Africa’s national parks are captivating. Their untouched landscapes, raw natural beauty, and, of course, unique animals keep drawing you back. The reality never quite matches the dream, though. The roads are lined with four-wheel drive vehicles. Tour groups are always larger than expected. While guides have to jockey for positions where they anticipate animal movement. It isn’t as peaceful out there as it should be. At least in the most popular parks.
The national parks in Congo are far from overrun. The former French colony turned to socialism and civil war after its independence. Tourists only recently began traveling through the large country in Central Africa. There’s a lot to explore, though. Particularly if you make your way north toward the shared border with the Central African Republic.
Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park is the largest and oldest national park in Congo. In 1993, more than 4,000 square kilometers were set aside to preserve the best intact forest ecosystem—a tropical lowland rainforest and marshes along the freshwater Sangha River—in the Congo Basin. Logging and hunting were prohibited. It protected rare African forest elephants, endangered great apes, African forest buffalo, and hundreds of bird species in the process. The park may now have the largest concentration of wildlife per square mile in Africa.
Yet no humans, save for anti-poaching patrols and a handful of researchers, are in Nouabalé-Ndoki. People never lived in this remote area. The forest hadn’t been cut down, so no roads had been established. The one true clearing, Mbeli Bai, is natural and quite swampy. That’s where families of forest elephants, western lowland gorillas (nearly 200 of them), and foraging black-and-white and red colobuses like to hang out. This is the spot in Congo, perhaps all of Africa, about which you should really be dreaming. You might just have to stay away in order to keep it pristine.