7 Things you need to know when visiting Kinshasa

By 22:20

I feel like a seasoned traveller through Africa now. I’ve lived in or visited five countries and I’m used to the peculiarities that Africa has to offer. But in my first visit to Kinshasa, I think it is the most unique from everywhere else I’ve been.

A Congolese meal of fish, vegetables, plantain...and peri-peri

1. Locals eat everything with mayonnaise
From supermarket delis to the fanciest of restaurants in Kinshasa, you are served with mayonnaise, tomato sauce and peri-peri as accompaniments to your meals. It’s not that the meal is dry, because the local Congolese food is quite moist and saucy – but it’s still quite common to mix in some mayonnaise. The peri peri sauce that you find everywhere is deliciously potent. A little goes a long way and it jazzes up a rather bland cuisine.

Bread for the table...served with mayo

2. Taking photos is illegal
I think it’s pretty normal to want to capture your travels especially when our camera phones are now in our pockets. But did you know that snapping up photos on the streets is illegal? Try it and you might find a cop stopping you and even threatening to take away your phone. People say the president feels there are spies around…

I took this pic safely on the upper floors of a building

3. Changers
Walking through the streets, it is not uncommon to spot someone waving around a wad of cash. These “changers” are there to exchange US dollars (or other major currencies) for Congolese francs. It seems pretty safe to exchange your money right there on the street corner and even though it’s illegal, it is so commonplace and so convenient.

4. Soldiers
Although Kinshasa seems pretty safe, the DRC is still a country at war. This is evidenced by the soldiers on the streets with big guns. Perhaps, it makes the streets safe but I’m still wary about someone with a gun near me. I mean, what if that guy happens to have some anger management issues?

5. Two closest capital cities in the world
Brazzaville and Kinshasa are separated by the massive Congo river. They are so close that when Brazzaville was at war, bombs could be heard going off and sometimes even fell in Kinshasa! And since the river is actually the country’s border, the river is heavily guarded by soldiers with bunkers and army tents.

The overcast view from my room. That's Brazzaville across the river!

6. Robots
One of the unique things about South Africa is that we call all traffic lights robots. The rest of the world looks at us crazy when we say, “turn right at the robot.” Well, Kinshasa actually has real robots at some of their intersections. Like robots that look like robots. They were designed by a local girl in university trying to find a way to alleviate the horrid traffic caused by a lack of decent infrastructure. How’s that for making a difference with your university project!

The robots’ chest and arms light up red and green to direct the traffic and even turns around. For the lucky ones who are used to driving through traffic lights, this doesn’t seem like such a big deal but in Kinshasa where there aren’t many traffic lights and you have to slow down at every intersection to see if it’s safe to go; this saves a huge amount of time. 

7. Eating goat at Bandal
If you want to really experience the local Congolese life, you have to try their famous street food. It is pieces of goat that is cooked over a fire and it is a meal that every local in Kinshasa is crazy about. It is cooked with onions and chillies and is delicious. You find it by walking down the roads in Bandal - you will see a stall with a grill and tables and chairs. Place your order, pull up a chair, order a beer and you might even get the royal treatment if you’re a foreigner. I must warn you, though, that it’s not for the squeamish. The stall that I went to had the carcass of a little baby goat lying on the street with a gazillion flies around. But if you can look past that, you’ll be eating the most delicious local meal Kinshasa has to offer.


If you’ve been to Kinshasa and I’ve missed something that’s uniquely Congolese, I’d love to know. 

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