trip to DR Congo 2023
We drove 1400 km in DRC. We started in Luvo border crossing (Angola), then to Kinshasa, Kikwit, Tshikapa and then down on a “smuggler’s road” back into Angola. Those were unforgettable seven days and this is our story so far…
02 CROssing the border
03 first day in congo
Day 1 DRC. (17.01.2023.)
Today we are driving to DRC. We filled up with diesel in MBanza Congo, because it is 5 times cheaper here than in Congo. It was the last place to fill up with diesel before the border that is around 70 km away.
At the Luvo border crossing we went to Angolan side, they open the first gate for you, then you go to immigration (pink building). As tourists we could skip the queue, got our passports stamped. Then customs (green building) he stamped out Angolan TIP and said we can use it again when we come back.
Then police checkpoint before the bridge that divides Angola and Congo. At the Congo side Police took our passports to DGM (immigration) meanwhile we did the Health Inspection, they only wanted our Covid Vaccine and took a temperature.
Then we went to immigration and he stamped our passports with an entry stamp.
We didn’t have a CDP, and it was a public holiday in DRC, so all the offices were closed that could write us a TIP. Friendly officer at the immigration called the customs officers to come to work They made us TIP and we payed 33 500 CDF.
Once in DRC we bought SIM card on the market and some airtime. They say Vodacom is the best to get.
So we on the road towards Kinshasa. The scenery is stunning, green hills, bamboo trees, quite a few broken down tracks on the sides of the road. The road is not bad, it’s old tar, few potholes. We even spotted the car that had Irish number plate! We tried to talk to the guy but he didn’t speak French or English we didn’t try Irish
At Lukala Toll Gate we payed 10 500 CDF. We bought some bags of hot roasted peanuts from the kids 2×500 CDF.
Later we stopped on the road to stretch the legs and big truck stopped and the guy came out to chat with us. We talked to him about the roads in Congo, he said the road to Tshikapa from Kinshasa is even better than this, it is tar and wider than the one we are on. Very friendly guy!
There are more and more cars broken down every few kilometers, mostly big trucks.
We stopped in town called Kisantu. We went to look at the hotel that is called Hotel on iOverlander, but we didn’t like it. It was really pretty bad, 30 USD. There was street parking with police security. We went to look at other hotel we spotted previously, it’s called Le Mangoustan. That was way better and costed 35USD. We had a room with AC, TV, toilet and bathroom. Parking was secure behind a gate.
Then we went out on streets for a walk! That was a mad place! Full of motorbikes, big trucks, people shouting everywhere! We were good entertainment for kids there, they were running around us We went to shop to buy some more airtime for the phone. For 10 USD you can buy 10 GB of data for 1 month. And that costs 24 000 CDF. So we walked in this crazy place, one man was following us till the hotel. He didn’t seem right in his head.
In the hotel the restaurant was closed so we made some dinner ourselves. Pasta salad with beans and chili sauce
Day 2 DRC. (18.01.2023.)
It was nice to wake up in air conditioned room and have a shower the outside temperature was 25, but humidity was horrendous. We made some coffee for the road and were on our way. We bought some deep fried dough balls.
Closer to Kinshasa there was a toll gate, but we didn’t have to pay because we paid yesterday and that covers the whole road to Kinshasa. Closer to Kinshasa we had a chat with a policeman that stopped us, we didn’t give him a chance to talk because Stéphane did the talking
Kinshasa – ow that was a madness!!! The rubbish and mud is indescribable! It was bumper to bumper – people, taxis, trucks, cars, completely overloaded, at some point we drove 1 km in 30 mins. Lots of cops around, all very nice and helpful, just trying to sort out this traffic mess. Didn’t stop us, they just wanted us to move and get the traffic going. Apart of one time when the road got more open and wider closer to the Airport, two drunk cops stopped us and asked us driving license, we gave him the copy but he didn’t want it, he wanted original. He said to Stéphane:”are you Mr Ardagh” (that’s his address in Ireland). that shows how much they understand. Then asked for car papers, we gave them registration paper that was a copy. They asked for money, they were quite rude, but we just smiled and said we have nothing, said we like the Congo and at the end of all this, all he got was a small bag of peanuts we bought from the boy the day before he gave us back the papers, the whole thing took max 5 minutes and we were on the road again. In Kinshasa we felt nobody noticed us that we were white people driving, everyone had their own problems (to get from A to . The experience driving in Kinshasa is impossible to describe, this must be experienced themselves
So we drove through long road of suburbs that all look the same. Full of vendors, motorbikes, taxis, mud and rubbish mountains. In four hours since we started our trip we were pass Kinshasa and things got a bit quieter. At the same time we got more “visible” – people were looking and shouting more, when they saw us.
We had some road blocks on the way, they all were easy, we joked and laughed with Immigration guys and cops. Only once we have 1000 CDF to one immigration guy (0.5€), he was too persistent
Out of the village we stopped on the side of the road to stretch legs. The guy with his family on the motorbike stopped and hooted, asked for money. He wouldn’t go, we gave some bread to the girl and a baby. We met this guy later in another village, had a chat.
We arrived at Catholic mission in the town Bukanga Lonzo. That was a place in town, we followed dirt track up to his place, passed football field where kids were playing, and asked if we can camp. The Italian missionary was a nice old mad. The place was stunning many years ago. Now it is in a poor state. He offered us room, but we stayed in our camper. We could use toilet and bathroom in the room. It is a very quiet place, in secured area, feels you are far away from town.
We cooked some pasta with bacon, onions and cabbage, made some sambos for tomorrow. In the evening we could hear local woman singing African songs, fireflies were cruising and blinking in the air and also distant lightning…
Day 3 DRC (19.01.2023.)
This morning we had a chat with a missionary, he showed us a parrot that could sing Congolese anthem
Drove again through villages, people shouting “mundele” at us all the time most of them happy people, just a couple of angry and drunk eejits. there were couple of road blocks, at one DGM officer asked for passports, we have them the copies. And asked if they know where Ireland is, they said Europe they asked for something to give them, we didn’t give anything, after a chat they let us go through.
We bought super nice bananas on the road 3000 CFD (1,40€). We doing about 35-40 km per hour, we are not in a hurry
We bought some pineapple from a kid 500 CDF (0,25 €).
Another road block near Kikongo, this time was a DGM lady, gave her a copy of visa and passport, asked for bribe again, she got nothing. A bit further down the road there was a bamboo made up gate, the kids just opened it and we went through.
We stopped at one of the villages to make photocopies of our visa and passport, bought bread. Talked to locals, they asked us to take videos of Congo to show other people how they live.
Some places kids see the car coming and they throw sand in the potholes with spades and ask for money for fixing the road.
Another police roadblock – they asked if we are missionaries, Stéphane said that more or less so he blessed the cops and we were aloud to go they asked for a coffee (which means a bribe) and Stéphane said he has finished his, nothing left. They laughed and we were off again. Till the next road block 200 m away. It was a peage, but we’re were aloud to go for free. There were quite a lot of busses there, so we thought that’s the peage for the busses.
People dry their corn right on the road on tar.
Another police road block, they asked for money, we said: “thank you, buy!”.
In Kikwit we went to look at the hotel “Grand Hotel de Kikwit”. It wasn’t good, everything was falling apart, swimming pool was broken. We went across the street to hotel Marinel and it was less falling apart so we got the room that was 100 USD for 50 USD. We paid 105 000 CFD. Parked in secure parking that was full of rubbish but good enough
We went for a walk in Kikwit, then some smaller street, but when people started to become too exited seeing us, we decided that’s enough and went for something to eat. We went to local restaurant, it was 18:00 and we were late, the food was finished nearly, we had all they had left – some bits of meat (could have been goat), spinach, some smoked on fish on coal and huge portion of rice.
Then we passed another hotel that was opposite of Marinel, it’s called Esperanza and had a look at the room. It was cheaper that the one we stayed at, the price is 20-35 $. So we might stay there on the way back.
Noisy place until 00:00. Then electricity goes down in the town and it’s quiet. Apart of crazy people shouting here and there.
Day 4 DRC. (20.01.2023.)
The night was a bit loud in this town. Some crazy people shouting on the streets. We got up, went to the hotels restaurant and had a breakfast. It was piece of bread with jam and pineapple pieces, had some coffee. Then we hit the road. There was no diesel in the town. Kikwit is a mad place. Everyone shouting “les blanc, les blanc!” We were stopped by the police and DGM, gave them our passport copies. We said to them to open the gate because ewe can’t waist time with them, we are tourists and want to see the country. Getting out of Kikwit, there were sand road for (don’t know must check 30 maybe?) kilometers, they were doing roadworks. After that the road was fantastic! Road markings, road signs, proper road signs! Even the speed bump was a proper speed bump! So we made good speed for a while – 70 km/h. We couldn’t believe it! It was just absolutely fantastic!
Toll and road block at the river. There even different time zone here! Entering Kasai province. We had to pay a tax (or whatever that is) to exit one province. 10 500 CDF. Then we crossed the river Lwange. Another road block on the other side. This was the longest obstacle so far on our trip. The whole Disneyland was here – DGM, police, toll, crazy woman of whatever rank she was, and drunks. We explained we come to see the Congo, we fed up paying and everyone asking for money the whole road. Gave them all papers – passport, visa copies, car papers, driving license copy. They tried everything, stamp of police was expired, and whatever. Then they wanted Stéphane to get out of car to pay the toll. While Stéphane was paying and waiting for the man to write the cheque, some drunk was at Sinty’s window, put his face up to the window and was knocking on the window. Sinty closed the window, he tried to opened the door a bit (it wasn’t locked ). Another drunk walked by. It all took looooooong 5 minutes. Eventually they left. It wasn’t anything bad, just not comfortable. Eventually Stéphane returned with a slip and the gate was open. 30 300 CDF. It was all legit.
So we on the road again. Until! The crazy woman of whatever rank she was, she was on the back of a motorcycle racing after us and waving papers. We eventually stopped they were going fast and were persistent to stop us. Actually what happen is that they forgot to return copies of our car papers (they never keep car paper copies or drivers license copies in Congo, they always return them). Sinty grabbed the papers through the window, but they wanted a bribe for petrol for driving all the way after us. Yeah right!
Not many villages from here. The road is spectacular, the nature, it’s absolutely magnificent, it feels untouched by human forever. The water, rivers, greenery, everything here just so pure.
Close to Tshikapa another road block and they wanted to see that peage slip. All good, so it is what they do here. We paid the right price at the Leange. We are just very sceptical, can’t believe much of what they say here
Tshikapa was absolute mind blow! The streets look like a proper streets, there are side walks for people, they don’t walk on highway! There are streetlights! There are buildings that have cement walls! People are not screaming and shouting at us! Yeah! Three bridges that are in good condition! On the contrary the Main Street is more crowded and reminded us of other parts of Congo.
We found a petrol station. Diesel price 3500 CDF. The price is written on A4 page instead of a screen on the pump. So we filling up. Then the attendant says: actually the price is 4000 CDF, that what’s written 3500 CDF is wrong. Mamma Mia! So we were putting 100 liters and we were on 96 litres. Kak and Betaal! (In Afrikaans means Sh*t and Pay).
We were looking for the hotel, we couldn’t find any. They were just not there. So we went back to another petrol station and asked the boss for a hotel. He paid a guy to escort us to Hotel Paradis. Wasn’t easy to find if you don’t know where it is. And we were not in the mood driving backroads in the city to experiment much. Eventually we got there and Ow My! It did feel like a Paradise! It’s first time since Luanda (6 days and 1650 km ago) we saw a European person. We met two girls (one of them the boss woman) that work here in Tshikapa. Heaven! Got the room for 60 USD. Had the first hot shower since Namibia. Had a great chat with the boss woman, we couldn’t stop talking. She was also so happy to see us, as there are not many Europeans in the city.
We sitting at the restaurant and having a beer. Ordered a chicken and fufu. That will be the story of today. It’s raining.
Day 5 DRC (21.01.2023.)
Why we went to Tshikapa we will tell you later. (Be patient and Follow us that will be shown on our YouTube Video)
So we had two options how to get out of DRC: either go back to Kinshasa and down to Luvo (4 days) or try the road that goes down to Angola from Tshikapa towards Dundo (Angola). Kinshasa – we knew the road, roadblocks, places we can stay overnight. Dundo – we didn’t know anything about the road, we heard there was one, and that would probably take us 1 day to get to the border.
So we drove to the place where smugglers are taking off to drive to Angolan border using that road. We met the guys and asked about the road. They said there was a good road. Their vehicles were in relatively good shape, they said it’s about 150km long and will take about 8 hours. They said with our 4×4 we will make it without a problem. There is also a pontoon that will take our 4×4 over the river. That would cost about 50$. They told there are roadblocks and we will have to pay to get through.
So we thought for a while and decided we going to take the smugglers road. The maps don’t have that road, we will have to follow the tracks and ask locals for directions.
So we went for a nice dinner with our new Congolese friend at a stunning place by the river. Went to bed early, because we will wake up early and start the journey with the first light.
Day 6 DRC (22.01.2023.) Part 1.
We got up before the sunrise, we wanted to be on the road as early as possible, because we knew there will be lots of roadblocks on our route and that will take time to go through them. We didn’t know the condition of the road, and didn’t have a map of the road. We knew two places we must go through – Kamonia (that’s where the pontoon over the river is) and Kamako (border with Angola). So we will just follow the tracks and ask for directions.
So we left the Paradise Hotel (the owner Ariel said we were the firsts tourists that stayed there). And we haven’t even left the suburbs of Tshikapa that the first boom was waiting for us. Lots of people gathered around us, they wanted all our documents, we gave them copies. There were police, DGM, security, all others that pretended to be important, also drunks. They asked 50 000 CDF and soon after the price increased to 200 USD to go through. So Stéphane went negotiating, after long talks and arguing we got through with 10 000 CDF. So we were back on the road.
We followed the tracks that were beautiful sandy road. It was a really nice drive. We kept asking people directions to Kamonia and we were on the right track. We went through some villages, some of them have no roadblocks some of them do. Each time you must pay something to get through. After a while the road got muddy and we drove through some muddy places full of water. Drove through muddy villages with people screaming at us “Mundele, Mundele!” And all trying to run after us and stop us. We just kept going. At some point we got extreme fright: our Landcruiser (Automatic) wouldn’t engage into second gear! Only low gear and drive worked. We knew we can’t break down here, if something happened we would never been able to get the cruiser out of this place! So we drove slow and careful until the pontoon in Kamonia.
There we switched off the engine and crossed the river on nice pontoon, it was quick crossing, we really enjoyed it, 3 minutes long. It costs 40 USD. And what a relief! We got our second gear back! Must have been some electric error driving through those muddy places. We still were very careful and alert driving through these areas. There were roadblocks, they all wanted something and you had to pay to get through. While we were in Tshikapa we met the chief of area Mai Munene and we took a selfie with him. That selfie helped us a lot to get through some roadblocks.
This road is used to smuggle diesel and petrol from Angola as well as goods (food and beer), it’s the closest route to Tshikapa. There are absolutely no tourism here. Nobody has cars on this road since Tshikapa. We met 2 cars on our way – One of them was the guys we met the night before, they drove this road at night to get petrol at the border. The other car was a Red Cross car full of petrol canisters .
The only map that showed any road we were on was mapy.cz and we were on a small probably bicycle track. The road was stunning, very nice drive, sandy road, some places full of trees overhanging the road, some places very tall grass. We had about 10 roadblocks till Tshibinda (town before Congolese and Angolan border).
Day 6 DRC (22.01.2023.) Part 2.
We reached Tshibinda finally and it was 15:00. The whole road took us 9 hours to do 150 km. The road and drive itself was really enjoyable, it was a great drive! But every road block just consumed more and more of our energy. We noticed the people in Kasai were different from other provinces we went through in DRC. You couldn’t really joke with them and they rarely smiled. We saw people pushing bicycles full of goods, charcoal, the load was extremely heavy even 300 kg! And they push those bikes up and down those hills in heat. It was really hard to see, we gave some water to some of them. Some people also looked hungry and they went for a bread they saw through our window, we gave that away too. But we met many nice people as well that were happy to see us.
We arrived at Tshibinda, but the road in this town was non existent. There was no main road at all (because nobody have cars). The whole town looked like a big market with small side streets thrown in at random patterns. We knew we need a help from a local to get through this town. So we picked up a guy that was sitting at the marked on a bench and said him to jump up the side step of our cruiser and he guided us. We drove right and left, up and down through the town, then towards the border, we saw a river on our way and no bridge! Thank god it was low water and the ground was hard so we crossed it and headed towards the border.
We arrived at the border boom and the police said the border is closed and we can’t camp there, we must go back to village and talk to Chief. Ow dear! There was no chance of persuading and allowing us to camp there. So we had to get back to Tshibinda. It was a short but long drive about 5 km that took 30 mins to get to center of the village.
There we found a chief at DGM office and then the plastic chairs came out. We sat and talked and talked to the chief. Explained who we are, how we travelled, they looked in our passports for a long time scrutinising every page. Then all the other “important” people came to us and questioned us. After an hour we were good. We wanted to go for a walk in the village. But even that has to be approved with a chief, so he designated us a “security” guy that escorted us.
So we walk the streets left and right with seriously looking police escort, everybody is looking at us, many kids screaming and shouting “white, white, mad, mad!” in their language. When it got really loud and out of hand, the police chased them away. The village itself was the second dirtiest place we seen (after Kinshasa). Everything is thrown on the streets – it is a sand road, so the recipe for this road is: take 50% sand and 50% contents of your rubbish bin and mix it all nicely together. Et Voila! Sinty even kicked a chicken unintentionally while walking, it was mixed up with all the stuff on the road so poor chicken went flying sideways
After the sightseeing we returned to DGM office where we could sleep in our camper. We asked for a use of a toilet, and we wished we hadn’t. Thankfully we had our little toilet on board. After the dark the town became a bit quieter, but not quite yet. There was a church a block away that was singing and playing music and at some stage shouting very frantically till 3am. So not a great sleep… we were tired and couldn’t wait to get across the border into Angola…
Day 7 DRC (23.01.2023.) Finale.
So in the morning we woke up early, the people were up and getting loud. We wanted to go to border post and wait for the chief to arrive so he could stamp us out. We were told 8am we all go to the border post and get everything sorted. We couldn’t leave the village without chiefs approval, so we waited until we were allowed to drive to border he said he is coming now to stamp us out, we’ll meet up there. We took our new Congolese friend that escorted us last night with us.
We got to the border and the waiting started… we sat under a tree and waited… we saw Congolese refuges crossing from Angola into Congo, all shouting something, we asked our Congolese friend what are they all shouting, he said that they are looking for guns to go and fight in the north east. so we started to wait faster. … we were sitting under a tree in the bush, without a road, there was bamboo erected gate that divides Congo and Angola, and on the other side of this gate was a beautiful endless tar road.. to freedom (so it felt for us at that moment)…
Only at midday officials started to arrive one by one. (they all come on motorbike taxis).
And the circus started. The chief ordered others to search our car. He wasn’t friendly or smiley at all. There were 20 or so heads trying to get into our camper and see what we have there. They were all shouting. We let in only one of them. Stephane stood outside and made sure no more people got in the car, Sinty went inside the car with one of them. They searched everything, all the drawers, shelves, through food and clothes! They found a piece of wood and kept asking what it was! It was a piece of a braai wood, and they just kept asking what it was. The bedding, mattress, pillows, table, chairs. We had to open the canvas windows in our tent they were suspicious of what we have there! At the end of the day they found nothing.
Next episode was health inspection. They were not interested in any Covid vaccines or PCRs. They looked at the yellow fever certificate. We did vaccine more than 10 years ago so they said it was expired and we need to do another one. Thankfully Sinty had a WHO legislation letter printed out in French stating that Yellow fever vaccines last lifetime. So things started to go our way.
The whole situation was quite aggressive, they knew we needed the exit stamp and they had it. Then they wanted 70 USD for disinfecting the car!!! They poured unknown substance on our wheels. After long negotiations and arguing we gave them much less than that. We were allowed to leave. (The time was ticking we had to make Angolan border post before it closes). One of the chiefs saw us coming out of the “health” room and we said they asked 70 USD, he pretended to be shocked and in he went in that room. Meanwhile we are moving towards immigration office (while they are dealing who is gonna get what, that kept them busy and away from us).
So in immigration we sat at the table with the chief and he put the stamp in our passport finally. And not for free. Another time spent arguing and negotiating… Then we got stamp on customs TIP paper as well. That was easy for a change. We thought we were ready to go, but the chief wanted to make sure we will be allowed to enter Angola, we had to go with him and if everything was ok we would be able to take the car.
Anyway, Angola border crossing was nice and easy, all papers were in order and we finally crossed the border in our cruiser! Funny enough all Congolese officers came to Angolan side to take selfies with us and even asked to exchange dollar note that was torn because none of the banks would accept it of course we said that we thought about it nice and clearly
It was about 16:00 (25 hours on the border) when we finally left the border post and drove on beautiful tar road towards Dundo (Angola). People were happy and peaceful. We couldn’t comprehend how one line in a sand represents such a different worlds. This was the hardest trip we ever done.
PS we didn’t take many photos today.