Bordered to the East by the vast Congo River, the Republic of Congo is often confused with its bigger and more notorious sibling, the DRC, on the other side of the river, and this certainly hasn’t done its tourist reputation any favours in recent years.
But for those intrepid enough to give the smaller, quieter and lesser-known Congo a try, they’ll find that it boasts beautiful landscapes characterised by undulating virgin rainforest, waterfalls, lagoons, river rapids and swamps. These wild places are home to an abundance of interesting flora and fauna, most notably rare primate species such as mountain gorillas and chimpanzees.
While these iconic primates are the main attraction for the handful of tourists now trickling into the country, the forest is also home to several indigenous tribes, which have maintained their traditional way of life, almost entirely removed from Western civilization.
Standing in stark contrast to most of the rest of the country, Congo’s fast-growing capital, Brazzaville, is a fascinating metropolis. Looking across the Congo River to the dilapidated sprawl of Kinshasa, the DRC capital, Brazzaville is by far the prettier and more appealing of the two cities, with a burgeoning arts scene, good food, vibrant nightlife, an interesting colonial heritage and welcoming locals.
Since it gained its independence from the French in 1960, the Republic of Congo has been plagued by sporadic but severe bouts of civil war and ethnic conflict, the most bloody of which followed disputed parliamentary elections in 1993 and reached its pinnacle in 1997, fuelled in part by the prize of the country's substantial offshore oil wealth, which motivated many of the warlords.
A peace accord was finally signed in 2003 and since then the country has slowly but surely been reimagining itself as a peaceful destination that is no longer defined by its torrid history, and one that deserves to be noticed and appreciated.