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Despite occupying the somewhat disconcerting area of coastline known as "The Armpit of Africa", Cameroon is a land of exquisite natural beauty, cultural vigor and culinary delight. Rainforests flourish throughout the southern and eastern areas of Cameroon; if you're starting to get withdrawal symptoms from the usual dry savanna landscape characteristic of the African continent, head over to Cameroon's northern reaches, where the national park at Waza capitalizes on the region's abundant wildlife. Mount Cameroon, near the western border with Nigeria, is an excellent hiking opportunity, with the 4,095-metre tall summit offering some splendid scenery.
French and British colonialism had pronounced effects on Cameroon's culture, though the country prides itself on its heritage. Cameroon's musical stylings are extremely popular, whether they're pumping from a club in Yaoundé or the stands at a soccer match.
Before Portuguese sailors reached the coast in 1472, the area now known as Cameroon was inhabited by various tribes and ruled in the form of kingdoms, empires and chiefdoms. Over the following few centuries, European interests regularised trade with the coastal peoples, and Christian missionaries pushed inland. The German Empire claimed the territory as the colony of Kamerun in 1884 and began a steady push inland. They initiated projects to improve the colony's infrastructure, relying on a harsh system of forced labour. With the defeat of Germany in World War I, Kamerun became a League of Nations mandate territory and was split into French Cameroun and British Cameroons in 1919. The French carefully integrated the economy of Cameroun with that of France and improved the infrastructure with capital investments, skilled workers, and continued forced labour. The British administered their territory from neighbouring Nigeria.
On 1 January 1960, French Cameroun gained independence from France under President Ahmadou Ahidjo, and on 1 October 1961, the formerly British Southern Cameroons united with its neighbour to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon. The Cameroon National Union (CNU), became the sole legal political party on 1 September 1966 and in 1972, the federal system of government was abolished in favour of a United Republic of Cameroon, headed from Yaoundé.
An economic crisis took effect in the mid-1980s to late 1990s as a result of international economic conditions, drought, falling petroleum prices, and years of corruption, mismanagement, and cronyism. Cameroon turned to foreign aid, cut government spending, and privatised industries. With the reintroduction of multi-party politics in December 1990, Anglophone pressure groups called for greater autonomy, with some advocating complete secession as the Republic of Ambazonia. In February 2008, Cameroon experienced its worst violence in 15 years when a transport union strike in Douala escalated into violent protests in 31 municipal areas.
Cameroon is located in Central Africa and shares borders with Nigeria, Chad, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, and along the Bight of Bonny, part of the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean. Cameroon lies between latitudes 1° and 13°N, and longitudes 8° and 17°E. At 475,442 square kilometres, Cameroon is the world's 53rd-largest country. Cameroon is often described as "Africa in miniature" because it exhibits all major climates and vegetation of the continent: coast, desert, mountains, rainforest, and savanna.
Cameroon is divided into five major geographic zones distinguished by dominant physical, climatic, and vegetative features. The coastal plain extends 15 to 150 kilometres inland from the Gulf of Guinea and has an average elevation of 90 metres. It is densely forested and includes some of the wettest places on earth, part of the Cross-Sanaga-Bioko coastal forests.
The South Cameroon Plateau rises from the coastal plain to an average elevation of 650 metres. Equatorial rainforest dominates this region, and the area is part of the Atlantic Equatorial coastal forests ecoregion. An irregular chain of mountains, hills, and plateaus known as the Cameroon range extends from Mount Cameroon on the coast almost to Lake Chad at Cameroon's northern border. Its soils are among Cameroon's most fertile, especially around volcanic Mount Cameroon. Volcanism here has created crater lakes. This area has been delineated by the World Wildlife Fund as the Cameroonian Highlands forests ecoregion.
The southern plateau rises northward to the grassy, rugged Adamawa Plateau. This feature stretches from the western mountain area and forms a barrier between the country's north and south. Its average elevation is 1,100 metres. The northern lowland region extends from the edge of the Adamawa to Lake Chad with an average elevation of 300 to 350 metres. Its characteristic vegetation is savanna scrub and grass. This is an arid region with sparse rainfall and high median temperatures.
Cameroon has four patterns of drainage. In the south, the principal rivers are the Ntem, Nyong, Sanaga, and Wouri. These flow southwestward or westward directly into the Gulf of Guinea. The Dja and Kadéï drain southeastward into the Congo River. In northern Cameroon, the Bénoué River runs north and west and empties into the Niger. The Logone flows northward into Lake Chad, which Cameroon shares with three neighbouring countries.
Waza National Park is located in northern Cameroon and with a total area of around 1,700 square kilometres it is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1979. Unfortunately, both numbers of wildlife and park rangers have declined in recent years and poachers have become active again, hunting for bush meat for both local use and trade, as is the case with many parks in Central Africa. Still, it probably is one of the better parks to enjoy a safari. Recently several more park rangers were added to guard the park. Wildlife includes elephant and giraffe, species of antelope, several predators and numerous birds.
Korup National Park is located in the west of the country close to the Nigerian border and is most famous for its dense tropical rainforest and high biodiversity with dozens of mammals and birds living here. This is one of the oldest rain forest in this part of Africa and has even stayed rain forest throughout the Ice Age.
Dja Faunal Reserve in the central part of Cameroon is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in the country. It is one of the best examples in Cameroon and in Africa for that matter to preserve tropical rain forest and it has an extremely rich biological diversity with over 100 species of mammal, several of which are endangered. It also has high numbers or divers primates, birds and flora. The park is almost totally surrounded by the Dja River.
Each year each of the villages will host a cultural festival. This is a unique opportunity to see dancers, masquerades (jujus), gun firing, snake dancers and fire dancers. After marveling at these sights, sit with the locals and enjoy a glass of the famed palm wine. All visitors are welcome to the festivals and all festivals are free of charge. Villages with festivals include:
Cameroon lies entirely within the tropics, but there are huge differences throughout the country.
The north of the country is relatively dry with a single wet season from April to September, averaging between 1,000 and 1,750mm of rain. July and August are the wettest months. Temperatures are above 30 °C during most of the year, with March to May being the hottest period. Temperatures can rise to over 40 °C during this period. In January and December though, nights can be rather chilly, around 15 °C.
The south of Cameroon is hot and humid year round, but temperatures are generally lower than in the north. Yaoundé average around 28 °C during the day, 18 °C at night, with just a few degrees difference between the warmest and coldest month. There are two wet seasons: one from March to June and a second shorter but heavier one in September and October. Only December and January are fairly dry with almost no rain.
The coastal areas are very hot and humid with comparable temperatures as Yaoundé but warmer nights (above 20 °C), for example in the city of Douala. Here, rainfall is very high throughout the year, with only December to February bringing some relief of the wet conditions. June to September is extremely wet with 500 to 750 mm of rain in each month!
Mount Cameroon is one of the wettest places on earth, averaging around 10,000 mm (10 metres!) of rain a year. Only places in Hawaii and India (Assam) are this wet!
The Douala International Airport (DLA), located 10 kilometres outside Douala, is the main gateway to the country. It is also the base of the flag carrier, Cameroon Airlines. Destinations from here include Abidjan, Bamako, Bangui, Brazzaville, Cotonou, Dakar, Dubai, Johannesburg, Kinshasa, Lagos, Libreville, Malabo, N'Djamena, Paris and Pointe-Noire. Brussels, Casablanca and Istanbul, Tripoli, Zürich are other destinations are served by their respective national airlines.
If you have your own vehicle, you will be able to cross borders at the ones mentioned below by public transport. Have your papers and insurance in order and expect to pay bribes and to have rough conditions on some roads, especially to the Republic of Congo. The crossing to Chad is difficult regarding hassling.
Cameroon borders with neighbouring countries are open, including those with Chad, Central African Republic, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the Republic of Congo. They mostly require domestic transport, crossing borders and again onward transport in the other country.
To the CAR there is a rough route is via Garoua-Boulaï to Bangui (via Bouar). An alternative is to travel to Kenzou, south of Batouri.
For Chad, travel from Maroua to Kousséri and across the border to N'Djamena.
The most remote route to another country probably is the one to the Republic of Congo, which is impossible in the rains. The route goes from Yokadouma to Sokamba. Here, you can catch a ferry (large enough for 4WDs) or pirogue across the Ngoko River to the Congolese port of Ouesso. From there, head for Pokola and the logging road to Brazzaville.
The crossings with Equatorial Guinea and Gabon are close to eachother and reachable from Amban. The roads east goes to Gabon (Bitam/Libreville) and west to Ebebiyin and Bata in Equatorial Guinea.
To and from Nigeria the main crossing points are Ekok, west of Mamfé, where you cross to Mfum for shared taxis to Calabar and at Banki in the extreme north for crossings to Maiduguri.
To Nigeria, there is a twice-weekly ferry from Limbe to Calabar on Monday and Thursday, and in the opposite direction every Tuesday and Friday.
To the Republic of Congo, there is a ferry across the Ngoko River to the Congolese port of Ouesso.
Cameroon Railways (CAMRAIL) is the national service provider. There are trains between the capital Yaoundé and Ngaoundéré in the north and between Yaoundé and the coastal city of Douala. Travelling to the north is best done by train which is more comfortable than buses. However, buses are faster on the Yaoundé - Douala route.
There are paved roads from Douala to Yaoundé, Limbé, Buéa, Bafoussam and Bamenda and between main centres. Many other roads are of a significant less quality and require a 4wd as roads become almost impassable after heavy roads. Driving at night is not recommended, because of poorly lit vehicles and chances of carjackings, especially in the north. Renting a car is only possible in Douala and Yaoundé, and renting one with a driver is recommended. If you feel the need to drive yourself, be sure to bring your international driving permit and buy a temporary Cameroon driver's license, ready within a day.
Buses, minibuses and shared taxis link Douala and Yaoundé and many other smaller cities and towns up north. Services can be uncomfortable and unreliable sometimes. Most buses leave only when totally full and actually overcrowded.
There are no notable ferry services except for a few boats travelling along the coast.
Most people will need a visa except citizens of Mali, Chad, Central African Republic and Nigeria, and it is very advisable to obtain it before arriving.
You need a consular letter from your bank stating your current balance. It must be signed by the bank for it to be valid. And you need a reservation confirmation from your hotel.
Check the latest Cameroonese visa info for obtaining one.
See also Money matters
Cameroon uses the CFA Franc as a currency. The CFA Franc is divided into 100 centimes. Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 500 francs while banknotes come in denominations of 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000 francs
The exchange range is fixed at approximately 656 CFA Francs for one Euro (€).
In Cameroon the Central African CFA Franc (XAF) is used which has the same vallue as the West African CFA Franc (XOF), but it's not possible to use both currencies in the same country.
Fourteen countries in Africa use this currency, eight in West Africa and six in Central Africa. The West African CFA Franc can only be used in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo, while the Central African CFA Franc can only be used in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
The effects of French and British colonization are still very evident in the country. Officially, Cameroon is a bilingual country speaking both French and English. In ten of the twelve provinces, French is almost universally spoken. However, in the North West Province and the South West Province the populate primarily speak English.
From 1884 to 1916, Cameroon (known as Kamerun) was under German control. There is still some evidence of this era from the fact that some small villages along the old German trading routes still utilize a bastard German, although knowledge of standard German is rare.
Cameroon has over 230 tribal languages, with each tribe speaking its own language. As a result "pidgen" is widely spoken across Cameroon. Pidgin is a mix between English, French and the tribal languages.
Pidgen varies across the anglophone and francophone zones.
Here are some of the staples:
Hotels in the major cities will range from XAF6,000 up to and in excess of XAF50,000. Clean and safe rooms can usually be found for under XAF11,000.
In more rural areas prices vary wildly depending on demand and local economy. It is not uncommon to find comfortable accommodations for XAF2,000-3,000 per night.
Unless you are with a guide on a trek it is not recommended that you camp due to security concerns.
Always check “best before” when buying a bottle - some drinks are way out of date.
Avoid drinking tap water, even in restaurants. Bottled water can be found most anywhere at reasonable prices. Expect to pay XAF400 for 1.5 L in the major cities, more in more remote areas.
Coca-Cola is available everywhere. For something different try one of the flavourful TOP sodas. They are much sweeter than most European or North American sodas but they are very tasty.
Cameroon is rich with choice when it comes to good beer due to its past as a German and later French colony. Bottled Guinness can be found everywhere although in the heat, try one of the excellent lighter beers such as Castel, Beaufort, Mützig, Isenbeck, Satzenbrau or 33. These are inexpensive and excellent in the heat. Castel Milk Stout is an excellent choice for those who like darker beer. Outside of the cities you will sometimes be hard pressed to find them chilled (due to a lack of electricity).
Palm Wine is the traditional drink. It comes in two varieties depending on the species of the palm tree from which it is tapped: palm wine or raffia wine.
See also Travel Health
Proof that you had a yellow fever vaccination is required upon entering Cameroon. You have to have a cholera stamp (prove of the fact that you don't have that desease) when entering overland.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Cameroon. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A as well as typhoid would be recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. When staying longer than 6 months, vaccination against meningitis might be recommended, depending on your contact with other people.
Like most African countries south of the Sahara, Malaria is prevalent in the country. Don't underestimate this tropical disease and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Dengue is present in the country as well, mainly in and around urban areas and other places where there are many people.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Violence is rare, but just be smart about wearing any jewellery or anything else that would make you stand apart from the rest. Take a taxi after dark if you're unsure of the area.
Be aware that Boko Haram, a Nigerian jihadist group, operates with other Islamists and Salafists in the north of Cameroon and they have kidnapped Europeans, Canadians, Americans and other westerners there. Boko Haram is a jihadist group and may implement very harsh forms of sharia law including amputation for theft. Church-goers should not proselytize to Muslims, form in groups which are too large due to suicide bombings, and alcohol consumption should not be done in public. They usually travel on motorbikes and pick-up trucks and more recently have linked up with the Islamic State in an effort to cement a worldwide caliphate. An offshoot linked to takfirism, the Ansar Muslimeen fi Biladi Sudan which translates as "Protection of Muslims in Black Lands", also carries out attacks and harsh punishments.
Highwaymen and other bandits also operate in some parts, particularly the north.
As a woman it is rude to cross your legs, particularly in rural areas.
Many laws in Cameroon are not the same as in 'Western' countries. Homosexuality is illegal, and can result in prison sentences.
Photographing sensitive areas is forbidden. This includes military places, and apparently embassies and diplomatic residences. If in doubt, it might be best to not take that picture, rather than risk having a soldier or policeman delete all your pictures, or confiscate your camera.
You can find Internet access all over the place, but the speed might be slow.
See also International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to Cameroon is 237.
To make an international call from Cameroon, the code is 00.
To make local and international calls you need to buy a pre-paid SIM card. Check if your cell phone has a compatible GSM standard (Africa/Europe) - if not, in addition to a SIM card you probably need to buy a new phone. "MTN" and "Orange" are two major telephone companies in Cameroon.
National post service is considered to be unreliable.
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