West African Countries

October-november 2007

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The highlights of this trip were the natural wonders of the West African Countries.
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  1. Nigeria:
  2. Abuja (not much to see)
  3. Lagos
  4. Yankari National Park (the best time is late december to late april, but the population of mammals has been decimated by poaching)
  5. +Kano, oldest city in West Africa (5hrs bus from Zinder, 240 kms)
  6. Jos: museum
  7. Oshogbo: sacred groves
  8. Centrafrica:
  9. Bangui
  10. Zinga
  11. Chutes de Boali (only in the rain season)
  12. Dzanga-Sangha National Park
  13. Cameroon:
  14. Yaounde: Benedictine Monastery's Musee d'Art Cameroonais
  15. +Maroua: villages and markets of the Mandara mountains (Rhumsiki, Djingliya, Koza, Tourou, +Maga, Mora)
  16. Waza National Park (elephants, giraffes, hippos, antelopes, monkeys, birds - best time is late march to april)
  17. Foumban: Palais Royal of 1917
  18. Bamenda: Fon's Palace
  19. Equatorial Guinea:
  20. Malabo: cathedral
  21. Bata
  22. Monte Alen park (gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants, crocodiles)
  23. Sao Tome:
  24. Principe


Trip difficulty: difficult to strenuous
Length: 30 days
Season: Dec-Jan
  • Visas (2010): the main obstacle to travel in west and central Africa is the expensive (and time-conuming) visas. If you think that other parts of Africa have weird visa regulations (that basically discourage tourists from visiting those countries), wait until you get to this part of the world. Most countries between Nigeria and Angola require vaccination against yellow fever. The visas are also extremely expensive.
  • Visas (2010) are the real problem in this part of the world. Africa is a wonderful part of the world. Unfortunately it is in the hands of a bunch of corrupt, incompetent, criminal and unfriendly politicians. The governments of Africa make it very difficult and expensive to obtain a visa. Some of the requirements are laughable. In 2011 the embassy of Nigeria still required a hotel reservation and a letter of invitation!
  • It would be wise to avoid tourism in all the countries of Africa that make it difficult to obtain a tourist visa (by definition, they don't welcome tourists). The stupidity of these governments border on the demented. (Written in 2007. Hopefully it will improve with time)(Note of 2011: the stupidity of these governments has not decreased).
  • Cameroon is one of the least hostile countries. Still, here what its embassy writes (2008): "Travelers arriving at the Douala airport without a visa are typically held at an airport holding area until they can be boarded on a continuing flight, or a return flight. Those being held often are not able to use any services." They don't even let you pee without a visa...
  • If you are a USA citizen, Equatorial Guinea does not require a visa (2008). Unfortunately, a photography permit is required.
  • All these countries tell you to obtain a visa in your home country, but the truth is that visas can be obtained much cheaper and much faster in neighboring countries. The price is sometimes less than 50%, and the number of days you have to wait drops from two weeks to one day.
  • Bottom line: visit some other countries.
  • Uganda is the nearest civilized place that lets you land without a visa and where you can apply for visas to the other central African countries (getting there is another story, given the war in Congo). Congo Brazzaville is a close second.
  • Money (2009): don't rely on ATMs or traveler cheques. This part of the world is cash only.
  • Photography (2009): for mysterious reasons, people in French-speaking Africa tend to dislike tourists who take pictures. Sometimes they ask for a "photo permit" (which is indeed still required in places like Chad and Congo Kinshasa) and sometimes they react violently (even if you were taking pictures of something else). Absolutely don't take pictures of government buildings. To further compound the problem, you might get in trouble if you ask permission from a soldier or a cop (who will then want a bribe or, unsure about the answer, will detain you until he can contact his superiors).
  • Centrafrica (2009): Bangui used to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world but the security situation has improved. Hotel: Levy's (18,300CFA). The northern part of the country is still extremely dangerous. The border with Sudan is off-limits. Extreme police corruption (pay bribe at every police checkpoint and there are many on every road), probably the worst in the world. The difference between a cop/soldier and a regular thief is that the former has a machine gun to convince you to hand over your money. The southwest corner, where the Dzanga Sangha Reserve is (the gorillas), is relatively peaceful, but getting there is risky because of banditry outside Bangui (and expensive because of the continuous bribes to be paid to police).
  • Congo Kinshasa (2009): extreme police corruption (pay bribe at every police checkpoint and there are many on every road), very poor infrastructure (all roads are unpaved). Cheap hotel in Kinshasa: La Creche ($30), Hotel de La Gombe, Centre d'Accueil Protestant, Hotel Phenix in the Barumbu district ($20). Virunga National Park is open again but the "permit" to see the gorillas costs $400. Kigali (Rwanda) to Goma is just a two-hour taxi ride (visa at the border for $35), and seeing gorillas from Goma is much cheaper, but Goma is far from safe. There are also minibuses from Uganda and from Kigali to Goma. Cheap hotel: Colibri Hotel. Photography is not permitted in Goma but you can probably bribe police. There are flights between Goma and Kinshasa ($300), but at your own risk: these are the worst maintained aircrafts in Africa. Flying from Kinshasa to Kigali is about $800.
  • Congo Brazzaville (2009). The cheapest hotels are located around the Poto-Poto roundabout. To go to Kinshasa just take the ferry across the river (minimum $25).
  • Gabon (2009) is the safest country in this region.
  • Angola (2009) is one of the most expensive countries in the world. A cheap dirty guesthouse room in Luanda (if you can find one) is easily $150; but it is quite normal that the only rooms actually available are in the $400-500 range. The visa is quite difficult to obtain because it requires a letter of invitation (one of the many countries that inherited the old communist system of discouraging tourists) and the processing can easily take two weeks. Lobito and Benguela are coastal cities south of Luanda, reachable by both train and bus as a day trip or by plane in an hour: they have hotels that are more affordable. If you are planning to visit the south, then Lubango has "cheap" hotels. Air travel is common, safe and unusually reliable (for African standards) at reasonable fares. Because of the African Cup 2010, Angola is expected to relax its ridiculously complicated visa regulations. As of 2008, Angola was one of the most difficult countries to enter because of both its government regulations and the corruption of its embassies. Stay away from Angola unless you really have to go.
  • Aid workers anywhere in Africa are a real curse for the independent traveler: wherever there are lots of aid workers, prices for hotels, food and transportation skyrocket (higher than Europe or USA).
  • As of 2006, the stupidity of border officials in this region is colossal. Print webpages of tour operators and print fake hotel reservations. If they ask you for one, just show them the printouts. If you try to explain that you don't have a tour/hotel reservation, you might be denied entry. It is also useful to have a printout of a flight out of the country, as if you had bought that ticket and you only had the electronic ticket.
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