Cameroon

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Introduction to Cameroon

Outside the swelling and modernised cities of Cameroon (Cameroun), rainforests stretch from the Atlantic Ocean, giving way to savannah and semi-desert in the north. Elephants and bongos congregate by the hundreds in some of Africa's best wildlife parks, and beachcombers laze on long, isolated beaches.

In addition to its French and British colonial past, there are over 130 ethnic groups in the country speaking dozens of languages. Islam and Christianity compete for souls, as do an array of traditional animist beliefs. Cameroon has its problems and can be a challenge, but it's worth it.

Caution

Theft and banditry are irritants for travellers in Cameroon, especially in the north. Occasionally violent carjackings can occur in Douala, Yaounde, Maroua and Kribi. Poorer neighbourhoods, such as Yaoundé's La Briquetterie and Mokolo, should be avoided.

The border with Congo is closed now. Overland journeys can be difficult. Border areas along the Central African Republic and the Nigerian Bakassi Peninsula region should be avoided.

Full country name: Republic of Cameroon

Area: 475,440 sq km

Population: 16.2 million

Capital City: Yaoundé (pop 1,100,000)

People: Cameroon Highlanders 31%, Equatorial Bantu 19%, Kirdi 11%, Fulani 10%, Northwestern Bantu 8%, Eastern Nigritic 7%, other African 13%

Language: French, English, Arabic, Ewondo

Religion: Indigenous beliefs, Christian, Muslim

Government: unitary republic

Head of State: President Paul Biya

Head of Government: Prime Minister Ephraim Inoni

GDP: US$29.6 billion

GDP per capita: US$2,000

Annual Growth: 5%

Inflation: 2542

Major Industries: Petroleum production and refining, food processing, light consumer goods, textiles, lumber, coffee, cocoa, cotton, rubber, bananas, oilseed, grains, root starches, livestock, timber

Major Trading Partners: Italy, Spain, France, Netherlands, Nigeria, U.S., Germany

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Traveler Facts

Visas: All visitors need visas to enter Cameroon.

Health risks: cholera, diarrhoea, fungal infestions, Giardiasis, hepatitis, malaria, meningococcal meningitis, typhoid, yellow fever

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +1

Dialling Code: 237

Electricity: 110/220V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

After New Year's Day, the first major event of the year is the Mt Cameroon Race, held in late January. This 27km (17mi) race up and down the 3000m (10,000ft) mountain is Africa's toughest. The Muslim Feast of Ramadan, which changes dates from year to year, signals the end of a month of daily fasts and is celebrated all over Cameroon, most notably in Foumban, where horse races, processions and dances are part of the festivities. Muslims in northern and western Cameroon also celebrate Tabaski in February or March, when celebrations include a parade of marabouts (wise men and fortune-tellers). The country's major non-religious holiday is the Cameroon National Festival, held on 20 May. The best place to witness it is Maroua. Horses race through the streets of Kumbo, a town in western Cameroon, during Nso Cultural Week, held in mid-November.

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Best time to Visit

The best time to visit Cameroon is during the cooler, drier months of November to February. The caveat is the harmattan - the winds that blow sand south from the Sahara and turn skies sandy grey from December to February. On bad days, visibility can be reduced to 1km or even less, delaying or cancelling flights and spoiling views. As bad as this sounds, the May to November rainy season turns Cameroon into a sea of mud and makes travel even more difficult than the harmattan.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: West African CFA franc

Meals

Budget: CFA1000-2000

Mid-range: CFA2000-5000

High: CFA5000-8000

Deluxe: CFA8000+

Lodging

Budget: CFA500-6000

Mid-range: CFA6000-12,000

High: CFA12,000-20,000

Deluxe: CFA20,000+

The value of the US dollar in Cameroon has more than doubled since the CFA franc was devalued in 1994, but Cameroon is still not a budget destination. Travellers staying in first-class accommodation and dining out on European cuisine should expect to pay US$150-200 a day or more. Travellers on a moderate budget who grab the occasional beef brochette from a street vendor and take minivans instead of Peugeot station wagons can keep their costs down to US$50-100 a day. By sticking to simple African dishes (preferably from street vendors), drinking water (soft drinks and alcoholic beverages are expensive) and hiring rooms with bucket showers, travellers on a small budget can get by on between US$25-50 a day .

Big-city banks offer the best exchange rates, followed by the airport banks in Douala and Yaoundé. Taxi drivers usually accept US dollars or euros, but not always at the best rates. American Express is the most widely accepted credit card, followed by Diners Club and Visa; the first two are easiest to use for cash advances at local offices. Traveller's cheques denominated in euros are a far better way of getting cash in Yaoundé and Douala, but can be harder to change elsewhere.

Cameroonians aren't in the habit of tipping, but they do expect cadeaux from the wealthy, and as foreign travellers tend to look rich to the locals, they're usually expected to give cadeaux. Plan to tip 10% at better restaurants in Douala and Yaoundé, but check first to see if service has been included in your bill.

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Attractions

Yaoundé

Once a sleepy colonial capital, Yaoundé is now a bustling urban centre of meandering streets and undulating hills, offering excellent museums and a cool climate. In the lively African quarters of Messa, Mokolo and Briqueterie you'll find the best grilled chicken this side of the Côte d'Ivoire.

A few kilometres north of the city centre is the Benedictine Monastery's Musée d'Art Cameroonais. Despite its small size, it has one of the best collections of Cameroonian art in the world, including masks, bowls and Bamoun bronze pipes. The monastery's chapel is also beautifully decorated.

Buea

Buea, capital of the German protectorate for all of eight years, is now a sleepy place best known as the stopping off point for Mt Cameroon. The town's main sight is the Mountain Hotel, which has a rustic English charm. It's a great place to wash down the atmosphere with a cold drink.

Shortly after independence, Buea became the capital of Western Cameroon - a distinction that was to last barely 11 years before the federation was made a republic and Yaoundé the sole capital. Just an hour northwest of Douala, Buea offers a refreshingly cool climate.

Douala

Douala has done a lot to earn the sobriquet 'armpit of Africa' - dull architecture, stifling humidity, crime and economic chaos. So why go? The main reason is that it's a good base for exploring much more interesting places nearby. Kribi, Limbe and Mt Cameroon are all within a few hours' journey.

Douala does have a couple of interesting sights of its own, including the landmark Hôtel Akwa Palace, located in the heart of town. It's the perfect spot to hang out on the terrace with a morning coffee and croissant, sizing up your fellow travellers.

Foumban

Though touristy, Foumban is one of Cameroon's major attractions and an important centre of traditional African art. Its jewel is the Palais Royal, seat of power for the Bamoun people. The ruler of the Bamoun is known as the sultan, and the Bamoun can trace the lineage of their sultan back to 1394.

The palace, completed in 1917, resembles a medieval chateau. It houses the Sultan's Museum, which contains a multitude of royal gowns, arms, musical instruments, statues, jewellery, masks and colourful bead-covered thrones carved in the shapes of the men who sat on them.

Mt Cameroon

Buea is the starting point for the invigorating 3000m (10,000ft) climb up Mt Cameroon. On the mountain, you'll pass through dense tropical forests and sub-alpine meadows. Bear in mind that, while it can be 20°C (68°F) at the foot of the mountain, it can be below freezing up top, so pack accordingly.

It's a fairly easy climb, about 27km (17mi) round trip, and though you can make it in one day if you're in good shape, most people prefer to take two days and stay overnight in cabins, most of which are located above the 2000m (6600ft) mark.

Parc National du Waza

Waza has some of Central Africa's best wildlife, though its scrubby, flat terrain isn't particularly scenic. The major attraction is the hundreds of pachyderms that congregate at Mare aux Eléphants, the main watering hole. Lions, giraffes, hippos and many other birds and animals can be seen. The best time of year to see animals is from March to May, which unfortunately is also the hottest season.

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Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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