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Safari Collection #1 – Ultimate Congo Basin Rainforest Adventure

Overview of the Congo Basin

When you take your first steps into the Congo Basin, your mind will be blown by its sheer vastness. Your lungs will be filled by the freshest air in the world. Between rainforests, savannahs, rivers, mineral-rich baïs and swamps, you’ll undertake an epic adventure of gorilla-tracking, game drives, boating, kayaking, forest walking, and river-wading to discover rare and endangered species.

Map of the Congo Basin

The lush lowland rainforests of these Congo Basin parks are a haven for many primate species. Expect not only to see western lowland gorillas, but also colobus monkeys, mangabeys, etc. At the baïs (forest clearings), guests can observe forest elephants and forest buffalos as they dig underground for nutrient-rich minerals. Both parks offer great chances to spot unique bird species and hard-to-see mammals like pangolin, bongo, sitatunga, and hogs.

Western Lowland Gorillas inhabit the Congo Basin’s lowland rainforests
Both Congo & C.A.R. contain baïs, whose minerals are dug up by forest elephants

Because eco-tourism in the Congo Basin is still in its infancy, the safari experience obtains an aura of discovery and a feeling that you have this whole pristine wilderness to yourself. That’s certainly what Mark Nolting and Szilvia Hegyi felt during their trips there in 2018 and 2019. Those two sensations are big reason why both Mark and Szilvia passionately encourage their former and prospective clients to consider seeing these places for themselves!

Mark at Sangha Lodge’s baï observation deck
Szilvia observing a lowland gorilla in a tree

Conventionally, the Congo Basin refers to the area that encompasses the Congo River and its tributaries. Henceforth, the Congo Basin will only refer to the countries of the Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic. Furthermore, “Congo” will refer to the Republic of the Congo, and “C.A.R.” will refer to the Central African Republic. The two main wildlife areas are Congo’s Odzala-Kokoua and C.A.R.’s Dzanga-Sangha National Parks. Going forward, the former national park will be abbreviated to “Odzala.”

The Congo Basin should be on your radar if you fit one of the following profiles:

  1. Have gone on memorable gorilla trek(s) in either Rwanda or Uganda;
  2. Have visited adventurous, active and/or off-the-map African destinations, like Mana Pools, Mount Kilimanjaro’s summit, Madagascar, etc.
  3. Enjoy, or even prefer, traveling solo;
  4. Consider yourself to be a trendsetter – going to places where few have gone before!
Forest elephants are genetically different from the larger bush elephant
An Agile Mangabey, unique to the Congo Basin

The reasoning is simple: the Congo Basin is an unorthodox safari experience where game drives aren’t the focus. Plus, many of the activities available are active, and require a level of fitness similar to that for gorilla trekking in Rwanda or Uganda, canoeing and walking in Mana, and completing a multi-day summit of Kilimanjaro. Additionally, we are offering superb savings with our Solo Traveler deals; read on to learn more!

The chart below highlights both the activities available at Odzala and Dzanga-Sangha and the animals that can be seen there. This chart also helps to compare the experiences and sightings at these two national parks with Bwindi and Volcanoes National Parks – quite a difference!

* Discounted permits may be available in April, May or Nov. 
° 30% discount, if you visit another Rwandan park for 3+ nights from Nov. to May   

Accommodations

Left: one of Ngaga Camp‘s elevated thatch rooms Right: Lango Camp‘s firepit is the meeting place before activities and dinner

Ngaga Camp’s 6 solar-powered rooms, dining room and lounge are all elevated on stilts and connected via raised walkways, enhancing guests’ immersion within the Ndezhi Forest’st canopy. Expect excellent dining! The main activity is gorilla trekking; other activities include forest trail hiking, bird watching, Ombo village visits, night drives and nocturnal primate walks.

Lango Camp, architecturally inspired by a Pygmy design and building material, overlooks Odzala’s Lango Baï. Guests sitting at the deck can see forest buffalo, elephant, western sitatunga, and flocks of green pigeon and grey parrot. Expect great dining! The 6 rooms and main area are elevated on stilts and connected by raised walkways. Activities include baï walks and swimming, bird watching, wading, kayaking, baï observation deck visits, and game drives.

Left: Forest elephants are frequent visitors at Mboko Camp Right: Enjoy views of the Sangha River during your stay at Sangha Lodge

Located inside Odzala, Mboko Camp overlooks the Lekoili River and the surrounding grasslands. The camp features 12 canvas cabins, including 2 family units, each with en suite bathroom and mosquito draped beds. Each cabin has a deck with comfortable lounge chairs.  Forest buffalo and elephant are common visitors to the camp. Expect excellent dining! Activities offered include boating, cycling (on request), kayaking, board walks, M’boebe Baï walks, sundowner cruises, game drives, bird watching, and swimming in the Likeni River.

Sangha Lodge is located in Dzanga-Sangha. The 7 well-appointed, wood and thatch bungalows overlook the Sangha River; 5 of them are ensuite, while the remaining two share a bathroom. The small kitchen serves both African and western cuisine at a communal dining table. Gorilla trekking and visits to Dzanga Bai are highlights, but consider accompanying the Ba’Aka on one of their traditional net hunts. Other activities include mangabey tracking, Valley of Giants walk, palm wine experience, waterfall hike, and river cruises.

Notes:

  • All laundry is inclusive
  • With the exception of Lango Camp, all the camps and lodges have at least limited Wi-Fi
  • Minimum age: 16 years old
  • Meals and Beverages (except premium) are inclusive
  • Upon arrival at Brazzaville Airport, you will receive full airport assistance, a Brazzaville city tour and lunch

Best Time to Visit

Wildlife viewing in both these parks depends on the availability of ripe fruit. Ripe fruit is most abundantly available during the Dry Seasons (December to February and June to August). For gorilla trekking, this means that they will be more visible, as they will be deftly climbing trees to reach them – great for photo opportunities! In particular, ripe fruits are most plentiful during February and August. Temperatures and humidity levels during the Dry Seasons tend to be lower. For birders, migratory birds arrive in Odzala and Dzanga-Sangha during the June to August Dry Season.

During the Green Seasons (March to May and September to November), ripe fruits are much more scarce. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing – if rangers know where ripe fruit is, there is a very high chance for guests to cross paths with forest elephants and/or lowland gorillas. This time of year is also a great time to observe elephants digging for minerals at baïs! Additionally, rivers are at optimum levels for river activities.

2020 Pricing & Departures

Some of the best game viewing in the Congo Basin is at baï observation deck 
Look for birds, elephants & primates on river cruises
Sangha Lodge functions as a pangolin sanctuary and research facility
Szilvia considered wading through Odzala’s swamps one of her favorite experiences of the entire trip

What AAC Clients had to say about their Congo Basin Safaris

I thought it was a perfect, fascinating, genuine expedition. I was surprised by several things, including how chic and clean Brazzaville was and how vastly remote, fascinating and wonderful Odzala and Sangha are – it felt like the last vestige of pure wilderness left on earth! My highlights included the hunt with the Ba’Aka, the gorilla trek, seeing the pangolin sanctuary at the Sangha Lodge, and kayaking the Lango River.

Paula Froelich (Travel Blogger for “A Broad Abroad”) – Nov. 2019

First off, let me say it was wonderful. Clem, our guide, was with us through all three camps; he was absolutely great. We had some good elephant and bird sighting and some great gorilla encounters – one of the gorillas mock charged us! The food was just too good. We especially enjoyed our visits to the two villages of Ombo and Mbombo.

Phyllis Brady –June 2019

After our recent trip to the Congo Basin I truly felt like we were walking in the footsteps of the great explorers and adventurers of old. This is surely how safaris must have been like 100 years ago! We walked every day, wading through dense jungles and swamps in water sometimes up to our waists. We explored hidden baïs and approached forest elephant, forest buffalo – we managed to get mock charged by both! In Congo, we watched two groups of 26 lowland gorillas for hours at Zebe Baï; apparently we were the first guests to ever sit and observe there! The two silverbacks constantly mocked each other! We saw sitatunga, bushbuck and 7 species of monkey. New birds were everywhere (many of which I had no idea that they existed) as were the numerous spectacular trees!

Nic Polenakis (AAC Private Guide) & Sue Petit – May 2019

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