Pointe-Noire, Congo

Photo: David Stanley via flickr

It’s been a day full of surprises. You hiked through the rainforest to find red rock cliffs streaked with orange, pink, and yellow lines. You visited a little museum that turned into a surprising history lesson. You came face to face with adorable chimps. Now you’re taking in the view of the windswept coast at a gorgeous—and practically deserted—beach. This is not what you expected from Pointe-Noire.

Those cliffs are part of Diosso Gorge. Erosion created the Grand Canyon of the Congo inside the dense jungle. That museum is the Mâ-Loango Regional Museum. With artifacts from the Loango kingdom and exhibits about French colonization, it’s probably the country’s best museum despite its size. The chimps are at the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center. The center, operated by the Jane Goodall Institute, is the largest chimpanzee sanctuary in Africa. The beach is Pointe Indienne. It’s a popular day trip from the city on the weekend. Which means you’re in the Congo.

Pointe-Noire is the Congo’s second-largest city. Though Portuguese explorers named it Black Point after the black rocks on the headlands, the area remained a Loango fishing village until the French arrived and claimed it as part of French Equatorial Africa in the early 20th century. They built a railroad, which connected Pointe-Noire to the capital of Brazzaville, in the 1920s. Its population doubled, many times over, in the decades that followed. By the time the Congo gained its independence, in 1960, Pointe-Noire was the Congo’s most modern and exciting city.

Photo: Villa Madiba

That doesn’t mean it’s been smooth sailing for the city. The Congo turned to socialism and civil war after its independence; its elections are still controversial. But tourists are starting to travel through the vastly unexplored country. Its national parks, among the oldest on the continent, are home to some of the largest rainforests and most fascinating animals in the world. Gorillas top the list.

So you used Pointe-Noire as your entry point to the Congo. You expected a quick, unremarkable stop. But, on your first full day, you traveled outside of the city and found the dramatic landscape, the fascinating museum, and the adorable chimps.

Now you get to end the day at a comfortable boutique hotel. Villa Madiba sits on the Côte Sauvage. The Wild Coast is in between the busy port and the airport. It features modern rooms, a Japanese restaurant, and a relaxing pool. But the best part is definitely the view of the waves rolling in from the Atlantic Ocean. If you walk along the white-sand beach, you’ll find stalls that cook fresh fish and serve cold beer. They’re soon to be complemented by a breathtaking sunset. The surprises just keep coming along the coast of the Congo.

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