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Trip Report - Republic Of Congo and Central African Republic

San Diego...
Level Contributor
114 posts
1 review
Trip Report - Republic Of Congo and Central African Republic

I just returned from leading a trip with 10 clients to Republic Of Congo and Central African Republic. I last visited this destination 7 years ago and it was great to be back and help lead the charge as this somewhat more beleaguered destination starts its post Covid recovery. As this is such a seldom visited destination, I though it would be helpful to leave a detailed trip review on the forums as I did for being the first back to Botswana post Covid as well as among the first into Tanzanian post Covid.

On our trip we visited Brazzaville, Ngaga Camp, Lango Camp, Mboko Camp and Sangha Lodge. We trekked gorillas three times, walked the forests, visited Odzala-Kokoau National Park, Nouabali Ndoki NP, Dzanga-Sangha NP, accompanied a traditional net hunt with the BaAka people, walked ancient elephant highways and explored the Likoli and Sangha River by boat and canoe.

Let me be clear from the start, this trip is not for everyone. It is more expedition than traditional safari and there are plenty of moments that for some would be overwhelming. The most important item to bring along is a great attitude. This trip brings a very strong feeling of true adventure in a way that the modern mainstream safari seldom allows for anymore. The plan will change, equipment will fail, things will sting and places will itch. Each day brings something that will take your breath away and the emotions of seeing some of Africa's wildest and least known places, wildlife and people will transport you back in time and deliver that wonder we all chase but seldom receive so viscerally. This is like going on safari 50 years ago, in many ways.

This trip would not be challenging to overlanding/backpacking/budget travelers willing to sleep rough and eat "carefully" but at almost $20k per person, this trip will obviously come with much greater expectations. If you arrive here hoping for the ease and comforts of a $1000 per person per night safari camp in Kenya or Botswana, you are going to be left wanting. We are not "paying" for linens and wine lists here but rather for significant investments in logistics. The private aircraft in particular is an enormous cost and add to that the vehicles and boats, as well as nearly impossible logistics and soon you appreciate that even at this cost, it is incredible value for money. The truth is that these services have not even achieved a financial "break even" and by that metric alone, this is a "good deal". All this means that you can do in two weeks, a trip that would take two months, and do it in astounding comfort and ease, considering where you are.

Throughout our trip we were hosted by dedicated and hard working people, grateful to share their part of the planet in the best way they can. The food is excellent but variety can be limited. Demanding dietary requirements can be a challenge here and a wide ranging pallet will be very happy with plenty of delicious foods and some fun opportunity to try new and local dishes.

Below are the details on how our itinerary played out

Day 1

Airport arrival - We were met by our handlers pre-immigration and it was nice to know we were in good hands right out the gate. Most of us did not have visas and our ground team had arranged for a derogation letter which essentially is formal permission from ROC government to get a visa on arrival. I would still suggest getting a visa in advance but this is an option, as long as you have connections on the ground in Brazzaville. Derogation letter works well and did not slow the process down. Air France arrival is pretty chaotic and gets in late afternoon. Ethiopian gets in mid morning and is less chaotic so maybe a better option.

Radisson Blue - Nice rooms and good dinner.

Day 2

Morning city tour - In room Covid testing before morning tour. The Covid test was for the sake of gorilla trekking in order to keep the gorillas safe. Brazzaville is famous for their Sapeurs which are a local cultural group who take "dressing up" very seriously and are extremely brand name focused but also have a strong colorful flair with local fabrics. We decided on paying homage to this with a Sapeurs celebration on our last night and so this morning we went to a local fabric shop where each traveler picked their fabrics which will be fitted and tailored by a local tailor (responsible for staff uniforms) at Mboko. Also saw the new bridge as well as the gallery / museum which was a bit of a let down. Went to a curio market which was good and then a gallery where some women had large sculptures made of scrap metal and other painting art but not great options for purchasing.

We left mid day for our 1hr 45min flight to Mboko. We were very well assisted though the airport and then boarded the LET410. The aircraft is very nice . It has 14 seats and and piloted by 2 crew. We landed on grass strip and after some welcome drinks we started what was supposed to be a 2hr drive but became 3 hr drive to Ngaga Camp and arrived in the dark. That evening we had a gorilla briefing, antigen test and dinner. Food was good. Rooms nice and very well lit. Camp does not look worn, especially for a jungle camp.

Day 3

4:30am wake up, 5am breakfast and 5:30 sharp departure for trekking. They want to leave super early to have the best possible treks. We had 3 treks and all were 10/10

sightings. Lowland Gorillas can be quite arboreal but all 3 groups had gorillas on the ground for some period of time during the sightings. Great photo ops but the humidity build up on viewfinders and eyeglasses makes it very challenging. All 3 groups back in camp by 9:30. Note that you are not allowed to bend over, kneel or crouch so strongly recommend a monopod to brace cameras.

Afternoon was a forest walk that was quite strenuous and culminated in an awesome sundowner setup at a stream with cold water for tired feet:)

Day 4

Same early wake up for 3 gorilla treks with each group rotating to a different family. All good treks again. It should again be noted that photography is difficult and a tall monopod and all effort to reduce fogging up screens should be employed.

Afternoon visit to the local small village of Ombo, different from Mbomo where the Plattner school etc is. It’s a nice village and they have a plantation etc. Met the headmen and they really liked the soccer ball gifts etc.

Interesting note about the food. Lunch and dinner are the same offerings with 3 entrees but it repeats for lunch and dinner.

Day 5

Slept in and drove to Mboko for lunch. Saw forest elephant on the plain in front of camp. Then drove a short distance to the boat launch and canoed for an hour or so down the Lekoli River before heading up Lango stream. Once it got too shallow for the canoes we got out and walked in the stream and eventually into Lango Bai with camp appearing on our right out of the forest. The whole activity took about 4 hrs. Our luggage had been brought over by car and was waiting for us in the room. Dinner was delicious but note that fish and egg plant are very popular.

The men got measured for their Sapeurs outfits.

Note: A "bai" is a forest clearing, created by the deposition of minerals and the result animal traffic to eat these minerals. These are hugely important areas for wildlife both for the sustenance but also the opportunity for social interaction to find mates etc.

Day 6

This morning we went on what they called the “deep water” walk which is all about following ancient elephant trails and walking up to waist deep through the deep crossing left by all the elephants. It is a beautiful walk and a highlight NOT to be missed. Now, because of the elephants, the water is not always crystal clear and the Sulphur smells at times were quite strong but what an incredible experience nonetheless. We also some colobus monkey on the walk.

This afternoon we were supposed to head toward a more distant forest for another forest walk but when we got to where the walk was to start the Africa Parks road crew had blazed a new road into the forest so we just ended up following that for a good bit. There are signs of elephant, Hyena and chimp but the reality of seeing anything is extremely slim.

Day 7

We left camp at 6am for a Bai walk in the hopes catching a glimpse of the ellies who take over the Bai at night. Note that you are never allowed to shine a flashlight on the Bai at night as the ellies run away. We did manage to see an ellie on the walk but not a great sighting, they are VERY shy in the daytime. Just before returning we had an incredible sighting of hundreds of African Grey parrots coming into the bai to eat salt minerals off the ground. After lunch we drove to Mboko. To make the trip shorter they drive (45 minutes) to the edge of the forest and then you cross the forest on a boardwalk and it is a beautiful walk of about 30 minutes. In the afternoon we took a boat trip on the Likoli River. The Lekoli is the single worst tsetse area on the whole trip.

Day 8

We had breakfast at 7:30 and drove to the Mboko airstrip about 45 minutes from camp. We then flew 45 minutes to Kabu on the Sangha river to start our 120km boat trip to Sangha Lodge. The river is wide and beautiful but the trip took over 6hrs so it is a very long day. There were 5 stops on route for immigration and military checkpoints and those can be very slow. We did a stop at the WCS headquarters at Mbali-Ndoki NP and they were very excited for us to be the very first tourists to use a visa free card allowing access to the multi country national parks. We arrived at Sangha Lodge around 5:30 and the setting is amazing.

Sangha does not have solar and works on a generator only. The gennie runs from 10am to noon, 2pm to 4pm and 6pm till 10pm. And so you need to plan your charging accordingly. When the gennie is off there are no lights in the room.

Day 9

Breakfast at 6:30 and then a 20km drive to the point in the park where you start a 25 minute walk to Dzanga Bai. We stopped on route to pick up local guides to join us. Arriving to Dzanga is mind boggling. As you approach you start hearing the loud elephant vocalizations and increase in bird life especially the African Grey Parrots. The Bai is teaming with ellies with the number never dropping below 50 during our time at the Bai. We left the Bai at 3pm having arrived at 10am and nobody could get bored of that. The best elephant viewing in Africa! They do let you shoot from ground level for more eye level shots.

Day 10

We left camp at 7 and drove almost two hours to the departure point for Gorillas. On route we stopped at the park HQ for antigen testing administered by the vet which everyone got a kick out of. The gorillas were at a nearby Bai and are very habituated, notably more so than Odzala. Everyone had excellent views including good sightings of the silverback. We returned to camp by 3pm.

Day 11

Breakfast at 7 and then group split in two with some going net hunting with the Ba-aka people and the other hiking to a waterfall where there is also hopes of see an extremely rare Picathartis bird which two members of the party managed.

The waterfall hike is spectacular with an amazing amount of insect life. The falls themselves are not massive or overly impressive but a walk worth doing and not to be skipped with lots of otherworldly caterpillars and butterflies.

The net hunting is amazingly chaotic. As you drive through the village you are inundated with people wanting to join the hunt and kids and adults literally jumping on the truck as you go. The head local guide picks who is coming and a hunting party of 5 men and 5 woman is formed. Once in the forest. Nets are strung up in circles and semi circles and with whooping and bush beating a drive is initiated. We had 4 drives attempted but without success. We did find honey, dug out from underground and various other nuts and tubers were collected. At one point a local vine was produced and by cutting it we found plenty of clean delicious drinking water. They also showed us how to build a quick forest shelter which only took 20 minutes to construct. Both parties were home by lunch. An afternoon walk from camp was offered and on this walk we learned more about the pants and insects around the camp.

Day 12

Breakfast at 6:30 for departure down river back to Kabu. Boat trip was 5.5 hrs on the return journey. Then there was an optional walk followed by dinner and our Sapeur celebration. The Sapeur is a must do and everyone got a real kick out of the amazing work the tailor did and the evening was filled with celebrations, poetry and reminiscing about the amazing experiences the group had enjoyed.

Day 13

We had a 9am wheels up from Mboko. Note that fog is always a potential issue for morning take off. 1:45 duration to Brazzaville and then we had day rooms at the Raddison Blue to facilitate our covid testing testing, a government requirement for exiting at current. Our evening departure was pretty chaotic and all in all we passed through nine checkpoints before getting to our gate. Frankly, the airport experience put a real dampener on the travels and you want to approach this last leg with plenty of patience.

NOTES:

• 4 Pairs of trousers and shirts.

• Quick dry sneakers for Bai walks, separate from your dry walking shoes.

• Legs must be covered for walks, no shorts because of Tsetse, sand flies and mosquitoes.

• We had heard about Tsetse not liking yellow so wore yellow on the boat where Tsetse are worst. We got no bites on the shirt area but lots on the legs through our pants so it may work?

• Dry bags are suggested for boats, canoes and bai walks.

• You have to have local currency for this trip and we had not been warned of this to much frustration. In CAR especially the US$ is virtually worthless. Brazzaville should be used as the opportunity to get XFA / CFA the Central African Franc for use during the trip. Guides and staff in ROC can be tipped in US$ but once in CAR you need XFA for gratuities and to buy curios at little stands at park entrances etc.

• April is also a good month to travel and best chance for Bongo on the Bais. Bongos seem very rare this time of year.

• Guides: There are few places in Africa where guides still work as hard as this. We spent the bulk of our time with Dean and Nichole a married couple. They are amazing and play off each other very well. They have incredible knowledge and honest enthusiasm. They made the trip! Sam at Sangha Lodge was also just incredible. Under the guidance of Rod & Tam he is in the 6 weeks he has been there amassed an incredible amount of knowledge. Sam is very impressive.

By the end of the trip we had 10 very happy travelers who all had a strong sense of accomplishment and a lot of gratitude for the amazing experiences and people along the way

4 replies to this topic
Level Contributor
113 posts
1. Re: Trip Report - Republic Of Congo and Central African Republic

Thanks Chris. According to my notes there are still covid restrictions when entering and leaving CAR:

- a 72 hours covid test before arrival to CAR

- 2-day quarantine after entering

- covid test before leaving/flying out CAR

Is that still correct?

San Diego...
Level Contributor
114 posts
1 review
2. Re: Trip Report - Republic Of Congo and Central African Republic

We entered along the Sangha River using a newly developed cross border agreement where folks can visit the cross border national parks without the traditional visa and/or other entry requirement. I am sure normal arrivals into the country would have very different requirements. For Republic Of Congo, we were required to have tests 72 hrs or less before arrival and we did need to test in order to leave the country as well. No quarantines for vaccinated travelers.

Chris Liebenberg - owner - Piper & Heath

Spearfish, South...
Level Contributor
26 posts
3. Re: Trip Report - Republic Of Congo and Central African Republic

This was no help, thank you.

Edited: 1 year ago
Spearfish, South...
Level Contributor
26 posts
4. Re: Trip Report - Republic Of Congo and Central African Republic

Now that's messed up. I'm in rural Kenya with slow internet. I edited my message from my PC and the power went out in the middle of a very long transmit. Its like the every 15-20 words were stripped off my paragraph so that only "This was no help, thank you." remains. Lets see what happens using my iPhone.

Edited: 1 year ago
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