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Remarkable environmental richness and biodiversity prove a huge draw to visitors

Article - June 5, 2015

More than 80% of wild chimpanzees live in the Congolese forest, and with the largest African national park, Odzala, the country is not short of fantastic tourism activities

A chance to observe fascinating wildlife in the midst of rich natural, pristine landscapes is just one of the unique tourist options that the Republic of the Congo has to offer. After the violent conflict of the 1990’s, Brazzaville has been on the mend and eco-tourism is one of the sectors the country is looking to foreign visitors to help develop.

About 600 kilometers north of Brazzaville is Odzala National Park that covers 8,000 square miles of pristine rain forest. It is home to primates, elephants and hundreds of species of plants, birds and creatures indigenous to Africa – a Disneyland for nature lovers.

High on the list of offerings is an unfiltered look at the western gorillas on their home territory. They are a distinct species from their cousins in the east. Smaller and lighter than eastern gorillas, the adult males are usually distinguished by a patch of whitish fur that extends from their lower backs to their thighs earning them the name “silverbacks.” These animals are generally peaceful and typically live in small groups of four to eight and favor remote large swampy areas of the forest. Recent studies suggest there are 150,000 to 200,000 gorillas in the wild, but their numbers are declining at an alarming rate due to logging, mining and illegal poaching. The forests near Brazzaville are where the majority of western gorillas currently live.

Natural beauty is abundant at the Loufoulakari Falls and the nearby Bela Falls. These waterfalls offer breathtaking panoramas of lush fauna and trees. An easy drive from Brazzaville, it is considered one of the country’s best-kept secrets.

If adventure is your calling then North Congo trekking is one way to observe traditional village life that is vastly different from what you will encounter in the big city. Driving to this remote part of the country is not for those with weak stomachs. Its best to go with a guide who can navigate through the rainforest and even take you to a pygmy village to get a sense of authentic African life that you won’t experience anywhere else.

Brazzaville is set against the Congo River so you can’t help but notice the vast beauty of the world’s deepest – and one of its longest – rivers. The rapids, which start and stop along the river between Brazzaville and Kinshasa, are not safe to raft but provide for enchanting accompaniment while strolling along the riverbank.

Since Kenya Airways began operating regular flights to the Republic of the Congo from Nairobi, the city has seen a boost in tourist and business activity, which has been welcome news for the city’s hospitality providers including Mikhael’s Hotel.

Located in the heart of Brazzaville, Mikhael’s Hotel bills itself as an oasis of comfort and appeals to both leisure and business travelers. The hotel has 95 modern rooms and suites complete with private balconies from where you can enjoy an unobstructed view of the city. The hotel recently earned an outstanding review for offering a choice of mattresses with varying firmness to its guests.

Most visitors are pleased with Mikhael’s central location, which is walking distance to some of the city’s top attractions. Among the must-see sites of Brazzaville is the Basilique St. Anne, one of the most intriguing works of architecture in the country.

The architect Roger Erell fused European innovation and local traditions in the design of this church, which was consecrated in 1949. The massive structure lends itself well to the sprawling nature of the landscape. Its distinctive sharply pointed steeple seems to pierce the clouds, a vision inspired by the spears of North Congo. The bright green tiles that line the exterior roof and the towering bowed columns erected inside the church are reminiscent of the lush forest surroundings of the Congo.

Temple Mosque is another impressive work of architecture and one of the country’s most prominent Islamic sites. Its mosaics and beautifully decorated inner chamber make it a must-see for tourists of all faiths.

Poto Poto’s sprawling market is a draw for visitors who want to bargain with local vendors for handicrafts, food and clothing. It is also well known for its renowned painting school, which takes its name from the famous arrondissement.

The Poto Poto School of Painting was founded in 1951 by French painter Pierre Lods who, along with a small group of African artists, set out to paint simple themes free of any academic or Western influences. The approach gave birth to a new form in modern art that has become the pride and joy of Congo. The painting school is just one of the city’s cultural jewels that has helped to make Brazzaville a creative hub.

Brazzaville has been noted for its contribution to African music and was recently added to UNESCO’S Creative Cities Network, a project that was launched in 2004 with the aim of promoting socio-economic and cultural development worldwide through creative industries. The member cities are selected for admission based on categories of excellence including film, literature, media arts and gastronomy. In 2013, Brazzaville was designated as a ‘City of Music’.

Congolese rumba, Soukous and Ndombolo are just some of the different genres that you can expect to hear as you travel through the city’s bars and restaurants. Music is an essential part of Congolese life marking all social events and life milestones. The different variations of musical rhythms make Brazzaville the epicenter of musical creation on the continent and the city hosts a variety of high-profile events to showcase artists from all over Africa.

Brazzaville is gearing up for the 10th edition of the Pan-African Music Festival, which hits the streets this summer. The event held every two years draws musicians and artists from all over the continent and overseas including the United States.

Music is what helps to bridge the gap between the two Congos. Brazzaville and Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, sit across from one another separated by the Congo River. Musicians shuttle back and forth between the cities playing the same music with slightly different nuances. Festival organizers expect to attract performers from all over the world.

A train ride away is the port city of Pointe-Noire, the country’s second largest city. It is best to book the train in advance because the journey is as much of an attraction as its destination. The ride offers travelers a chance to soak in the lush landscapes and a glimpse of the indigenous wildlife.

The city of Pointe-Noire is a hub of maritime activity and commerce. Its colonial past makes it a popular site for tourists and ex-pats offering a unique combination of African life with a European flair. The city serves as the nerve center for the oil industry. Its proximity to the water has made it an attractive hub for visitors who flock to the lively bar and club scene as well as its world-class beaches.

The sound and smell of the ocean is what makes Le Prince Hotel an attractive choice for beachgoers looking for a beach retreat. It is walking distance to the city’s soft sandy beaches. This intimate two-story 22-room structure prides itself in offering comfort and a full range of African, Libyan and European dishes.

Pointe-Noire has its share of natural wonders. The natural rock formations of Diosso Gorge are one of the most scenic attractions in the area and only a 5-kilometer drive away. Expect to pay a small fee to children working in the area who act as guides. They will commonly offer to take travelers to the access point or climb down into the gorge, though that trek is not recommended unless you’re an experienced rock climber.