Before I travel, I try to do some reading on the destination, I like to be prepared. So this article includes some information that may be useful to those visiting the DRC for the first time. Also, the information in this article is based on my individual experience and some details may change.
Before you travel:
A big surprise for me was the price of a flight from Nairobi to Kinshasa. It is cheaper to fly to Belgium than to Congo from Nairobi, so it may be an idea to try and book it way in advance or set up a price alert around your preferred date (I used www.skyscanner.net and got a ticket about $300 less than usual).
You also need to apply for a visa in advance, that applies to both Kenyan and Belgian citizens, we all need a visa. I was pleasantly surprised at the efficient process of application. As of February 2018, the embassy in Nairobi is located in Electricity House. The visa processing period is 3 working days and costs $50. You need to pay it in USD, if you show up with M-pesa or Kenyan Shillings, you will be asked to go and change it. The visa requirements are clear and specific and the lady working there is very helpful. I called in advance to confirm that I have all the relevant documents, I would advise you to do the same in case anything has changed.
Lastly, update your vaccinations and be sure that you have carried your vaccination card; the Congolese Authorities don’t play with Yellow fever.
Arriving in Kinshasa:
The two main currencies used are Congolese Franc and USD. Prepare yourself for heat and a bit of vehicular chaos, you won’t forget your first ride through Kinshasa, trust me. I don’t know if the road rules in Kinshasa are different officially, but in reality, the roads are wild. Two lanes, 3 lanes, 8 lanes, it doesn’t seem to matter. I remember one of my first trips around Kinshasa, two vehicles almost collided and one driver got out of his car and went to fight the other driver…of course we didn’t linger to watch, but things went from 0 to 100 real quick. The public transport system is also quite interesting with buses, mini vans and little cars they call taxis, sometimes passengers sit on the roof or in the boot.
The departure procedure in Kinshasa is worth mentioning too. At the airport, you need to pay for a ‘Go Pass’, like a tax to leave or something like that, and it costs $55. You can’t leave without it. Before checking in, your documents will all be checked; ticket, visa and Go pass, then your luggage will be weighed and then opened and searched. After this, you then proceed to the check in counter, drop off your luggage and get your boarding pass. And if you thought that was it, you were mistaken. Before boarding the plane, you will need to open your hand luggage for another search and a pat down, and then you’re good to go…
Some spots in Kinshasa
There are lots of hotels and nice restaurants in Kinshasa. Oh but prepare yourself for the prices…I think Nairobi is rather expensive, but Kinshasa is on a whole different level. It is easier to pay in USD than Francs when at bars or restaurants in Kinshasa, sometimes the exchange rates that they use isn’t great (Menus are mostly in USD so if you opt to pay in Francs you will use the establishment’s rate).
Selton Hotel: I stayed here one night and was very very happy with it. Very clean, comfy, a good breakfast, friendly staff and the location is relatively convenient for movement around Kinshasa.
Hotel Royal: It is conveniently located very near Selton hotel, across the street actually. We had our first meal here, the food is PHENOMENAL….expensive..but PHENOMENAL! I was last there during the 2014 world cup and we attended a screening of the matches in the parking lot..it was very nice, they sold Belgian fritjes in the cone cup with mayonnaise, very legit!
Grande Hotel: In the past I have joined the gym here and enjoyed the swimming pool, not this time though. I understand there is a beautiful rooftop bar with a view of Kinshasa, the Congo river and Congo Brazzaville, we didn’t get a chance to see it though…This is a fancy fancy hotel, there are tons of shops as well, you can get a sim card there and the attendance speak English and will help you set up your sim card.
Paroisse Sainte Anne: I spent my last night in Kinshasa here. It is a more affordable option (compared to Selton Hotel and Grande Hotel), less luxurious but still very nice. It is clean, the rooms are spacious and it has a very historic atmosphere. I hear it used to be, or still is the popular accommodation option for visiting missionaries. I didn’t take a look at the actual church, but I understand it is also quite beautiful.
O’Poeta Restaurant: AMAZING Pizza!!! In 2014 and in 2018!