Once a site of fishing villages, Kinshasa is now an urban area with a 2013 population of over 9 million.
It faces the capital of the neighbouring Republic of Congo, Brazzaville, which can be seen in the distance across the wide Congo River. The city of Kinshasa is also one of the DRC's 11 provinces. Because the administrative boundaries of the city-province cover a vast area, over 90% of the city-province's land is rural in nature, and the urban area only occupies a small section in the far western end of the city-province.
Kinshasa is the third largest urban area in Africa after Cairo and Lagos. It is also the second largest "francophone" urban area in the world after Paris, French being the language of government, schools, newspapers, public services and high-end commerce in the city, while Lingala is used as a lingua franca in the street.
If current demographic trends continue, Kinshasa should surpass Paris in population around 2020. Kinshasa hosted the 14th Francophonie Summit in October 2012.
Residents of Kinshasa are known as Kinois (in French and sometimes in English) or Kinshasans (English).
Officially there is a city bus and it has been bolstered recently by some older buses from Belgium being gifted to Kinshasa to improve the routes. This system pales in comparison to the "taxi" system that has risen organically to serve the needs of the people of Kinshasa.
Essentially, these taxis are small buses. They run set routes between embarkation points that are the "stops". The cost between these various points is usually around 350 Francs. If one's destination is through multiple points, different taxis will need to be boarded to complete the route, making the system take a good deal of time during busy traffic hours.
People waiting at the stops will move their hands in a variety of gestures to signal which direction they are going. A taxi will then stop and pick up someone if they are going in the same direction and have space in the taxi.
This system works well for the locals. For visitors and foreigners, it can be quite difficult as one needs to know the hand signs, have knowledge of the routes, be ready to sit in cramped, hot vehicles with many other people, and deal with the potential dangers of these vehicles as many are barely road-worthy.
Traveling through this manner absolutely requires local help for those unfamiliar with the system. One will also have to speak French or Lingala as the drivers do not speak English.
There are also traditional taxis for hire. They are available for single runs or can be hired by the day. This can be a tricky business and should be handled with care (especially at the airport) as there are those will take people to remote locations and rob them.
Again, help from a local is best or using drivers that others in the area have past experience with and trust. Rates for these taxis vary widely and if one does not appear to be of African descent, there will also be an automatic premium added.
Go see the bonobos by Lac de ma Vallée, Chutes de Zongo in Bas Congo and Bombo Lumene on the road to Kikwit. A BBQ on a sandbank on the Congo River is definitely also a must. Renting a boat for the day with a driver and all the gear (tables, chairs, a suntent and a BBQ) will cost around 150$ at the Yacht Club Kinshasa. The boat can take 8 people, so if you share the cost it is quite affordable. A truly unforgettable experience.
Don't forget to get some arts in Le marché des valeurs, sometimes called marché des voleurs... the first calling means market of value, the second in changing only one letter means market of thieves. Be prepared to haggle, and don't pay the initial asking price: that will be at least 60-75% over the final price, if not more.
For some more upmarket art you can go to the Academie des Beaux Arts on Avenue Pierre Mulele (formerly Avenue 24 Novembre) or to Symphonie des Arts: towards Kintambo on the Boulevard du 30 Juin, turn right after the elephant when you see the barrier on your right... then it's on your left hand across from the big colonial villa.
A more time-consuming but far more interesting and personal way to get to know the artists of the country would be to visit their private studios. Prices are high even there for paintings of Lema Kusa, Henri Kalama or Nshole, but worth every penny considering the quality of their works and their international career.
A more relaxed and fun way to buy street art is to have a beer at Surcouf: it's on the street off the boulevard 30 Juin towards Justice off the INSS building. Sit at a table and have a drink (Primus is recommended) and the artists will come and show all kinds of artworks all the time. The same rule for negotiating applies as at Marché des valeurs.