The Republic of Congo is not a very well-known destination among international backpackers, but for those hoping to travel on a budget and who are interested in visiting Congo, there are plenty of amazing places to discover.
If you’re interested in backpacking in Congo then you might enjoy places like Congo’s jungle canopies or exotic beach spots in Pointe-Noire. Backpackers coming to Congo will be left satisfied in their hunt for adventure – though the experience of backpacking in Congo can be a very therapeutic one as it isn’t a crowded place, there are also many activities to take in on a backpacking trip to this most unique of spots.
It’s always a good plan to figure out different places you can visit before your trip. Find out more about the safety of the places you’ve chosen for your day trips, as Congo is very political and some spots are government-owned and off-limits, so don’t waste your time trying to get into these types of places. Instead look for spots that are more public and fun to explore. Don’t hesitate to ask locals to help you figure out most of these places – taxi drivers in Congo are very friendly and would love to help you with most of your questions.
The language barrier in Congo can be a problem for tourists that come from non-French speaking countries. The are a few bilingual locals in Congo, but unfortunately it isn’t a large group of people. The backpacking scene in Congo is not super crowded, so it might be hard to even meet other tourists that can help you. If you are planning to backpack in Congo it will be very important for you to familiarise yourself with French. This will not only help you get around, but it will also help you with filling in forms for your trip and understanding immigration officers at the airport.
The crime rate in Congo is low and violent crimes are not very common. However, pickpockets exist in crowded areas as they do everywhere. So stay on the lookout and keep an eye on your belongings, especially if wearing a backpack.
Although the bus is the cheapest mode of transport in Congo, it is ill-advised to take the bus at night. Bus stops and depots are already well-known as popular spots for pickpockets and during the night this gets worse. It is highly recommended to get a cab in Congo – it’s not as cheap as a bus, but it is safe. Uber does not operate in Congo, but there are local versions such as Comfort Car and Blue Congo. With these companies the process is very similar to an Uber but there is no app – people call and give their location, and in about 10 – 15 minutes you’ll be on your way. When in a cab or when using any form of public transport, avoid lowering your window all the way down, especially while on the phone because it can be easily snatched.
But let’s look on the bright side – Congo’s low crime rate is great news, and as long as you don’t flash your belongings no one will try to steal them. Congolese people are very friendly to tourists, so rest assured there’s every opportunity for your trip to be safe, fun, and educational, with so much to learn and experience.
There are many amazing restaurants in Congo which offer a variety of meal options inspired by different countries. If you are in Brazzaville and want to try some local flavours, check out one of the local restaurants known as ‘malewa‘. These restaurants are scattered throughout the city and offer cheap and delicious local meals or quick sandwiches – the avocado sandwiches are definitely the ones to try. Another local favourite is Mami Wata restaurant, which serves local delicacies such as cassava leaves with rice, and grilled chicken with fried plantains – there are many mouthwatering meals on the menu here, plus a stunning view. Lebanese food is also hugely popular in the capital and there are many spots such as La Mandarine, famous for its shwarma sandwiches.
As for accommodation, its depends on your budget. There are many cheap hotels throughout town for around 20,000 Congolese francs a night (about USD$12). There aren’t any backpacking-specific hostels, but hotels are very affordable if you’re on a budget and it is safe to stay here.
If you like the finer things in life, then you can try a much more luxurious standard room at an upmarket hotel ranging from 50,000 – 180,000 Congolese francs a night (around USD$31-112) for a standard room. These places provide amazing cocktails and meals with great décor.
The best way to meet new people is to get out and hang around some of the very well-known places in Congo. There are many restaurants that offer karaoke nights and these types of places a great for meeting people, both locals and visitors. Or you can visit art galleries or museums – the perfect places to meet art fanatics and friendly like-minded people.
The currency used in Congo is the Congolese franc (FCFA). Debit and credit cards are not recommended, as most places prefer to take cash. It is highly advisable that you withdraw your money at an ATM and have cash on you when you are running errands or want to purchase a souvenir. It is also preferable to convert your currency to the local currency at any bank.
Most importantly, remember that you’re in a different part of the world. Things might be different and will not always go according to plan, but most importantly look on the bright side and just go with the flow, have some fun and enjoy your stay.