Before you go to Republic of Congo

Republic of Congo is surrounded by five countries: Cameroon and the Central African Republic in the north, Gabon to the west, the enclave of Cabinda (Angola) to the south and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the east. This former French colony is a sparsely populated, little-known nation, with a population of just over 4 million people, 2 million of which are located in the capital of Brazzaville. Republic of Congo spans an area of 342 000 square kilometres – with the rainforest in which Odzala is situated covering more than half the area of the country.
 
INTERESTING FACTS
The current flag of Republic of the Congo was originally adopted on 18 August 1958, however, was then abandoned in 1970 at the beginning of the socialist period of the "People's Republic of Congo". It was adopted again on 10 June 1991. The colours are the traditional Pan-African colours, and stem from the colours of the flag of
Ethiopia. The distinctive diagonal pattern sets it apart from other Pan-African flags.
 
GOVERNMENT
From 1885 until independence in 1960, Congo was part of French Equatorial Africa, its system of government similar to that of the French. After a spell as the People’s Republic of Congo, Congo became a multi-party democracy in 1992. In 2002 a new constitution was agreed upon by referendum, introducing a new bicameral assembly. The constitution provides for a 7-year presidential term, limited to a maximum of two sequential terms, with a parliament of two houses that include a National Assembly and a Senate. This new system of governing has created stability within the country. President Denis Sassou Nguesso has remained in power since 1997 as one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders.
 
ECONOMY
Some 70% of the population live in urban areas, with Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire being the two main population centres. The resources of the Republic of Congo include: petroleum, timber, potash, lead, zinc, uranium, copper, phosphates, gold, magnesium, natural gas, and hydropower. Once one of Africa's largest petroleum producers, the production of fuel has declined as its oil resources have been depleted.
 
CURRENCY
The currency in Republic of Congo is the Communaute Financiere Africaine Franc (XAF), which is equivalent to approximately EURO 0.00152449 – EURO 1.00 will buy you approximately XAF 655.957.
 
LANGUAGE
French, Lingala and Kituba are the most common languages spoken with French being the official language. English is spoken in some hotels and tourist areas.
 
TIME
Standard time in Republic of Congo is 1 hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time – (GMT) +1 hour all year round. Daylight savings time is not observed.
 
CLIMATE
Congo lies on the Equator, so that temperatures vary very little year round. Its seasons can be divided into a green season when more rainfall occurs, and two ‘drier’ seasons of December to February and June to August respectively.
 
It is important to remember that while game viewing can never be guaranteed, there are some trends that can be seen when we combine our knowledge of seasons, habitats and water availability with animal distribution, their numbers, and thus where they can be found. The below gives some insight into these trends.
 
Green Season: March to May and September to November
Rainfall during this period means that the air is clearer and humidity higher. Daytime temperatures are typically higher owing higher humidity. November in particular can be very wet.
 
Water levels in the Lekoli River are high as well, allowing for boating activities on the lookout for primates, buffalo, elephant, slender-snouted crocodile (for the lucky) and exciting birdlife like Cassin’s flycatcher.
 
A scarcity of ripe fruits during this period results in smaller ranges and daily movements by western lowland gorilla, central chimpanzee and elephant. Elephant are particularly prolific, with good numbers visiting Lango Bai daily to obtain minerals. The resident birdlife is excellent – for example black-collared lovebird, vermiculated fishing-owl fire-crested alethe, yellow-lored bristlebill and Guinea turaco with many species breeding at this time.
 
Photographically, between bouts of rain, clear blue skies are common, with good light penetrating the forest interior.
 
All year round, primates such as western guereza colobus, grey-cheeked mangabey and putty-nosed monkey are seen regularly with infrequent sightings of bongo, western sitatunga and red river hog on the periphery of Lango Bai. Night drives may yield galagos, palm civet and spotted hyaena – the latter in savannah areas.
 
Transition (Dry) Season: December to February and June to August
With limited rain during this period, the air can be relatively hazy, a white film of clouds covering the sky most days. Humidity however is lower than in the green season. Daytime temperatures are typically cooler. Water levels on the Lekoli River are lower but boating is still possible.
 
Ripe fruits during this period (especially February and August) mean that elephants and gorillas wander more widely to obtain these, with gorillas feeding primarily in trees – thus allowing easier sightings.
 
Photographically, conditions are typically overcast with muted light. Focus on photographing subjects against greener forest backdrops where possible at this time.
Aside from the ‘usual’ sightings of western guereza colobus, grey-cheeked mangabey and putty-nosed monkey, harnessed bushbuck often sighted at Lango Bai together with several herds of forest buffalo moving between the various bais in the Park. Chimpanzee sightings are good all year.
Birding is excellent in both rainforest and savannah areas with intra-African migrant species present from June to August. Some highlights may include shining-blue kingfisher, Hartlaub’s duck, great blue turaco, bare-cheeked trogon, black-casqued wattled hornbill, streaky-throated barbet, black and white flycatcher, shining drongo, yellow-mantled widowbird, yellow longbill and banded prinia.

Temperature (ºF) – These are the average lows and highs:

 

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

BZV

70/86

70/88

70/90

70/88

70/88

86/77

68/84

68/84

68/85

68/86

68/86

70/86

ODZ

66/84

66/86

66/88

66/88

66/86

64/82

64/81

64/81

66/84

66/84

64/84

64/84

Average Rainfall (inches) – This varies according to the year and your location:

 

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

BZV

6.1

5.5

6.4

7.9

6.9

3.0

1.1

5.1

8.9

10.0

7.7

5.0

ODZ

3.5

4.9

6.8

6.8

6.8

3.5

1.6

2.4

7.8

9.8

4.3

4.3

BZV = Brazzaville  ODZ = Odzala

 
PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
The dates of certain public holidays change from year to year – refer below. If a public holiday falls on a Sunday, then the Monday is also declared a public holiday. During this time, most shops are closed – only some grocery shops are open for limited hours.
01 January New Year’s Day
08 March Congolese Women’s Day
Varies Good Friday
Varies Easter Monday
01 May Labour Day
Varies Ascension Day
10 June Commemoration of the National Sovereign Conference
15 August National Day
01 November All Saint’s Day
25 December Christmas Day
 
VISAS
All visitors need a visa, which is to be obtained from their nearest Congo embassy or consulate prior to travel. Requirements for a Visa are:
  • A passport that is valid for at least 6 months beyond your intended departure date, together with onward travel documents, proof of accommodation and sufficient funds for the duration of your stay.
  • Sufficient blank VISA pages (not endorsement pages) in your passport, with at least 2 consecutive/side by side blank pages.
  • Two visa application forms per applicant properly completed and signed. Signature must be original on each application. Improperly completed forms may delay the processing of your visa.
  • Two recent passport photographs in colour, front view and with a plain/light background.
  • Computer generated flight itinerary from the airline or a travel agency or copy of airline tickets. A signed letter on the travel agency's letterhead confirming round-trip booking may also be acceptable.
  • International certificate of vaccination against Yellow Fever.
  • A “Letter of Invitation” is required to apply for a visa. We need a scanned copy of the guests’ passport to complete this letter, which includes information regarding date of arrival, voucher numbers, trip code.
  • Once the letter is complete, we forward this to our office in Brazzaville, along with a copy of the passport, to action accordingly.
  • All letters need to be stamped by a Congo Customs Official and there is a charge of US$ 40.00 per person for this service which is added to your quote.
  • A stamped copy of this letter will then be sent to you and must be given to the guest to apply for their visa.
  • All guests must carry a printed copy of this letter of invitation with them, along with the visa, when they travel to Congo.
Visas are usually valid for one month from the date of issue. No countries are exempt and it takes at least 3 working days. Please obtain relevant visa costs from your nearest Congolese Embassy or Consulate. For details of Congolese Embassies and Consulates worldwide: http://www.embassypages.com/congorepublic
 
VACCINATIONS & MALARIA
The following vaccination is compulsory:
  • Yellow Fever – you will need the relevant certificate as proof to enter the Congo. Please be aware that it takes 10 days for the vaccination to be deemed effective. If you have the vaccination at short notice and arrive in Congo within those 10 days, the doctors at immigration at Brazzaville Airport may refuse entry.
Plasmodium falciparum malaria is the dominant type of malaria in the Republic of Congo. It is resistant to the anti-malarial drug chloroquine and travellers to the Republic of the Congo are advised to take one of the following anti-malarial drugs or to contact their nearest travel-health clinic for advice:
  • Mefloquine doxycycline
  • Atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone™)
 
Travellers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while travelling in a malaria-risk area and up to one year after returning home should seek prompt medical attention, informing the physician of their travel history and the anti-malarias they have been taking.
The following vaccinations are recommended:
  • Typhoid fever – vaccination is particularly important because of the presence of S. typhoid strains resistant to multiple antibiotics in this region
  • Hepatitis A or Immune Globulin (IG)
  • Hepatitis B or Immune Globulin
  • Meningitis
  • Polio
  • Rabies – if coming into contact with wild or domestic animals
  • Tetanus/diphtheria
 
PAYMENTS
The Communaute Financiere Africaine franc (XAF) has notes in denominations of XAF10 000, 5 000, 2 000, 1 000 and 500 and coins in denominations of XAF250, 100, 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1. The responsible authority is the Bank of the Central African States; Congo is part of the French Monetary Area.
 
US Dollars and Euros in large denominations can be exchanged in the main cities. It is, however, not recommended and all necessary money exchange should be made prior to travel. Travellers Cheques are not recommended as they carry a high commission rate and it is a very lengthy procedure to exchange them.
Please note that the Euro is the preferred foreign currency accepted in Republic of Congo. Due to various limitations in the country, our recommendation is to travel with and use Euro cash for all payments.
 
CREDIT CARDS
Diners Club and MasterCard have limited use in the Congo and cannot be depended upon. Hotels in Brazzaville do accept major credit cards but prefer cash. The few ATMs that do exist in Brazzaville only accept Visa. Please note that the maximum amount of cash one can withdraw is the equivalent of US$ 1 000.00.
 
BANKS
Banks are open Mondays to Fridays from 09:00 to 15:00.
 
SHOPPING
Shopping in the Republic of Congo is very expensive, with prices being much higher than most places in the world. If you wish to go shopping, however, the markets are the place to go where you can buy traditional arts, baskets, brass work clothes, wood carvings and souvenirs. The most popular markets are Marche du Plateau Craft Market and Tala Na Miso, both which are on the same road. Casino and Park & Shop are the largest supermarkets.
 
VALUE ADDED TAX (VAT)
Goods and services in the Republic of Congo are priced to include value added tax (VAT) of 19%.
 
ELECTRICAL
In major cities all electrical appliances run on 220V with 2-pin round sockets. While some adapters may be supplied, it is advisable that you carry your own.
 
LIGHT AIRCRAFT TRANSFERS
Adhering to aviation regulations, whilst taking into account the following, means that there have to be strict measures in place to ensure weight allowances are not exceeded.
Physical limitations of the aircraft we use take into consideration:
  • Size and type of aircraft
  • Size of the luggage pod and seats
  • The strict weight restrictions in place on any itinerary which includes light aircraft transfers are for the following reasons:
  • The aircraft are designed with a maximum bodyweight and luggage weight allowance.
  • Most of our airfields are at a fairly high elevation and located in the warm to hot tropics. Therefore the permissible aircraft carrying capacity is reduced.
  • The aircraft have physical space restrictions. Please refer to the images below for an indication on the cargo hold compartment limitations.
These important guidelines below must please be noted for all air transfers within Congo:
  • Luggage, including camera equipment and hand luggage, is restricted to 20 kg (44 lb) per person.
  • There will no option of excess luggage accompanying the guest to the camp. Any excess weight will have to remain in Brazzaville.
  • Only soft bags will be accepted – no wheels, frames or rigid structures can be transported as they physically cannot fit into the aircraft.
  • The maximum dimensions of the soft bags which can be accommodated are as follows: 25 cm (10 inches) wide x 30 cm (12 inches) high and 62 cm (24 inches) long. Should your guest require a bag, we do have a supply of soft nylon carry-all bags at a reasonable cost. These bags are ideal for use on light aircraft and are the correct dimensions. Please keep in mind that the baggage compartments on the light aircraft are only 25 cm high (10 inches), so the pilots must have the ability to manipulate the bag into the compartment.
  • A collapsible wheeled luggage frame/trolley (separate to the bag) is allowed, as long as basic dimensions are similar to that of the bag.
  • Whilst these weight and size allowances appear minimal, please bear in mind the following:
  • Basic toilet amenities are provided and laundry can be done – although due to the climate, we cannot guarantee a same day turnaround.
  • More formal attire is usually required only when staying in the more prestigious city hotel establishments. On a wildlife safari, casual clothing is the order of the day. Please refer to our suggested packing list as a guideline.

The important guidelines below must please be noted for all our air transfers within Congo: Passengers travelling on light aircraft:

  • Each and every aircraft has a legal take-off and landing weight. This includes fuel, luggage and per seat passenger weight. We are unable to combine passenger weights as this may affect the weight and balance of an aircraft due to unknown variables of the group of passengers on the day. Any deviations from these weight regulations could affect the take-off and landing capabilities of the aircraft.
  • Wilderness Air operates relatively small aircraft in wilderness areas where a number of factors influence the weight limitations of the aircraft: the length and condition of the runway, temperature and weather conditions, accessibility to fuel in these areas, as well as the distances flown. As safety and a quality air service are a strict focus for us, it is vital that we manage all weight and balance calculations ahead of time. We therefore require the weights of all guests prior to travel.
  • As safety and a quality air service are a strict focus for us, it is vital that we manage all weight and balance calculations ahead of time. We therefore require the weights of all guests prior to travel.
 
PACKING SUGGESTIONS
While our general travel information includes a suggested packing list, the area and conditions in Congo are different to our other areas of operation. As the African rainforest can become very muddy and wet, it is recommended that you bring enough suitable clothing (including socks) to allow time for laundered items to dry in the often humid and wet conditions. Ideal clothing is that which is quick drying, lightweight, in greens or browns and that has long sleeves/trouser legs.
 
Clothing:
  • At least three fast-drying, collared shirts with long sleeves in green or brown colours.
  • Three pairs of fast-drying, long pants in green or brown colours.
  • 1 pair of closed walking shoes – lightweight/quick drying are ideal. Heavy boots can be difficult to dry.
  • Should you wish to bring “old” shoes that you don’t mind getting wet or muddy and decide to leave them behind at the end of your stay, please feel free to do so.
  • 1 pair closed river/waterproof shoes or “wellington boots” or lightweight fishing waders.
  • 1 pair of comfortable shoes for when in camp.
  • Socks – calf length or longer to avoid exposing ankles.
  • Comfortable, casual and cool clothing for when in camp.
  • One light fleece / jumper for cooler evenings.
  • Raingear.
  • Swimming costume.
  • Sun hat, sunglasses.
  • Anti-fog for camera lenses.
Personal medical kit:
  • Any required medication – enough for all of the time spent in Congo.
  • “Epipen” injection kit for anyone who has a serious allergy to insect bites, bee stings, food products, etc. Consult your doctor for further information.
  • Insect repellent – tropical grade. Those containing DEET work best. Natural products (citronella, eucalyptus, etc.) are not recommended.
  • Anti-itch/anti-allergy cream for insect bites, skin reactions, etc.
  • Sunscreen – non greasy types are recommended for the tropics.
Other:
  • A good pair of binoculars is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED to get the most out of animal and bird sightings.
  • Day pack for walks / gorilla tracking. Include “zip lock” bags or a lightweight dry bag for electronic equipment and items vulnerable to moisture.
  • Spare batteries, charging apparatus and spare memory cards for cameras.
  • “Head torch” or flashlight for night walks and moving around after dark.
  • Insect head-nets will be provided in camp when necessary.
 
DOCUMENTS
  • A copy of your passport and important travel documents.
  • A printed copy of your travel, medical and evacuation insurance that includes the policy reference number, name of insurer, name/s of persons covered and the contact telephone number/s in the advent of a medical emergency. Please also include contact details of a friend / family member in your home country.
  • A list of any relevant medical conditions, medications and allergies.