How the Congo River Works

The Congo River's Path

The sprawling Congo is the fifth-longest river in the world and the second-longest river in Africa (after the Nile). Its muddy waters run alternately slow and fast, shallow and deep. The river is a playground -- and mating ground -- for animals like the hippopotamus and crocodile. And it's the financial artery that makes trade possible; there's no way into the heart of the Congo except by the river. Much of the Congo is impassible except by pirogues -- dugout canoes. And only the truly adventurous ever traverse these parts of the river. Large trading vessels, such as steamboats, can travel about 9,000 miles (14,500 km) of the river en route to their ports from Kinshasa, Congo's capital, to the Atlantic Ocean.

The Congo River runs north and west, ending at the Atlantic. Its course flows north to Stanley (or Boyoma) Falls, a massive waterfall named after explorer Henry Stanley, and then veers west and then south, where it empties into the ocean. This massive river encompasses 10,000 streams and covers 2,900 miles (4,667 km). It takes six months for water to cycle from the river's source to its e