There is just one guide published for DR Congo (former Zaire). The guide published by Bradt, written by Sean Rorison, is very helpful, however it is outdated (being published in March 2008 with the info available in 2007) and for many locations the information is scarce. Bellow you will find a collection of information, intended to help the traveller in DR Congo and supplement (but not replace) the Bradt guide.
The road taken in December 2009-January 2010 (backpacking) is Kasumbalesa (bordering Zambia) –> Lubumbashi –> (flight) –> Kalemie –> Uvira –> Bukavu –> Goma –> Gisenyi (exit in Rwanda). Even if in theory it could be done in a week if all the things synchronize and you get lucky, take at least 3 weeks for the route, as the logistics for sure won’t fit the ideal planning.
Crossing the border through Chililabombwe – Kasumbalesa
The Zambian side opens at 6. If you are arriving late at night in Chili, get a shared taxi together with the Congolese merchants. About 15000Kw/person. They will also cross when the border opens.
No problems on Zambian side, just try to get in front at the desk since the room is crowded, there is no queue and you can’t expect the people to make room for you. Don’t give your passport to anyone else except the man with the register and stamp.
Walk to Congolese border. Before entering the immigration, you will be registered. You will be asked for a gift. No need to give. Immigration – a crowd is waving identification papers, which are collected and then people names are shouted to get them back. You will be asked for $5 “entry tax”. There is no such thing, but if you don’t give it you might expect to wait several hours until you get your pass back. If you are patient enough, wait. If you pay the “tax”, the officer will personally search you in the courtyard with the stamped passports. Next, health control, checking your vaccination certificate. You are all right, you know it. Only yellow fever is required, but they will point out that your typhoid has expired, that you don’t have cholera, or meningitis, or you did it last year and now is not valid etc etc. Remain calm and explain that you know what you need and you are in order. Eventually after much fuss, debate and calls to superior authority, they will let you go. I know people who gave in, paid $5 and received several fresh “vaccines” in their certificate, bearing the stamp of DRC. It would make a nice souvenir of course.
Shared taxi from border to Lubumbashi center is 6000 CF/person (at the time the change rate was 900 CF/USD). The road is great, fresh asphalt all the way, the small villages having all oversized panels with their names, which each might have costed more then all the belongings of the entire village. A high voltage power line is exporting electricity to Zambia, crossing by the villages which won’t see electricity in the near future anyhow.
You can find accommodation at Eglise Methodiste on Av. Likasi ( in the only guide available it is named “Eglise Protestante” but nobody knows it by this name, it is Eg. Methodiste) Ask at the church, someone will take you to their guesthouse which is just across the street. The going rate is $30/person/night. Sounds steep, but actually is a very good price for L’shi, providing electricity, running water (including hot water) and good security, being located in a quiet guarded compound. You have access to kitchen (you can cook, use the fridge, use dishes), a water filter is provided, can serve yourself with cokes at 300 CF. You have a big lounge room, with a small library, where you can sit and read. No alcohol inside, no smoking in the compound, or course.
There are other options for accommodation, either pricier, either run down with no facilities. Ask your taxi driver, he knows for sure a local pit for $5-$10/night
The official regulation of DRC states that “2 people of the same sex cannot share a room”, this is from the time of Mobutu and nobody really understands the reasons, however, this rule is bented when there is no risk for security control (which can come when the word is spread that there are “Bazungu” in the building) – Bazungu being of course the plural of the muzungu, swahili for “white man”.
Despite what others might say, including the locals who try to help, you DON’T need to register with the DGM (Direction Generalle de Migration). In fact in no city where I have been was I compelled to register with them, except if I leave/come by boat or plane, which requires a visit to the port/airport migration office. If you don’t have an “ordre de mission” which I don’t expect you’ll have, make up a story and stick to it, or if you are not good at stories or the man behind the DGM desk doesn’t buy it, give 1000 CF. He asks more but “1000 is all you have”. If not ok, try to search your pockets and get another 500 CF. I’ve never paid more than $5 in this cases, usually 1000-1500 CF was enough.
If you want to make pictures in the cities (and in DRC in general), you have to get a photo permit from the ANR (“Agence Nationale de renseignement ”). These people are everywhere, they are the “security aparatus of the president”, they are usually dressed in civil clothes and they could make you a very hard time if they decide they have something to gain from you. So don’t play around with them, be careful what you answer when normal looking people are asking you what is your business there, if you have taken photos, if you are looking for minerals, etc. You never know who is in front of you. However, never show (or give) your passport to strangers, even if they provide an identification tag, but demand politely that you go to their office and there you will show them your passport. Always carry passport copies and give them instead, when asked. For identification they are more than enough. If in cities, don’t take photos without having a permit, you risk big (camera confiscation, big financial penalties or even jail)
Permits for taking photos are hard to get, or we did not play our cards right. We have ended in audience at the big boss, the chief of ANR for all Katanga (“second man in Katanga after the governor”). This would be a story in itself, however, we got no paper, just an advice to always look for local permission from the responsible people before taking photos. That means nothing, since we could not identify them. Anyhow, if you really want a permit, I am sure it can be obtained with proper persuasion.
We did take pictures, but very discreet in towns, however in the villages, on the lake, on the boat, in the truck etc where there is no one from the security, you can feel free to take pictures. Pay greater attention to ports, airports, bridges (even makeshift) – these are strategic places, which can get you labeled as spy and in jail if you take photos.
Where to eat in L’shi
La Brioche (Av. L.D.Kabila) is a very expensive place with croissants, good if you want to impress someone with your richness
La Grignotte, just besides, is a local restaurant, where you can get sausages and meat balls with fries and the local beers (Simba, Tembo, Primus).
At Alilac is a very nice open terrace, serving food and drinks at reasonable prices. It is far from the center, a taxi will take you there for 2000 CF.
There are other small restaurants in the center, although most serve only beers and snacks.
Internet – there are several cyber cafes with reasonable connection in the center, the biggest one is close to the Vodacom central)
Car rental – at Hotel Planet Hollyboom (not in the center, 1500 CF by taxi) there is a Hertz office. Veronique, in charge with the office, is helpful, but the prices are big. A good 4×4 is $250/day.
Air flights –
Bravo Air Congo is no more, they went broke. On Av. Mama Yeeno there is AAC now in the place where Bravo Air used to be. There are many companies which offer flights to Kinshasa (and connections from there). However, only ITAB flies directly to the east cities, on the route Kalemie-Bukavu-Goma (flies twice a week and the plane touches down in all 3 locations).
One way from L’shi to Kalemie is $280, one way to Bukavu is $420.
ITAB office is in Quartier Industriel, close to Carrefour de SNEL, however any taxi driver knows where ITAB is.
In fact there are also the UN carriers which fly to east (“Eco Flight”), however for normal mortals it is very hard to get a place in their planes.
ONT – Office National de Tourism – would be very helpful, the nice personnel does not have much activity because there are virtually no tourists.
The office is on the 2nd floor on rue L.D. Kabila, no.65, on the ground floor is the office of LAC, this is the only guidance since ONT does not have a sign in front of the building. The director, Marcel Kwete Minga, is helpful, as well as his stuff, with a special mention for Sosthene Kitabi. You can reach the office at email@example.com and +243-817530741
M’siri Foundation, Av. Nyanza, no. 7 (Quartier Industriel), is the representation of Mwami from Bunkeya. There is always someone from the mwami staf there and you can get info, especially interesting if you travel around the 20th of December when there is the big celebration going on.
At Parc Hotel there is no tourist agent anymore, you cannot buy any permits from there, try at Kenya Airways and Ehtiopian (both on Av. L.D. Kabila and close to eachother), they will at least put you in contact with someone. Veronique from Planet Hollyboom can help also with planning a trip, including permits from ICCN.
Post Office – Don’t bother. The big building is now a market for cell phones. There is one person who sits in an empty space and claims that packages can be send from here, but will go through Zambia to get to your home.
Railway station – there is an information desk and they can tell you what is the current position of the train and when it is expected to come or leave. There is only one train per month, or at most 2, since one way L’shi – Kindu takes at least 5 days and there is just one line. The train takes the route Likasi – Kamina – Kabalo- Kindu and stays for a lot of time (sometimes up to a day) in each of the important stops.
The Western shore of Tanganyika, how-to
On the DRC side from south to north, you can:
Enter from Zambia, to Pweto. Road ok
Pweto to Pepa – practicable road, there was a big cattle farm there (destroyed by the Rwandan army when they invaded), there is a Catholic mission which accepts guests
Pepa to Moba – practicable road
Moba to Kalemie – bad road, congolese trucks are doing it, but boats run it also and are safe and reliable. At least 2 companies are running the route Moba-Kalemie-Uvira by boat. Boats carry passengers and merchandise (flour, dried fish, etc). The boats do not run every day. The schedule is not fixed, but is known with about a week in advance. The most you might wait, if really unlucky, is one week.
Kalemie – Uvira – the boats coming from Moba stop for several hours to unload and reload the goods and the people, then move further. Depending on the conditions (including weather) it can stay in the port for up to 12 hours
Emmanuel – a smaller boat, runs only the route Kalemie-Uvira. Normal ticket is $25, it has a cabin, but gets very crowded
Okako – bigger and faster ship (own by the same company which runs Miss Rafiki on Lake Kivu), runs Moba-Kalemie-Uvira. Kalemie-Uvira regular ticket is $25, you can pay more to stay on the deck (sheltered from the weather, no crowds), or negotiate with the captain for one of the 2 small cabins of the crew. Beer (Primus) and coca-cola is available on board for reasonable prices, various usual local snacks in the port. Despite what others might think, the boat has a toilet and even a hot water shower which is locked by the captain, but can be unlocked at your request
If you decide to stop in Kalemie, there are several accommodation options. The old hotels on the main course are run down, with no electricity, no running water, no security. The cheaper is Hotel du Midi. There are better (but pricier) options in quartier Dav : La Perle (Rue Bienvenue no 1, owner Michel Tambwe, +243-810242550, firstname.lastname@example.org) , Murumbi, Boss Hotel. Expect to pay from $30 for a room, including breakfast. The buildings are new, well finished, good furniture, clean sheets, nice toilets. Cold water might run several hours a day if you are lucky, 2-3 hours in the evening you can get electricity from the generator of the owner. Security is very good. Usually there are armed guards employed at each of these hotels.
To eat, I recommend „Maman Kitenge” on the main road, the maman is making great means (fufu, sombe and the rest, with fresh tilapia). There are 2 bars and night clubs in the centre, opposite to each other. A Primus is 1600, a premium for the long road which it has to travel.
You can enjoy the warm evening on the beaches of the lake, there are 2 beaches which offer shade, Primus beer and Coca-Cola (one in quartier Dav, the other after crossing the Lukuga river, next to the MONUC headquarters).
I’ve found good accomodation conditions at hotel Magwa 2 (be careful to ask for the new Margwa, as Magwa 1 is much worse), close to the main mosque, 25$ per room, running water, electricity, security. It has also rooms with twin beds, a rarity in DRC.
You can find Internet at a cyber at Hotel de la Cote (which is a pricier option for accommodation)
Uvira – Bukavu
The easiest and fastest route goes through Rwanda. If you have a Congo visa with just one entry, as I did, you can take the rough but very scenic N’gomo road (which stays on Congo side all the way) or take your chance with the Rwanda variant, where you could arrange a transit visa and then a provincial temporary permit for South Kivu when you enter back in Congo. I have chosen the N’gomo route so I don’t know how feasible the other is and how much it would cost.
For the Rwandan route there are plenty of minibuses, but for N’gomo route there is only one minibus which leaves Uvira at 6-6:30 in the morning and costs $5. You can also hitch a truck, since the Congolese trucks, overloaded with merchandise, won’t cross through Rwanda. Ask around and you will soon find a fixer who can find you a truck.
Depending on how many times it breaks down and the weather conditions, the route on truck can take from 5 hours to 24 hours or more. It costs from $3/person (sit on top of the merchandise, along with a lot of people, goats, chicken – enjoy the air and pray that it won’t rain … too much) to $7 in the cabin if there is place (but a few $ make place).
The road is extremely spectacular. Until Kamaniola, the border with Rwanda, goes through hills and villages. If you reach Kamaniola after dark, you will have to stop there, as the road is closed during the night (for security reasons). There is accommodation available for 3500 CF a room, a decent small box with locker and with a candle included in the price.
From Kamaniola the road crosses the mountains, most of the time going on the edge of spectacular steep valleys. If it rains, it might get difficult on some points because of the mud, but the trucks do help each other so you won’t remain stuck for long. The trucks DO break, since they are always overloaded and the roads are bad, but the driver and his helper can fix everything.
Hotel Tourist – on Av. Lumumba, $20-35/room/night in the main building, depending on the size of the room. They have also some small rooms in the back, for $15. Check the conditions first. Breakfast included. The power tends to be low in intensity (hard if you want to read) and the cold water is intermittent but usually reliable (you might stay 10 mins with the soap on you though)
Where to eat
Inexpensive good eats (around 2500 CF a meal, they serve fufu, tilapia, fries with goat brochettes, etc) can be found at Restaurant Kalil on Av. Maniema (close to the crossroad with Av. Lumumba) and Mama Kinja (ask around).
Where to drink a good coffee – indulge yourself at Orchid Safari Lounge, with a wonderful view over the lake. It’s not so expensive as you might think.
Coco Lodge on Av. Muhumba is also a very nice new place, luxury accommodation and restaurant. The owner, Carlos, is Swiss and a veteran in Congo, he knows everything and everybody.
There are several cybers scattered around the center, but you should be lucky if they have connection. Hotel Residence has always connection but is more expensive. The same for Orchid Safari Lounge.
To visit the park Kahuzi-Biega, including the gorillas, go on Av. Muhumba and look for PNKB-GTZ headquarters. Ask around, in the neighborhood everybody knows where it is. A good contact is Kiza, he is a conservationist for PNKB. A permit for gorillas cost $400/person/day. A car with driver to the station of Tchivanga would be $50 (it will wait for you there as long as needed, to take you back), try to negociate a better price or take a moto. You will be escorted by 4-5 rangers and soldiers. You can get really close to the gorillas. 12 persons (most having “humanitarian” written down in the column for Profession) have visited the gorillas in the entire month of december 2009. 50 from July up to January. Camping could be arranged at the Tchivanga station, but that’s not official, just talk to the people there. Other trips can be done in the park. Climbing Mount Kahuzi is one. There are no official rates since the routes are not open for tourism, but you can arrange it if you really want.
The only reliable variant is to take a boat on Kivu. There are “canot rapids” (speed boats) for $50/person, leaving at 7:30 in the morning from the port. Takes 3- 3.5 hours to get to the other side. The slow overnight boats leave at 5:30. The pricier first class is $25 or $20 depending on the boat. 1st class conditions are good enough, it is on the upper deck, there are sofas (you can get some sleep), a TV; meals, beers and coke are available for reasonable prices and they do include breakfast in the price. The boat is rather slow. It arrives at Goma very early in the morning.
Budget: Colibri hostel – reasonable pit hole, for $15/room (for 2 persons). No running water, the receptionist will fill you the bucket.
Hotel de Grand Lacs, VIP, Ihusi are in a different class, very nice places if you have enough money. The terrace at VIP is particularly nice, with live music and antelope skins on the tables.
Internet – there are several small cybers around the central round point, but not very reliable. They close early. If in need you can find reliable (but slow) internet at VIP, for $2/hour.