounding Brazzaville's City Center. That said, the city feels relaxed and largely safe even at night.
It is, of course, highly recommended to leave all valuable items at home. However Brazzaville is one of Africa's safer cities, and certainly one of its safest capitals. Most other tourist and Africa travel destinations, including Nairobi and Johannesburg and Lagos, are far more dangerous. Expats and tourists generally can walk at night here with reasonable vigilance. Kinshasa is not safe. Brazzaville is quite fine.
There have been some demonstrations against the re-election of President Sassou in July 2009. Some foreign reporters were assaulted by riot police and had their equipment destroyed. It is generally safe to walk the streets, but stay well away from demonstrations.
Population estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and death rates, lower population and growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected. In any case use your common sense: DO NOT HAVE UNPROTECTED SEX.
The likelihood of getting malaria is very high if effective preventative medication is not taken. The malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum can be very serious. Medical attention should be sought if any symptoms are shown.
Medical care is substandard throughout the country. Hospitals lack modern equipment, necessary medical supplies and medications, and well-trained physicians, nurses and support staff.
o Netcare Clinic: Address: B.P. 2422, Brazzaville, Congo Tel: 547 0911 (Main Line) OR 679 6711
This facility was initially opened in 2002. It is a franchise from South Africa. It is clean, has facilities for 3 private rooms, an ambulance, a one bed emergency room, basic radiography, pharmacy and a laboratory with microscopy, haematology, and basic chemists. There are two main doctors (Dr.ALI,a Lebanese doctor who considered as the best medic in NETCARE and Dr.STEPHAN,a French doctor who is also a good doctor.
o Pharmacie Mavre Tel: 81 18 39 Located in Centreville, next to the Cabinet Dentaire building Brazzaville boasts a number of pharmacies, but Pharmacie Mavre is recommended. Please remember to always check the expiration dates on boxes before purchasing any products.
White travelers should take care while travelling in the Republic. Racial tension and discrimination is not uncommon here, so be safe and keep to yourself.
You can talk to your loved ones using any of the three mobile operators MTN, CelTel (now Zain), or Warid
The local call rate are relatively cheap and cost you around 20 to 30 FCFA /min