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Kisangani

Photo © michaelbull

Travel Guide Africa Democratic Republic of Congo Kisangani

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Introduction

Kisangani (formerly Stanleyville) is the third largest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo and is the capital and largest city of the vast Orientale Province (roughly the size of Spain) in the Congo Basin. The city is found at the furthest navigable point on the Congo River upstream of Kinshasa/Brazzaville at the end of the Boyoma Falls, a series of cataracts along a 100-kilometre-stretch of the river. The city's name comes from Swahili for "the city on the island" due to the number of tributaries in the area that almost completely separate Kisangani into a collection of islets.

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Sights and Activities

  • Boyoma Falls - On the edge of Kisangani, these are the last cataracts on the Congo until Kinshasa/Brazzaville. Fishermen set up conical traps for fish and can be seen tending to these traps. Fortunately, the fishermen have realized that tourists want to see them and reportedly will charge a large fee to see them (USD20!!) and/or photographing them.
  • Kisangani Cathedral
  • Villa of the "African Queen" - One of the white villas, falling apart, on the isles, is a former hotel and hosted the actors of the movie African Queen: Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall

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Weather

Being very near the equator and in the middle of the jungle, the city has a wet, tropical climate. Humidity is high year-round, averaging 86%! Temperatures are fairly stable year-round, too, averaging 31 °C/20 °C. The record low is just 16 °C. Rains are heavy throughout much of the year, with a relatively dry (or "less-rainy") season from December to early March. Total rainfall for the year is 1,620 mm with the rainiest month being October with 218 mm, while the driest is January with 53 mm.

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Getting There

By Plane

The city is served by Bangoka International Airport (IATA: FKI). There are domestic flights to Goma, Kinshasa and Kindu.

Car/Truck

Kisangani is difficult to reach by road. The only relatively "easy" route into the city is the newly rehabilitated National Route 4 which runs to Bukavu and the Rwandan border. Much of the road is sealed, but slow-moving trucks and pedestrians & people on bikes keep the speed of vehicles down. You should expect to encounter a handful of military/police checkpoints where you will likely be harassed for a bribe. The route isn't terribly safe, with frequent reports of bandits setting up roadblocks and robbing motorists. Additionally, safety in North/South Kivu is still shaky. You are best off traveling with a trucker or other local vehicle. If traveling in your own vehicle (especially a non-DRC vehicle), try to travel with a local or convoy for safety and to avoid excessive harassment at checkpoints.

Other roads in/out of the city are mostly muddy tracks only suitable for large 4x4 or 6x6 trucks. However, road repairs are a high priority in the region and many roads are being groomed or repaired. Ask for advice from locals about the condition of roads in the region. Travel from other major cities in the DRC can take weeks and isn't a very pleasant experience!

By Train

A train line runs south to Ubundu, mainly to haul freight travelling by boat around the cataracts. You should inquire at the train station for tickets and the next train as the trains run on erratic schedules.

By Boat

As the end of the navigable stretch of the Congo River, Kisangani was formed largely to unload cargo and transfer it to train to bypass the cataracts. There are irregular ferry services running between Kisangani and Kinshasa which take about 2-3 weeks. Most of these are old barges tied together and crowded with people riding atop cargo, although a few steamer vessels run this route too. Overcrowded ferries are common and there have been a few instances of them capsizing, so choose carefully. If you are lucky, you can negotiate with the captain for a private room (literally) or a bedroom. Many of these ferries are supplied with food from people who bring boats from shore full of goods to trade/barter. A unique and classic trip, it's only for the hearty, experienced traveller (although still preferable to travelling overland).

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Getting Around

Given the city's isolation in the jungle (and relatively difficult routes to navigate here), there are surprisingly few vehicles in the city, aside from cheap motorbikes. Most locals get around on foot or use bicycles (and similar wheeled contraptions). Petrol is expensive.

Taxis are hard to find. If you need to travel across the town (or to the airport), you should make arrangements for vehicle hire a day or two in advance! For rides to the airport, expect to pay USD20-40. If you don't mind getting a little dirty/dusty and holding on for dear life, many motorbike owners will let you hop on for a small charge.

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Eat

The food supply in Kisangani is heavily dependent on the arrival of barges. The few restaurants that can be found in the city are expensive. Food stores have very little refrigerated foodstuffs (and it's always hard to tell if these items have been properly transported to remain fresh). Street stalls serve up chicken & fish. Fruits, vegetables, & nuts can be found in the central market and from various vendors across the city.

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Drink

A couple of establishments serve local beers. A bar at Linoko Beach serves beer with great views of Tshope Falls.

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Sleep

Les Chalets Hôtel & Le Palm Beach are the best bets in town, with modest facilities.

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Keep Connected

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

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This is version 1. Last edited at 11:10 on Aug 13, 15 by Utrecht. 2 articles link to this page.

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