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Located in, well, the centre of Africa, the Central African Republic (CAR) boasts many of the same attractions as its surrounding African nations, but presents them in a different way. Its national park and other parks are home to a vast variety of animals, as are its rainforests. The towns have that characteristic bustling African feel. What sets CAR apart is the low-key way the country has taken to displaying its assets. Tour operators are few. Instead, travellers are helpfully assisted by pygmies or other locals, who add a cultural dynamism which most tour operators can't match.
Like many of its surrounding African nations, however, CAR is home to much violence. Care should be taken, since foreigners are a particularly popular target amongst thieves and muggers.
Between about 1000 BC and 1000 AD, Adamawa-Eastern-speaking peoples spread eastward from Cameroon to Sudan and settled in most of the territory of the CAR. During the same period, a much smaller number of Bantu-speaking immigrants settled in Southwestern CAR and some Central Sudanic-speaking populations settled along the Oubangi.
Until the early 1800s, the peoples of the CAR lived beyond the expanding Islamic frontier in the Sudanic zone of Africa and thus had relatively little contact with Abrahamic religions or northern economies. During the first decades of the nineteenth century, however, Muslim traders began increasingly to penetrate the region of the CAR and to cultivate special relations with local leaders in order to facilitate their trade and settlement in the region.
European penetration of Central African territory began in the late nineteenth century during the so-called Scramble for Africa (c. 1875-1900). In 1889 the French established a post on the Ubangi River at Bangui, the future capital of Ubangi-Shari and the CAR. De Brazza then sent expeditions in 1890-91 up the Sangha River in what is now Southwestern CAR, up the center of the Ubangi basin toward Lake Chad, and eastward along the Ubangi River toward the Nile.
On 1 December 1958 the colony of Ubangi-Shari became an autonomous territory within the French Community and took the name Central African Republic. Over 50 years, and many presidents, unfair elections and military coups later, the country is one of the poorest and most unstable countries in Africa and few travellers visit the country, except for the southwestern corner which is (relatively) safe.
The Central African Republic is a landlocked nation within the interior of the African continent. It is bordered by Cameroon, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo. The country lies between latitudes 2° and 11°N, and longitudes 14° and 28°E. Much of the country consists of flat, or rolling plateau savanna, typically about 500 metres above sea level, of which most of the northern half lies within the World Wildlife Fund's East Sudanian savanna ecoregion. As well as the Fertit Hills in the northeast of the Central African Republic, there are scattered hills in the southwest. To the northwest is the Yade Massif, a granite plateau with an altitude of 348 metres. At 622,941 square kilometres, the Central African Republic is the world's 45th-largest country. It is comparable in size to Ukraine, and is somewhat smaller than the U.S. state of Texas. Much of the southern border is formed by tributaries of the Congo River, with the Mbomou River in the east merging with the Uele River to form the Ubangi River. In the west, the Sangha River flows through part of the country. The eastern border lies along the edge of the Nile River watershed. It has been estimated that up to 8% of the country is covered by forest, with the densest parts in the south. The forest is highly diverse in nature and includes commercially important species of Ayous, Sapelli and Sipo. The deforestation rate is 0.4% per annum, and lumber poaching is commonplace. In the November 2008 issue of National Geographic, the Central African Republic was named the country least affected by light pollution.
The Central African Republic is made up of 14 administrative prefectures, 2 economic prefectures (Nana-Grébizi and Sangha-Mbaéré) and an autonomous commune (Bangui).
The administrative prefectures are
The Manovo-Gounda St Floris National Park is one the Unesco World Heritage List but is also on their list of sites which are in danger. The park has a diverse wealth of flora and fauna and its vast savannahs are home to a wide variety of species, including black rhinos, elephants, cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs, red-fronted gazelles, buffalo and even the rare wild dogs. There are also numerous types of waterfowl in the northern floodplains.
The Dzanga-Sangha National Park is located in the southwest of the Central African Republic on the border area with Cameroon and the Republic of Congo. Unlike most of the country, the parks sees a steady influx of adventurous travellers, although numbers are no where near the parks in the east and south of the continent. You will definately see some fantastic wildlife here including lowland gorillas, elephants and lions. The Baka still live in this remote corner of Africa. Bayanga is the gateway to visit the park and is best reached by charter flight. There are several guesthouses and one lodge to stay in.
Southwest of Bangui is the village of M'Baïki. The village has a beautiful setting surrounded by rainforest and home to timber, coffee and tobacco plantations in the area. There are Pygmy settlements in the rainforests surrounding Mbaiki and about 10kilometres of M'Baïki is the village of Sabe, worth visiting for its ebony sculptures.
The Chutes de Boali are a 50 metres high chain of waterfalls and are most impressive during the late rainy season when months of rain has caused the normal trickle to end in a dramatic curtain of water. Unfortunately, much of the waterfalls flowing is controlled by a huge Chinese-built dam upriver, but they usually release some water on Sunday for the tourists. A dam shame again!
January 1 is a public holiday and is celebrated with gatherings by families and friends. Key cities like Bangui become particularly lively.
Considered a hero, Barthélemy Boganda was one of the Central African Republic’s leading national politicians. He died on March 29, 1959 when his aircraft exploded midair over Boukpayanga about 99 miles west of Bangui. He passed away just before the legislative elections and is commemorated annually.
Also known as “Egg Nyte,” the day after Easter is observed as a holiday by Christians, particularly the Roman Catholics. On the liturgical calendar, Easter Monday is the second day of the octave of Easter Week.
This public holiday commemorates the Central African Republic’s proclamation of independence from France on August 13, 1960. The day is celebrated joyously, as everyone is thankful for the freedom from slavery. Festivities are held in major cities including the capital, Bangui.
August 15 is the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and is marked a public holiday. While it is traditionally a Roman Catholic event, the day is considered a multi-faith holiday in the Central African Republic. Processions are organized and holy masses are held throughout the day along with prayer gatherings.
The Central African Republic celebrates its national day on December 1. The day is marked by sports festivities, speeches, parades, and other activities throughout the nation. There are boat races along the Ubangi River. Military officials, soldiers and political leaders attend the parade in the capital along with the locals. Music, traditional dances, and food are in abundance.
The Central African Republic has a hot and humid tropical climate year round, but with some differences between the north and the south.
In the north of the country, there is single rainy season from June to September and a long and warm to hot dry season from October to April. The total amount of rain is much less compared to the southern zones, averaging around 900 mm a year. Temperatures during the hot season (March - May) can reach well over 40 °C during the days.
The southern parts of the country have a more equatorial climate, with rain throughout the year, with only a short relatively dry season from December to Feburary. Averaging around 1,500 to 2,000 mm of rain, most of the rain falls between June and October. Temperatures here are around 30 °C during the day, 20 °C at night year round.
Bangui M’Poko International Airport (BGF) near the capital Bangui is where all international planes arrive and depart. Destinations include Douala and Tripoli with Afriqiyah Airways, Paris with Air France, Brazzaville, Douala, Yaoundé with Cameroon Airlines and Brazzaville, Cotonou, Douala, N'Djamena with Toumaï Air Chad.
It's not advised to travel overland through the Central African Republic due to safety situations, but if you insist, you can use most crossings which are used by public transport or walking. Have your papers and insurance in order and expect long crossings, with bribes and hassling. Some roads might be impassable after heavy rains.
The Central African Republic is surrounded by countries which are not really safe to say the least. Crossings to and from Chad and Sudan are notorious. Crossings to the Republic of Congo and DRC (see below) are possible by boat but take quite a time. Crossings to and from Cameroon are relatively straightforward compared to this with trucks and buses from Bangui to Garoua-Boulaï, overnighting in Bouar. From Garoua-Boulaï, minibuses go to N’Gaoundal, and trains go from there to Yaoundé.
To Chad, the main crossing is at Sido, on the route to Sarh. Trucks go from Bangui to Kaga Bandoro, but from there only occasional trucks and minibuses go to Kabo (checkpoint here) and on to the border. Once in Chad, pick-ups go from Sido and Maro to Sarh.
Some borders with Sudan are closed (Darfur situation), but the usual route from Bangui to Juba, via Obo, might be open. The other much rougher route from Bangui to Nyala via Birao in the northeastern corner of CAR takes at least two weeks travel as traffic is scarce and roads are in an extremely bad condition. It's not the safest route to travel to and from CAR, so don't take your chances unless you know what you are doing.
There are river boats (Socatraf company) between Bangui and Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo where the Congo River is met. Boats go once every two or three weeks, and only between June and November. It takes about a week. Barges serve the route as well but take about two weeks. They go every week though, are cheaper and less crowded.
Boats to Zongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo are usually off limits to foreign travellers.
Few domestic scheduled services exist, but sometimes there might be flights between Bangui and Berberati. Other plane travel will be mostly by chartered services, but note that safety regulations are by far not of the type we are used to in the west.
Several roads are tarred and in reasonable condition. Many other roads are gravel roads, some of which are actually in a good condition, sometimes even better than the tarred roads which are full of potholes. Some gravel roads and other secondary roads can be impassable after heavy rains, and only be passable with high clearance 4wd vehicles. Traffic drives on the right and you need an international driving permit to rent a car from several international and local companies in Bangui and the international airport.
Minibuses, trucks and pickups all travel the main roads between Bangui and the major cities and towns. They are overcrowded and uncomfortable but apart from some river travel, are the best way of getting around by public transport. They are cheap and a great way to get to know locals.
Ferries travel the waters from Bangui to several towns further up the Ubangui River.
Everyone will need a visa except citizens of Switzerland and Israel.
Visas can be single entry or multiple entry, but multiple entry is recommended more than single entry. Multiple entry visas usually last a year, whereas the single entry last three months. They cost $150 and take two days to process. If you are from a country without a CAR embassy (such as New Zealand), you may apply for a CAR visa at a French consulate/embassy. It is unclear if other nationals (citizens of the USA, France, etc.) may apply at a French consulate or not. Policies for obtaining a visa vary among CAR embassies and from month-to-month. You may apply for a CAR visa at CAR embassies in neighboring Yaounde, N'Djamena, Brazzaville, Kinshasa, & Khartoum. The CAR also has embassies in Washington, Paris, & Bonn.
Check the nearest CAR Embassy for more information about the process and requirements.
Borders with Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (at least east of Bangui) are very insecure and any attempt to travel across them by land is not recommended. There is no land routes between the CAR and Congo-Brazzaville (Republic of the Congo).
See also Money matters
Central African Republic 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, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000 francs
The exchange range is fixed at aproximately 656 CFA Francs for one Euro.
In Central African Republic 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.
There are myriad opportunities for working by teaching English or for any of a number of humanitarian or religious organisations in the Central African Republic. Many of the streets of Bangui are lined with organisations including MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières), UNICEF, International Red Cross, European Union, WHO, Institut Pasteur, Catholic Relief Serices, COOPI and many others. Most organisations are involved in health and development programmes, although others deal with education, religion, etc. Speaking French is essential for somebody who wants to be effectively involved in working with these organisations, as English is rarely spoken, even in Bangui.
There is a university in Bangui with university degrees and some graduate programmes.
The main language is French with a dialect called Central African French, which is easily understood by speakers of French. There are a lot of indigenous languages also. While French is the official language of the Central African Republic, only a few people in the country know more than a few words of it.
Sängö (also referred to as Sangro or Sangho) is the lingua franca and is spoken by most of the people in the Central African Republic (some 2000 have it as a mother tongue whilst 80% of the country have it as a second language). To find out if someone speaks Sängö, simply say Balâo (which means Hello), if they respond back with Balâo mïngï then you have found yourself a Sango speaker.
English is spoken by almost no one, even in the capital.
There is a wide diversity of food in Bangui, including Chinese, Lebanese, French, local food and so forth. Food in restaurants owned by foreigners are very expensive and can be $10–20 US per dish (or more). Local food, however, may also be expensive depending upon the restaurant and its location. There are abundant French bakeries in the downtown area in the centre of Bangui with moderate prices for baked goods as well as meals. Food in supermarkets is very expensive, although cheaper food can be purchased at local markets and from sellers in the street.
Bangui has a fair range of accommodation options and some nice options are available in parks as well. Other towns, cities and places have less or no options at all.
Local beer ("33", Mocaf, Crystal) and soft drink (MOCAF is a major producer) is similarly priced to products in Europe and the United States. Wine is available in some French wine shops but can be very expensive. Palm wine is common. Water is produced in Cameroon and Central African Republic and can be purchased in all of the local supermarkets. Imported products such as Coca-Cola and Fanta are also available.
See also Travel Health
Proof that you had a yellow fever vaccination is required upon entering the Central African Republic. 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 Central African Republic. 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.
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
The Central African Republic has long had one of the least effective central governments on the continent. Several militant/rebel groups reside in the country and the rule of law means little outside Bangui and the southwest. AntiBalaka, a rebel group that resided in the southeast made a sudden advance and took control of the capital Bangui in March 2013, with the president taking refuge in the D.R. Congo, and the fragile government that existed has been replaced by a bare-bones central government. The U.S. embassy in Bangui has been closed since Dec 2012.
Travel was difficult and somewhat dangerous in the best of times; but in light of recent events, travel to the Central African Republic is highly discouraged and should not be attempted.
Police manning checkpoints will demand bribes, expect no less than USD5; there are many reports that a trip from the Cameroon border to Bangui will cost hundreds of US dollars or Euros in bribes. Police will often confiscate an item (passport, camera, watch) and demand money for it. Armed robberies on roads in the country are common. Violent crime in the capital is common even in daylight, particularly around the "kilometre 5" bus station. Alcoholism is a major problem with city-dwellers, so be weary of drunks and do not even think about drinking with locals (you will be out-drunk).
In theory, visitors can obtain a permis de filmer from the Ministry of Tourism in Bangui with a turnaround of a couple days. In practice, however, photography is viewed with suspicion and disliked not just with the police/army around the usual sensitive locations (government buildings, infrastructure, checkpoints), but by regular people just about everywhere. Taking photos conspicuously will draw negative attention and you should ask for permission to take anyone's photo, even in public places.
See also International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to the Central African Republic is 236.
To make an international call from , the code is 00.
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