Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and one of the largest Francophone cities in the world, is an exciting and exhilarating place to travel. However, it is also very dangerous, especially for newcomers. What follows is a list of “dos and don’ts” to use as a guide should you ever travel there.
1) Expect to be singled out. Westerners (especially Whites) are easy to spot in Kinshasa. If you are visiting, you will look out of place walking the streets or even sitting in a car. Usually, there will be no aggression (though vendors and shopkeepers will do all they can to encourage you to buy their wares). Simply expect people to stare at you and go with the flow. It is mentally difficult, but if you are prepared, it should not cause any problems.
2) Try the food. For the most part it is pretty good, though the service is generally not up to Western standards. Simply don’t ask too many questions and expect to be somewhat hungry compared to “normal” life.
3) Learn French. Practically no one in Kinshasa speaks English, and only educated people have a truly comprehensive control of French. If your French is at least passable, or if you are with someone who speaks it well, you should be all set in almost any situation.
4) Expect to be stuck in traffic. Kinshasa’s infrastructure has not been improved a great deal since independence in 1960 (when the population was not anywhere near the millions it is today). Thus, patience is key when trying to travel around the city.
5) Bring American money. It is accepted nearly everywhere and even used by locals. The exchange rate varies widely in different areas of the city, so it is best to just bring your own American money and use it in all situations.
1) Go out at night. This is just asking for trouble. Kinshasa is an extremely dangerous city at night and, in most parts of town, there is really no reason to be out past dark. Stay safe and stay in a protected area.
2) Give out money, etc. This can become problematic immediately. When locals (especially children) call out or chase after you, it is best to simply pretend that you don’t realize they’re talking to you. There really is not enough to go around.
3) Expect to be greeted warmly. Locals are suspicious of Westerners and for good reason. They do not know your motives, even if they are philanthropic. Simply do what you went to Kinshasa to do.
4) Cause trouble at the airport. There are armed guards and soldiers. It is best to just go about your business and stay out of the way.