Were you looking for the other Congo? That's the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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The Republic of Congo is not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo, with whom the Republic shares a border. The Republic (or Congo-Brazzaville, as some call it) is not as large as its namesake, and differs in landscape from the other's arid savannah. Instead, the lush land around the River Congo affords rich forests and steamy swamps. The country offers travellers a wonderful variety of natural attractions.
Like the other Congo, however, Congo-Brazzaville is a risky destination. Travel is relatively safe in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire, but the countryside is to be avoided. We recommend staying well abreast of the latest official government warnings.
The earliest inhabitants of the region were Pygmy people, who later were largely displaced and absorbed by Bantucongo. The inhabitants of the Congo river delta first came into contact with Europeans in the late 15th century with Portuguese expeditions charting the African coastline. For centuries, the Congo river delta was a major commercial hub for transatlantic trade. However, when direct European colonization of the African continent began in the late 19th century, the power of the Bantu societies in the region eroded.
The area came under French sovereignty in the 1880s. In 1908, France organized French Equatorial Africa (AEF), comprising its colonies of Middle Congo (modern Congo), Gabon, Chad, and Oubangui-Chari (modern Central African Republic). Brazzaville was selected as the federal capital.
Following independence as the Congo Republic on August 15, 1960, Fulbert Youlou ruled as the country's first president until labour elements and rival political parties instigated a three-day uprising that ousted him. The Congolese military took charge of the country briefly and installed a civilian provisional government headed by Alphonse Massamba-Débat. Under the 1963 constitution, Massamba-Débat was elected President for a five-year term. The regime adopted "scientific socialism" as the country's constitutional ideology.
In 1965, Congo established relations with the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China, North Korea and North Vietnam. Massamba-Débat's regime was ended abruptly with an August 1968 coup d'état. Marien Ngouabi, who had participated in the coup, assumed the presidency on December 31, 1968. One year later, President Ngouabi proclaimed Congo to be Africa's first "people's republic". On March 16, 1977, President Ngouabi was assassinated. An 11-member Military Committee of the Party (CMP) was named to head an interim government with Joachim Yhombi-Opango to serve as President of the Republic. Two years later, Yhombi-Opango was forced from power and Denis Sassou Nguesso become the new president. Sassou Nguesso aligned the country with the Eastern Bloc and signed a twenty-year friendship pact with the Soviet Union. Over the years, Sassou had to rely more on political repression and less on patronage to maintain his dictatorship.
Controversial elections in 2002 saw Sassou win with almost 90% of the vote cast. A new constitution, agreed upon by referendum in January 2002, granted the president new powers and also extended his term to seven years as well as introducing a new bicameral assembly. International observers took issue with the organization of the presidential election as well as the constitutional referendum, both of which were reminiscent in their organization of Congo's era of the single-party state. Following the presidential elections, fighting restarted in the Pool region between government forces and rebels lead by Pastor Ntumi; a peace treaty to end the conflict was signed in April 2003. The regime held the presidential election in July 2009. According to the Congolese Observatory of Human Rights, a non-governmental organisation, the election was marked by "very low" turnout and "fraud and irregularities." The regime announced Sassou as the winner.
Congo is located in the central-western part of sub-Saharan Africa, along the Equator, lying between latitudes 4°N and 5°S, and longitudes 11° and 19°E. To the south and east of it is the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is also bounded by Gabon to the west, Cameroon and the Central African Republic to the north, and Cabinda (Angola) to the southwest. It has a short coast on the Atlantic Ocean.
The terrain is a variation of coastal plains, mountaineous regions, plateaus and fertile valleys. About 70% of the country's area is covered by rain forest. The highest point, at 1,020 metres, is Mont Nabeba in the Mayumbe mountains. The major rivers are the Congo River at the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Kouilou-Niari River. The southwest of the country is a coastal plain for which the primary drainage is the Kouilou-Niari River; the interior of the country consists of a central plateau between two basins to the south and north. Forests are under increasing exploitation pressure. In 2006-2007, researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society studied gorillas in heavily forested regions centered on the Ouesso district of the Sangha Region. They suggest a population on the order of 125,000 Western Lowland Gorillas, whose isolation from humans has been largely preserved by inhospitable swamps.
The Republic of the Congo is organised into 10 regions and a commune, the capital Brazzaville.
Odzala National Park in the central north of the Republic of Congo is a real ecotourism paradise. Travellers are likely to see many lowland gorillas, monkeys and elephants. There are five camps with several facilities and trips from here can be arranged for a maximum of four people. If you want to explore some larger areas of the park, expact to spend several long days with some strenuous hiking. The best way to get here is actually from Gabon, because of security and logistics. There are more details on the African Parks website.
The stunningly beautiful Pointe Noire Beach near the port of Pointe Noire is a fantastic place to spend a couple of days after some more strenuous activities inland. It is a safe beach and togeheter with the vibrant atmosphere of the town's bars and restaurants it makes for a perfect getaway for travellers. Activities at or near the beach include windsurfing, hang-gliding, surf-casting and deep sea fishing and restaurants along the beach offer super-fresh Congalese-style seafood after all these activities as well. From the nearby villages of Diosso and Loango almost 2 million slaves were transported to other countries.
The Diosso Gorges are a very remarkable rockformation in a lush and virgin rainforest area. Erosion caused by the wind and the sea has resulted in some impressive cliffs.
Marche Total is a bustling market in Brazzaville and like many markets it is one of the highlights of this colourful city. You can walk around and buy numerous things including food like fresh peanut butter, caterpillars, guinea pigs, bats and of course manioc or cassava. Other items include palm wine, cloths and aphrodisiacs, to name just a few.
The Republic of Congo has a tropical climate with generally hot and humid conditions. Rainfall is high throughout the country but there are some differences. The northern parts of the country has rain during every month, but with two seasons when rain is somewhat more heavy and more probable. These periods are March - April and September - November, though differences with other months are not that big. January is quite dry. Temperatures here are around 30 °C during the day and 20 °C at night with no considerable montly variation.
In the southern parts on the other hand there is single wet season from November to April. Here, May to September are almost completely dry. Brazzaville for example has temperatures of around 30 °C during the day, 20 °C at night and there is a rainy season from November to April while June to September is almost completely dry as well.
Maya-Maya Airport (BZV) near the capital Brazzaville receives several international flights. Airlines flying to Brazzaville include Air France (Paris-Charles de Gaulle) Air Mauritanie (Nouakchott) Cameroon Airlines (Douala) Ethiopian Airlines (Addis Ababa), Hewa Bora Airways (Douala, Kinshasa), Interair South Africa (Cotonou, Johannesburg), TAAG Angola Airlines (Luanda, Pointe-Noire), Kenya Airways (Nairobi) and Royal Air Maroc (Casablanca, Douala).
Antonio Agostinho Neto International Airport in Point Noire has several flights to Paris, Cotonou, Douala and Luanda.
With your own car you are able to cross from Cameroon, see below by ferry. Getting here from other countries is either impossible or not safe. These include crossings to and from Gabon and Cabinda, the exclave of Angola. There are border crossings but you need a 4wd on most routes and there is not public transport. Also, some crossings are closed or expect to pay bribes.
There are river boats (Socatraf company) between Bangui in the Central African Republic and Brazzaville, where the Congo River is met. Boats go once every two or three weeks, and only between June and November. It takes about a week. Barges serve the route as well but take about two weeks. They go every week though, are cheaper and less crowded.
From Ouesso you can catch a ferry (large enough for 4WDs) or pirogue across the Ngoko river to Sokamba, Cameroon.
There are flights between Point Noire and Brazzaville with Trans Air Congo about 4 times daily. There are also two flights a day to the towns of Dolisie and Nkayi. Flights to Imfondo leave only once a week. Flights do get canceled or leave very late. Safety records are also a thing to bear in mind in this area.
Trains were running between Brazzaville and Point Noire, but during the civil war both railways as well as trains have been broken or detiriorated. It is assumed though that trains might be running again in the near future.
There is just over 1000 kilometers of paved roads in the Republic of Congo and the main roads run north of Brazzaville towards Oyo and west towards Point Noire. In the north and elsewhere, roads are gravel and only navigable by high clearance 4wd vehicles. Even in the wet season, these vehicles might not be sufficient and it becomes impossible to travel by land at all. You can rent cars (either with or without a driver) at the international airport, in Brazzaville or some main hotels. Traffic drives on the right and you need an international driving permit.
There are minibuses and shared taxis between major cities and towns and they leave when full. You might get stuck for a few days sometimes when you will find out that there are no minibuses or shared taxis those days. Taxis are available in a few main cities, but to get further afield is expensive with a private taxi.
Barges ply the waters from Brazzaville up the Congo and Ubangi rivers and are an important way of getting around. You can even go all the way north to the Central African Republic but this takes at least 10 days and sometimes 3 weeks! It is an adventurous way of getting around, though not comfortable.
All national need a visa and you are required to fill in two application forms, have 2 identical photos and an onward/return ticket. The visa fee is around $70. 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).
Check the nearest Congolese Embassy for more information.
See also Money matters
Republic of Congo uses the CFA Franc as a currency. The CFA Franc is divided into 100 centimes. Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 500 francs while banknotes come in denominations of 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000 francs
The exchange range is fixed at aproximately 656 CFA Francs for one Euro.
In Republic of Congo the Central African CFA Franc (XAF) is used which has the same vallue as the West African CFA Franc (XOF), but it's not possible to use both currencies in the same country.
Fourteen countries in Africa use this currency, eight in West Africa and six in Central Africa. The West African CFA Franc can only be used in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo, while the Central African CFA Franc can only be used in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
The official language of the RoC is French. The main indigenous languages are Kituba and Lingala.
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.
Brazzaville, Pointe Noire and some national parks have good accommodation options. Smaller towns and rural areas just have basic rooms.
Don't drink tapwater, but buy bottled water instead.
See also Travel Health
Proof that you had a yellow fever vaccination is required upon entering the Republic of Congo. You have to have a cholera stamp (prove of the fact that you don't have that desease) when entering overland.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Republic of Congo. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A as well as typhoid would be recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. When staying longer than 6 months, vaccination against meningitis might be recommended, depending on your contact with other people.
Like most African countries south of the Sahara, Malaria is prevalent in the country. Don't underestimate this tropical disease and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
In Brazzaville, petty street crime targeting foreigners is rare. However, muggings and pick pocketing do happen frequently near the ports in Pointe Noire and Brazzaville, and sometimes in the Congolese neighborhoods surrounding Brazzaville's City Center. Criminal elements are known to target middle-class and affluent residences without 24-hour guards.
Police resources are limited and response to emergency calls is slow. In the case of theft and robbery, legal recourse is limited and therefore, it is highly recommended to leave all valuable items at home.
See also International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to The Congo is 242.
To make an international call from The Congo, the code is 00.
Use any of the three mobile operators MTN, CelTel (now Zain), or Warid.
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