by Bengt Hildebrand - 5 months, 3 weeks ago
Dear fellow Travelers!
I recently (June 2016) together with a friend visited the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for about a week and did not run into any serious problems.
I arranged my visa at the Congolese embassy in Sweden and the procedure was straightforward. I even wrote the "Letter of Invitation" myself stating that I was a tourist, listing my itinerary, promising that I had sufficient funds and did not intend to overstay my visa or seek employment.
Before going to the DRC I worked as a doctor in a mission hospital in Zambia which was the reason for my decision to visit Katanga province which borders Copperbelt province in northern Zambia.
I checked the internet and enquired at the DRC embassy and found out that Katanga province and its capital Lubumbashi is relatively safe these days.
I booked Grand Karavia Hotel in Lubumbashi on www.booking.com. The hotel is managed by the international Pullman Accor Group and professionally run. We paid 120 USD per night for a nice double room without breakfast. Excellent free Wifi.. The pool area and grounds were nice as was the food in the restaurant. Service was friendly and the grounds safe.
By googling the internet I found the travel agent Palma Okapi Tours http://www.palmaokapitours.com/ who I emailed firstname.lastname@example.org with for some time and that felt trustworthy from the start. They drummed up a five day itinerary including pick-up and drop off at the Zambian side of the Kasumbalesa border, a service that we appreciated. The manager Isaac Sumba Maly +243 998 789 187 and his associate William Tchaly communicated with us by means of email and WhatsApp. Bill spoke English very well, whereas Isaac only spoke some.
At the border the Zambian side was hassle free. Bill met us and had hired a "fixer" who knew the procedures at the DRC side He helped us, we were told, to avoid some requests for bribes and to reduce the amount requested from the border commander, who initially asked 50 USD per person, to 20 USD. This "fee" was ridiculously claimed to be for first time visitors to the DRC, but was of course just a bribe. On leaving the DRC we paid no bribes. We paid Palma Okapi tours 700 USD each on arrival for the below program including a 4WD with a good driver which I think was excellent value.
Day 1 we traveled to Lubumbashi (previously Elisabethville) from the border and then relaxed poolside the rest of the day at our hotel.
Day 2 started with a meeting with the tourist minister (of province Haute Katanga) Mr Serge Nkonde who spoke excellent English and who gave us free tickets to the Fête de la Musique (concerts). I was also happy to receive his business card and cell phone number in case of any difficulties. Our encounter with the minister was filmed by congolese TV and supposed to be broadcasted later. The rest of the day we did a sightseeing i Lubumbashi, a city without any major attractions, but a very much alive and bustling congolese multi-million-metropolis. We were shown several churches, the synagogue, some statues, official buildings and an art market. In the evening we went to Fête de la Musique. There are modern supermarkets and fast food outlets (good, but a bit expensive).
Day 3 was a full day excursion to Parc National des Kundelungu where most animals had been killed during the conflict but where we visited Chutes des Lofoy, Africas highest waterfall (384 m) which was beautiful and easy to reach after wading across a river and a short trekk. The park was beautiful with savannah, forest, gorges and a river but felt empty without animals. Be aware that the ride is very long from Lubumbashi to the trailhead for the falls, 5-6 hrs in the car, and that is one-way.
Day 4 we went to the site where the DRC:s first president, Patrice Lumumba, was executed by local Katangese politicians, the CIA and Belgian copper bosses. We were accompanied with staff from the tourist minister's office. Then we continued on our own to the mining city Likasi (Jadotville) where we had lunch and a small sight-seeing. In the evening, back in Lubumbashi, we went to a local downtown club where we enjoyed a local rumba live concert.
Day 5 was departure day for Zambia. We were supposed to visit the artisan village of Makwacha en route to the border but this was cancelled for reasons I did not fully understand.
I felt safe throughout and we had only two small incidents, (1) a pickpocket unsuccesfully attempted to open my backpack and (2) some armed military men approached me when I took a photo of a Lubumbashi fountain but Isaac just told them not to bother me and they left. There were good roads, no police road blocks and we took lots of photos without any police interfering (except at the L'bashi fountain, LOL). There were good but expensive restaurants in both Lubumbashi and Likasi. Of course there were cheap eateries as well as street food but we didn't eat there.
I believe our trip was greatly facilitated by our going with Palma Okapi tours under the high patronage of the Tourist minister. Isaac and Bill were very good people. An independent traveler going to where we went should however exercise a lot more caution, especially when it comes to photographing, and would certainly need to have his wits about him