Kinshasa

Kinshasa market
The boulevard of 30 June, Kinshasa
Downtown Kinshasa
Kinshasa

Kinshasa is the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It faces Brazzaville, the capital of the neighbouring Republic of the Congo, which can be seen in the distance across the wide Congo River. While sprawling, chaotic and often intimidating, Kinshasa is also a major cultural and intellectual center for Central Africa with a flourishing community of musicians and artists.

Understand

Kinshasa has the largest population of any city proper in Africa with a population of 10,076,099, and ranks as its third largest metropolitan area. It is also the largest French-speaking city proper in the world (by any other measure, it still ranks second behind the Paris urban area). After decades of armed conflicts imposed by neighbouring countries, the infrastructures of the once leading modern African city are now being remarkably restored. Chinese companies are involved in numerous projects of reconstruction throughout the city.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 31 31 32 32 31 29 27 29 31 31 31 30
Nightly lows (°C) 21 22 22 22 22 19 18 18 20 21 22 21
Precipitation (mm) 135 145 196 196 159 8 3 3 30 119 222 142

Like other cities close to the Equator, Kinshasa's climate is defined by a dry and a wet season. The dry season stretches from June to September, and in these months the temperature is also a few degrees lower than throughout the rain season.

Get in

By plane

South African Airways, Kenyan Airways and Ethiopian airlines and Royal air Maroc each operate a number of flights per week from their hubs in Johannesburg, Nairobi, Addis Ababa and Casablanca. Connections to Europe can be made with Air France from Paris, Brussels Airlines from Brussels and Royal air Maroc from Casablanca in Morocco.

The Kinshasa airport used to have a terrible reputation for corrupt officials asking for bribes. They have improved things and it is quite manageable. Just follow everyone else and try not to look like a tourist. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is essential. Watch out for being mobbed by volunteer 'helpers' once you are outside the airport, who will want to carry your bags in return for tips. Keep in mind that when returning to the airport to leave you can not drive your car or take a cab onto the airport property without paying for parking / access $5 or $10.

A taxi into town will probably cost you $30-$50, and usually has no air conditioning. It is an hour's drive into the centre of Kinshasa. Best option is to get a shuttle offered by one of the travel companies on the right outside the arrivals door.

While there is a railway line between N'Djili airport and the central station, services are limited to twice a day and are not of much use to the regular tourist.

By train

The railroad of Congo once covered the entire country during colonial times, but has fallen in to heavy disuse. However, there are glimpses of hope, the central train station in Kinshasa has recently been renovated and a new long distance passenger service from Matadi, the country's chief sea port on the Congo river and gateway from Angola, was inaugurated in August 2015. Running three times a week and covering the 300 kilometers just seven hours, it's one of the faster passenger trains in central Africa. Apart from the Matadi service however, the only other passenger trains are commuter trains of limited use to the average tourist.

Tickets are usually only able to be bought the day of travel shortly before the train arrives and can prove to be difficult to get.

By car

Apart from the road Matadi to Kinshasa a car is no means for overland travel. You might be successful with a 4x4 in the upper northern region (Bangassou - Nia Nia - Isiro) and maybe the axis Kinshasa - Lumumbashi. All other towns are accessible only by air transport or boat.

By bus

You can go by bus, which really isn't the best choice.

By boat

You can arrive by boat from Brazzaville, if you have a visa. There are speed boats that go quickly for a limited number of people, or you can take the barge with local merchants if you have time. Ask to go to "the Beach", which is the ferry terminal.

Get around

Officially there is a city bus and it has been bolstered recently by some older buses from Belgium being gifted to Kinshasa to improve the routes. This system pales in comparison to the "taxi" system that has risen organically to serve the needs of the people of Kinshasa.

Essentially, these taxis are small buses. They run set routes between embarkation points that are the "stops". The cost between these various points is usually around 350 Francs. If one's destination is through multiple points, different taxis will need to be boarded to complete the route, making the system take a good deal of time during busy traffic hours.

People waiting at the stops will move their hands in a variety of gestures to signal which direction they are going. A taxi will then stop and pick up someone if they are going in the same direction and have space in the taxi.

This system works well for the locals. For visitors and foreigners, it can be quite difficult as one needs to know the hand signs, have knowledge of the routes, be ready to sit in cramped, hot vehicles with many other people, and deal with the potential dangers of these vehicles as many are barely road-worthy. Traveling through this manner absolutely requires local help for those unfamiliar with the system. One will also have to speak French or Lingala as the drivers do not speak English.

There are also traditional taxis for hire. They are available for single runs or can be hired by the day. This can be a tricky business and should be handled with care (especially at the airport) as there are those will take people to remote locations and rob them. Again, help from a local is best or using drivers that others in the area have past experience with and trust. Rates for these taxis vary widely and if one does not appear to be of African descent, there will also be an automatic premium added.

See

Lola ya Bonobo ("Paradise for Bonobos") is the world's only sanctuary for orphaned bonobos.

Do

Learn

Lingala is the local language spoken in this region beyond French. Learning a bit goes a long way to befriending locals.

Buy

The good supermarkets are the following:

Money/Currency

The US Dollar (USD) is the prevalent currency for most transactions of any significant quantity. Payment in USD for a purchase will likely return change to you in USD for denominations greater than $5-$10. Lesser amounts, and any remainder, will be paid in Congolese Francs (approx 900 CF per 1 USD - as of 22 MARCH 2010). Credit cards are not widely accepted -- do not count on them to keep you afloat. Only major hotels (ie The Memling) and some supermarkets will accept them (if there are no connectivity issues). Cash can be withdrawn from the PRO CREDIT Bank with a valid international VISA ATM card. Denominations are distributed in USD and/or CF. Ensure that you have notified your bank of your intentions to travel in order to ensure seamless and unhindered use of foreign ATMs.

Eat

Lots of restaurants for 'expats' exist, where you can pay in dollars but it is very expensive. Don't be surprised to pay up to $20 for a pizza (and $40 at the hotel for one).

Budget

Many cheap roadside stalls exist, primarily outside of downtown's Gombe.

Mid-range

The freshwater prawns from the Congo river are incredible - called Cossa Cossa on menus (as distinct from imported saltwater prawns which are Gambas) - generally served with a garlic and chili (pili-pili) butter sauce. A plate of these will set you back around $25-$40 dollars depending where you eat.

Splurge

The more expensive restaurants are in Gombe.

Drink

Local beer - Turbo King is a darker beer, regular lagers are Primus (which some feel is the best local beer, brewed by the local Heineken brewery) and Skol. European Mutzig comes in smaller bottles! A bit more expensive, and slightly harder to find as it is brewed in Lubumbashi by Simba Breweries, is Tembo, a tasty amber ale preferred by locals and expats alike. Tembo garners the highest ranking for a DRC beer on ratebeer.com. Lots of expensive French and South African wine available in restaurants and supermarkets. Portuguese plonk goes for as low as $3 a bottle at grocery stores catering to expats (Peloustore, Express, etc.).

Kinshasa becomes alive most nights when residents head to Matonge, a place filled with dancing bars, restaurants and night clubs. Lately Bandal and Bonmarche are the more popular "quartiers" to visit the local bars and "discotheques". Go to a local nightclub and learn how to dance Congolese rhythms. Get ready to shake your booty! For those that prefer to stay in Gombe, the following offer good possibilities:

Hotel bars are popular with expats and usually has live music several nights a week.

Water

Do not drink from the tap. Bottled water is readily available. Also, when cleaning your teeth make sure that you use bottled water.

Sleep

Accommodation in Kinshasa can be very expensive. A consequence of the past problems mean that many organisations only recognise two hotels as having international standards. So the Memling and the Grand have a virtual monopoly. Prices of these two can be in excess of $300 per night plus breakfast. Now a new luxury Hotel called Hotel Royal has opened. Modern boutique hotel with all amenities inclusive.

Budget

Mid-range

Situé à Kinshasa sur l’avenue 18 Parcelles dans le quartier résidentiel du Palais des Marbres, San Pedro est une résidence privée, d’un charme discret et d’un confort simple, réaménagée en petit hôtel, idéal pour les voyageurs à la recherche d’une atmosphère intime et paisible comme à la maison. $60-$100.

Splurge

Connect

Plenty of cyber cafes exist, so don't worry about staying connected.

Stay healthy

Don't drink the local water. Bottled water seems to be cheap enough but sometimes hard to find for a good price. The best way is if you are staying in an upscale hotel that provides it with the room just tip the housekeeping staff to get extra bottles put in your room (usually if you tell them while giving them the money that works the best, and after the first 2 days of asking for the water you usually don't have to worry about telling them anymore, just give them the $5 a day).

Make sure you have all required vaccinations - i.e. yellow fever, typhoid, etc.

Mosquitoes can be a problem in the entire city. Malaria medication should be taken.

Stay safe

It is highly recommended that you have someone with you at all times that is a local (besides while being in your hotel). Cab drivers will usually stay with you too when going to local shops and making quick stops and will serve as your translator if you get a good one. Be careful with any equipment you have with you such as digital cameras and video equipment. Be careful also of what you take pictures of. Even if they say no photos only at the airport and of government buildings, a lot of times the police and UN people will get upset if you are taking videos at other places where technically it is supposed to be ok to do. Just be sure to have plenty of locals with you that know what they are doing and can provide security and a way out if you get stuck or in trouble. Follow their advice and pay attention when out and about. When in doubt about taking a photo of something don't until you get very clear instructions that it is ok. Don't keep cameras in open view unless you've been cleared to take a photo (which is just like taking a photo to them it seems). Also be equally prepared for hostility and positive reactions when taking photos.

When traveling by car, always lock all the doors before you set off, as it is not uncommon for opportunist thieves to try to open them and snatch belongings. For the same reason, keep bags and valuables out of reach and out of sight.

If you are approached by people claiming to be police, be wary. If they are not in uniform, they are probably not police but are most likely hoping to relieve you of your money and valuables. A common tactic is for a group of men in a car to show a fake police identity card and ask you to go with them to the police station. Do not get in the car; just walk away. Be prepared to run. Never lose your temper, but keep negotiating in a friendly way; in the end, they will give up.

Recent road scams have included a group of fake police officers in an unmarked 4x4 vehicle that will pull over unsuspecting people driving alone in cars, then forcibly take them in to their vehicle, drive them out to the country, rob them of everything and leave them stranded. While the main targets have been UN staff in obvious white UN vehicles, all foreigners driving should be wary of this group or others operating like them. For general safety, people should never drive alone in vehicles, especially after dark.

Cope

BBC World Service radio broadcast in English, French and Swahili in Kinshasa on 92.6MHz.

Go next

If departing from Kinshasa's N'djili International Airport, a fee of USD 50 must be paid (a receipt is issued) before entering the terminal. Visitors are allowed to go with you into the terminal if they pay a USD 10 fee.

There is also a lounge on the second level where you can take a drink or eat while awaiting your flight. Announcements are not always made in a timely manner about flight departures or arrivals. In previous years visitors to the upstairs lounge could stand overlooking the tarmac but security concerns have increased the distance between the open air viewing and the lounge itself.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, September 26, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.