Democratic Republic of the Congo

Long wracked by political strife, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (previously known as Zaire) is slowly beginning to stabilise and welcome tourists across its borders again. Virunga National Park has had more than 5,000 tourists since 2010. It’s an intense country to travel, but those intrepid souls who dare to explore it will be richly rewarded with pristine tropical landscapes, magnificent wildlife and a memorable cultural experience. Congo’s highlights include its exceptional National Parks and Wildlife reserves, five of which are World Heritage Sites. Arguably the premier tourist attractions are the guided treks that offer travellers the chance to experience primates in their natural habitat - including mountain and lowland gorillas, chimpanzees and endemic bonobos.


Entry Requirements

Virunga National Park has an agreement with the DRC immigration and can arrange a special tourist visa to visit Virunga. Inspired Journeys can facilitate the visa application. All we need is a copy of your passport and for you to fill out a one page visa application form. The visa is US $105

To qualify for a visa you must also book a Mountain Gorilla Permit, Volcano Permit or accommodation at Mikeno Lodge at Virunga National Park.

This visa is valid for up to 14 days and can only be used for entry into DRC via Goma/Gisenyi & Bukavu/Rusizi (Rwanda) or via Bunagana (Uganda) borders. It takes approximately 14 days to process this visa once all the paperwork has been submitted, so it is important you leave enough time to apply before you intend to travel. This visa allows you to visit Virunga National Park in North Kivu and Kahuzi Biega National Park in South Kivu DRC.

Alternatively you can contact the DRC embassy in your home country and apply for a visa there.


Banking and Currency

Currency

Because of the parlous state of the economy, the only true repository of value is the US Dollar. Free circulation of foreign currencies is now allowed within the country. Note that purchase of airline tickets within the country can be made only with money exchanged officially.

Franc Congolais (CDF) = 100 centimes. Currently the exchange rate is around 1,000 CDF = US$1. However due to the precarious nature of the economy, the denominations of the currency are subject to rapid change.

Please ensure that any US dollar notes are printed 2010 (2013 for $50 or $100 notes) or later and that they have no rips or tears. Notes printed before 2010 or with damage will not be accepted. If you pay for something in US$ you will receive larger amounts of change in dollars, but smaller amounts are likely to be given in CDF. It helps if you bring small change with you, as particularly if you are paying locals for porter services, it is very difficult for them to provide correct change to break larger notes.

The use of MasterCard and Visa credit cards is limited to Kinshasa ,Goma & Bukavu's major hotels. Credit cards cannot be used to obtain cash advances at banks. However you may be able to withdraw dollars from the ATMs in Kinshasa, Goma and Bukavu- this will depend on your particular bank and card type.

Travellers cheques are not recommended. Commission fees are very high, and traveller's cheques are not accepted outside Kinshasa.

The import and export of local currency is prohibited. The import of foreign currency is limited to US$10,000 and the export of foreign currency is unlimited.


Travel, Transport and Getting Around

International Flights into the country mainly land in Kinshasa, although Ethiopian Airlines fly from Addis Ababa into Goma three times a week. If you are visiting the east side of the country, it is easy to fly into Kigali then drive 3.5 hours to the border and cross into D.R.Congo.

Motorbike taxis are readily available to get around Goma, and hotels can usually organize a car taxi for you, but travel outside of the city can be difficult. It is highly recommended that you use a reputable travel agency to arrange any excursions beyond the boundaries of Goma for you.

There are flight connections from N'Djili Airport (Kinshasa) to over 40 internal airports and 150 landing strips. Small planes may be available for charter.

Car hire facilities are available on a limited basis at the airport. Owing to poor maintenance, the roads are among the worst in Africa and only achieve a fair standard around the main towns. It is wise to check that bridges are safe before crossing. An International Driving Permit required.

Taxi services are available in Kinshasa but unreliable.

Conventional bus services in Kinshasa can be severely overcrowded. Minibuses and converted truck-buses also offer public transport, and are known as fula fulas. Pick-up trucks are known as 'taxibuses'. A better standard of transport is provided by shared taxis, which are widely available. There is little or no public transport in most other large centres.

The main internal railway runs from Lubumbashi to Ilébo, with a branch to Kalemie and Kindu, and from Kinshasa to the port of Matadi. Rail services are generally subject to disruption. There is no air conditioning, but there are couchettes and dining cars on the principal trains.

Over 1,600km (1,000 miles) of the Congo River are navigable and, in normal circumstances, there are services from Kinshasa to the upriver ports of Kisangani and Ilébo. Services at present, however, are unreliable owing to political instability and fuel shortages.


Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice

All water should be regarded as being a potential health risk, so it is advisable to use bottled water for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice. Food prepared in a reputable hotel should be safe to eat, but in general milk is unpasteurised and should be boiled. Powdered or tinned milk is available and is advised. Avoid dairy products that are likely to have been made from unboiled milk. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.

Goma has a few good restaurants that serve a mix of international cuisines. Ones we can recommend are Le Chalet, Lac Kivu Lodge, Bon Pain & Le Petit Bruxelles.

There are a number of good restaurants in Kinshasa & Lubumbashi, but prices are high. Hotels and restaurants which cater for tourists are generally expensive and serve international and national dishes. Small restaurants and snack bars offer Chinese, French and Belgium food.

A 10% service charge is typically added to hotel and restaurant bills, otherwise a small amount (a few thousand francs or a few US dollars) as an extra tip is always appreciated.


Climate and Weather

The climate in the Democratic Republic of Congo varies according to distance from the equator, which lies across the north of the country. The dry season in the north is from December to February, and in the south, April to October. The temperature is warm year round and humidity is high.

You can travel to the East of the Country (Goma/Bukavu) all year round but there are certain pros and cons to various months.
Rainy Season is Mid-March to May and also November,
Dry Season is December-Beginning of March and June-October

The benefit of traveling during the rainy season is that you will have clearer views from the volcano and if you are a keen photographer your night and landscape photos will come out much clearer, but you are more likely to get wet at some point on your volcano hike. As the gorilla treks leave early in the morning it is likely you will avoid the rain, but you do have a higher chance than in the dry season of rain during your visit which may disrupt your photo opportunities.

In the dry season it can be very dusty so those particles in the air can lead to 'noise' in the background of your photos, but you are less likely to encounter rain during your gorilla visit which can improve photo quality. You are also less likely to get heavily rained on while climbing the volcano.


Clothing and Dress Recommendations

Lightweight clothing made from natural fabrics is recommended all year. Rainwear is advised during the rainy season.


Electricity and Plug Standards

For the most part, electrical sockets in the Democratic Republic of Congo are one of the two European standard electrical socket types: The "Type C" Europlug and the "Type E" and Type F" Schuko. Also reported to be in use is the "Type D" Indian socket. If your appliance's plug doesn't match the shape of these sockets, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in.


Electrical sockets in the Democratic Republic of Congo usually supply electricity at between 220 and 240 volts AC. If you're plugging in an appliance that was built for 220-240 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need. If your appliance is not compatible with 220-240 volt electrical input, a voltage converter will be necessary.



Rwanda

The first thing that springs to most people’s minds when thinking of Rwanda is its turbulent political history. But today’s Rwanda is a far cry from the nation it was in the mid-90s: the country has emerged from the shadows and has much to offer visitors, most notably the tracking of endangered mountain gorillas in the lush Virunga National Park, which extends across the peaks and jungle-covered slopes of the volcanic Virunga Mountains. Other major tourist attractions include expansive Lake Kivu, ancient Nyungwe Forest with its rich population of primate species, and the game-rich savannah lands of Akagera National Park.

Banking and Currency

Currency

Rwanda Franc (RWF) = 100 centimes. Notes are in denominations of RWF 5,000, 2,000, 1,000 and 500. Coins are in denominations of RWF100, 50, 20, 10 and 5.

The import and export of local currency is limited to RWF5000. The import and export of foreign currency is unlimited, but must be declared upon arrival and exchanged within 8 days.

Banking

Banking hours: Mon-Fri 0800-1200 and 1400-1700, Sat 0800-1200.

Credit cards are only accepted at a few hotels in Kigali. MasterCard and Visa are the preferred cards.

International Visa cards are accepted at the ATMs at Ecobank head office in Kigali and at Kigali airport. They can also be used at the ATMs at Access Bank head office in Kigali. However, these ATMs are often affected by power cuts. It is best to travel with US dollars, some banks won’t accept pound sterling.

It may be difficult to change traveller's cheques outside Kigali.


Travel, Transport and Getting Around

Akagera Aviation (+250 788 308 382 / +250 252 580 234) provides helicopter flights all over the country. Rwandair flies internally to the southeastern town of Cyangugu.

There is a lot of work being done to improve the roads, and in some places you will find smooth tarmac, while in others you will be going along pot-holed dirt paths.A 4-wheel drive vehicle is needed for some local roads. There can be landslides on some of the major roads during annual rainfall in spring and autumn.Extra care should be taken at night, as headlight use is erratic. During rainy season some roads can become impassable.

There are no international car hire companies operating in Rwanda, but there are several local companies. You will find these listed in the Eye magazine given away at the airport and in hotels (www.theeye.co.rw)

Taxis can be found in large towns and cities. Look for the official orange stripe. Fares are reasonable, but should be agreed in advance (ask a local if you think you are being overcharged). Tipping is not expected.

Bicycle and scooter taxis are the quickest and cheapest way to get around in the towns, however they are risky.

Minibus taxis provide links to and from all towns and some villages. Although it is not common for foreigners to travel this way, they are quite safe and efficient. However you will have to wait until they are full before departure if you get on at the start of the route. The Virunga Express (www.virungatravel.com) and Onatracom Express provide more direct intercity links.

Rwandans drive on the right. It is illegal to use a mobile phone while driving unless with a hands-free set. Seat belts must be worn in the front. It is advised not to drive after drinking, breathalisers are in use and if found to have more than 0.8 mg of alcohol per 1 litre of blood, you are likely to face imprisonment. Speed limits are 40km/per hour in the city and 60km outside the city. If the car in front is using the left indicator it often means it is not safe to overtake, the right indicator tells you the road ahead is clear.

An International Driving Permit is required. An entry permit is needed if you have travelled from outside the country, insurance document and driving licence.

You can hire a boat to take you from Gisenyi to Kibuye if you ask at one of the lakeside hotels.


Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice

Food is generally safe to eat if well-cooked and hot. If in doubt, veer towards larger restaurants in cities and those aimed at tourists, which will have undergone government safety checks. Avoid buying food from the side of the road and don’t drink tap water. Use bottled water or otherwise boil or sterilise. Milk is unpasteurised and should be boiled. Powdered or tinned milk is available and is advised. Avoid dairy products that are likely to have been made from unboiled milk. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish, preferably served hot. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.

The majority of the population in Rwanda live off subsistence farming and so their meals rely heavily on starchy crops such as potato, maize and cassava. This is generally served with kidney beans and cabbage and where meat can be afforded it is most often goat. However, the restaurants of Kigali and other towns will generally serve grilled meat with french fries and sometimes rice with spicy stews.

Hotels generally serve a reasonable choice of European dishes, and there are Chinese, Greek, Indian, Italian and Middle Eastern restaurants. Some restaurants also serve Franco-Belgian cuisine and African dishes. A fairly good selection of beers, spirits and wines is available. Beer is also brewed locally.

You will see brochettes on most menus, these are basically a skewer of your chosen meat or fish served with rice or chips. Other local specialities include: tilapia, a white fish found in Lake Kivu and also farmed locally and appears often on menus; Matoke, cooked plantain, which may be served when you are expecting potatoes (and usually tastes a lot like potatoes!)

Primus is the local beer of choice. Mutzig is very similar but more expensive and often comes in large 700ml bottles. The local banana wine is for the brave, it is called urwangwa and you should be able to pick up a bottle in a supermarket to try in the privacy of your room.

There is no clear principle on tipping in Rwanda, but most staff in the bigger hotels have come to expect it, as have guides and trackers. A general rule is to tip 10% in restaurants if you feel inclined and give $5 - $10 to guides, trackers and porters.



Climate and Weather

Despite its proximity to the equator, due to the high altitude of most of the country, Rwanda has a temperate climate with temperatures seldom climbing above 25C. The long dry season is from June to September and there are two annual rainy seasons, the first from mid-March until the beginning of June and small rains from mid-September to December. The best time for gorilla and monkey tracking is the dry season - if only to spare you getting drenched (you can still see them in the rain, they just get a bit grumpy). The dry season is also good if you want to see game in Akagera National Park because thirst will draw the animals to the watering holes. You will also find at this time the roads are less dangerous and the risk of malaria is lower. The rainy season is the best time to see chimpanzees and is also the time when the place is at its most lush and green.


Clothing and Dress Recommendations

Lightweight cotton or linen clothing is recommended for most of the year with warmer clothes for cooler upland evenings. Rainwear is advisable especially during the rainy season and sunglasses, sunscreen and a sunhat are recommended year round. A good pair of walking shoes is essential.


Electricity and Plug Standards

Electrical sockets (outlets) in Rwanda are one of the two European standard electrical socket types: The "Type C" Europlug and the "Type E" and "Type F" Schuko. If your appliance's plug doesn't match the shape of these sockets, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in. Travel plug adapters simply change the shape of your appliance's plug to match whatever type of socket you need to plug into. If it's crucial to be able to plug in no matter what, bring an adapter for both types.

Electrical sockets (outlets) in the Republic of Rwanda (République du Rwanda) usually supply electricity at between 220 and 240 volts AC. If you're plugging in an appliance that was built for 220-240 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need.

But travel plug adapters do not change the voltage, so the electricity coming through the adapter will still be the same 220-240 volts the socket is supplying. North American sockets supply electricity at between 110 and 120 volts, far lower than in most of the rest of the world. Consequently, North American appliances are generally built for 110-120 volts.


Tanzania

The name Tanzania conjures up images of wildebeest stampeding across vast savannah, rain forests teeming with monkeys and birdlife, and great plains brimming with legions of game. All of these natural wonders and more are on offer in this exceptionally diverse African nation. Visitors typically visit Tanzania to partake in at least one of the four well known Tanzanian tourist experiences: a relaxing seaside vacation on the picturesque island paradise of Zanzibar, an underwater tour of some of the world’s most renowned dive sites around the gorgeous Spice Islands, a safari adventure in some of Africa’s most impressive game reserves, or a hiking excursion around Mount Kilimanjaro National Park. Whichever of these incredible holidays you choose, you will undoubtedly be welcomed by some fabulously friendly and peaceful inhabitants who, despite being divided into 120 different ethnic groups and cultures, live in harmony with one another and provide some of the most wonderfully exotic local cuisine you could imagine. With all of this diversity on offer, the most difficult part of your Tanzanian holiday experience is likely to be deciding where to go!

Banking and Currency

Currency

In Tanzania, the unit of currency is the Tanzanian Shilling, which is divided into 100 Cents. Notes are issued in denominations of 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, and 10000 Shillings. Coins are issued in denominations of 50, 100 and 200 Shillings.

Banking

Banks are open from 9:00am to 3:00pm Monday to Friday. Many banks are equipped with 24 hour ATM machines.

Credit cards and travellers checks are not widely accepted in Tanzania. Where they are accepted can high service fees and poor exchange rates be expected. Major foreign currencies - particularly US $ - are accepted in Tanzania and are convertible at banks and bureau de changes in the main towns and tourist areas. If bringing cash in US $, please make sure bank notes are in good condition, with no cuts or damage and are not older than 2004. Most banks offer higher exchange rates for US $ 100 / US $ 50 bank notes compared to US $ 20 / US $ 10 or US $ 5 bank notes.


Travel, Transport and Getting Around

If you are visiting a number of parks and reserves in Tanzania, you can either drive or fly between them. Roads in most of the wilderness areas are in poor condition and unmarked, and self-driving is not recommended. Operators will supply you with a driver who doubles as an informal guide; alternatively, you can arrange to fly to your destination and utilize a car and driver supplied by the lodgings. Elsewhere in Tanzania, towns and cities are linked by a steady stream of buses and dala-dalas (minibuses), and in the cities, there is public transport in the way of buses, dala-dalas, taxis, and, in some places, bicycles or tuk-tuks.

Precision Air run regular services, mostly via Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro or Zanzibar, to all main towns and other destinations in East Africa and beyond. All national parks and some of the top-end luxury lodges have airstrips and Coastal Air operates between these and the main airports on the mainland and the islands of Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia. ZanAir has frequent connections between Zanzibar, Pemba and the mainland.

Driving is on the left hand side of the road


Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice

Most camps, lodges or hotels cater specifically to tourists and serve Western-style food, ranging in standard, but generally are excellent. Game lodges tend to offer a daily set menu with a limited selection, so it is advisable to have your tour operator specify in advance if you are a vegetarian or have other specific dietary requirements. First-time visitors to Africa might take note that most game lodges in and around the national parks have isolated locations, and driving within the parks is neither permitted nor advisable after dark, so that there is no realistic alternative to eating at your lodge.

Tap water in Tanzania is generally not safe to drink, and most travellers try to stick to mineral water. Filtered and bottled water can be difficult to find you are travelling outside of main town and so it is advisable to stock up. Most camps, lodges and hotels have bottled water readily available.


Climate and Weather

Just south of the equator, Tanzania is huge and its sheer size means that the climate varies considerably within it. However, generally the main rainy season, or the 'long rains', lasts during about March, April and May. Afternoon tropical downpours are the norm – which are heavier and more predictable beside the coast and on the islands. The humidity is high and daily temperatures reach the low-mid 30°s.

The long dry season lasts throughout June, July, August, September and October is when rainfall is unusual, even on the islands. Temperatures vary hugely with altitude and location, but it's usually a fine, clear sky and sunny weather – it's a great time to visit Tanzania. During November and December there's another rainy season: the 'short rains'. These are much lighter than the main rains and less reliable.

If it has rained during the short rains, then it normally dries up for a few months, January and February, which is Tanzania's 'short dry season', before starting to rain again in earnest in March.


Clothing and Dress Recommendations

It never gets really cold in Tanzania so lightweight clothing, preferably cotton or linen, is recommended. While on a game viewing safari, avoid brightly coloured clothing, stick to whites, beiges, khakis and browns. There may be long days sitting in safari vehicles, so it is advisable to wear light comfortable clothing such as short sleeved shirts and cotton/linen trousers or shorts. Denim will become too hot and extremely uncomfortable. Walking shoes and socks will be required.

The evenings will be chilly, so long sleeved shirts and trousers should be worn. A sweater may be needed. These will also prevent you being bitten by insects. A hat should be worn at all times outside. The sun may sometimes not feel hot, but it can still easily burn, especially if it is cloudy and overcast.

If visiting Zanzibar or any coastal town don't forget to take a swimsuit, as it is invariably warm. Ladies are recommended to take cotton skirts, blouses and dresses. Sandals are a must for this environment! On the beaches and within the confines of hotels, normal swimwear is acceptable but nudity is not.

As over a third of the population in Tanzania is Muslim, it is therefore not etiquette for ladies to walk around in public displaying their legs and shoulders. Remember to dress modestly as short shorts, miniskirts, vests and tank tops will be frowned upon.


Electricity and Plug Standards

The electricity supply in Tanzania is 220/240 volts at 50Hz. Plugs are 3 point square (UK Type). Adapters are available at major airports.