The difficulty of simply arriving in the Central African Republic—a country that has only a few incoming flights per week, mostly through African carriers, and can be entered by car only through its sole stable neighbor, Cameroon—should give potential visitors an idea of what they are in for if they choose to visit this tropical nation. At once beautiful and challenging, the Central African Republic is subject to poor internal governance and security issues outside of urban areas. It is blessed with a wealth of natural resources, which will, it is hoped, be utilized in the future to stabilize the economy and bring international dollars into this landlocked country.
1. Dzanga-Sangha National Park: For those hoping to experience one of the world’s densest rain forests, Dzanga-Sangha National Park is the place to go; it is also the only one of the Central African Republic’s national parks open to visitors at this time. It is possible to hire a guide to hike or canoe through the park, where you can see bongo antelopes, forest buffalo, gorillas, and elephants. A lodge and basic tourist facilities are available in the nearby town of Bayanga. The park’s website has a wealth of information about current activities, transportation, and more.
2. French Influences: Although the French left Bangui 50 years ago, their influence is still readily apparent in the broad boulevards and architecture of the town. Several high-quality restaurants can be found here, including Satis and the deservedly popular Relais des Chasses, both of which specialize in French and international dishes. The culturally inclined will enjoy a stroll through the charming and busy Marché Central, and the Musée de Boganda offers insights into the country’s history, along with an impressive collection of indigenous musical instruments. At night, try heading to Kilomètre 10, where most of Bangui’s bars and nightclubs are located.
If possible, visit the Central African Republic during the dry season, from November to March; it’ll be much easier to travel by road and enjoy outdoor activities. On March 29, the people of the Central African Republic mark the death of Barthelemy Boganda, the first prime minister of the country. It’s an event worth observing if you are in the area. Some businesses close during the holy month of Ramadan, and visitors are expected to behave more conservatively at that time; for example, do not drink in public.
Visas: You can either obtain a visa from a Central African Republic embassy before entering the country, or buy a visa at the airport for $100. Also necessary are a valid passport and a yellow fever vaccination card.
Transportation: It is possible to fly into Bangui on Air France, along with several African carriers. In theory, it is possible to drive into the Central African Republic from neighboring countries, but traveling through Sudan, Chad, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo is highly inadvisable. Due to a recent cholera outbreak, driving in through Cameroon can be dangerous. If you decide to undertake the drive, make sure to have a Carte du Sejour (a residency card for short- and long-term travelers) from both Cameroon and the Central African Republic, along with your visa.
Although most roads are unpaved, those connecting the Central African Republic’s major towns are very reliable in the dry season. Buses run between the main towns, but motor vehicles are generally not used outside of urban areas. If you are considering driving outside of the cities, carry gas and spare parts.
The U.S. Department of State’s dedicated page on the Central African Republic has a wealth of information that we strongly urge you to read before making plans to travel to the country. The Department has issued a travel warning for the Central African Republic, particularly emphasizing the dangers of traveling outside of Bangui.
Within Bangui, stay as alert as you would in any developing country: avoid night travel, and keep your valuables close. The military and civilian police (along with scammers imitating them) have set up checkpoints throughout the city and will often use these to demand bribes, especially from foreigners. Keep a certified copy of your passport with you at all times.
Additionally, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation has created a security ratings system called the Ibrahim Index, according to scores based on each country’s quality of government. This information can be useful for planning.
The Central African Republic was first settled around the turn of the first millennium by the Adamawa and Bantu peoples, who lived in almost pure isolation until the 19th century, when Muslim traders began to pass through the region. It quickly became a hub for the slave trade, and to this day the eastern part of the country, whose population was forcibly sent to the New World, remains virtually uninhabited. By 1894 the region had come under French control as part of the Congo Free State, a territory that would become infamous to Europeans thanks to Joseph Conrad’s portrayal in his 1899 novel Heart of Darkness.
After receiving independence, in 1960, the Central African Republic remained under the sway of various military dictators. Attempts at democracy, sponsored by foreign governments and the United Nations, have been mostly futile, and in 2003, General François Bozizé overthrew the democratically elected government of Ange-Felix Patasse. Strikes by government workers led to a total collapse of public services in 2008, however, and after the strikes a new prime minister was named. It remains to be seen whether the Central African Republic’s governance will improve in the short and medium term.
1. The Central African Republic uses the Central African CFA franc, which can also be used in Chad, Cameroon, and several other central African countries. Do not confuse this with the West African CFA franc, which looks similar but is accepted only in West Africa. There are no ATMs in the Central African Republic, and you will not be able to use any type of credit card; banks in Bangui (the capital city) and Berbérati (another major city) are the only places where you can exchange your money.
2. Christianity and Islam, along with indigenous beliefs, are widespread in the Central African Republic. Especially in Muslim areas, it will behoove travelers to dress conservatively, covering their legs and shoulders. In homes and small restaurants in rural areas, people eat with their hands; make sure to use only your right hand, as it is seen as unclean to use your left hand.
3. Internet access is scanty, even in Bangui. Because of the high price of newspapers and the prevalence of illiteracy in the Central African Republic, most news is spread by radio broadcasts. Fifteen French-language newspapers, three of which are state owned, can be found in the capital and provide a good way to stay abreast of the country’s politics.
4. Malaria is a serious problem in the Central African Republic, and the strains that exist there are resistant to some treatments. Use insect repellent liberally, take a mosquito net with you, and drink only bottled water. If you do feel sick, you may be able to visit a doctor in Bangui. We do not recommend swimming in most lakes, rivers, or other bodies of water (unless you are with a guide who can vouch for cleanliness), as a risk exists of contracting a parasite known as schistosomiasis, which can cause skin infections and fevers.
5. The Central African Republic is inhabited by seven major ethnic groups, each with its own language. Sangho serves as the lingua franca, although most people in the cities speak enough French to communicate with foreigners. Learn a few phrases; it’s not enough to rely on English here, though some may be able to speak with you.