Democratic Republic of Congo travel guide
About Democratic Republic of Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the largest and most enigmatic countries in Africa. It has many beautiful landscapes, mainly comprising dense and undulating rainforest interspersed with waterfalls and teeming with fascinating wildlife.
The great body of the Congo River runs across the northern reaches of the country and has long been a site of considerable historic importance, made famous by the explorer Henry Morton Stanley and later used as the backdrop for Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
In many ways, much of the DRC remains as wild and impenetrable today as it would have been in Conrad’s time. The transport infrastructure built by the brutal Belgian colonial regime has largely been reclaimed by the jungle and there are few links between the country’s vast interior and the urban areas dotted around its fringes.
Kinshasa, the capital, is situated in the far west of the country and, though largely impoverished and crumbling, it is a veritable hub for colourful African music and culture.
DRC’s tourist capital, if such a thing exists, is Goma, which sits on the banks of Lake Kivu in the far east of the country. It is presided over by the imposing Nyiragongo volcano, which sits at the heart of Virunga National Park, the oldest national park in Africa and one of just a handful of places where you can still see mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.
Goma and the mineral-rich Kivu region were hit particularly hard by a civil war from 1998 to 2003 that resulted in the deaths of at least three million people; sporadic bouts of violence since the war officially ended have continued to burden the region’s considerable tourist potential.
However, peace and a semblance of stability have returned to Goma for the time being and small handfuls of adventurous tourists are beginning to trickle across the border once again. Visitors are advised to check the latest travel advice before visiting.
2,345,410 sq km (905,563 sq miles).
79,722,624 (UN estimate 2016).
33.8 per sq km.
President Joseph Kabila since 2001.
Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala since April 2017.
Last updated: 18 September 2016
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
There have been reports of foreign nationals being detained or having their passports seized by local authorities following commercial disputes. You should be cautious when dealing with commercial disputes and seek legal advice.
There have been reports of foreign nationals being detained or having their passports seized as a result of immigration offences.
The Congolese authorities rarely meet their international obligations to notify Embassies when foreign nationals have been detained. Even if requested, adequate consular access isn’t always granted. You should therefore keep in close touch with family or friends.
Be alert to the risk of street crime and armed robbery at all times. Foreigners are at particular risk of street robbery in Kinshasa, especially near hotels and supermarkets in the centre of town. Robberies by gangs of street children are increasingly common and can be aggressive. Car jackings are rare but not unheard of. There have been reports of an increase in criminal activity in North and South Kivu specifically targeting the international community. There have been many reports of robberies and banditry in Goma after dark.
Don’t walk in the streets alone at any time, especially at night. Avoid displaying valuables and cash. Use a hotel safe if possible and keep copies of documents, including your passport separately.
Some gangs use girls to lure people into traps; others promise cut-price gold and diamonds, or pose as police or security forces. There is a risk of arbitrary arrests of foreigners by security authorities who demand payment for release.
If you’re in Haut-Uele, Haut Lomami, Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu, Maniema, Tanganyika or within 50km of the border with the Central African Republic and South Sudan against FCO advice you should be vigilant at all times and keep your security situation under constant review. Attacks on the civilian population of Beni territory have led to several hundred deaths since 2014.
During fighting in the region in 2012 and 2013, shells landed on Goma causing civilian deaths and injuries. There was also shelling around the border with Rwanda in late 2012 and explosions in the town of Gisenyi on the Rwandan side of the border. While British Embassy staff do visit Goma, there aren’t always staff in the area, and our ability to offer consular assistance is therefore severely limited.
As well as civil unrest sometimes leading to anger at the international community, a risk of criminal acts remains, and attacks by armed men on NGO compounds have taken place.
There has been a series of kidnappings in North Kivu in the area around Goma in addition to military operations against armed groups. You should be especially vigilant, consider travelling in convoy on trips outside Goma and Bukavu and avoid making any journeys that would involve travel after dark.
The border crossings between Rwanda and the DRC at Gisenyi/Goma and Cyangugu/Bukavu are currently open between 06:00 and 18:00. Both borders are liable to short notice closure and you should not rely on them as a point of exit from the DRC. If you are crossing regularly between Rwanda and the DRC you may encounter immigration difficulties if you have not regularised your residency status. There have been a number of security incidents in Lubumbashi and surrounding areas of Katanga, where the situation remains tense.
You should be prepared to move at short notice or lock down for a period of time. The local authorities may impose curfews without warning. You should follow the directives of the local authorities at all times. In the event of escalating tensions and civil unrest, commercial flights may be suspended and borders closed. Keep your travel documents up to date so you can avoid facing difficulties should you need to leave the DRC in an emergency.
The DRC’s borders with Burundi and Angola can also be subject to closure at short notice. The opportunities for gorilla trekking in the Virunga National Park in North Kivu are limited, and armed groups are sometimes active within the park. The Nyiragongo volcano in Virunga National Park is active and has only limited access to tourists. The north eastern district of Ituri, near the frontier with Uganda, remains subject to inter-factional conflict despite the presence of the UN and the Congolese army. Following the unrest in the Central African Republic (CAR), refugees from CAR have crossed the border into the DRC and are now in the Gemena area in Equateur Province.
The Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group originating in northern Uganda, is currently operating in north eastern DRC.
You will need an international driving permit and insurance to drive in the DRC. Car hire is possible in Kinshasa although self-drive options are limited. Most car hire companies will only rent a car with a driver.
Driving conditions and standards are well below those in the UK and other European countries, and traffic accidents are common. Roads in Kinshasa are poorly maintained. Outside Kinshasa and other main cities, most roads are barely drivable even with a 4x4, especially during the rainy season (September to May). Consider the technical capability of your vehicle and be confident in your ability to safely operate it.
Be aware of vehicle theft and car-jacking. Lock vehicle doors and keep windows closed when driving and watch out for armed gangs who may target your car. Don’t drive off the main routes or park in unsupervised areas.
The DRC’s security forces operate roadblocks, particularly after dark. If you are asked to produce documents for inspection at a check point, remain in your vehicle and show them through closed windows.
The railways are in a dilapidated state and you should generally avoid rail travel. In late 2015 a refurbished route opened between Kinshasa and Matadi, although services are infrequent.
All air carriers certified in the DRC are banned from operating within the EU due to safety concerns. You should avoid flying on these airlines. On 4 March 2013 a CAA aircraft crashed in Goma killing several passengers.
The ferry service between Kinshasa and Brazzaville is operating, but is subject to cancellation at little notice. The ferry stops running in late afternoon, and there is no service on Sundays.
Boats and ferries serving the rivers and lakes are poorly maintained and often overloaded. As a result of the low safety standards, high river traffic levels, strong currents, shifting sandbanks and poor maintenance there have been many accidents.
On 26 May 2016, protests in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Goma turned violent, seeing police deployed and teargas fired to disperse the crowds.
From 19-22 January 2015, there were violent demonstrations in Kinshasa in response to an electoral reform bill being considered by parliament. Troops were deployed to the streets to maintain order. Several schools were closed and movement around the city was restricted for several days.
A heavy United Nations peace keeping presence is deployed in eastern DRC. The Congolese army is carrying out operations against foreign and domestic armed groups operating in North and South Kivu provinces. Large numbers of civilians remain displaced as a result of the conflict. Acts of violence, including killing, rape and looting continue against the civilian population.
Insecurity in eastern DRC has allowed other armed groups in the area to operate more freely. There has been an increase in armed group activity in Orientale, Katanga and both North and South Kivu.