Cameroon has a little bit of everything Africa has: vast lakes, tropical rainforests, golden beaches, volcanic mountains, bush savannahs, great stretches of dry deserts, and tropical rainforests scattered by lions, elephants, and other safari wildlife. Unfortunately, the only thing stopping Cameroon from becoming a major tourist destination in Africa is its underdeveloped infrastructure, mainly with respect to accommodations, restaurants, and transportation. Visitors may also be turned off by the poverty and high unemployment rate of the country, the lingering internal clashes between different religious and ethnic groups, and the ongoing tensions between the country and Nigeria based on border disputes. Those who are not intimidated by these drawbacks, though, will find a gem – one of Africa’s better kept secrets.
Geographically, Cameroon sits on the west coast of Central Africa made up of several distinct regions. It is bordered by Nigeria in the west, Chad in the north, the Central African Republic in the east, and Congo, Guinea, and Gabon in the south. Much of the country enjoys a tropical climate with heavy rainfall; it is in fact one of the wettest places in the world.
Diversity defines Cameroon. In the major cities like Yaounde, you’ll find concrete high-rises, honking, traffic-jammed cars and busy people wearing Western-style clothes. The scenery is altogether different in the villages where thatched huts and tribal clothes predominate. In the highlands of the western region in the Mbem area, you’ll even find the Kaka practicing the art of spider divination – predicting the community’s future by reading the leaves that have been touched by spiders. And in the northeast, you’ll find people gathered around the chiefs of the Lamido of Rei-Bouba and the scene of warriors on horseback wearing turbans and flowing robes and carrying brandished swords and rifles. Cameroon is a country that is attempting to unite modern industry with the old way of life and attempting to join more than 200 ethnic groups and tribes under one roof.
Cameroon’s main attraction is probably its natural beauty seen in its national parks and game reserves. The Benoue National Park, for example, encompasses 445,000 acres of land roamed by lions, hyenas, giraffes, hippopotamuses, panthers, buffalos, crocodiles, and various primates. The Lobeke National Park features watchtower lodges where you can spend the night while also enjoying the best views of wildlife such as buffalos, bongo antelopes, elephants, giant forest hogs, yellow-backed duikers, and red river hogs. But the highlight of the park are the lowland gorillas. At the Kalamaloue Reserve, you’ll find more elephants, antelopes, and warthogs in addition to monkeys. At the Campo Game Reserve region in the interior of Cameroon, the virgin forests are home to roaming lions, elephants, and buffalos. The Waza National Park in the north encompasses both grassy and wet plains that feature eagles, pelicans, crested cranes, guinea-fowls, maribous, ducks, and geese, as well as vast forests roamed by lions, giraffes, cheetahs, elephants, antelopes, warthogs, cobs, and hartebeest. Bouba Ndjidah National Park, located on the banks of the Mayo Lidi River in the north, is one of the few parks in the country where you can view black rhinoceroses. But you’ll also find lions, buffalos, and elephants. Finally, the Korup National Park gives visitors the chance to see Africa’s oldest and most biologically diverse rainforests. Unique trees and plants and waist-high pools of water provide the habitat for monkeys, birds, and many other species that have yet to be discovered.
More of Cameroon’s natural beauty can be seen outside of its parks and reserves. Spectacular waterfalls and valleys highlight the drive from Douala to Nkongsamba. Glittering white beaches line the stretches outside of Limbe, and the beautiful Londji Beach in Kribi is home to a beach resort. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy hiking through the Mora region in the north, the Mandara Mountains in the west, and the southwest highlands around Bamenda. Mountain climbers are treated to the popular mountaineering destination of Mount Cameroon, which is the highest active volcano in Africa. The climb takes about three or four days and begins at the base of the colonial town, Bueau. More rock climbing can be done Le Dent de Mindif in Mindif Park, which is near the town of Maroua in the north.
Cultural attractions in Cameroon include week-long expeditions to the southeast where visitors can learn more about the Baka pygmies – their hunting methods, traditional medicine, and music and dances. Roumsiki in the north amid the Kapsiki mountains is a village with mazes that link small farms. The village is home to the Kirdi, an interesting group of people who practice crab sorcery and indulge in customs and folklore just as they have for centuries.
Cameroon in the southwest is dominated by Mount Cameroon, West Africa’s highest mountain at more than 13,300 feet. It is an active volcano. This region also features the country’s largest city, Douala, which serves as Cameroon’s principal port and transport hub. Along the coast facing Mount Cameroon are the German colonial towns of Tiko and Victoria where plantations once grew bananas, rubber, and oil palms. These products are still grown today. Also near Douala is Buea, the old capital of the German Colony, which features a German castle called the Schloss built by a colonial governor who was homesick.
Western Cameroon is dominated by highlands, grassy plateaus, and hills. It is home to the Tikar people, reputed for their energy and resourcefulness. The Muslim Bamoun and the Christian Bamileke also live in the highlands. The people in this region grow bananas, coffee, pineapples, and other tropical fruits.
In the east along the Mambila plateau, you’ll find the Kirdi people who practice ancient animistic beliefs and live in clay huts, raising livestock.
Northern Cameroon, meanwhile, features dry savanna plains and pastoral scenery. The region is inhabited by the Fulani who are herdsmen raising cattle and sheep. The Fulani are also Muslim. Most of them live in the towns of Garoua, Ngaoundere, and Maroua.
In the central region of Cameroon is Yaounde, the capital of the country. It sprawls over low hills that are not far from Cameroon’s major cacao-growing area. Cameroon happens to be the leading producer of cacao, which is used to make chocolate.
Cameroon was given its name and boundaries in the 15th century by the Portuguese who were the first Europeans to explore it. They arrived in Douala and ventured up the Wouri River. They named it after the Portuguese word “river of shrimps” after hauling in large shrimps just off of Douala. The Germans were the first to colonize the region in 1884. After their defeat in WWI, they were forced to give up the colony to Britain and France. The country gained independence from both Britain and France in 1961. Today, Cameroon enjoys a multi-party democracy but is also plagued somewhat by political corruption and secessionist sentiments among the Anglophone population.