Why Is Congo So Expensive To Visit? All Your Questions Answered

Recently ranked as one of the most expensive travel destinations in the world, many people are asking themselves, “Why is it so expensive to visit the Republic of the Congo?” To understand why it’s so expensive one must know a bit of history regarding the territory.

Most people thinking about visiting the Republic of the Congo do so to see Odzala-Kokoua National Park. Not only is it one of the oldest national parks in Africa but it’s also one of the rare places on earth to view wild lowland gorillas. Moreover, nature is still pure here, totally unspoiled by mass tourism.

Many times, tourists are left a bit sticker shocked at the cost, leaving them wondering why is it so expensive to visit the Republic of the Congo. For example, the typical itinerary costs about USD 13,000 per person for eight nights. Of course, it includes two days of gorilla trekking in Odzala-Kokoua National Park, kayaking through a pristine equatorial rainforest full of elephants, buffalo, parrots, antelope, and a variety of primates, and game drives.

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Untouched Beauty

In regards to tourism, it may be helpful to think of the Republic of the Congo in its infant stage—similar, in many ways to how Cambodia and Vietnam were 30 or 40 years ago. They’re slowly emerging from many years of war, and their elected government is more analogous to a tyrannical dictatorship.

Odzala-Kokoua National Park is located in the Congo Basin, the second-largest rainforest in the world.

Nevertheless, having one of the last untouched rainforests on the planet is a huge tourism asset. Moreover, as the second-largest rainforest in the world, only behind the Amazon, the Congolian rainforest boasts massive numbers of lowland gorillas, forest elephants, and other primates including chimpanzees and monkeys.

One of the best ways to visit the country is on the 8-Day Adventurer Congo’s Gorillas & Forest Experience tour with Go2Africa. We’ve gone to Africa several times, and have written about our experience with Go2Africa extensively, and we highly recommend using them to assist in planning your itinerary.

Brief History Lesson

Let’s go through a quick history lesson to more thoroughly understand why it’s so expensive to visit the Republic of the Congo.

Democratic Republic of Congo vs. Republic of the Congo

Many people get confused between the Democratic Republic of Congo and its neighbor, the Republic of the Congo. Before Europeans and Arabs arrived, much of the Republic of the Congo was the Kingdom of Anziku while across the Congo River was the Kingdom of Kongo, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Both kingdoms were fairly similar culturally up until the point that Europeans and Arabs arrived.

It’s important to note, that the Democratic Republic of Congo (aka Congo-Kinshasa) was colonized by Belgium while the Republic of the Congo (aka Congo-Brazzaville) was colonized by France—leaving a bit of its culture even to this day.

Furthermore, the Democratic Republic of Congo is currently far too dangerous to visit on vacation as 12 park rangers were recently killed in Virunga National Park. The Republic of the Congo, on the other hand, is much safer as long as you make plans with local reputable travel agencies, like Go2Africa.

European Colonization

In 1880, French explorer Pierre France signed a treaty with the King Iloo I of the Kingdom of Anziku and the area came und French sovereignty and was administratively joined with Gabon in 1888. In 1891, the area was declared a French colony and renamed French Congo.

It was added to the AEF (Afrique-Équatoriale Française) in 1910, a federation of French colonial possessions in Equatorial Africa that also included the Central African Republic, Gabon, and Chad. Since its acquisition, the country has been in a state of constant turmoil.

Looking down on Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Republic of the Congo.

On the other hand, it was not much of a Shangri-la even before Europeans conquered the territory. With kings enforcing forced labor and paying taxes, life was tough for the common man. In addition to levies, kings gained further wealth from the sale of ivory and their subjects to the slave trade.

Quick Summary (1880-1940)

From 1880 to 1940, the French outsourced much of the land to several companies that used Draconian labor contracts to work locals to the bone. In some cases to death; to gain wealth from the sale of ivory, rubber, and timber. For example, it’s estimated that between 15,000 and 20,000 Africans died while constructing the Congo-Ocean Railway.

From 1940 to 1943, Brazzaville, the capital of AEF, became the symbolic capital of Charles de Gaulle and the Free France forces. In 1944, the Brazzaville Conference took place which created a plan to grant French citizenship to colonial subjects, abolish forced labor, and decentralize power.

From 1946 to 1960, the French Congo became an overseas territory with representation in French Parliament, was endowed with an elected government, became a republic, and eventually declared independence on August 15, 1960, renaming itself the Republic of the Congo, also known as Congo-Brazzaville.

Declares Independence – 1960

Political chaos occurred for the next 37 years including coup d’états, assassinations, socialism, economic crisis, and dictatorships, until militias and guerillas began taking matters into their own hands in 1997. As a result, the country entered into civil war, only until reaching a peace agreement in late 1999.

Sassou sitting under a portrait of George Washington, how disgraceful.

In 2002, former president and socialist Denis Sassou Nguesso was reelected in an undeniably fraudulent election. During this time, a new constitution was created that extended the president’s term to seven years. Sassou was reelected in 2009, 2016, and again in 2021, after passing referendums allowing him to surpass the two-term limit.

Republic of the Congo Today

Since declaring independence, Sassou has been in power for 38 of the 63 years. Meanwhile, about half of the population lives in extreme poverty. Governing with Stalin-like intimidation in Africa’s sixth-largest producing country has made Sassou an off-the-books billionaire, mainly exporting to China.

This Chinese-built bridge was completed in 2016 and connects central Brazzaville to, yep, you guessed it, the presidential palace.

With Sassou in charge, the country never will be a republic or a democracy, it’s simply a dictatorship. Basically, he steals elections through ballot stuffing and other tactics including shutting down mobile communication utilities to eliminate the transmission of information, except for himself.

With little respect for human rights or democracy, Sassou is a key ally to both China and USA. Even though Sassou has clearly rigged the elections for decades, the Office of the Historian to the United States made the following comment:

“The United States has enthusiastically supported Congolese democratization efforts, contributing aid to the country’s electoral process. Relations between the United States and the government of President Denis Sassou-Nguesso are strong, positive, and cooperative.”

Why Is It So Expensive to Visit the Republic of the Congo?

As much of the government’s total output goes into rigging elections, little has been done to improve the lives of the country’s people and infrastructure since the end of the civil war. Many people still live without clean water or proper sanitation, especially in rural areas. For example, nearly 50% of the population in rural areas has no access to education.

Regardless of the economic and geopolitical circumstances, the Republic of the Congo is the ideal location for anyone looking to get off the beaten path. Plus, it’s a great place to combine a wildlife adventure with a humanitarian vacation—locals are friendly and welcoming. For those short on time to volunteer, simply leaving generous tips is enough to change lives.

Three Main Reasons Why It’s Expensive

It’s quite hard to imagine how expensive it is to visit the Republic of the Congo for a gorilla trek. However, when considering the remoteness of Odzala-Kokoua National Park, much of it comes down to logistics.

Below are the three significant reasons the Republic of the Congo is expensive are:

1. There Are Few Visitors

Beyond the government and public infrastructure issues, there are also very few tourists visiting the country. This makes it quite expensive for anyone looking for Western amenities and comforts. As a result, anything designed and built to Western standards is fairly expensive. Essentially, the few tourists that make the journey are paying for the entire tourism industry.

2. It’s Remote – Meaning Higher Lodging & Food Costs

Just about all of the accommodations made for tourists are considered luxurious by local standards. Also, because of the remoteness of the lodges near Odzala-Kokoua National Park, all supplies and food must be flown in.

The grass runway airport near Odzala-Kokoua National Park.

When you include the fact that about 20% of all children younger than 5 years of age suffer from chronic malnutrition, it’s quite easy to see that high-quality food is a rare commodity. Moreover, all food has to make the same journey to the camps by air.

3. Extra Security to Keep Things Safe

It takes a great amount of security to keep the Odzala-Kokoua National Park and nearby lodges functioning safely. For instance, even if you consider yourself middle class, most locals will consider you extremely wealthy. For this reason, extra security measures need to be taken to keep roads, lodges, airports, and parks safe.

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