The Congo region of Africa is home to two countries that use the word "Congo" in their names. One of these countries is the Republic of the Congo. Also referred to as Congo-Brazzaville, this nation more specifically calls the central-western part of sub-Saharan Africa home and is split by the Equator. Part of its border is formed by the venerable Congo River. There is also a short coastal area along the Atlantic Ocean. In relation to major industries, the Republic of the Congo is best known for petroleum and has untapped mineral wealth. As is true of the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, this mineral wealth has been a cause for civil wars and militia conflicts. This hasn’t kept tourists away, however.
Among other things, people who visit the Republic of the Congo come to hike in the rainforest, relax on sun-drenched beaches, and explore the capital city of Brazzaville. Other ideas for things to do in the Congo include visiting traditional villages and checking out wild gorillas and chimpanzees at the Lesio Louna Gorilla Reserve. It should be noted that the Congo is home to approximately 80 percent of the world’s wild gorillas and chimpanzees. As for when to visit the Republic of the Congo, the best times are from June to August and during the shorter December dry season.
The earliest inhabitants of the region that is now the Republic of the Congo were Pygmy people. These people were largely displaced and absorbed by Bantu-speaking peoples, who established trade links that lead to the Congo River basin. After the arrival of the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cao in 1484, a commercial relationship was established between the Bantu kingdoms and European merchants. The Congo River delta thrived as a commercial hub for centuries, though the Bantu societies of the region eventually began to lose their influence when the African continent fell subject to European colonization in the late 19th century. What is now the Republic of the Congo became a French sovereignty in 1880 and was named French Congo before assuming the name of Middle Congo in 1903. Independence from France came in 1960, and the new nation’s current name was adopted.
For the next 30 years, the Republic of the Congo experimented with Marxism. This was largely due to the relationships that the country formed with the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, North Korea, and Vietnam. The Marxist experimentation ended in 1990, and by 1992, a democratically elected government was in place. In 1997, however, the democratic process of the Congo was derailed by a short civil war that resulted in the reappointment of the former Marxist President. In 2003, the warring factions signed a final peace accord. The Republic of the Congo has enjoyed a relatively peaceful existence ever since, though as is true throughout Africa in general, a certain amount of unrest always lies beneath the surface.
The capital and largest city of the Republic of the Congo is Brazzaville. It can be found in the southern part of the country just across the Congo River from the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s capital city of Kinshasa. These are actually the two closest capital cities in the world. Also, since the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo both have "Congo" in their names, it is common to distinguish them as Congo-Brazzaville and Congo-Kinshasa. More than one million people live in Brazzaville. When you also consider the people who live in the surrounding "suburbs," the total population is around 11 million. For the tourist, Brazzaville offers a mix of history, art, and nightlife. One of the original residential neighborhoods of the city is Poto Poto. There you will find St. Anne's Basilica, which was constructed during the late colonial area. Also of interest in Poto Poto is the central market, the Hotel Marimar, and the neighborhood’s assortment of bars and clubs. The central market is one of Brazzaville’s largest and the Hotel Marimar is a popular gathering place for the more discerning crowd. While it is technically found in Moungali, the Ecole de Peinture de Poto-Poto, or Poto-Poto School of Painting, is just one more area attraction of note. Founded in 1951, this renowned school has produced a number of artists.
The Congo River has an overall length of 2,920 miles, which makes it the ninth-longest river in the world. With measured depths that exceed 720 feet, it is the world’s deepest river. The name of the Congo River is derived from the ancient Kingdom of Kongo. In turn, the major waterway inspired the names for the Republic of the Congo and the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo. Along its route, the Congo River flows through the Congo Rainforest. This is the second-largest rainforest in the world after the Amazon Rainforest in South America. Also worth noting are the rapids and waterfalls of the Congo River. The most notable waterfall is actually a series of waterfalls that are collectively known as Livingstone Falls. These waterfalls begin just downstream of Brazzaville and Kinshasa and are a popular sightseeing attraction. Travelers may also enjoy boat tours along the Congo River. These tours offer even more sightseeing opportunities and are worth considering for tourists who wish to add some extra adventure to their Congo vacation itineraries.
Top image: Oxfam East Africa (flickr)