Congo River Journey - (Part 1) Mbandaka to Lisala

Congo River Journey - (Part 1) Mbandaka to Lisala

Style: PioneerGroundbreaking tours to unique destinations
Duration: 16 days
Type: GroupTravel with a small group of other travellers


The ultimate Congo experience - a voyage on the mighty Congo River from the city of Mbandaka to Lisala. The expedition takes in remote villages, some of the country’s important historical sights, rain forests and of course a chance to meet the local people. Experience the different sights and sounds of the real Africa as you travel through a land so few travellers have yet discovered.

We travel using our river cruiser, an 18-meter long, wooden boat, equipped with two powerful outboard engines. The boat is further equipped with safety equipment, sanitary installation, a generator, lighting and freezers. It is operated by a licensed and experienced captain, a mechanic and a sailor. A cook and a tourist guide are present throughout. Evenings and nights are spent ashore, enabling cultural exchanges with the local population.

This is an incredible journey through one of the world’s least explored areas – for us this is the very essence of adventure, and we are proud to offer this iconic trip to our clients.

Tour Rating

Fitness ●●●○○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●●● | Culture ●●●●● | History ●●●○○ | Wildlife ●●○○○

Tour Pace


Tour Highlights

  • Experience the different sights and sounds of the real Africa as you travel through a land few travellers have yet discovered
  • Discover remote villages, some of the country’s important historical sights, rainforests and of course a chance to meet the local people
  • Camping along the shores of the mighty Congo River

Tour Essentials

Accommodation: Mix of basic hotels and camping
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary.
Group Size: Maximum of 20
Start Point: Kinshasa
End Point: Kinshasa
Transport: 4WD, Boat, Plane
Countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo

Tour Itinerary Notes

While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.

Tour Guide

Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip but on occasions it may be necessary to change the guide at one or more points during the tour.

Day 1 - Kinshasa 

Arrive in Kinshasa and transfer to the hotel. Overnight Hotel Ixoras or similar.

Day 2 – Kinshasa City Tour

After breakfast visit the wonderful Lola Ya Bonobo project outside of Kinshasa. Later in Kinshasa we explore some of the markets and buildings that make this such a fascinating city. Formerly referred to as ‘Kin La Belle’ - meaning ‘Beautiful Kinshasa’, the many years of turmoil has tarnished this image. But slowly, Kinshasa is regaining its splendour. Overnight Hotel Ixoras or similar. (B)

Lola Ya Bonobo

Bonobos are a great ape species found exclusively in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are an endangered species and it is thought that as few as 50,000 individuals may remain in the wild. The project rescues and rehabilitates injured Bonobos caught up by the problem of poaching and the bush meat trade. Up to 60 Bonobos are being rehabilitated here in 75 acres of primary tropical forest. It is the aim of the project to release some of the animals back into the wild. The sanctuary also has award winning educational programmes with around 30,000 visitors each year, raising crucial awareness of the plight of these apes and the pressing need to ensure their future existence.


The capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kinshasa (formerly known as Leopoldville) is an enormous city, and some say the largest francophone city in the world, beating Paris. From its humble beginnings as a small village, Nshasa, it was identified by Stanley as an important base for the development of the Congo Free State and began to attract both European and Congolese settlers, expanding quickly to become a goliath among African cities. Although previous years have seen many troubles in Kinshasa, it never lost its place as a cultural hub of Central Africa, spawning the renowned Congolese rumba music which remains popular today. In the 1960’s it was the site of the famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ boxing match between Mohammed Ali and George Foreman, the largest sporting event in Africa then and ever since. Situated on the banks of the Congo River, it faces the capital of Republic of Congo, Brazzaville, a unique location for a capital city. Kinshasa is recovering from its chequered past in the 21st century, with infrastructure continually improving and investors returning. Kinshasa is hectic, it is brash, it can be at times intimidating, but one cannot understand the history of this intriguing country without a visit here.

Day 3 - Kinshasa to Mbandaka

Fly to Mbandaka, capital of the Equator Province, and the starting point of river expedition. We camp overnight in the city, ready to leave shortly on our 11 day voyage bound for Lisala. Overnight tented camp in Mbandaka. (BLD)


Mbandaka, formerly known as Coquilhatville until Mobutu’s ‘authenticite’ campaign, sits on the edge of the Congo River and is perhaps the most important city between Kinshasa and Kisangani. A busy, bustling city and important river port, it is endowed with few actual sights but gives a fantastic snapshot of central Congo and the trade that plies the river. Founded in 1883 by the explorer HM Stanley and originally named simply ‘Equator’, the large stone that Stanley placed near the river bank, to mark the spot where he believed the river to cross the equator remains there today. During the era of Belgian rule, efforts were made to modernise the city with factories and infrastructure being built, but subsequent conflict left the city neglected.

Days 4 to 13 – Congo River Expedition 

The voyage up river from Mbandaka to Lisala is expected to take 10 nights. We will be travelling through a vast area, without roads or airports. The river is a vital-life line for the communities we visit en-route. We will see how they go about their everyday lives, buying and selling produce from small boats that criss-cross the river. The people we meet have little, if any contact with the outside world, and certainly no concept of tourism. It is the genuinely spontaneous encounters which makes the trip so pioneering and a must for intrepid travellers. There are few places left on earth where such encounters are possible. It is a special experience shared by only an elite group of travellers a year. (BLD)

Each night will be spent ashore at or close to a village where we can buy fresh produce, prepare dinner and set-up our tented camp for the night. Tents are large and comfortable, 2m in height. Each tent is equipped with a self-inflating mattress and cotton mattress covers and pillows. Travellers should bring their sleeping bag or sleeping sheet, as well as a towel and toiletries. 

Our transport is aboard a 34m long wooden boat, equipped with two powerful outboard engines. Although a traditional boat it is of course equipped with full safety equipment, toilet facilities, a generator, lighting and freezers for food and drinks. A cook and an English speaking guide accompany the trip throughout.

The Congo River

The Congo is central Africa’s greatest geographical feature, an enormous body of water snaking its way through the rainforest to disgorge its contents into the Atlantic Ocean. Acting as a massive drainage channel for the rainforests of the Congo Basin, it is measures almost 3000 miles in length, is the second most powerful river in the world after the Amazon and is also the deepest river in the world. The Congo is fed by a number of other rivers, each giant in their own right but which pale into insignificance in comparison – the Lualaba and the Oubangi among others. The river was first discovered by Europeans in the 15th century when Portuguese sailors noticed that the water was fresh some miles out into sea, prompting them to investigate and so ‘discover’ the river. The river was however unexplored for many centuries, largely due to unnavigable rapids not far into the interior. A British expedition sent in the 19th century explored 150 miles further than had been done before but failed to make further progress. The first known European to chart the course of the river was the famous explorer HM Stanley. Setting out with a caravan provided by Arab slave traders, Stanley and his men faced warlike and cannibalistic tribes, sickness, lack of supplies and exhaustion, and often had to carry their boats through the jungle when they came to rapids and waterfalls. Despite huge difficulties, Stanley eventually emerged at the Atlantic Ocean. Travelling on the river today is of course nowhere near as hard as it was then, but make no mistake, this is still a challenging journey where few western travellers have trod. Those lucky enough to travel through this region will discover cultures largely untouched by the outside world – a rare thing in this day and age.

Day 14 – Lisala

We expect to arrive in Lisala today. Lisala is the home town of the former President Mobutu and the half way point between Mbandaka to Kisangani. Overnight tented camp a few miles on from Lisala.

Day 15 - Kinshasa

Transfer to Lisala’s airport for a scheduled flight back to Kinshasa. Hotel Ixoras or similar. (B)

Day 16 - Kinshasa 

Tour ends with transfer to the airport. (B)


Arrival and departure transfers
Domestic flights
All accommodation
Services of English speaking guide / tour leader
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary

International flights
Any airport taxes
Travel Insurance

Other tours in Congo (DRC)

Congo River Expedition »

Congo River Journey - (Part 2) Lisala to Kisangani »