Welcome to the Jungle Gorillas in the Mist A Walk in the Forest A Glimpse of Local Life A Warm Welcome Chest-Deep in the Baï Sundowners on the River All Experiences
The Kamba


No two Kamba Adventures are alike — each is tailored to your goals and adjusted for weather and other factors. That said, these few scenes sketch out a typical experience with us.

Welcome to the Jungle

You’re flying high above a thick green carpet of densely packed trees, broken up here and there by pale green flatlands. No towns, no roads, no farms are visible through the airplane window. You are heading into the jungle. Deep into the jungle.

How quickly your environment has changed. Last night you sat on the riverfront terrace of a restaurant in Brazzaville, eating grilled fish and fried plantains, looking across the Congo.

Brazzaville was a soft landing after your international flight, fascinating and welcoming, all grand government buildings, colorful storefronts, palm trees, and green-and-white taxicabs. But all that seems — is — a world away from the place you’re flying over now in Kamba’s 12-seat turboprop.

That place is the Congo Basin, wellspring of myths, prize for Livingstone and Stanley, inspiration for Conrad and Kingsolver. A vast sponge that absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and a habitat for gorillas, elephants, bongos, and butterflies. Dense forest, marshy clearings, rivers with strange-sounding names or no names at all — each one leading to the mighty Congo itself.

Soon, the pilot announces your descent in his cheerful Afrikaans accent. Before you even get out your phone to take a video, the green earth is rising toward you, the treetops become more distinct and more varied, and you make out fat-looking creatures soaking in waterholes. Finally you’re bumping along a grass runway as a few people in safari vehicles wave in welcome. You step off the plane into the cool but humid air. A flock of gray parrots swoops overhead. Welcome to the rainforest.

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Gorillas in the Mist

You set out from Ngaga Lodge before dawn, headlamps piercing the darkness as you walk single-file through the dense foliage — just four of you, plus the guide and tracker. “We call this salad surfing,” chuckles the guide, slicing through the marantaceae leaves. The silence is broken only by the chirping of insects and the crunching of boots. After 30 minutes or so, Zepherin, the Ba’aka tracker, stops, cocks his head, and points up: There, on a high branch, a grayish figure emerges from the shadows: The silverback!

There are seven gorillas, in fact, spread across a single tree, 15 meters from where you stand. Their silhouettes appear dark against the morning mist, becoming more distinct as the sun brightens and your eyes adjust. You’re mesmerized. You put your camera down. You watch.

The apes are surprisingly agile, leaping from bough to bough in search of the tastiest fruit. Neptuno, the silverback, takes a seat, lifting his chin in profile. “Is he posing for us?” you wonder. These gorillas are habituated to the presence of humans — and at their most affecting when they meet your gaze, puzzled, curious, bemused.

After around 20 minutes, the “show” is over: Neptuno slides down the trunk and disappears into the undergrowth, followed by a pregnant female, a lanky adolescent, a wooly baby, and the rest of the family, one by one.

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A Walk in the Forest

The camp manager hands you a refreshing iced tea and passes a platter of freshly baked cookies, the perfect fuel for your afternoon walk in the forest. You’re exploring just a tiny portion of the 80-km spider’s web of trails that surround Ngaga Lodge — the creation of the gorilla researchers and trackers based here.

The rich life of the forest makes itself known everywhere around you. A strangler fig spirals up a tree like a python. The loud, insistent call of a Great Blue Turaco sounds like something out of Jurassic Park. The guide points out a termite’s nest covering a tree trunk like shingles, nicknaming it “gorilla pizza” because the apes love to break off a piece and eat the insects inside. A thrashing overhead reveals a family of putty-nosed monkeys leaping among the treetops; the guide points out their chirps, yowls, and squawks — a lexicon of warnings about potential predators (like you!).

After a couple of entrancing hours, you round a bend in the trail and spy a blissful water pool at the bottom of a hollow — and then spot a semicircle of chairs set up in the shallows. A smile spreads across your face as you realize the lodge team has set up this charming little spot for sundowners.

Now, with a glass of wine in your hand, toes dangling in the cool stream, you feel as comfortable in these woods as if in your own backyard. As strange and wonderful as this place is, right now it feels like yours to enjoy.

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A Glimpse of Local Life

You and a few other guests are bouncing down the track in a Land Cruiser, traveling from Ngaga Lodge to the tiny village of Ombu. It’s small and simple, not much more than a cluster of thatch-roofed houses flanking the road. You gather in a gazebo, the locals looking bashful but intrigued as you ask questions of the village leader.

Where do the children go to school? (At Mbomo, a larger village up the road, where they spend the week before walking back here.) What does everyone do for work? (Many work for Kamba; some grow vegetables to sell to the lodges.) Where do they get water? (The women walk to a local stream, fill up tanks, and carry them home on their backs.)

Wildlife is what brought you to the Congo, but you realize that this is also a home for many thousands of people, and it needs to be protected as much for them as for the gorillas. You’re happy to learn how SPAC, Kamba’s charitable sibling, is supporting schools, nurseries, and access to clean water across the area. And it registers that your very presence here is providing these people with economic opportunity.

The guide produces a soccer ball from the vehicle, a gift from Kamba to the kids, and suddenly everyone is playing, kicking the ball in the dust, shouting, laughing, enjoying this opportunity to share a moment of fun. Photography is generally not allowed on these village visits, but everyone agrees to pose together for a picture, the girls draped in colorful printed fabrics, the boys wearing graphic t-shirts, everyone smiling.

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A Warm Welcome

You’re kayaking slowly down a bendy river. Date palms lean over the banks, dangling vines into the water. A rustle in the trees: gray-cheeked mangabey monkeys foraging for fruit and seeds, the tufted fur on their cheeks making them look like characters from Dr. Seuss. Further along, on the far end of a grassy marsh, you spot an elephant grazing.

A tiny malachite kingfisher poses on a branch, showing off its orange beak and blue plumage. Other than the breeze, the dip of your paddles, and the occasional bird call, all is quiet.

After an hour or so, the water becomes shallower and you pull up the kayaks on a sandy beach to begin your walk through the baï. Single file, voices low to avoid disturbing the river buffalo bathing nearby. Is that an elephant print? Or a hippo’s?

Gradually, the water rises to your ankles, your calves, your knees. The baï seems to stretch on forever. An eagle perches like a sentry on a high branch. Then, a sound like a crashing wave: a passel of African green pigeons, swooping across the sky in formation. You stop, watch, and listen, the magic of this place seeping into your consciousness gradually, then suddenly.

It’s a unique way to reach your picture perfect lodge, wading through water, but you wouldn’t have it any other way when you finally see it, tucked on the edge of the clearing: Lango Lodge, its pavilions perched on stilts above the marsh, thatched roofs peeking above the foliage. Staffers are holding trays of warm towels and drinks, awaiting your arrival. The sun is low now, painting the sky in yellow, pink, and gold. Fat raindrops begin plunking in the water around you, and a rainbow pierces the clouds. Now this is arriving in style.

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Chest-Deep in the Baï

The staffer at Lango pours you a coffee from the French press as you peel on your socks, still damp from yesterday’s walk through the baï. But as soon as you step off the boardwalk into the marsh, the warm water lapping your ankles and the squishiness underfoot already feel familiar.

You breathe in the scent of the baï, a strange mix of sulfur and jasmine, and watch the forest buffalo flicking their tails at the oxpeckers perched on their backs. By now, standing in the swamp feels more natural than standing above it — as if the stilts that keep Lango Lodge above the waterline are also somehow holding you back from your true element.

Your group wades single-file through the baï toward a canopy of red-flecked azobé trees until you reach dry land and navigate through the forest on paths forged by elephants.

Colobus monkeys shake the branches overhead. You stop to take photos of a towering strangler fig that has completely encased a kapok tree.

Soon enough, it’s back in the water, this time deep enough to reach your chest. Everyone holds their packs and phones aloft, stupid smiles on their faces. “Can you believe where we are right now?” your faces say to each other.

You emerge again to find yourselves walking across a small savanna, the air dry and warm, the vegetation different — a completely different ecosystem just steps from the last. You realize that the 12 of you are likely the only people in the entire Congo Basin doing what you’re doing right now. You feel so tiny in this enormous place, so removed from the world as you’ve known it, so far from your comfort zone. It is the thrill of being truly in the wild. A wild that you’re not just seeing as a spectator, but living in as a participant. This is full immersion.

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Sundowners on the River

The boat cruises slowly down the Lekoli River, its engine humming softly as you head back to Mboko Lodge. All is anticipation, as everyone’s eyes scans the banks for wildlife, ears attuned to any slight disturbance in the vegetation. Swifts dive for insects on the surface of the water. A family of De Brazza monkeys, their long white beards like a Japanese monk’s, clambers up a kapok tree. The guide steers the boat into a baï and cuts the engine.

Suddenly, an elephant appears on the shoreline — no, three elephants, a mother and two adolescents. They eat quietly, munching on branches and grass. And then just as abruptly, they turn and run away. “They must have smelled us,” says the guide. “An elephant never forgets.”

You’ve been on safari before, but this is a completely different way to experience wildlife. You’re not racing across a savanna to chase a report of a leopard sighting. Here, it’s quiet, acquiescent. You follow the natural flow of the forest and wait for the animals to reveal themselves to you. You see wildlife of astonishing beauty — a green and yellow striped monitor lizard, a white palm nut vulture with an eye like a yellow sapphire — but you’ve come to view this ecosystem holistically. It’s about the trees, the insects, the water. It’s as much about what you can’t see as what you can.

Back out on the river, the water mirrors the pink sky of the setting sun. The guide hands you a gin and tonic scented with bulukutu, the fragrant local herb. Birds take flight above your head, and Venus peeks out from behind a high mosaic of clouds. The beauty and peacefulness of this place are utterly intoxicating. There are no other boats, no other people, no electrical cables, no cell phone towers, no buildings of any sort. The silence is transfixing. It is a moment you will never forget.

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All Kamba Experiences

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