The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the largest and most enigmatic countries in Africa. It has many beautiful landscapes, mainly comprising dense and undulating rainforest interspersed with waterfalls and teeming with fascinating wildlife.
The great body of the Congo River runs across the northern reaches of the country and has long been a site of considerable historic importance, made famous by the explorer Henry Morton Stanley and later used as the backdrop for Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
In many ways, much of the DRC remains as wild and impenetrable today as it would have been in Conrad’s time. The transport infrastructure built by the brutal Belgian colonial regime has largely been reclaimed by the jungle and there are few links between the country’s vast interior and the urban areas dotted around its fringes.
Kinshasa, the capital, is situated in the far west of the country and, though largely impoverished and crumbling, it is a veritable hub for colourful African music and culture.
DRC’s tourist capital, if such a thing exists, is Goma, which sits on the banks of Lake Kivu in the far east of the country. It is presided over by the imposing Nyiragongo volcano, which sits at the heart of Virunga National Park, the oldest national park in Africa and one of just a handful of places where you can still see mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.
Goma and the mineral-rich Kivu region were hit particularly hard by a civil war from 1998 to 2003 that resulted in the deaths of at least three million people; sporadic bouts of violence since the war officially ended have continued to burden the region’s considerable tourist potential.
However, peace and a semblance of stability have returned to Goma for the time being and small handfuls of adventurous tourists are beginning to trickle across the border once again. Visitors are advised to check the latest travel advice before visiting.
2,345,410 sq km (905,563 sq miles).
79,722,624 (UN estimate 2016).
33.8 per sq km.
President Joseph Kabila since 2001.
Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo Mapon since 2012.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs with two round pins are used.