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City Guide: Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo

Out and about in Brazzaville…

Here are some suggestions of where to eat and drink, sleep and experience the arts.

 

City Guide – Brazzaville

Getting there 

Maya Maya Airport has a number of 45-minute daily flights to and from the coastal city of Pointe Noire, Congo’s economic capital. One-way tickets cost around $70. From Pointe Noire, you have access to excellent beaches a little further up the coast, as well as to the country’s best national parks a little further inland.

When to go

The best time to visit Brazzaville is when it’s most likely to be dry: June, July or August, or possibly January or February.

Language

The official language of the Republic of Congo is French. Other languages are mainly Bantu languages, and the two national languages in the country are Kituba and Lingala

Currency & Costs

The currency is the Central African franc (CFA). Bargaining is perfectly acceptable with Congolese taxi drivers and at the market, but it is not usually expected in shops. Hotels may also negotiate on lower room prices, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Budget between $100 and $200 US dollars per day.

Safety tips

There’s been a steady increase of crime reported in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire. Foreigners in particular may be targeted by criminals. You should take sensible precautions to safeguard yourself and your belongings, particularly in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire. Don’t walk in the streets after dark, or carry large amounts of money or valuables. The chance of being targeted by criminals is higher in rural areas. Criminals have been known to target the beaches at Pointe Noire. Stay on main beaches, secure valuables, and avoid all beaches at night.

Getting around

Private taxis in Brazzaville are remarkably cheap. There’s an unofficial set fee of CFAF1 000 (roughly $1,70) to almost anywhere within the city limits. However, exploring on foot is an easy, safe and pleasant way to appreciate the interesting architecture.

Internet access

Internet access in Congo is frustratingly slow. Very few hotel wireless networks actually work, and when they do they’re incredibly slow. The most reliable internet access can be had through local mobile-phone networks – anybody can register for a SIM card; just go to a mobile provider’s office with your passport.

What to eat

The area near the coast is known for its seafood and fish specialties. Most meals feature shrimp, oysters, snapper, and mackerel. Inland the food focus is on poultry, goat, mutton, lamb along with an abundance of fruit and vegetables. Rare hunted game like monkey and snake are also consumed. Starchy foods are the base of many dishes, like makobe, a tasty plate made from freshwater fish seasoned with pili pili or hot red pepper. Moambe is another local specialty with chicken flavored with palm oil, onions and groundnut paste. This popular dish is often served with plantains or rice.

Where to eat 

For fine dining and the best river views within stumbling distance of the city centre, Mami Wata has become an obligatory weekend stop for wealthy locals and expats alike. La Corniche. Tel: +242 053 42879.

La Bodega offers a strange and intriguing mix of Peruvian and Congolese cuisine and often has live music. It’s popular among expats and younger locals. 40 rue de Dr Cureau. Tel: +242 06657 5899.

In the heart of the historic and vibrant Bacongo district, Chez Kudia is an unassuming little venue with cheap beer, good local food, live music on weekends and a young, artsy crowd. Mairie de Bacongo.

About a half an hour’s drive out of the city, the picturesque Les Rapides is a must-see, right on the edge of the mighty Congo River, with plenty of outdoor seating in the leafy garden area and a very mixed crowd. Route de Djoué.

 

Where to stay

Hotel Hippocampe is among the best budget options in Brazzaville. It’s centrally located with simple, but clean rooms, wifi and a good Asian-themed restaurant surrounded by greenery. Tel: +242 06668 6068.

Hotel Africa in the bustling Poto Poto district, near one of the city’s biggest markets, is a good mid-range option with attentive staff, tasteful decor and good prices. Tel: +242 22260 0103.

Mikhael’s Hotel is the cream of the crop in downtown Brazzaville and a favourite among business travellers. It’s big and busy, with good facilities and an excellent restaurant and bar that also has live music some nights. Tel: +242 05 366 66 60.

Where to go 

The Generation Elili photography collective put on a number of exhibitions and screenings, both around town and at their base in Bacongo. 109 Bis Ave des Trois Francs. Tel: +242 05585 6700.

The big and busy Institut Français du Congo hosts a wide array of live events (from music to academic lectures), workshops and exhibitions throughout the year and is also a popular meeting place for local artists.

The Ateliers Sahm and the historic École de Peinture de Poto Poto (Ave de la Paix, tel: +242 556 7961) both showcase impressive, colourful displays and exhibitions of paintings and other works by talented Congolese and international artists.

 

by Christopher Clark

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