Expensive, remote, and sometimes dangerous outside the capital, Chad can be a very challenging place to visit, but by investing in the effort and taking safety precautions, travelers may gain a memorable tourism experience. Located in the heart of Africa, Chad is known for its stark expanses of savanna dotted with traditional villages. N'Djamena, Chad's capital and largest city, is one of the only urban areas in a country still dominated by a rural lifestyle. The gorgeous Tibesti Mountains and Lake Chad are two of Chad's most notable natural landmarks. The latter, now only 5% of its former size due to climate change and population pressures, should be on every adventure traveler's "what to see before it's gone" list.
1. Lake Chad: Once one of the world’s largest lakes, almost as large as the Caspian Sea, Lake Chad has been affected more drastically by climate change than almost any other place on the African continent or in the world. As the region’s seasonal monsoons have changed course and farmers have used more water for irrigation, Lake Chad has shrunk to 5 percent of its former size in only 35 years. Despite the changes, it remains a popular fishing and boating spot. See it because it’s beautiful, see it because it’s off the beaten track, see it for the catfish, but see it soon—because in ten years it might be gone.
2. Markets: N’Djamena has excellent shopping for tourists, and the best place to find carpets, clothing, tropical fruit, carvings, and more is the open-air market in the historic quarter of the city. The market, which operates daily from dawn to dusk, serves as a kind of magnet for the city’s knickknacks, but to find the choicest art and the good deals, you’ll have to sift through all manner of junk. Doing so in itself is an adventure, though, and the market affords some of the city’s best people watching as locals sell, haggle, and socialize.
3. N’Djamena’s Central Mosque: The architectural, social, and religious center of N’Djamena, the central mosque can be seen from many parts of town. In addition to the mosque itself, the complex has a library, a lecture hall, and two schools, although visitors should be able to speak Chadian Arabic if they hope to benefit much from these facilities.
4. Stroll in N’Djamena: It may lack the tourist infrastructure of Dakar or Nairobi, but N’Djamena positively buzzes with life, and even if you spend less time at museums and monuments, you’ll learn just as much by observing the people around you. One of the best places to do that is Avenue Charles de Gaulle, lined with embassies, high-end restaurants, and Victorian homes that recall Chad’s days of European rule.
5. Tibesti Mountains: Although travel to the Tibesti Mountains is both difficult and dangerous at this time, the area has a stark, dramatic landscape of canyons and sheer rock faces topped by forest. The Toubou tribe still lives traditionally in villages within the range but tends to be hostile to visitors.
6. Zakouma National Park: Poaching remains a problem in the park. The Chadian government and the European Union have recently restocked it, though, and it is once again one of the best places to spot herds of elephants, as well as wildebeests, antelopes, and lions.
The dry season (September to June) is the best for travel between cities, though it’s unlikely that tourists will be doing much of that in the near future. Rebel activity also increases during that time, so the period between June and August may be the safest one for visiting, if somewhat more inconvenient.
Visas: With the exception of those from a few neighboring African countries, Chad requires a visa and valid passport of all visitors, who must then register with the national police within 72 hours of their arrival. Visas should be arranged for in advance.
Transportation: Except for the main roads in N’Djamena, almost all roads in Chad are unpaved and poorly maintained, but driving is the only method of transportation available outside the capital. Roadside bandits target drivers, particularly those in foreign cars, and there are few gas stations or repair shops. Most of N’Djamena is accessible by foot or car, although a few taxis hang around the wealthier parts of town.
The U.S. Department of State has issued a travel warning for Chad and advises that visitors avoid all travel to eastern Chad, as well as the borders with Sudan and the Central African Republic.
As in the rest of the developing world, exercise common sense, and refrain from showing your valuables or large amounts of money in public places. The U.S. Department of State’s consular website has a wealth of regularly updated information about safety in Chad.
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. Before traveling to Chad or anywhere on the continent, check the index and do your research.
Inhabited since prehistoric times by hundreds of different ethnic groups, Chad is so remote that little is known about its history before it became a source of slaves for European and Arab traders in the 18th and 19th centuries. France established control over the region in 1913 but never had as strong a presence there as in its North and West African colonies, largely because of Chad’s apparent lack of natural resources. Despite substantial oil reserves and large swathes of arable land, most of the population continues to live by subsistence agriculture in a fairly traditional way.
As France withdrew from its African colonies in 1960, it ceded power to President François Tombalbaye, whose inability to establish control over the country, combined with authoritarian tendencies, touched off a civil war that has more or less continued since then. Although control of the state has nominally shifted between several parties and leaders, few have been able to rule effectively in the country’s outlying areas, particularly the north and east. Turbulent relations with neighboring Sudan and the Central African Republic have led to conflicts around the border areas as well.
1. Chad is home to more than 200 indigenous ethnic groups (many with their own languages), and a dialect called Chadian Arabic is used the most often as the lingua franca. Visitors can usually get by in French, especially in N’Djamena. Learn at least a few phrases before you go.
2. The majority of Chad’s population is Muslim, although social conventions, especially for women’s dress and behavior, are generally more relaxed than in North and West Africa. Make sure to eat with your right hand only; many Chadians, Muslim or not, consider it offensive to use one’s left hand, and the issue is almost certain to come up since most locals eat with their hands except in upscale restaurants.
3. As in Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea, the official currency in Chad is the Central African CFA franc, not to be confused with the West African CFA franc. Credit cards are rarely accepted. You can change money at the airport or the larger banks in N’Djamena.
4. Officially, all photographing in Chad requires a government permit. While this rule is unlikely to be enforced, particularly with foreigners, police may use it as an excuse to confiscate your camera or demand a bribe. If you plan on staying in Chad for a long period of time and taking many photos, you might consider getting the permit.
5. Especially during the wet season, malaria can be a major problem in Chad. Take antimalarial medications with you, along with insect repellent and mosquito netting, as many hotels do not have the latter.