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Introduction

The Democratic Republic of Congo continues to be plagued by instability, despite major progress made in recent years. Currently it is not advised to travel outside of Kinshasa, as many regions in the east and north of the country are highly insecure. The United Nations cites the district of Ituri as particularly dangerous amidst clashes between government troops, armed militia and tribal groups. Entry from Rwanda or Uganda should not be attempted.

Situated in Central Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo is Africa's third largest country. It borders the Central African Republic, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, Angola and the Congo Republic. The landscape ranges from densely forested areas to astounding plateaus and mountain masses reaching heights of nearly 17,000 feet at Mount Ruwenzori. Yet equally as mesmerizing is the Savannah that predominates the equatorial forest belt.

Originally inhabited by Pygmies, the Democratic Republic of Congo was later taken over by Bantu and Nilotic peoples. Belgium gained control of the area at the Berlin Conference of 1885. In the next few decades, more than 10 million native people are estimated to have died from forced labor, starvation and outright extermination. Resulting international pressure ultimately forced Brussels to grant freedom to the Belgian Congo in 1960. Political and social instability followed. Mobutu Sese Seko seized control in 1965 and renamed the country Zaire. He presided over single-party rule and resisted attempts at democratization until he was deposed in a civil war in 1997 led by Laurent Kabila with the backing of several neighboring countries. He was assassinated in 2001 and his son, Joseph, took over, winning elections in 2006.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has a population of 57 million people and about 250 ethnic groups. The most populous groups are the Kongo, the Luba, the Mangbeut-Azande and the Mongo. French is the official language, yet it is spoken by a relatively small portion of the population. Rather, Swahili is widely used in the east and Lingala is spoken in the west. About 50 percent of the inhabitants are Roman Catholics and 20 percent are Protestants. Many people also follow traditional religious beliefs. The culture of the Democratic Republic of Congo is extremely vibrant and the music scene is famous.

There is no bad time of the year to visit the Democratic Republic of Congo. Because it crosses the equator, the rainy seasons alternate between the southern and northern parts of the country (in the south it tends to be rainy from late October to May while the north experiences the opposite). In the higher regions the weather tends to be quite temperate year-round. The country is served by several international airlines such as Air France and KLM. Once within the country, domestic flights are widely available. Train and boat are both popular ways to view the countryside, especially when time is not limited.

Quality lodging is readily available, particularly in the capital, Kinshasa. It boasts a range of affordable yet exceptional accommodations, ranging from rooms with simple amenities to the alluring five-star resort complete with a golf course. There is also no shortage of shopping, ranging from upscale boutiques to bustling art markets. Other popular attractions in the capital include St. Anne's Cathedral, the art market and botanical gardens.


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