Visiting Massive Gorillas In The Other Congo — Republic of Congo Part 1

Having already seen gorillas in the wild in multiple parts of Africa, stumbling upon more of these large primates might not impress me so much, or so you might think…

But in the Republic of Congo, one can see gorillas of distinct size, if not habitat. And you can visit these primates in close proximity to an interesting capital, or capitals. So let’s go out and enjoy these incredible animals while also taking in the Congo, or Congos.

Setting the Scene

After finishing ten great days in Gabon, I flew on to the Republic of Congo. I had already visited the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2019 and seen the gorillas there, but this time I was going to the Republic of Congo (which, if you didn’t know, is an entirely different country with an almost identical name 😆).

In this Congo, I would visit the capital of Brazzaville, as well as Pointe-Noire, the country’s second-largest city which is on the coast. I had planned to spend six days in the Republic of Congo but it turned out to be a week in the end because I missed a flight, but more on that later.

A peek at the beautiful city of Brazzaville

Luckily, there was a direct flight from Gabon to the Republic of Congo. This was a welcome alternative to my experience traveling through many other African countries, which often included multiple layovers that sent me off in the wrong direction. Instead, this time I flew directly from Libreville to Brazzaville.

The Republic of Congo, like many of the countries I had recently visited, is French-speaking. The Democratic Republic of Congo, also French-speaking, was colonized by the Belgians, where as the Republic of Congo was colonized by the French.

This French-speaking country likes their German cars! This was the first German car I’ve ridden in all of Africa.

The capital of the Republic of Congo is named after Brazza, a French historical figure who fought for the independence of the black population in Africa. Opposite Brazzaville on the other side of the Congo River is Kinshasa, which was formerly named Leopoldville after the Belgian king, and is now the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. These two big capitals sit just across the river from each other, which is extremely rare and may even be the only situation like that in the world.

The two great capitals of Brazzaville and Kinshasa in a single photo

The Congo River is just about a kilometer wide at any point, so you can see each capital well from the shore of the opposite capital. Despite their proximity and the fact that they share a name, there is not much traffic between these two countries.

The mighty Congo River separating Brazzaville and Kinshasa

Probably some boats cross between the capitals, but I didn’t see any at all during my time there. There’s no bridge, no tunnel, and no ferry between the two cities. They are two really different countries that have very little exchange between them.

Looking across the Congo River into the DRC

I arrived at the airport in Brazzaville where I was welcomed by my guides. There were three guys there to meet me: the driver, the guide, and the owner of the travel agency. He couldn’t really speak English, but we took a bunch of pictures together. The old guy was a bit annoying but spoke English, and then there was the driver. With these three men, I would encounter the Congo the next few days.

The first evening, we went to the hotel, which was quite nice and located in downtown Brazzaville. That night, I stayed in and rested, getting ready for the exciting days ahead.

A City Tour

On my first full day in town, we took a little city tour. Congo is pretty Christian, so they had some nice big churches that were interesting to see.

The country seems to have no shortage of churches.

We toured the other main sights of the city, too, including the presidential palace, and some different statues and monuments, most notably marking where the Congo fell in 1960.

About five kilometers from town are some river rapids and waterfalls from the big Congo River, which looked pretty cool. The Congo used to have quite a lot of water, so the rapids weren’t that strong, but when there are low water levels, it’s quite impressive to see. There was a lot of water flowing quite quickly but you couldn’t really see the rapids because the water was so high. 💦

This big fella didn’t seem to mind the rain.

There was a restaurant nearby where we sat down for a beer, talked a bit, and enjoyed the scenery. It was nice seeing the local kids play around there. Despite the high water levels, there was still quite a lot of water flowing. Some kids jumped into the water and floated away, but that was just good fun for them. After that, I went back to the hotel and relaxed. There’s not that much to see in Brazzaville, just a bunch of traffic, as usual in such cities.

The Cookie Cave

I planned to take a few day trips from my base in Brazzaville. On the first day, we had a very long drive to a cave which was quite underwhelming. We basically drove six hours to get there and six hours back, and the only thing to see there was that special cave. 🥱

We woke up at 5:30am when it was still dark outside to get to the cave early.

However, the drive was quite interesting. The roads were pretty good, that day at least. They have very modern roads there, like in China.

I think these roads were actually built by the Chinese.

The landscape was pretty cool. I thought it would all be a jungle, but many parts of Congo have nice hills, plants, and mountain formations. It’s not as flat as I would have thought.

So, we drove and drove, and enjoyed the landscape before arriving at the cave. We had to walk half an hour up the hill, but there was good scenery to see, and then we went into the cave. The cave was actually quite interesting. There’s no security at all there, you just go in with flashlights, and it was quite a climb. It was a bit dangerous, as it was very slippery and you had to go down through tiny holes to get into this very slippery cave. We explored it for almost 45 minutes, all the way into the dead ends.

The entrance to the cave

There weren’t that many stalagmites or stalactites, and I’ve definitely been to much more beautiful caves, but it was more about the adventure of going into that unknown, unsecured cave where you could easily hurt yourself or fall to your death without anyone able to help you. 💀

So that was quite the adventure. We took some pictures there. Some bats were hanging around, and some interesting rock formations, but there was nothing too special in that cave. However, it has high cultural significance for a local tribe and we had a tribal leader come with us. Before we went into the cave and after we came out, he was sacrificing not live animals, but cookies, chocolate, and wine. He sprinkled some wine on the floor of the cave and threw some cookies in, then we were good to go.

The Congo River

That night I got all of my work emails done, and I enjoyed a luxurious ten hours of sleep. The next day I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to visit the Congo River.

I didn’t have the best view from my hotel room, but everything looks better after ten hours of sleep. 🤣

We took a boat ride along the Congo River, not down the coast toward Kinshasa but way up instead. There was some interesting landscape there as well with some nice hills.

Don’t worry, this isn’t the boat I took 😅

We cruised around, seeing Brazzaville from the river. There are lots of rotting boats and a very nice skyline.

Some of the buildings we saw out there were very impressive.

There are many new buildings directly at the shore, and many new apartment buildings, so it seems like a lot of money is flowing into Congo at the moment. 💸

Construction at the riverfront

From the water, we could also see the poor slums, and then we entered the jungle. The jungle is quite nice there. So we just went up the water for 10-15 kilometers in this slow boat. The current wasn’t too strong and we were going against the flow, so it was pretty relaxed.

Who wants to take a nice cruise in this boat?

At some point, we saw some big cliffs which were interesting to photograph, and a lot of birds flying around. We didn’t do that much, just made a pit stop at some local bar where we had to climb up a bit, and we took some good pictures there.

Exploring the Congo River

Other than that, we just enjoyed the Congo River scenery, so that was a pretty relaxed day. We didn’t do much more that day, just a little bit of a cruise, and I had time to rest a bit.

The Highlight of West Africa

The next day was probably the highlight of my trip, which was the Lésio Louna National Park.

Welcome to the beautiful Lésio Louna National Park.

The park was about a three or four-hour drive from the capital, and there was some nice landscape to look at along the way. It’s a very hilly area with mostly savanna-like grassland and not too much forest. It’s kind of a valley with a river and some forest, which is pretty cool.

The Lésio Louna National Park is famous for its huge gorillas. I had just recently seen gorillas in Gabon, and before that in Cameroon and the DRC, but the lowland gorillas in Lésio Louna National Park are monstrously huge. I was really impressed.

This guy could be King Kong’s cousin 😨

We actually got there by boat. I thought we would just go around in it a bit and then come back, but It turned into a three or four-hour boat ride that took us all the way through the park and even outside of it to a nearby village, where we were picked up by a car. I hadn’t expected that.

Honestly, it felt a bit zoo-like because the rangers feed the gorillas, and it’s pretty easy to spot them, but it still made for great photographs. The gorillas there are living on kind of an island in the middle of this river and lake system.

The king of the jungle

We visited two or three different gorillas, which as I said, were very gigantic creatures. They were much larger than those I saw in the wild, probably because they were being fed good food. So, we just went around by boat over this river.

These guys seem to eat very well.

In addition to the gorillas, there were also some interesting birds around and there were even some hippos living in the river, so we were lucky to see those.

No proper trip to Africa is complete until you’ve spotted some hippos.

Weathering the Storm

The weather that day wasn’t the best, as some thunderstorms were coming in. It would have been very dangerous to be on the river when that started, not to mention that we would have gotten extremely wet, so at some point, we decided to stop for almost an hour to sit in a local ranger’s hut. After the worst of the storm was over, we continued.

This big fella didn’t seem to mind the rain too much.

We went all the way to a village at the end of the national park, which was quite a drive. Our car had waited for us there, but in the last three minutes of the trip, the weather took another turn for the worse. The rain increased and was falling in sheets. My clothing soaked all the way through. We only had to endure it for a few minutes, but I got extremely wet and was happy when we made it back to land and got in the car. 😅

So, that was one of my favorite days out of all of my travels through West Africa because the animals were just impressive and the scenery was nice as well. The only part that wasn’t amazing was getting so wet.

Join us next time to hear about the rest of my journey through the Republic of Congo, and find out how I got suckered into staying in the country for longer than I intended.