Located in West Africa, Cameroon is any adventurer’s dream. Nicknamed “Africa in miniature”, the bi-lingual (French and English) country offers an active volcanic mountain, lush equatorial jungles (the 1984 adaptation of Tarzan was filmed there!), white and black sand beaches, a myriad of wildlife, and, perhaps most importantly, a people with extremely diverse cultural backgrounds.
For those interested in a unique, exciting, and off-the-beaten-path travel experience, the possibilities are endless! As a native Cameroonian, my top five recommendations to make the most of your time there are below.
Explore local markets
An art and flower market, Marche des Fleurs, is located within the city of Douala and boasts an abundance of beautiful flower arrangements, artwork, jewelry, and other artifacts handmade by local artisans. As with all markets in Cameroon, you must haggle: tell the vendors the price you are willing to pay and stick to it; walk away from the vendor if necessary. Items for sale are normally marked up exponentially for unsuspecting, wide-eyed tourists.
If you’re up for a more challenging experience, visit Marche Central. Popular among locals, this market is not for the faint of heart and it’s best to go with someone who is fluent in French or Pidgin (an English-based creole). With its fast paced, competitive, and sometimes dangerous nature, it can feel like a Labyrinth and can disorient even the most experienced of travelers. Aggressive vendors are eager to sell you their goods and will relentlessly pursue you – even if that means screaming to get your attention or following you around temporarily. Though the environment is best described as organized chaos, it is worth the visit if you want get the best fabrics, spices, and fresh produce around Douala. After conquering this market, you can celebrate your success with coffee and pastries at Le Glacier Moderne bakery, a local favorite.
Mount Cameroon, or Mount Fako as it is called locally is the tallest mountain in Central/West Africa at roughly 4,000 meters high, with an active volcano located in the South-West region of the country. Hiking up this colossal mountain is no easy feat. It is broken up into 3 trails (known as Huts 1, 2, and 3) and can normally be ascended within 5 days. Visitors begin the trek in the small, quaint town of Buea, then gradually make their way toward Upper Farms, an area where inmates from a local prison tend to small corn, avocado, and banana farms. Due to the steep nature of the first trail, most find the hike to be quite challenging (I have never actually made it past Hut 1!) and it’s best done with the guidance of a porter and local guide. Those who are successful in getting past Hut 1 (kudos to you!) have a great chance of seeing wild elephants and an abundance of other wildlife, as well as natural springs, and, of course, the scenic views of the surrounding areas below.
Limbe has the laid-back vibe most beach towns are known for. Horseback or walk along the black sands of Sonara Beach to get some of the best views of Mount Cameroon. Afterwards, find a local restaurant in Down Beach and order some Poisson Braise, freshly caught roasted fish seasoned to perfection. It is literally fished from the ocean and made to order! The Wildlife Center and Botanical Gardens are also great attractions around Limbe.
Though this coastal beach town is known for its waterfalls and white sand beaches, I would suggest taking a 45-minute canoe ride into the forest to visit the Baka people: hunter-gatherers (formerly known as pygmies) who are said to be the original inhabitants of Cameroon. The serenity of the canoe ride is enough to make it worth your while: crisp air, still waters, birds chirping, and, if you’re lucky, small monkeys swinging from the trees.
This experience is not a traditional one and will require you to step outside of your comfort zone. The Baka people are nomadic and travel in small families, so it’s unlikely that you’ll ever meet the same group twice; however, what they all have in common is a jovial spirit. They will will sing, dance and play drums for you, then expect you to become an active participant in the festivities.
I believe that the best way to explore any country is to connect with its people. What better way than to find a local charity or organization to help those in need? I personally have a soft spot for children, so being able to pay it forward and give out toys, books, and clothes to underprivileged kids really gives purpose to my visits home. Mais dans la Mais (an orphanage located in Douala), The Apatha Institute (a facility catering to the mentally-challenged and hearing-impaired), and the Bulu Blind Center (a facility for the blind located in Buea) are great local organizations that would provide meaningful opportunities for visitors.