The Central African Republic (CAR) has fallen into obscurity over the past five years due to cultural and religious conflicts in the region. Although conflict is still prevalent today, there is an untouched wilderness in the far south of the CAR known as the Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve. Our director John Addison refers to this part of the CAR as “dinosaurland.” A place so unbelievably wild that a T-Rex crashing through the treeline would not look out of place. Dzanga-Sangha has untouched forests, pangolins, lowland gorillas, goliath tiger fish and riverside beaches seldom visited by even the most adventurous explorers. This is the CAR’s Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve, one of Africa’s most unspoilt reserves and a place well worth exploring.
Where to Stay and How to Get There?
When you travel to Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve, you will arrive in one of the most isolated places on earth. For this reason, there aren’t a lot of accommodation options. Ideally positioned at the southern tip of Dzanga-Sangha, along the banks of the Sangha River is Sangha Lodge. Five well appointed bungalows, each with their own en-suite bathroom provide you with a comfortable stay in a forest wilderness. A well-stocked bar and communal dining area provide a great space for you to unwind as you recount your experiences for the day.
Getting to Dzanga-Sangha is not an easy experience, but it’s well worth the effort. Visitors will take a connecting flight from Nairobi, Kenya to the CAR’s capital Bangui. From Bangui you will board a charter flight to Bayanga Airstrip (located at the western edge of Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve). From Bayanga Airstrip you will take an overland transfer to Sangha Lodge at the southern edge of Dzanga-Sangha.
A big reason travellers make the demanding journey to Dzanga-Sangha is to visit the Dzanga Bai. This rich mineral clearing is located in the middle of the rainforest where forest elephants gather in large numbers to reap the benefits of the mineral salts. With so many interactions between the different groups of forest elephants, this will culminate into one of the best elephant experiences there is. Next to the Bai’s very social forest elephants, you will see a mixture of shy forest creatures, including Bongo, Giant Forest Hog, Red River Hog, Sitatunga and Forest Buffalos. Time will fly by as you watch the ebb and flow of wildlife in the Dzanga Bai.
Gorilla Trekking Without The Mountains
Many people know about East Africa’s mountain gorillas, found in Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC, but few travellers have had the chance to see western lowland gorillas in their natural habitat. Dzanga-Sangha has one of the largest populations of western lowland gorillas in Africa. Tracking and studying these gorillas could not be achieved without the attuned senses of pygmy trackers. The pygmy trackers know these primates the best and they will be your key to finding them. Two habituated groups live in the park and it is almost guaranteed that you’ll see them on a trek (with a 98% success rate). Once a group is found, you will be allowed to spend an hour with them. Although the treks are demanding, you won’t have to contend with the mountainous terrain you will find in Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC. Unlike their mountainous cousins, these great apes can be spotted meters above the ground in the treeline. If you’ve made the long journey to Dzanga-Sangha, then a trip is not complete without spotting one of these beautiful creatures.
Spend a Day With the Ba’Aka
The Ba’Aka are a nomadic tribe that live in the south western corners of the CAR and have called the forests of Dzanga-Sangha their home for thousands of years. Accompany the Ba’Aka on one of their hunts and be amazed at how an intimidating forest to some provides nothing but comfort for the Ba’Aka. From hunting to catching and preparing their prey, you will come to admire how accomplished the Ba’Aka are as hunters and how they have thrived in the forests of Dzanga-Sangha for thousands of years. After the hunt the Ba’Aka women will show you medicinal plants of the forest and you will taste a typical dish of liana leaves with a sauce made from forest nuts. Finally you will build your own shelter with the help of the Ba’Aka. Few people have had the chance to share an intimate experience with the Ba’Aka, but if you do, it will prove to be one of the most memorable experiences during your time in Dzanga-Sangha.
The owner of Sangha Lodge is Rod Cassidy and he is a renowned ornithologist (you may even call him ‘bird crazy’). When he’s not overseeing operations at Sangha Lodge, you can find him with his binoculars searching for one of the 400 species of bird found in the reserve. The well-known African grey parrot is native to Central Africa’s rainforests and can be spotted in the treetops, while the extremely rare Pichathartes can be spotted nesting under waterfalls and traversing the leaf littered canopy floor. Rod Cassidy and Barry Watkins recently discovered a previously unknown population of this extremely rare species, the red-necked Pichathartes, breeding in a small colony of three birds less than 5 km from the lodge. Power up your torch at night and go searching for the Vermiculated fishing owls and Frazer’s eagle owls which live in the area surrounding the lodge. Dzanga-Sangha is a true birding paradise.
There is so much to see and explore in Dzanga-Sangha, meaning activities abound in the area. With few human inhabitants and minimal development, animals have been able to thrive in the ancient forests for hundreds of years. A collection of other activities include:
- Forest walks to hidden waterfalls. You may even be lucky to stumble upon a rare Pichathartes.
- Day time and night time walks in search of Dzanga-Sangha’s native pangolins.
- For the keen fisherman, nothing will get your heart racing like catching one of the world’s most fabled and terrifying fish – the Goliath tigerfish. Be ready for a fight when you cast your line.
- Learn more about animal rehabilitation activities at Sangha Lodge. Rod Cassidy and his team have taken it upon themselves to rehabilitate animals that have been orphaned due to the bush meat trade. To date Rod and his team have rehabilitated 70 pangolins, seven blue duikers, one brush-tailed porcupine and one servaline genet.
- Bring your day to a close by boarding a lodge boat (complete with drinks and food) and head down the river to have a relaxing braai on your own private beach.