The Democratic Republic of The Congo: Discovering Kinshasa
January 1, 1970
Kinshasa or Kin la belle as they call it is the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, with a population of over 13 million. With French being the main spoken language, it is the second biggest country in Africa. A city so huge it can take you years to discover. It’s so chaotic, yet so beautiful and full of adventurers who want nothing more than to have a good time. Back in Egypt, I remember how I used to hear stories about it from different Congolese expats. I knew nothing about it but I have to admit that it did not fascinate me that much. I had a vague and unclear image about this place. I was horrified and never wanted to set legs in it. I was glad I lived thousands of kilometers away, but it wasn’t long before I realize that I was wrong. It’s one of those times where you agree with the saying never judge a book by its cover.
In the summer of 2014, after so much thought, my mother decided that my sister and I should take a trip to Kinshasa. I have to admit I was excited at the idea of travelling and have a new stamp on my passport but I really didn’t know what to expect from a city I’ve heard so little of but I was determined to visit my country of origin and know more about it. Somehow, I knew I would later on have stories to tell. So on a hot day in July I left.
Arriving in Kinshasa
When I landed, I wanted to know what this place was all about. Something was telling me that I was going to have one hell of an adventure and that little voice in my head couldn’t be more right.
Kinshasa is one of those destinations that should be well planned in advance. You should be well prepared for the experience you’re about to live. There are so many things to see and many places to visit, from attractions, to parks, museums, eateries and more. The city has it all. If you would like to get the full experience, you should see Kinshasa at both day and night because you get to see a little of both worlds. During the day, it’s a little bit low. Normally people go to work and school or stay at home but when the night comes, the wolves are out. Kinshasa people love to party every day, literally. Every day is a weekend. People want nothing more than to go out have some fun with friends and loved ones. It’s a way to forget about their stressful day-to-day life. At night, especially during the week-end, I’d take walks with my sister or sit somewhere and have a drink at one of these famous terraces that you find all around the city.
Kinshasa has only two weathers, dry season and rainy season. During the rainy season, it rains and it’s usually hot and sunny. During dry season, the weather is usually cooler. It would be wise to carry a jacket or a scarf with you.
So many different types of food to try in this country, but in Kinshasa the food diversity is higher than other cities in the country. Here, you can find if not everything, most things. Local food includes many types of vegetables (pundu, fumbwa, matembele, bitekuteku, etc.), meat, fish and chicken. These dishes are accompanied by either fufu, or chikwang or plantin. If you’re looking for international cuisine, then you’d find as many restaurants and cafes serve them.
In a city that never sleeps, there are so many things to see and many places to visit. The nightlife is quite vibrant as there are many restaurants open. Kinshasa is also known for its terraces that start to operate during the evening until x time. Some of these have loud music and serve all type of drinks and food, usually grilled stuffs (chicken, meat or fish).
To really get to know Kinshasa, you should start by those little things that really make this city. Behind all those tall buildings and modern like places, there are many hidden gems that would make you fall in love with it. When in Kinshasa, here are the things you should try:
Visit La Gare Centrale
Located right in the heart of la Gombe (downtown), la Gare Centrale (the central station) offers a beautiful view of the city. It’s one of the oldest sites of Kinshasa and it’s a great place to take night walk and sit by the little fountains surrounding it.
Visit the botanic garden and the zoo
A day at the botanic garden is a great way to start your adventure a la Kinoise. The first time I visited the botanic garden of Kinshasa, I was quite amazed by all these different types of trees and plants. I didn’t know that there actually could be so many living species in this world. Taking a tour of the Kinshasa botanic garden can take you up to two to three hours times, so it would be advisable to go during the morning to take advantage of it all. Cameras are allowed inside but you need to pay some money but if you decide to use your Smartphone, then you wouldn’t have to pay for anything. The entrance fee is not that costly and usually the price is a little higher for foreigners but usually but more than $5.
Visit a local market
There are plenty of markets in Kinshasa amongst them zando, Marché de la liberte and gambela which are the most popular ones.
Have breakfast at Le Wapal Guesthouse
If you like to have your breakfast by the pool in a quiet and clean environment, then le Wapal is the right place for you. Located in Macampagne, they offer a variety of breakfast at affordable prices.
Eat all those exotic fruits
There’s a wide variety of fruits to try in this city. You will find everything you’re looking for from pineapples to mangosteen, star fruits and mangoes, the city has it all. Challenge yourself to try one fruit a day.
Looking back at two years ago, I realized how much changes that city has known. It’s like watching a transformation from the good to the better in such short amount of time. A lot has been made and many attractions and restaurants have been added. Ten years ago, the capital city was so different and far from the modern version we have now.
Living in Kinshasa is a good place if you can adapt easily. People here are quite nice and welcoming. They love to get to know people and where they come from and what they’re all about. Contrary to what people think, Kinshasa isn’t that expensive compared to other African capital cities. With a good budget and great management you could live with little money and still have some fun and eat well. If you’re visiting, you can find a hotel room that starts with $20 a night up to $200. With less than $5 you can have lunch at any local restaurant (malewa). A dish at a restaurant can start at $10 up to $50 or more, depending on the place and what you’re eating. Shopping in Kinshasa wouldn’t cost you much if you like to buy second-hand stuffs. There are many of them available and almost everywhere. You just need to know where the good spots are and it’s better to go with a local if you’re not familiar with it to get things at a low price. But if you’re looking for expensive stuffs, there are many boutiques and shops. Here in Kinshasa, people discuss everything so don’t think it weird if you find people all around you discussing the price of every item they buy.
Discovering such a big city can take time, but only an adventurous heart would go for such an experience. If you’re looking for a country to visit in central Africa, I would recommend the Democratic Republic of the Congo and you should definitely pass by the country’s capital. Get your cameras ready, mark your calendar and get prepared for your adventure to Kinshasa. Bon voyage!