South African Airways Adds Service to Brazzaville, Congo

Africa is getting smaller and smaller: As of September 13, South African Airways will start flying to Brazzaville, its second city in the Republic of the Congo.

Often confused with the troubled Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaïre) on the opposite side of the Congo River, Congo is much more stable and visitor-friendly. Noted for its lowland gorillas and wild chimpanzees (the country contains over 80 percent of the world’s population), Congo has a dense rainforest (the world’s second largest after the Amazon) and a narrow 105-mile-long coastal strip that plays host to a nascent oil industry. Outside the French-flavored capital of Brazzaville, attractions include the surf beaches of Pointe-Noire, the white-water Congo River rapids and the 8,500-square-mile Odzala National Park, one of the Africa’s largest (and least known) tropical ecosystems.

But for genuine explorers who want to blaze a trail, Congo has little tourist infrastructure that has limited tourism to all but the most intrepid travelers.

When SAA starts its new service, the schedule will feature twice weekly service (on Thursdays and Saturdays) operating with an Airbus A319 aircraft. South African Airways also has twice weekly services to Pointe Noire. The flights are scheduled to fit with the arrival and departure of SAA’s international flights at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. (SAA's first class service is top-notch, incidentally, and the lounges at Tambo must be explored.)

Things to do in the Congo:

Odzala National Park
Visitors have reported seeing hundreds of lowland gorillas, monkeys and even elephants in Odzala. The park has five camps with eating facilities and trips can be arranged for a maximum of four people. Note: With long days and plenty of hiking, you will need to be in good physical shape.

Pointe-Noire Beach
Pointe-Noir's main attractions are its safe beach and its urban bars and restaurants. The beach is a short walk from the main drag where windsurfing, hang-gliding, surf-casting and deep sea fishing are popular among the predominantly expatriate petroleum industry community. Restaurants along the beach offer super-fresh Congolese-style seafood.

Marche Total
Brazzaville's markets are its main attraction and provide an assault of local color. At Marche Total, hawkers display popular foods such as fresh peanut butter and the ubiquitous manioc or cassava to more adventurous fare like caterpillars, guinea pigs and bats. You can trawl the stalls for everything from palm wine to Congolese fabrics and charms.

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