How Long is the Congo River?

Written by Becky Mathews
Updated: July 2, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/Fanny Salmon
Share this post on:

The Congo River in West-Central Africa is a true force of nature. Its extensive size provides water, food, and transport to 75 million people and supports a vast number of endangered animals.

Over 100 years ago, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness novel made the river famous. It captured imaginations across the world, but just how long is the Congo River? Where does it start and finish, and who lives there?

Let’s find out about this awe-inspiring place and just how long it really is!

How Long is the Congo River?

The Congo River is the second-longest river in Africa.

iStock.com/Fanny Salmon

The Congo River is 4,700 kilometers long (that’s 2,900 miles!). It’s the second-longest river in Africa but still nowhere near the longest river in the world. It ranks 9th on the longest river leader board.

Despite this, it’s still a long and powerful river. It crosses the equator twice and runs through seven different African countries. They are:

  • The Republic of the Congo
  • The Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • The Central African Republic
  • Western Zambia
  • Northern Angola
  • Cameroon
  • Tanzania 

Where Does the Congo River Start?

The Congo River starts at one of two tributaries; the Luabala River or the Chambeshi River.

iStock.com/Fanny Salmon

The Congo River starts in many places. Because numerous rivers and lakes feed into it, it’s difficult to say exactly where it starts. However, the majority of experts say it begins in the highlands of North-Eastern Zambia, and two main rivers feed it.

The Chambeshi River

The Chambeshi River is one source of the Congo River. It rises in the mountains of North-Eastern Zambia near Lake Tanganyika and Nyasa. 

Lake Tanganyika is over 660 kilometers long. It’s the longest freshwater lake in the world and the second deepest at 4,710 feet. Crocodiles and hippopotamuses live there.

Lake Nyasa is 584 kilometers long and the third largest lake in Africa. It’s better known there as Lake Malawi. It has a beautiful white beach, and a large population of people live on its shores.

The Lualaba River

The second potential start of the Congo is the Lualaba River. The Lualaba River flows from the Katanga Plateau and carries the most water of any tributary in the Congo region.

It’s no surprise that the mighty Congo River springs from rivers and lakes that are huge in their own right.

Where Does the Congo River Finish?

The Congo River finishes in the Atlantic Ocean, the same ocean the United States Delaware River finishes! It’s hard to imagine these two distinct places finish in the same body of water, but they are separated by over 12,000 kilometers.

The Congo River crosses the equator twice and flows through seven countries. It dissects the Congo Rainforest before pouring out at the small South-Western seaport of Banane in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

How Old is the Congo River?

The Congo River is ancient. It was formed in the Pleistocene era up to two million years ago. It has a lot of history attached to it, and most of it is bloodthirsty.

The Belgian King Leopold seized control of the area in 1885 and established the Congo Free State. The area was attractive because of its rich natural resources. Copper, rubber, timber, and diamond deposits were very valuable. Experts estimate King Leopold was responsible for 10 million native deaths in the Congo Free State.

How Deep is the Congo River?

The Congo River’s Livingstone Rapids travel at 30 miles per hour.

Vberger / This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Vberger at the Wikipedia project. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible: Vberger grants anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

The Congo River is the world’s deepest measured river. It hits a maximum depth of 720 feet in places, which is too deep for light to filter through.

As well as being very deep, it’s extremely powerful. It has a huge body of water contained within its banks, estimated at three times more than the Mississippi. Overall, it takes 1.25 million cubic feet of water to the ocean every second.

Many tributaries flow into the Congo River, forming a large network of waterways. It’s very difficult to navigate these waterways because natural hazards are frequently encountered. The river itself is sectioned into three distinct parts.

The Upper Congo

The Upper Congo is mostly rapids and tributaries that are too dangerous to navigate in a boat. These fast-moving tributaries come together to form the bulk of the Congo River in often violent conditions.

The Middle Congo

The Middle Congo is the calmest spot and is home to the Congo Basin and the incredibly diverse Congo Rainforest.

The Lower Congo

Thirty-two huge waterfalls and gorges that can’t be easily navigated lie in the Lower Congo. Inga Falls is one of the most famous. It drops 315 feet over 15 kilometers and moves with considerable speed. There’s also Livingstone Falls, a row of rapids that move at 30 miles an hour.

Ever wondered how wide the Congo River is at its widest point? Find out here.

What Animals Live in the Congo River?

Python vs Leopard
Leopards and snakes live near the Congo River.

Alta Oosthuizen/Shutterstock.com

The Congo River flows through the second-largest rainforest in the world, so its animal list is extensive. The basin alone contains 400 mammals, 700 different types of fish, and 1000 species of birds.

The Congo Basin is home to elephants, leopards, hippos, lions, manatees, mountain and lowland gorillas, bonobos, African grey parrots, chimpanzees, and so much more.  

Many of the world’s most loved animals live in and near the Congo River, but it’s not all good news. It’s also home to the tsetse fly that carries sleeping sickness.

Scientists think the Congo rainforest removes so much carbon dioxide and produces so much oxygen, a feat beaten only by the Amazon Rainforest.

An article in the journal Nature indicates a widespread decline in the greenness of the Congolese rainforest over the past decade. It’s yet another warning sign that we need to protect our rainforest from deforestation.

Is the Congo River the Longest River in Africa?

The longest river in Africa is the Nile River. It is 6,650 kilometers long and runs through 11 African countries. The Congo River is the second-longest river in Africa, measuring 4,700 kilometers. The River Niger sits in third place, flowing over 4,180 kilometers.

All three top spot holders are enormous rivers that support the human and animal population across the continent of Africa.

What is the Longest River in the World?

The longest river in the world is the Nile River, measuring 6,650 kilometers.

iStock.com/Phototreat

The longest river in the world is the Nile River, measuring 6,650 kilometers. This river doesn’t hold the greatest volume of water because it’s so full of rich nutrients and silt, but it certainly stretches the farthest.

In second place is the South American Amazon at 6,575 kilometers, and in 3rd place is China’s Yangtze River at 6,300 kilometers.

So, now we know how long the Congo River is and much more besides. It’s only the 9th longest river in the world, but it sustains a vast number of habitats and endangered wildlife species. It’s a truly incredible place.

congo-river-picture-id1320043278

iStock.com/Fanny Salmon
Share this post on:
About the Author

I’ve been a professional writer since 2014 with special interests in the environment, particularly endangered animal and plant species. I graduated from the University of Reading, UK with an MA in history and hold University of Oxford qualifications in archaeology. Outside of work, I rehabilitate wildlife, work in my allotment garden, and play the piano badly.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.