A first-time guide to Cameroon

Cameroon is the perfect place to get a taste of one of Africa’s least-known, yet most rewarding corners.

As a natural realm, it spans so many worlds: forests rich in primates and other wildlife, tropical beaches watched over by a volcano, highlands animated by traditional villages and cultures. This steamy place has swagger, a joyous musical soundtrack, and a culinary story with hot, colorful sauces atop local fresh ingredients.

When should I visit Cameroon?

Because it is one of the continent’s lesser-visited countries, questions of when to go inevitably revolve around the weather rather than picking an offseason time to avoid crowds.

If you really want to see the country at its best, the months from November to February are the driest with daily temperatures rarely dipping below 28ºC (82ºF). This is excellent beach weather with warm and balmy conditions that are really rather pleasant.

If you leave your visit until March, you might be too late. Once the rains arrive – usually sometime in March, but very much in earnest in April – they can really set in and don’t stop until September or October. And when it’s not raining, it’s uncomfortably sticky and humid (sometimes as high as 90% for days in a row), and country roads become impassable. Avoid the large coastal city of Douala, at this time, and head instead for the cooler hills of Yaoundé (or the beach).

Allow at least two weeks for your visit to Cameroon © Tim E White / Getty Images

How many days do I need in Cameroon?

At first, Cameroon can be in-your-face: the noise and the clamor, the market smells and the humidity. But the longer you stay, the more you’ll fall in love (and want to stay longer).

Two weeks is probably a minimum trip duration here. Factor in a couple of days to acclimatize, and plan to spend at least a few days in each destination, not least because distances can be longer than many travelers imagine. Things rarely happen quickly, especially in rural areas – it would be a shame to miss out on seeing those nesting turtles because you didn’t allow enough time for everything to unfold.

And, of course, you can (and should) lie on the beach for as long as you want.

What languages are spoken?

Many different languages are spoken across Cameroon, but both French and English are the official languages. French is more widely spoken and understood outside of anglophone areas.

Is it easy to get in and around Cameroon?

As of 2023, Cameroon became a whole lot easier to visit. While neighboring countries cling to the Central African obsession with physical forms in triplicate, multiple passport photos, and in-person visits to embassies, Cameroon has done away with all that. Now you can lodge your application for an e-visa online at evisacam.cm, and pick up your visa on arrival.

Once you’re in the country, getting around is similarly hassle-free. Before leaving home, check the travel advisories for Cameroon to make sure you understand where travel is not recommended. That sorted, Cameroon has an excellent network of roads and most of these are plied by modern buses.

Beyond Kribi along the southern coast, however, or anywhere up-country in the north or east, paved roads peter out into the forest and shared taxis (very slowly) connect villages. And a whole new adventure begins.

The Sultan King of the Bamouns walks in front of a palace at a ceremony with many men standing around
 The kingdom of the Bamouns is one of the oldest in sub-Saharan Africa © Daniel Beloumou Olomo / AFP via Getty Images

Top things to do in Cameroon

There’s so much to see and do in Cameroon that a visit here requires careful planning. Then again, you could always come back for a second visit and do all the things you missed the first time around…

Visit the home of the chief

Cameroon’s South-West has long been considered a bastion of tradition. While parts of the region currently have travel advisories, Foumban’s Palais Royal is very much open to travelers. The palace, itself an arresting architectural structure that combines local traditional styles with German colonial architecture, has priceless treasures such as intricate woodcarvings, feathered cloaks and a ceremonial drum that belong to the still-extant Bamoun dynasty, now into its 20th hereditary sultan. Just 86km (53 miles) down the road in Bandjoun, another palace is more purely African in its conception, and every bit as fascinating.

Wooden canoes rest in a line on a sandy deserted beach
Kribi’s beautiful deserted beaches are their own kind of blissful peace © Studio Kurakame / Getty Images

Relax on the beaches of Kribi or Limbe

Kribi lies along Cameroon’s south coast, and the beaches south of town are some of Africa’s loveliest. The only reason that the beaches of Kribi (or further north around Limbe) don’t make lists of the world’s best beaches, is that very few people even know that they exist. Limbe in particular involves arcs of (sometimes chocolate-colored) sand against a backdrop of rainforests and the cloud-high summit of Mt Cameroon. Otherwise, Cameroon’s beaches are that dreamy mix of palms, fishing villages and very few resorts or people. Bliss is an understatement.

See a waterfall plunge straight into the sea

Chutes de la Lobé is a waterfall that empties right into the ocean 7km (4 miles) south of Kribi; local tour operators and hotels run half-day trips to the falls, with a picnic lunch on the beach.

Climb Mt Cameroon

Hire a local guide and hike up into the cloud forests of West Africa’s highest mountain. Everything you spend on the mountain (such as guide or porter fees) goes back into the 12 villages that cling to this dormant volcano’s foothills. From the summit, 4040m (13,255ft) above sea level (the ocean’s shore is at Buea, alongside the mountain’s base), the views are extraordinary, as the bare lava slopes yield to rainforest. You can even see the Equatorial Guinean island of Bioko out to sea.

Visit the sea turtles of Ebodjé

Few travelers make it as far as Kribi and even fewer reach Ebodjé. This means that you might get the opportunity to walk along a pristine, deserted beach and enjoy the sight of nesting sea turtles, and have it all to yourself. Surely one of the most underrated wildlife experiences in Africa, these walks by local ecotourism outfits are low-key and help to promote the conservation of leatherback turtles, the world’s largest surviving turtle species. Tread softly and watch with wide-eyed wonder.

A person hiking towards the peak of Mt Cameroon, Cameroon
Support the volcano’s community by hiking to the top of Mt Cameroon with a local guide © szymanskim / Getty Images

My favorite thing to do in Cameroon

I’ve been visiting Cameroon since 2000 and there’s so much to love – the national parks in the north and east, the forests and sea turtles of the southern beaches, the deeply traditional cultures that still worship nature and their ancestors in the South-West.

But most of these specific attractions have one thing in common: they all occur beyond where the paved road ends. This is a country where ancient cultures, unsullied by mass tourism or overdevelopment, still hold sway out in the rural backcountry. It’s those encounters – talking with villagers for hours in the shade of a mango tree, watching and waiting as sea turtles inch their way up the beach while the sun sets, closing my eyes and listening to the sounds and biorhythms of the forest with not a single engine within earshot. That’s the Cameroon I miss most when I’m away.

How much money do I need for Cameroon?

Cameroon uses the Central African franc (CFA), which is also the currency of five of Cameroon’s near neighbors. The value of the CFA is tied to the euro (at an unchanging rate of CFA655.957).

Paying by credit card is only possible in high-end international establishments – bring plenty of euros or US dollars, and do so in a mix of high- and low-denomination notes.

Cameroon is, in most cases, moderately priced, but prices skyrocket in restaurants, shops and hotels frequented by expats. Sample prices include:

  • Hotel room: $30–350
  • Hiring a taxi for a short, cross-town trip/day: $10/150
  • Street food (riz sauce/rice with sauce): $2
  • Dinner for two (three courses) in an upmarket restaurant: $80
  • Pint of beer/Guinness at the bar: $3/5

Things you should know about Cameroon

Is Cameroon safe?

Most travel advisories from Western governments warn against traveling to some parts of the country: much of the Anglophone South-West, the Extreme North, and the country’s eastern boundaries. On their websites, most such advisories have maps of where not to travel. Remember that if you ignore this advice, you may not be covered by your travel insurance. Watch out for pickpockets (and always take a taxi after dark) in larger cities.

Make flexible travel plans

Not everything always goes according to plan, with delayed transport departures, extreme weather and poor road conditions in rural areas all possible. Build extra time into your schedule so delays or inexplicable cancellations aren’t so important. You might even end up in a memorable conversation with locals or otherwise discover the benefits of slowing down to a very different travel rhythm. Being patient and calm, and surrendering your time to the vagaries of travel Cameroonian-style, will almost always bring its own rewards.

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