First, for those who want to visit DRC, it is necessary to find a host organization in-country that will write a letter on your behalf in order to acquire a VISA, and make sure to have all the fun shots necessary before the journey. And maybe some malaria meds.
Let’s start with the wonder that is N’Djili airport in Kinshasa. Now…I have done a fair bit of traveling and experienced the gamut of airports but this airport has a level of chaos that I have never experienced before.
I arrived late at night, which was of mild concern before arrival, but after experiencing the trip from the hotel to the airport during the day – I say arrive at night, if at all possible, and for goodness sakes hire the minders.
What’s a minder and why would a well-traveled, independent, adult need one? Because traveling to DRC should be taken seriously and most people only go for work. With that said, as a woman often on my own in DRC, it was completely feasible but I had contacts on the ground that I was working with and in case of an emergency. If you take recommendations by locals as absolutes and not suggestions, it will be a much better experience. If you are not with an agency or NGO that has a driver, pre-arrange with Jeffrey Travels to shuttle you to where you need to go.
If you can at least read basic French it will be a smoother experience, speaking French – even better…Don’t argue with the men with automatic rifles, I promise it won’t end well. Don’t let anyone “help” with your luggage. And don’t take any photos.
Leaving is an entirely different story. The airport is chaotic and there aren’t signs indicating which line to stand in, not even in French. In order to leave Kinshasa, there is a $55.00 tax to pay right off the bat.
Back to the minders. It was mid-day and the line for paying the tax was closed, so mine had to find someone to pay and acquire a receipt. Then he put me in line number one, line number two and then off to security.
Customs was far more difficult on the way out. This is where speaking French is really important. Be prepared to hand over all of your receipts. Be calm, and if they say that you are missing a page – that means money. But if you don’t speak French you probably still won’t understand what they mean…And, again, don’t mess with (push) the men with guns. I saw that happen. That kid is probably still in a backroom somewhere in the airport.
Overall, it wasn’t as bad as I anticipated. It’s all about expectations, but I find that applies to life in general. Happy travels.