At a Glance
Dates: July 5th - July 15th, 2024
Extension: Due to the current security situation in Epulu, we are unable to offer an extension to search for okapi. Please contact us to express an interest in this extension, and we will update you should this change.
Prices: £4,950 pp sharing (with no single supplement), excluding flights.
In a sentence: A rare opportunity to see bonobos without venturing deep into the Congolese interior.
Whilst to many the Democratic Republic of the Congo may conjure up thoughts on instability and inhospitability, to the extraordinary and endangered Bonobo the DRC is a safe haven. Shielded from the outside world by dense jungle and sheer remoteness, areas like Lomako Faunal Reserve and Salonga National Park are home to a large population of well-studied, and therefore habituated, Bonobos. However, these destinations are extraordinarily remote and, for many, the cost and difficulty of getting to these areas means that spending time with these incredible apes is out of reach.
Thankfully, a small population of bonobos remain at Nkala. Accessible in a day from Kinshasa, this area dominated by savanna-forest mosaic, preserves a relatively habituated group of bonobo. Access is still not easy, and visitors should expect the full Congolese experience, complete with exhausting hikes, painful insect bites and plenty of scrapes and bruises. But, for those willing to put in the effort, bonobo sightings are all-but-guaranteed.
In keeping with this itinerary's aim to make Congolese wildlife more accessible, the tour also spends time in the small reserve of Bombo Lumene, just a short drive from Kinshasa. Whilst it cannot rival the remote Lomako or Salonga for wildlife densities, very small pockets of wildlife remain here, including forest buffalo, red river hog, southern talapoin monkey and sitatunga. For birders, this is the stronghold for the rare white-headed robin-chat.
All in all, this itinerary offers a narrow glimpse into what the DRC can offer wildlife enthusiasts - with the headline act, bonobos, finally findable for those who don't fancy the unpleasant journey into Lomako or Salonga.
On arrival into Kinshasa, you will be met by a Pictus Safaris representative and transferred to your local hotel. There will be a pre-tour briefing in the hotel this evening before dinner, with the remainder of the day at leisure.
This morning, after breakfast, we will meet our local vehicles for the two-and-a-half hour drive past the airport to the small reserve of Bombo Lumene. An admirable initiative has sought to protect this narrow strip of dense gallery forest and open savanna, and this is the last place within a stone's throw of Kinshasa where some wildlife remains. Sightings do not abound here, and this is a far cry from the virgin rainforest of the Congolese interior, but this is a real example of community conservation in action.
After a chance to settle in and enjoy a freshly-prepared lunch, we will head out in closed 4x4s to explore what this park has to offer. Extensive poaching has rendered much of the reserve devoid of large mammals but, with luck and a lot of effort, we will target sightings of some of the park's most charismatic residents during our stay. Forest buffalo, of which there are fewer than 10 in the reserve, will be a key target, as will the shy and reclusive red river hog. Duiker species in the reserve include bay and yellow-backed, and sitatunga are still extant here. In the more open areas in the actively-hunted domaine de chasse, where the buffalo tend to hang out, is also the place to spy banded mongoose and southern reedbuck. The grasses will be high during our visit, but we hope to record several species this afternoon.
After dinner, we will be permitted to head out spotlighting for nocturnal mammals, including genet, galago and brush-tailed porcupine.
Days Three to Four
The next two days will be spent exploring the reserve to our heart's content. Morning, afternoon and night drives are on offer, during which we will focus on buffalo, red river hog, southern talapoin monkey, red-tailed monkey and more. Nature walks are a great opportunity to gain a more intimate view of the park, and a popular activity is to float down the river, particularly as the heat of the day builds. Birdwatchers will be kept very busy by the array of forest and savanna species found here. A highlight is the white-headed robin-chat found only in Bombo Lumene and nearby isolated patches of land in Angola.
When not exploring the reserve, relaxing at camp is a lovely option available to clients. Spacious safari tents offer some respite from the heat, and are increasingly well-equipped with each passing season.
After a final morning in Bombo Lumene, we return to our comfortable hotel in Kinshasa by road. The rest of the day is at leisure.
After a chance to catch up on rest in Kinshasa, we head this morning to the main port on the famous Congo River. There is a huge amount of hustle and bustle here, but eventually we will be able to load onto our small speedboat for the five-hour journey upstream. Due to the size of the boat, and the need to use motorcycles to get to Nkala, please note that we can only bring what we can carry for this portion of the tour.
Arriving at Tshumbiri Beach after five hours, we continue on by motorcyle on narrow trails, until we finally emerge at Nkala Village. Here, a warm welcome will be extended, before we are shown to our basic rooms, home for the next few nights. There is no game-viewing planned tonight, as we prepare to track bonobos tomorrow.
Days Seven to Nine
The next three days will be dedicated to tracking down the engaging and charismatic bonobos that call the nearby forests home. These special primates have been protected here for many years, a luxury not afforded to other species, and we should expect to see bonobos and little else during our stay here. The bonobos are habituated but remain slightly skittish, and each morning we will attempt to intercept a family as they descend from their nocturnal roosts, and follow them as they feed, play and copulate. Photographic opportunities require hard work, as the bonobos like to shield themselves from the gaze of visitors, but sightings (and great ones, at that!) are very likely.
Despite being so accessible, these forests are still Congolese and guests should expect rough terrain, brief stretches of wading, lots of biting insects and generally a good deal of discomfort during this section of the tour.
Each night will be spent in Nkala Village, which is a great place to learn more about the work done by local people to track and habituate bonobos, and to encourage nascent ecotourism.
Today we must sadly say goodbye to Nkala, returning to Kinshasa, where we overnight in a comfortable local hotel.
Today we will be transferred to the airport for our flights home.
Please be aware that whilst we make every effort to follow the above itinerary as closely as possible, circumstances may occasionally arise that mean the tour deviates from the itinerary.
Dates and Prices
This tour will run in July 2024, aiming to take advantage of one of the drier months of the year. This will make our stay under canvass in Bombo Lumene as pleasant as possible, whilst making travel upstream relatively straightforward. This tour dates for this itinerary are from July 5th to July 15th.
The cost of this trip is £4,950 per person excluding international flights, with no single supplement. This includes all meals (excluding those in Kinshasa), accommodation and wildlife-focussed activities. Drinks other than water are not included. To secure a booking, a deposit payment of £1,500 plus any single supplement must be paid.
Flights and Visas
Pictus Safaris do not offer flight booking services. However, we do recommend the use of travel comparison websites such as skyscanner.net or momondo.com to identify the best fares, and then booking with the airline directly where possible. This will reduce the likelihood of complications and fees should any issues with your booking arise. If you wish to spend an additional night in Kinshasa at the end of your tour, we can arrange this for you at an extra cost.
British nationals do require a visa to enter the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Clients of other nationalities are advised to check well before travel whether they require an entry visa. Details of the process for obtaining a tourist visa for the DRC are complex, and will be provided to you upon booking. The cost of a DRC entry visa for UK citizens is £80 - this must be obtained from your nearest DRC embassy, which for UK citizens will be in London. To acquire a tourist visa for the DRC you will require a valid passport, two passport photos, a completed application form, proof of your address, proof of Yellow Fever vaccination, a Letter of Invitation (provided by Pictus Safaris), a bank statement, and a copy of your itinerary.
Please also note that there is a departure tax of $50 plus 5000 Congolese Francs payable on your departure from Kinshasa Airport.
Weather and What to Bring
The weather in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in July is hot and humid, with maximum temperatures of around 28 degrees Celsius. At night, temperatures will drop to around 19 degrees Celsius.
A full packing list will be circulated at least two months prior to departure. Pictus Safaris will be able to provide one extra set of binoculars and two spotlights per group, and clients are welcome to bring additional camera, videography and scope equipment should they wish to. Please note that the use of drones is not permitted in many protected areas. We strongly recommend bringing comfortable, loose-fitting and neutral-coloured clothing on safari - please do not bring camouflage clothing. We recommend against dark coloured clothing (e.g. black or dark blue) as this attracts biting flies. Worn-in hiking boots with ankle support are a must, as are sunglasses, sun protection and a hat.
Do also remember to budget for any expenses not included in the cost of the trip, including for gratuities and additional activities. We recommend bringing US Dollars.
Safety and Security
We understand that for some potential visitors, the security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a concern. Pictus Safaris take the safety of clients extremely seriously and we are in constant communication with our ground operators to monitor the security situation in all of our destinations.
The security situation in the DRC is more stable than sometimes thought. The east and north-east of the country, particularly near to borders, are poorly governed and rebel activity is common, which is why we currently cannot offer extensions to Epulu or Garamba. However, the interior of the DRC is stable and unrest is extremely rare. The bulk of this tour is spent in highly remote areas, so we are confident that we will not encounter any security issues.
All Pictus Safaris clients must have travel insurance to travel with us. As travel to the DRC is advised against by national travel advisory bodies, most travel insurance policies will not be valid here. We recommend High Risk Voyager insurance as it covers medical evacuation from remote areas. Please note that coverage for the DRC is not included in annual multi-trip High Risk Voyager policies, so a single-trip policy may need to be taken out.
To secure a booking on this fantastic holiday, please fill out the details below.