Transportation - Get In
The main gateway to the DRC is Kinshasa-N'djili airport (IATA: FIH). Built in 1953, it hasn't had much in the way of upgrades and certainly doesn't rank among the continent's better airports.
From Africa: South African Airways, Kenyan Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, & Royal Air Maroc serve Kinshasa-N'djili multiple times a week from Johannesburg, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, & Casablanca (via Douala), respectively.
Other African airlines serving Kinshasa-N'Djili are: Afriqiyah Airways (Tripoli); Air Mali (Douala, Bamako); Benin Gulf Air (Cotonou, Pointe-Noire); Camair-co (Douala); CAA (Entebe); Ethiopian/ASKY (Brazzaville, Cotonou, Douala, Lagos, Lome); RwandAir (Kigali); TAAG Angola Airways (Luanda); Zambezi Airlines (Lusaka).
From Europe: Air France & Brussels Airlines have regular direct flights. Turkish Airlines will begin service from Istanbul in August 2012. You can also try booking travel through one of the major African airlines like Eithiopian, South African, Kenyan, or Royal Air Maroc.
The DRC's second city Lubumbashi (IATA: FBM) has an international airport served by Ethiopian Airlines (Lilongwe, Addis Ababa), Kenya Airways (Harare, Nairobi), Korongo (Johannesburg), Precision Air (Dar es Salaam, Lusaka), & South African Express (Johannesburg).
Other airports with international service are Goma (IATA: GOM) with service by CAA to Entebbe (Kampala) & Kisangani (IATA: FKI) which is served by Kenya Airways from Nairobi.
There is one line entering the DRC from Zambia. However, trains are very infrequent and unless you absolutely have to take the train for some reason, you should enter by road/air. The line reaches Lubumbashi and continuing to Kananga. The trains in the DRC are very old and the tracks are in various states of disrepair, with derailments frequent. Even when the trains do run, which may be weeks apart, they are overcrowded and lack just about every convenience you'd want (a/c, dining car, sleeper berths, etc.). Many of the lines in the southeast are no longer used. However Chinese companies who operate mines in the region are working to fix existing lines and build new ones, mainly for freight but some passenger service is likely in a few years (maybe by 2015?).
The roads as a whole are too rocky or muddy for cars without 4 wheel drive. Decent paved roads connect the Katanga region with Zambia and Kinshasa down to Matadi and Angola. Roads enter the DRC from Uganda, Rwanda, & Burundi, although travelling far past the border is very difficult and parts of the Eastern DRC remain unsafe. There are ferries to take vehicles across the Congo River from Congo-Brazzaville and it may be possible to find a ferry from the CAR to the remote, unpaved roads of the northern DRC. Do not entirely trust your map. Many display an unfortunate wishful thinking. Roads are frequently washed out by rains, or were simply never built in the first place. Ask a local or a guide whether or not a route is passable.
From Uganda to Congo via Bunagana Kisoro Border. There are many buses which operate daily between Bunagana /Uganda and Goma every day 07:00-13:00. Prices for the bus is USD5. A valid visa for both countries is required in either direction. Entry and exit procedures at Bunagana border are "easy" and straight forward, and people are very helpful in assisting visitors to get through without troubles.
Passenger and VIP ferries also locally known as 'Carnot Rapide' operate daily between Brazzaville and Kinshasa roughly every two hours 08:00-15:00. Prices for the ferries are: USD15 for the passenger and USD25 for the VIP ferry (Carnot Rapide). The latter is recommended as these are brand new boats and not cramped. A valid visa for both countries is required in either direction as well as (at least "officially") a special permit. The bureaucracy at either end require some time. Entry and exit procedures in Brazzaville are "easy" and straight forward and people are very helpful in assisting to get through without troubles. In contrast, these procedures are a bit difficult in Kinshasa and depend much on whether you are an individual traveller or assisted by an organisation or an official government representative.
There are also speed boats to hire, either in a group or alone (price!), however, it is not advisable to book them as they really speed across the river along the rapids.
Transportation - Get Around
Due to the immense size of the country, the terrible state of the roads and the poor security situation, the only way to get around the country quickly is by plane. This is not to say that it's safe — Congolese planes crash with depressing regularity, with eight recorded crashes in 2007 alone — but it's still a better alternative to travelling overland or by boat.
The largest and longest-operating carrier is Compagnie Africain d'Aviation, with service to Goma, Kananga, Kindu, Kinshasa-N'djili, Kisangani, Lubumbashi, Mbandaka, Mbuji-Maya, & Entebbe(Kampala), Uganda.
Formed in 2011, Stellar Airlines operates one Airbus A320 plane between Kinshasa-N'djili and Goma and Lubumbashi.
FlyCongo was formed in 2012 from the remnants of former national airline Hewa Bora, operating from Kinshasa-N'djili to Gemena, Goma, Kisangani, Lubumbashi, & Mbandaka.
Lignes Aeriennes Congolaises flies to Goma, Lubumbashi, Kindu, Kinshasa-N'djili, Kisangani, & Mbuji-Maya.
Air Kasaï operates from Kinshasa-N'Dolo to Beni, Bunia, Goma, & Lubumbashi.
Korongo Airlines began operations in 2012 from its base in Lubumbashi to Kinshasa-N'djili and Johannesburg, with routes to Kolwezi and Mbuji-Maya planned for summer 2012. Maintenance for Korongo is carried out by Brussels Airlines, so its probably the safest choice.
Congo Express was formed in 2010 and flies only between Lubumbashi and Kinshasa.
Wimbi Dira Airways was once the second-largest carrier, but does not appear to be operating as of June 2012. Others that may or may not be operating are: Air Tropiques, Filair, Free Airlines, and Malift Air all operating out of Kinshasa-N'Dolo airport.
As smaller vehicles are unable to negotiate what remains of the roads, a lot of travel in the Congo is done by truck. If you go to a truck park, normally near the market, you should be able to find a truck driver to take you where ever you want, conflict zones aside. You travel on top of the load with a large number of others. If you pick a truck carrying bags of something soft like peanuts it can be quite comfortable. Beer trucks are not. If the trip takes days then comfort can be vital, especially if the truck goes all night. It helps to sit along the back, as the driver will not stop just because you want the toilet. The cost has to be negotiated so ask hotel staff first and try not to pay more than twice the local rate. Sometimes the inside seat is available. Food can be bought from the driver, though they normally stop at roadside stalls every 5/6 hours. Departure time are normally at the start or end of the day, though time is very flexible. It helps to make arrangements the day before. It is best to travel with a few others. Women should never ever travel alone. Some roads have major bandit problems so check carefully before going.
At army checkpoints locals are often hassled for bribes. Foreigners are normally left alone, but prepare some kind of bribe just in case. By the middle of the afternoon the soldiers can be drunk so be very careful and very polite. Never lose your temper.
A ferry on the Congo River operates, if security permits, from Kinshasa to Kisangani, every week or two. You can pick it up at a few stops en route, though you have to rush as it doesn't wait. A suitable bribe to the ferry boss secures a four bunk cabin and cafeteria food. The ferry consists of 4 or so barges are tied around a central ferry, with the barges used as a floating market. As the ferry proceeds wood canoes paddled by locals appear from the surrounding jungle with local produce - vegetables, pigs, monkeys, etc. - which are traded for industrial goods like medicine or clothes. You sit on the roof watching as wonderful African music booms out. Of course it is not clean, comfortable or safe. It is however one of the world's great adventures.
The few trains which still operate in the DRC are in very poor condition and run on tracks laid by the Belgian colonial government over a half century ago. The rolling stock is very old and dilapidated. You are lucky to get a hard seat and even luckier if your train has a dining car (which probably has limited options that run out halfway through the trip). Expect the car to be overcrowded with many sitting on the roof. Trains in the DRC operate on an erratic schedule due to lack of funds or fuel and repairs/breakdowns that are frequent. On many lines, there can be 2–3 weeks between trains. If there's any upside, there haven't been too many deaths due to derailments (probably less than have died in airplane crashes in the DRC). There's really no way to book a train ride in advance; simply show up at the station and ask the stationmaster when the next train will run and buy a ticket on the day it leaves. The Chinese government in return for mining rights has agreed to construct US$9 billion in railroads and highways, but there is little to show for this as of 2012.
As of 2012, the following lines are in operation...but as mentioned above, that doesn't imply frequent service:
- Kinshasa-Matadi—Built in the 1890s by forced labor (of whom 7000 died), this line is the busiest in the country. There is possibly once or twice weekly service.
- Lubumbashi-Ilebo—Possible weekly service, with the journey taking 6–8 days. In 2007, the Chinese agreed to extend the line to Kinshasa, but current progress in unknown. Ilebo lies at the end of the navigable portion of the Kasai River, allowing travellers to transfer to ferry to reach Western DRC.
- Kamina-Kindu—Unusable after the war, this line has been recently rehabilitated. The line connects with the Lubumbashi-Ilebo line, so there may be trains running from Lubumbashi-Kindu.
- Kisangani-Ubundu—A portage line to bypass the Stanley Falls on the Congo, service only runs when there is freight to carry when a boat arrives at either end which may be once every 1–2 months. There are no passenger ferries from Ubundu to Kindu, but you may be able to catch a ride on a cargo boat.
- Bumba-Isiro—An isolated, narrow-gauge line in the northern jungles, service has restarted on a small western section from Bumba-Aketi (and possibly Buta). There were reports of trains running in the eastern section in 2008, but this part is most likely abandoned.
Lines that are most likely inoperable or very degraded/abandoned are:
- A branch of the Lubumbashi-Ilebo line that runs to the Angolan border. It once connected with Angola's Benguela railway and ran to the Atlantic until the 1970s when the Angolan side was destroyed by a civil war. The western half of the Benguela railway has been rehabilitated and may be operational to the DRC border in the future.
- The Kabalo-Kalemie line runs from the Kamina-Kindu line at Kabalo to Kalemie on Lake Tanganyika. The easternmost section has been abandoned. Although unlikely, there may be service on the western half of the line.