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The Republic of Congo, also known as Congo-Brazzaville, boasts landscapes comprising pristine rainforests filled with abundant wildlife, undulating rivers, majestic falls and larger than life trees. Visits to the capital city of Brazzaville and the port city of Pointe Noire are musts in order to fully experience this Sub-Saharan African country. However, travel to the northernmost province of Likouala is presently advised against.
The roads in Congo are largely in poor condition, with many areas unpaved, including Highway 2, which connects the capital, Brazzaville, to the important port city of Pointe Noire. Conditions deteriorate during the wet season (November to May), when many roads become impassable to ordinary vehicles. Four-wheel drive vehicles are required for travel away from the main roads.
Driving licences: an International Driving Permit is needed to be able to drive here.
Which side does Congo drive on: the right.
Built-up areas: 31mph (50kph) to 37mph (60kph)
Alcohol limits: there is no law limiting blood-alcohol content, but drivers should adhere to the UK limit of 0.08 per cent for their own safety.
Driving age: 18 years.
Seatbelts: there are no laws specific to seatbelt use while driving but drivers are advised to use restraints, if fitted.
Mobile phones and GPS: while there are no concrete regulations pertaining to mobile phone use or use of other devices such as GPS, the authorities may pull drivers over for using such devices while driving. It is best to use such devices in conjunction with a hands-free kit.
Cost of fuel in Congo: both unleaded petrol and diesel are considerably cheaper here when compared to UK petrol rates.
Car hire and fuel payment: cash is the only form of payment at filling stations. Credit cards may be accepted by major car hire firms.
Insurance: drivers are encouraged to obtain comprehensive insurance including excess.
Traffic and parking: traffic could be hampered by the numerous military checkpoints. While it is relatively safe to park in the main cities of Brazzaville and Pointe Noire, vehicles are easy targets for armed criminal gangs, making parking in a secure location a must.
The Chemin de Fer Congo-Océan (Congo-Ocean Railway Company) is the main and only railway operator in the country. It operates the Peace Train, which runs from the capital of Brazzaville to the port city of Pointe Noire, a distance of 312 miles (bypassing the rapids of the Congo River). The terminus to terminus commute takes three days and services are inconsistent and prone to disruptions. Another railway line connecting Pointe Noire and Mbinda exists; however, passenger trains on this route are not operational.
Taxis must have an official government permit to operate in the country. Visitors are advised to hire only official cabs—green and white in Brazzaville and blue and white in Pointe Noire. The quality of cabs and their services vary greatly. Cabs are not metered and prices should be agreed upon before getting in. The fare for a ride within the city limits in Brazzaville cost around £1.20. At night, this rate can increase to £2.40. In Pointe Noire, fares are slightly more expensive.
Buses are available, but travelling by bus is discouraged due to security reasons, poor road conditions and limited emergency services. Minibuses and shared taxis are commonly used by locals to transport goods, including livestock, from one city to another. These services aren’t regular or reliable but fares are remarkably cheap.
There is a border crossing ferry service that takes passengers from Brazzaville to Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo and back. Entry and exit permits, and visas, are required for this river crossing. The regular passenger ferry costs around £10 while the VIP service costs close to £20. Note, however, that the border is frequently closed without warning. There are ferries and speedboats for hire along the Congo River from Brazzaville but information regarding schedules and fares is only available locally.
The main gateway is Maya-Maya Airport, which services the capital of Brazzaville. It is connected to Paris-Charles de Gaulle via Air France and Equatorial Congo Airlines. Pointe Noire's airport also has international connections to Paris-Charles de Gaulle via Air France as well as Frankfurt via Lufthansa. The EU has a ban on a number of air carriers certified by the local authorities. Maya-Maya and Pointe Noire are connected to each other by domestic carriers.
Visitors can begin exploring the Republic of Congo by heading to either Brazzaville or Pointe Noire. Both cities are good bases to begin travel around the country.
The capital city of Brazzaville used to be a thriving West African city prior to the Congo Civil War. Remnants of this former glory can still be discerned in many of the rundown buildings. Many establishments, such as hotels and restaurants, are currently being rebuilt to boost the economy.
Two churches worth seeing here are: Basilique Sainte-Anne of the Congo, said to be one of the most beautiful churches in the world, and Cathedrale Sacre-Coeur, which offers views of downtown Brazzaville and Kinshasa, across the river.
The Lesio-Louna Wildlife Reserve is a good place to visit as it is located just north of Brazzaville. The park aims to provide protection and sanctuary to gorillas.
Once done with Brazzaville, Pointe Noire is the next tourist destination worth seeing here. This former French settlement still feels very French. It also has beaches and a spectacular gorge right outside the city.
The climate of Congo is equatorial. The wet season is from November to May, while the dry season runs from June to October. The best time to visit is in the dry season as many roads are unusable due to the rains in the wet season. Temperatures vary little throughout the year. The average daytime temperature is a humid 24°C, while night-time temperatures average from 16°C to 21°C.