Congo Franc - XAF
You may have heard of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but this is not the country we are referring to here. Instead we are referring to its neighbour, the Republic of the Congo. This is also sometimes called the Congo Republic. The Congo uses the Central African CFA franc as its nominated currency.
What coins and notes are available for this currency?
The Central African franc is commonly referred to as the CFA franc. It is used by a number of other countries as well as the Congo, and it is pegged to the value of the euro. As is the case with other franc-based currencies, the subunit here is the centime. However it is not actually in use and the only coins and notes you can get are denominated as francs.
There are plenty of coins available though, starting with the smaller-valued coins, the 1, 2, 5 and 10 franc pieces. You can also use the 25, 50, 100 and 500 franc coins. Aside from this there is a 500 franc note as well as four others – the 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 and 10,000 franc notes.
From past to present – the history of the CFA franc
You’d need to go back to 1945 to find the first instance of any countries using the CFA franc. At this point in time France had many colonies, and the French franc was in use in each one. However when the mid-Forties arrived it was decided that a new currency would be adopted that would replace the French Equatorial franc that was used at the time. Eventually all these countries gained independence from France, but today they still use their own version of the franc across the countries.
How to get hold of the CFA franc
As you might expect when you find out a little more about the Congo, getting cash here is not the simplest task. For example there are no cash machines at all anywhere in the country (and there are few countries you could say that about in the 21st century). You can usually forget about trying to use a credit or debit card, so you may as well leave those at home. Even traveller’s cheques are a real challenge to cash in, which means you have to rely on cash and cash alone.
Make sure you take enough with you to change into the franc when you get there. If you run short of cash, it can be very expensive to get any more. Some who know the country say Western Union is really the only option, and that can be pricey.
How to find out the latest exchange rate between your home currency and the CFA franc
The best way is to use a currency converter. It’s up to you whether you use one on a smart phone or tablet or online – it makes little difference. Provided it is accurate and ideally updated every hour (to get the latest information) this should be fine. The ISO code (XAF) is the easiest way to find the currency as most good converters should recognise it and steer you towards the right currency.
There is a website available for the Honorary Consulate of the Republic of the Congo-Brazzaville in the UK. (Brazzaville is its capital city.) You can visit the website at http://consulateofthecongobrazzaville.webs.com/.
Travelling safely with the CFA franc
One of the most important things to be aware of in the Congo is that some areas should not be visited. It is important to get the latest information prior to travel to determine where these areas are. In many cases they involve people who have been displaced from where they live and work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (essentially next door to Congo). It is definitely worth checking the latest information before you plan to travel, before you leave and while you are there.
Thankfully crime here doesn’t appear to be a major problem. The capital city, Brazzaville, is generally fine for tourists to visit but you should take all the usual precautions you would take anywhere else. For example if you sit down anywhere be sure to keep your bag close at hand. Don’t take your eyes off it or leave it next to you where it could easily be picked up by someone else.
Generally speaking the official information on crime in Congo is that you are more at risk of problems in rural areas than you are in big cities. Do bear this in mind if you are thinking of visiting anywhere out of town.
Where to spend your francs in the Congo – and what to spend them on
The Congo is located in central Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo lies immediately to the east of the country and wraps around its southern end too. However this southern end also has the small exclave of Angola known as Cabinda meeting the Congo border. To the west you will find Gabon and the northern reaches of the country are met by Cameroon to the west and the Central African Republic to the eastern side.
As we mentioned before, Brazzaville is the capital of Congo and it lies very close to the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Congo River also runs through this area. It’s worth seeking out St Anne’s Basilica while you are here, since this is quite stunning and has a famous roof covered in green tiles. Elsewhere you can visit the zoo which has been open since the mid-Forties. However it should be noted that it is far from being highly-rated in terms of animal welfare.
Another popular place that is worth visiting is Pointe-Noire. This benefits from sitting in a charming position on the Atlantic coastline. You can easily reach it by train from the capital Brazzaville, so you might wish to take this journey as it can be a real experience and a great way to see more. The railway station in Pointe-Noire is certainly worth a look as it is quite an impressive building. It has a tower built into the design and many archways and smaller peaked roof sections.
It is definitely worth going down to the beach once you arrive, since Notre Dame beach is a real beauty. You may well spot some people surfing too. The waves here are respected as being really good among those in the know, and since this is not particularly known as a tourist haven you may have more beach and waves to yourself than you might imagine. However you should know the waves here can be difficult so don’t attempt surfing unless you are experienced.
Elsewhere in Pointe-Noire you can visit the Gorges of Diosso. Diosso, a town near the coast, is best-known for its gorge, which is spectacular to say the least. You can walk along the gorge by dipping down into it and watching as the sides rise up around you. Make sure you go prepared and don’t get lost; it’s a good idea to take food and water with you too as you may well need it.
While we are on the subject of natural sights, why not find out more about the Loufoulakari Falls? This is the point where the Congo River and the Loufoulakari River meet. It’s not that far from Brazzaville and it is well worth making the journey out to see it because it is quite a spectacular sight. Incidentally you can always consider whether you are game enough to attempt white water rafting on the Congo River. There can be few other places in the world that are as dramatic as this. Of course if this sounds a little too adventurous for you, you could always opt for a fishing trip instead!
While the Republic of the Congo wouldn’t be the number one choice for many tourists to visit, it does have some nice sights to offer those who do want to see more in this country. It will never be one of the finest or most popular venues for people to go to, but given its size and position there are some surprisingly good finds here when you start looking for places to see and enjoy.
Obviously there is a need to be alert to the latest situation in the country and particularly in the border areas with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However with that said you can still find plenty here to delight in. Just be aware of that warning about the likelihood of any crimes taking place rising as you leave the cities behind. Consider this as you go about your travels and make sure you protect yourself and don’t get fleeced out of any cash. Some locals will try to make you pay for things that aren’t necessary, or to ask for more cash than is really required. The more you can learn about the Congo before you visit, the better you will be able to manage any challenges you may come across.