In July 2019 I visited Central Africa again, this time on a short visit to the Republic of the Congo. I booked the trip with Go2Africa. The local organizer was Odzala Discovery Camps. They have three camps around the Odzala National Park, Mboko, Lango, and Ngaga. All camps have spacious, comfortable guest houses, well separated so you don't have to deal with neighbors. The camps are small, six guest houses each at Ngaga and Lango, twelve houses at Mboko, so the excursions are never crowded.
The food was excellent at all three lodges. For lunch and dinner you select a choice from three starters, three entrees, and three desserts. All accommodations, meals, and drinks (including beer, wine, and booze) are included in the price for the trip. Same day laundry service was included as well, which was very convenient.
I had booked the Odzala Discovery tour, with three nights at Ngaga, two nights at Lango, and two nights at Mboko. I was very happy with the organization, everything worked like clockwork.
The main attraction of Odzala are of course the Western Lowland Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla, german: Westlicher Flachlandgorilla, french: Gorille des plaines de l’Ouest). The seven-day tour includes two days in Ngaga for gorilla tracking. You are almost guaranteed to see gorillas on both days. The gorillas are habituated to people, they pretty much ignore us. In order to keep the disturbance to a minimum, the number of guests per gorilla group visit is limited to six guests, plus the guide and the tracker. There are two habituated groups near Ngaga. Each gorilla group is followed every day by a tracker, so they always know where the gorillas are. The tracker leaves the gorillas in the evening. The next morning at sunrise the gorilla tracking for the guests start. Depending on how much the gorillas moved in the morning, it may take the tracker some time to find them. It takes between 45 minutes and several hours to get to the gorillas in the morning. You then hang around them for one hour, that is the limit for the guests at the gorilla site. The guide and tracker keep the guests at least 7 m (23 ft) from the gorillas. Whenever you are near the gorillas, you have to wear a face mask. Gorillas are close relatives of people and they are susceptible to human diseases. Every effort is made to prevent transmission of diseases. For instance you are not allowed to visit the gorillas when you have a cold or flu, to prevent them from getting infected.
I flew into Brazzaville, where I cleared customs and immigration. A few hours later I was booked on a scheduled charter flight in a small turboprop airplane to the Mboko airstrip.
From the airstrip we drove to the Ngaga Camp, a drive of around 3-4 hours, depending on what you encounter on the way.
Wake-up the next morning was 5:00, so we were ready to look for the gorillas at sun-up at 6:00. I was lucky to be assigned to the group that was close to the camp. It took us not quite 45 minutes to find the gorillas. The second group had to walk for more than two hours to find the gorillas.
On the way to the gorillas I was concerned how much there would be to see. The marantaceae vegetation, the staple food for the gorillas, is extremely dense, you can see no further than about 2 m (7 ft). It reminded me a bit of gorilla watching in Uganda, where I didn't really see very much because of the dense vegetation. But fortunately the tracker had cleared an area of the vegetation near the gorillas around a fruiting Junglesop Tree (Anonidium mannii), which the gorillas love to eat. As it happened, the gorillas stayed around that tree, so we had a clear view of them for the whole hour of our visit.
The next day we did another gorilla tracking excursion, this time to the other habituated group. Fortunately, the group had moved closer to the camp, we again needed only 45 minutes to find the gorillas. Again we watched them for an hour. This time the dominant male silverback gorilla, that is the boss of the group, showed up. It was exciting to watch them play and interact.
In the evening we did a night drive to watch nocturnal animals. We saw bushbabies and civets, plus the odd insects and spiders.
After the third night at Ngaga, we transferred to the Lango Camp. We drove to Mboko Camp. On the way we stopped in the local village Mbomo, to visit the small local market. From Mboko Camp we took kayaks downriver towards the Lango camp. When the water got too shallow, we walked through the river and deep mud another hour to the camp. I had taken off the lower legs of my cargo pants so they wouldn't get wet: BIG mistake. The sand flies were bad, I had probably more than 50 bites on my calves.
During the transfer from Ngaga to Lango we saw African Forest Elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis, german: Waldelefant, french: Éléphant de forêt d'Afrique) and African Forest Buffaloes (Syncerus caffer nanus, german: Rotbüffel, french: Buffle nain), as well as some birds.
At Lango Camp, they have set up a blind for bird watching. I opted to use the blind on both mornings to see as many birds as possible. I was especially looking forward to seeing flocks of African Grey Parrots or of Green Pigeons landing on the mud flats. The mud is mineral rich and the birds use it to supply them with minerals. The alternative was a morning walk around the camp area to see monkeys, elephants, buffaloes, and antelopes. I did see a flock of Parrots landing on the mud flat, unfortunately not the one in front of the blind but across the brook on the other side, about 50 m (160 ft) away.
In the afternoon at Lango we drove around the area for bird watching. After a drink for sundowner, we drove back to the camp at dark, where we encountered a herd of elephants on the road to the camp.
From Lango Camp we returned to Mboko Camp for another two nights. It was a short drive and then a walk over a boardwalk.
At Mboko Camp, the main excursions are by boat. We had two long boat tours, where we saw quite a few birds. The main attraction however were the elephants during both boat tours. We had a great time watching groups of elephants along the river.
In the afternoon on the second day we were scheduled for another excursion, one group was on a walking tour, the other was set up for another boat ride. It was not to be. A thunderstorm popped up and it started pouring rain. The group that was on the walking excursion was already in the forest. They got quite wet. I was on the boat ride. We were just getting ready to head to the boat when it started raining, so we canceled and didn't get wet.
After the second night at Mboko Camp I flew back to Brazzaville for a night there. I had booked a city tour, which was interesting. The next morning I flew back home.
This tour was all about wildlife. The highlight was the visit to the Western Lowland Gorillas. This was the best gorilla watching for me, better than Uganda and Rwanda. I highly recommend it.
I didn't see much of local people, only the brief visit in Mbomo. The area around Odzala National Park seems to be safe to visit. Brazzaville also seemed safe to walk around. That was about all I saw of the Republic of the Congo.
Since all food and drink was included in the cost of the tour, I can't judge how expensive it is to live in the country.
It was a short but interesting visit, I enjoyed it very much. I have divided the pictures in four pages:
All pictures are © Dr. Günther Eichhorn, unless otherwise noted.
The total number of pictures online on my website from Republic of the Congo is 211, the total number of video clips is 10
Page last updated on Fri Feb 12 15:06:56 2021 (Mountain Standard Time)
Republic of the Congo - Lowland Gorillas and Forest Elephants on www.guenther-eichhorn.com