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takeonafrica 14 Apr 2010 13:21

DRC West to East
I'm currently in West Africa and am very interested in crossing the DRC from West to East on my way down to Cape Town and am currently researching the feasibilty of this.

My preferred route would be from Cameroon, through CAR to Bangui and across into northern DRC, before heading towards Kinshasa...

Does anyone have information on security in this area of CAR and DRC?

Are there alternatives that I should consider?

Would I be best to stick to the main roads which I would presume to be in slightly better condition or smaller roads which will be even rougher but may have less problems with people in authority etc...

Note that I am travelling with a bicycle and so if necessary can take river transport etc...

Would appreciate any ideas and comments on this. Thanks

Time and patience I have plenty of....

trans-african 14 Apr 2010 17:41

That is one hell of a trek, especially with a bicycle. I would suggest reading "On foot through Africa" by Ffyona Campbell. She walks across DRC (zaire as it was then) with a 4x4 for back up. It was hard going to say the least.

There are two principal routes across the DR Congo that are West to East, having done both, I can describe them here to you:

1. West to (South) East - Kinshasa to Lubumbashi (nr. Ndola, Zambia).

This is only by road (no river barges etc.) and is very difficult even in the dry season. I would never even dream of it in the wet season. (Back in the day) I assumed that this route would take me about 20 days with a 4x4. It ended up taking 2 months and countless breakdowns and repairs and contracting malaria once. Its an amazing trek if you are up for it, but with a bicycle, in short - forget it!

2. West to East - Kinshasa to Kisangani (River barge)

This is the main route across DR Congo by river. It is essentially a large barge (or several strapped together) and is pushed by a tugboat. This is an ideal method to cross DR Congo if you are on bike. It takes about 3 weeks or so (no timetable to follow as such, ask around in Kinshasa or Brazzaville). However, upon arrival in Kisangani there will be a problem - you still need to cross about 1/4 of the Congo to Uganda. The roads here are awful, but the locals use push bikes to transport palm oil in 20l jerrys (6 or so at a time!) so it is do-able. Not sure on the current regs. on entering Uganda from DR Congo (check with the embassy).

Regarding crossing from CAR to DCR:

In short - don't. There is so much corruption and crime in CAR esp. in the border areas. The chances are almost 100% that you will either be held at gun point or threatened in some way. The best way to go from West to East is as I have described above. And, with all due respect, in the event of a crisis in CAR, a bicycle is not the greatest of get-away vehicles.

All in all, sounds like a brilliant idea. This is however, not easy going by any means! Do your research (though this will only take you so far). The best method is to just get there and ask around.

After Uganda:

Uganda to Cape Town is fairly easy going. You can cycle down to Bujumbura (Burundi) and get a boat down Lake Tanganyika to Mpulungu in Zambia. After that, easy going down to Lusaka and Livingstone. After which, 2 options:
1. Across Vic. falls into Zimbabwe, south to South Africa etc..
2. Down through Botswana and into South Africa etc..

On balance, I'd go for option 2. Zimbabwe is not so good lately! Chances are, you would have your bicycle stolen or worse. Given this, IMO, Zimbabwe is a far more beautiful and colourful nation than Botsawana. It's up to you!

There, I hope I have been concise enough. Any more needed, just post a reply!

Matt Roach 14 Apr 2010 18:08

Try and get hold of a copy of Tim Butcher's book, Blood River, which describes the route east of Kisangani to close to the Ugandan border.

Blood River by Tim Butcher ~ Published By Chatto & Windus

I was in Kinshasa last month and visited the port to check on the barge schedule to Kisangani - they seem to be relatively infrequent, so you will need to have plenty of patience to find one.

trans-african 14 Apr 2010 18:25

Incidentally, do you reckon the barges there nowadays (I was last there about 25yrs ago) would take an 18ton MAN chassis motorhome? Are there the facilities to launch it onboard?

Also, any idea of the frequency (gist of it) bimonthly, monthly etc??

takeonafrica 14 Apr 2010 18:41

trans-african - thanks for the info: exactly the kind of thing I was after. I'll look into the options further and no doubt will have some more questions to ask!
My route after DRC I am happy with from wherever I end up in East Africa - I intend to head Malawi, Zambia, across Botswana, Namibia and the down to South Africa...

I know this may seem a ridiculous question seeing as I want to cross west to east through DRC, but is it possible to cross into Angola from the DRC? I had read somewhere about a train to Dilolo... but not sure if the border is open.

Matt - Tim Butcher is in part to blame for my wanting to cross the DRC. I read the book shortly after hearing Tim at the Hay book festival a few years ago!

I know of one cyclist who crossed CAR - DRC to Kisingani, but this was in 2007. I also met a French guy who spent 3months walking across the Congo last year, so I know that it is at least possible!

trans-african 14 Apr 2010 19:59

The border between Angola in the North (i.e. Matadi (coming from kinshasa) towards Luanda) is indeed open for traffic. However, the border to the East with DRC is very iffy. Angola has recently got "up tight" about it in an effort to prevent diamond smuggling from DRC. It may or may not be possible. The best thing to do about this is either ask
a. in the embassies of BOTH countries. (This is critical as in central africa, the right hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, let alone the left!!)
b. locally in Kinshasa and Luanda

or you could just turn up and see, though I don't reccomend this. Back in the day I did cross this border (between Dundo and Tshikapa), but things were different then...

Regarding the train to Dilolo, this is the train that comes from Lubumbashi in the south of DRC. There were plans recently to extend it into Angola but, as with most things in this part of the world, I will belive it when I see it! This has yet to materialize.

Basically, the best bet is to cross the DRC by barge from Kinshasa to Kisangani then road it to Goma and Uganda. Then continue south etc..

CAR-DRC: yes I am aware that this route is possible but it is fraught with danger. My advise is to stay away for the time being.

P.S. Just send a post if you have any more questions! I am happy to help.

takeonafrica 14 Apr 2010 20:18

trans-african: thanks again.
I only meant by my comment that crossing the DRC was possible, not specifically the CAR-DRC route. (note to self: check I've written what I mean before posting!)
Have already taken on board what you said about security/safety in CAR - inclined to agree - and am now looking at the barge to Kisangani option...

If the train doesn't continue into Angola then that option is out of the question I think due to the danger of mines in the East of the country.

trans-african 14 Apr 2010 20:34

Yeah, the barge from Kinshasa to Kisingasi really is the best option. If you find the roads too bad to cycle on (between Kisingani and Uganda), you can always hitch (or pay for) a ride on a truck as there are several plying that route. They will take time though as the roads are bad (and the drivers are lazy too).

Enjoy the trip! If you take the barge, post a comment or message me on the situation atm! I am quite keen to know.

Happy travels.

Tony Weaver 15 Apr 2010 13:02


Conventional wisdom is that a DRC west to east crossing is currently impossible because the security situation is dire. There are militias and warlords all over the show, each with their own little fiefdom. However, with a bicycle your options are a lot more flexible, eg overflying war zones, hitching rides with the UN or aid workers, the river ferry or barges etc. Whatever you do, make sure you know what the security situation is in the section up ahead.


trans-african 15 Apr 2010 13:31

Hi Tony,
Thanks for the advice on DRC. However, in my experiences in the congo amounting to over 3 years totally of being in the nation as a traveller (well, Zaire as it was then), the worst parts, in terms of security are those areas held by the government, not the rebels in the North East.

Of course I am not reccomending to anyone to plough their way through the DRC without any consideration to security, I am just saying that (in my experiences) it is much over-inflated.

Naturally, there is far greater array of options of travel in the DRC when it comes to a bike. Flying is the most simple and obvious, though given the track record of airlines in the DRC I would personally pass on this. Besides, flying is not the mode to use if you actually want to "experience" the country. There is a great difference between a departure lounge in Kinshasa and travelling over mud tracks with ruts 2m deep passing by little visited villages where you're the only western person to pass by in 10 yrs.

As I have said in earlier posts, the barges are capable of taking a 4x4 (probable several), so a bike is no issue at all. The only real issue with this (for any traveller) is the timing. There are no timetables to follow as such, but if you have no limits, just go for it!

Last I heard there were some convoys (weekly I think) from Kisingani to Goma and into Uganda. Not sure about that atm, best to check with someone who has passed by recently. (Don't bother asking at a DRC emabssy, they haven't even a clue what is going on in Kinshasa, let alone the far side of the country in the jungle).

roamingyak.org 15 Apr 2010 15:37

Jut meet two Aussie bikers (ktm's) who came through DRC from Zambia to Kinshasa. They need a few more beers by the looks of them. Will pass on info or their contact details as they come to hand...

Matt Roach 15 Apr 2010 16:44

I was told the barge schedule from Kinshasa to Kisangani was "irregular", but it was likely that there would be at least one a month. One departed whilst I was there, so I can confirm they do still travel that route.

As to the question of whether it would hold an 18T truck? There were several containers on the barge I saw that were of a similar dimension, so your truck would fit, although I don't have any info on whether the barge would support the weight of the truck.

trans-african 15 Apr 2010 16:48

Thanks matt,
Do you have any idea of the costs?? For any vehicle that is?

also, are there suitable facilities to load vehicles onto the barge??

eljulian 15 Apr 2010 20:31

Hi, I'am "looking into" going Kinshasa - Lubumbashi on a motorcycle around August (dry season), but I realize it's extremely ambitious and I will reasses once I've come a little farther on my West Coast trip (currently in Western Sahara).

This guy has done Lubumbashi - Kinshasa by public transport. A highly recommended read:

My DRC experience Lubumbashi to Kinshasa. part 1 - Lonely Planet travel forum
My DRC experience Lubumbashi to Kinshasa part 2 - Lonely Planet travel forum

Start on his blog here:
[url=http://www.steveislost.com/blog/im-a-congolese-now.html]I’m a Congolese now!!!!

Matt Roach 16 Apr 2010 14:11

There is a loading ramp at "The Beach" where the Brazza-Kinshasa ferries dock, which would be suitable to load your truck. However the barge I saw being loaded was some distance from this on the docks, and there didn't appear to be any suitable loading point for a truck. Bike or motorbike would be fine to load.

I imagine you could probably negotiate for the barge to stop at the ramp at The Beach and load there, but can't confirm this.

Can't really help on detailed pricing info as I only had preliminary discussions with a fixer, and never got around to negotiating with the barge captain. I would expect a few hundred US$ as a minimum for a motorbike. No idea re the price for a truck.

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