The capital and largest city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), Kinshasa has one of the best supermarkets in the whole of the Congo area as well as some really upmarket boutiques on the road to the airport. The capital also has several modest-sized shopping malls with Le Premier being the first to be built (and well known for its great ice creams and Belgian waffles!). There are colorful markets too with Marché Gambela being the largest and open Monday – Saturday, 08.00-12.00 and 15.00-18.00. There are numerous stalls to browse and bargaining is essential but be aware as there are often pickpockets about. Another popular market is the Ivory Market, and these days most of the items are made from bone rather than ivory. Some really authentic souvenirs can also be found for sale on the various roadside stalls.
A very special place to hunt for souvenirs is ‘Je Gagne Ma Vie’ – meaning ‘I earn my life’. This very special shop has beautiful handmade local crafts that are made by people with physical disabilities.
1. Choose an African inspired sculpture
There is a fabulous selection of different carvings to choose from and each is skilfully carved in different woods by local craftsmen. Their work has different styles, depending on which ethnic group they are from. Many of the pieces have been inspired by local folklore and depict people in different styles of dress doing everyday tasks.
2. Admire the traditional Teke masks
What better souvenir of your time in the city than one of the amazing Teke masks? These flat masks are shaped like a full moon and colored with white or red colored soil before they are painted with intricate geometric patterns in blue, brown and black that portray the human face. Many of the masks are adorned with symbols too and all make a truly authentic wall hanging for your home or office.
3. Select a stylish handbag
There are numerous stalls in the markets selling handbags and these come in a variety of different styles and colors. Made in soft leather from the city’s tanneries or from crocodile skin, there are shoulder bags, clutch bags, satchels, rucksacks and an amazing collection of purses and wallets.
4. Design your own jewelry
There are numerous bead stalls all selling a wide selection of beads in different sizes, colors, and shapes. It is so much fun to carefully hand pick each stone for your necklace or bracelet and to tell the stallholder in what order you would like them to be threaded. If you are in a hurry, there are plenty of ready-made ones to choose from, it’s just they will not be quite so special!
5. Buy some beautiful healing stones
There is a good selection of healing stones available on these specialist stalls and the stallholder will be able to explain the strengths of each one, for example, malachite is for transformation and clarity, Jasper for strength and stability and quartz for clarity of mind. The stones are really beautiful and are sold in a small cloth envelope. There is the chance to have your chosen stone/stones made into a piece of jewelry.
The stalls also sell locally mined dioptase (which is strikingly colored), uvarovite garnets and beautiful emeralds that have all been mined locally.
6. Fill your home with Congolese art
There are numerous shops and stalls selling a wealth of vibrantly colored local paintings that are inspired by elements of everyday life, Congolese culture, and local folk tales. Some of the most popular are those that depict a glorious sunset over the Congo river. The paintings are carefully painted on cloth and are usually colored red, orange, gold with highlights in pale blue.
7. Taste some delicious local sweets and pastries
There is always a queue outside Patisserie Nouvelle as it is considered one of the best in the city. Situated next to the French Embassy, the patisserie is the perfect place to relax with a coffee whilst you contemplate what edible goodies to buy to pack in your suitcase!
8. Treat yourself to a Kuba wrap
A medium sized Kuba makes a dramatic headdress that is perfect for dealing with your hair on a ‘bad hair day’ whilst a larger size is perfect for a simple wraparound skirt. The Kuba wrap is made from the fibers of the raffia palm and the result is amazing with the cloth richly decorated with intricate geometric patterns and colored in black, white, browns and ochre – very stylish!
9. Choose some carved wooden animals
There are wood carvings of all shapes and sizes available everywhere and many of them depict the various wild animals, with elegant giraffes (a little tricky to transport) hippos, lions and okapi. If you would like to buy a more practical souvenir, what better than a stylish bottle opener that features a carved fish or parakeet? There are so many different gift ideas and there is something to suit every budget.
10. Enjoy the fantastic selection of fabrics
There are endless different fabrics to choose from and all of them are brightly colored with fascinating patterns and are perfect to pop in your suitcase to use as colorful throws when you get home or to have made into a stylish outfit. In many places, the fabric is sold in lengths of six yards (5.5 meters). The average price is $10-12 for this length of material, but you may well have to bargain to get the price down to this level.