Democratic Republic of the Congo

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The Democratic Republic of the Congo (French: République Démocratique du Congo (or RDC); often shortened to DRC or D.R. Congo) is the largest and most populous country in Central Africa. The DRC remains a destination for only the most seasoned, hardcore African traveller. It is not a country for the casual tourist: the average backpacker, holidaymaker, and especially those seeking luxury safaris or organized cultural experiences. The DRC remains one of the least developed countries in Africa; its GDP per capita is the second lowest in the world, trailed only by Somalia. Largely covered by lush, tropical rainforest, the heart of the DRC is comparable to the Amazon (the only larger rainforest on Earth). The mighty Congo River forms the backbone of the country, carrying barges overflowing with Congolese (and the occasional adventurous Westerner) and merchants bringing their large pirogues laden with goods, fruit, and local bushmeat out to sell to those on the barges.
The country has faced a tragic, tumultuous history since colonization. It was brutally plundered by Belgium's King Leopold II for rubber and palm oil. The country and its central government fell apart just weeks after independence in 1960 and its leaders ever since have been far more preoccupied with quelling rebels and keeping the country together than with building infrastructure, improving education and healthcare, or doing anything else to improve the lives of the Congolese. Between 1994 and 2003, the bloodiest conflict since the end of World War II played out in the country's eastern jungles, with sporadic violence ongoing ever since. Millions of people have been displaced, fleeing murder and mass rape, and hundreds of thousands remain in refugee camps to this day, sheltered by the largest UN peacekeeping mission (MONUC) in the world.
Those who do brave the elements to travel here are in for quite the adventure. In the east, volcanic peaks rise thousands of meters above the surrounding rainforest, often shrouded in mist. Hikers can climb up Mount Nyiragongo, looming above Goma, and spend the night on the rim above an active lava lake (one of just four worldwide!). In the jungles nearby, a small number of tourists each day are permitted to trek to families of gorillas—one of our species' closest living relatives. Along the mighty Congo River, a handful of travellers each year spend weeks floating hundreds of kilometres on barges loaded with cargo and Congolese. And don't forget to pick up masks and other handicrafts in lively markets across the country.
This country is also frequently called Congo-Kinshasa to distinguish it from its northwestern neighbor, the Republic of Congo (also known as "Congo-Brazzaville"). In the past, the DRC has been known as the Congo Free State, Belgian Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Congo-Leopoldville, or Zaire. On this and other guides within the DRC, "Congo" refers to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.



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