Northern Cameroon

Cameroon's northern provinces are a world apart from the lush south. Rolling grasslands give way to barren rocky outcrops of striking beauty, dotted with picturesque villages. Roads to the south are barely existent, so getting there means taking an overnight train or internal flight. Mainly Muslim, the north draws adventure travellers for the hiking and wildlife-viewing opportunities, all conveniently reached from the town of Maroua.

Leafy N'Gaoundéré is the terminus of Cameroon's main railway line and the first major town in northern Cameroon. It makes a relaxing stop, particularly if you've taken the overnight train, and at an altitude of 1100m the evenings are pleasantly cool.

Some areas of N'Gaoundéré have bad reputations for safety at night, including the area around the stadium and north of the cathedral. If in doubt, take a moto-taxi.

Sights

The Palais du Lamido (admission CFA2000, guide CFA1000, camera CFA1000;® 9am-5pm), also known as the lamidat, is worth a trip inside for a taste of local culture. Friday (especially) and Sunday are the best days to visit, as you'll be able to see many nobles from the surrounding area who come to pay their respects, and the procession from the palace to the Grande Mosquée next door for midday prayers.

Sleeping

The cool air of N'Gaoundéré means there's no need for air-conditioning.

N'GAOUNDERE

Palais du Lamido 2 C3

Petite Mosquée 3 C3

Beer & Fish 9 B3

La Piazza 10 A3

SIGHTS & ACTIVITIES

Palais du Lamido 2 C3

Petite Mosquée 3 C3

Auberge de la Gare 4 C2

Auberge Pousada Style 5 A3

Hôtel Le Relais 7 A3

EATING Q]

Beer & Fish 9 B3

La Piazza 10 A3

Marhaba Village 12 A3

Train Station Street Food 13 D2

SIGHTS & ACTIVITIES

EATING Q]

| Minor Roads Not Depicted |

Auberge Pousada Style ( @ 2251703; r CFA4000-5000) A basic but friendly resthouse, there was a reassuringly clean smell of bleach throughout when we visited. Take a moto-taxi late at night in this area.

Auberge de la Gare ( Bl 225 2217; r CFA5000-7000) Rooms are basic but reasonably clean and tidy, and there's an attached restaurant. It's convenient to the train station and bus agencies.

Hôtel Le Relais (S) 225 1138; r without/with TV CFA9000/12,000) Well located near the intersection of Rue du Petit Marché and Rue de la Grande Mosquée, rooms are clean, if sometimes a little musty. All are good sized; the more expensive ones are even larger. There's a small bar.

Hôtel du Rail ( ®l 225 1013; Route de Garoua; r from CFA13,500) A good place with large rooms, and al though it's handy for the train station, it's some way from the action in town. Luckily there's a restaurant, and (French) TV in all rooms.

Hotel Transcam (B1225 1252; r CFA25,000-35,000) N'Gaoundere's best hotel, with fine rooms and a posh restaurant. It's in a quiet setting 1.5km southwest of the town centre.

Eating

The best street food is easily found at the row of shops, stalls and bars opposite the train station - worth the detour even if you don't have a train to catch.

Beer & Fish (fish from CFA1000; ® lOam-iate) A generic row of bars runs behind Rue du Petit Marche, interspersed with women grilling fish over coals. Order the fish, then sink a beer while waiting for your meal to arrive - a recipe for a great Cameroonian evening.

Marhaba Village (mainsfromCFA1200; S 9am-11pm) An open-air restaurant, with a snack bar and a more formal eating area. Its central location makes it a good place to hang out and people-watch.

Le Délice (meals about CFA1500; S 9am-11pm) Friendly place off the western end of Rue de la Grande Mosquée, and one of several in the immediate area serving Western and Cameroonian dishes.

La Piazza (meals from CFA3000; ® 9am-mldnight) Something of an N'Gaoundéré institution, this place has live music nightly and cold draught beer from the thatched bar. The Lebanese and pasta dishes are excellent, but don't miss the perennially popular Sunday buffet from 12pm (CFA5000).

Alissar supermarket is well stocked for essentials and imported goods. The main market is the Petit Marché; the Grand Marché only sells vegetables.

Getting There & Away

Cameroon Airlines has flights most days connecting N'Gaoundéré with Garoua, Ma-roua, Yaoundé and Douala. The airport is situated about 4km west of town (CFA1000 in a taxi).

The train station is at the eastern end of town. Trains to Yaoundé leave daily at around 7pm (CFA25,000 in lst-class couchette, 18 to 36 hours), and you can reserve your seat a day in advance. See p284 for more information.

By bus, Touristique Express and Woïla Voyages are best, with several buses daily to Garoua (CFA3500, five hours) and Maroua (CFA6000, eight hours). Kawtal Voyages operates a battered Garoua-Boulaï (CFA4000, 12 hours) service most days from the gare routière by the Grande Mosquée. Think twice before attempting this during the rains. Equally strenuous is the appalling road south to Foumban. Kawtal Voyages also operates along this route, as far as Banyo (CFA5000, around 10 hours), from where you can change for Foumban.

GAROUA

On the Benue River, the port-town of Garoua is the commercial hub of the north. There's little to hold the interest of travellers, but as it's a transport junction you might find yourself passing through. Garoua has a large Chadian population, with direct flights to N'Djamena and a handy consulate for visas (see p300). Near the port, Auberge Hiala Village (§§ 227

2407; Rue Cical; r CFA5000-7000; ® El) has decent self-contained rooms and is the best bet in town, with a good bar and restaurant. Super Restaurant (Route de Maroua; mains from CFA1000) is a breezy place, with good food and juices.

Several bus companies run daily to Maroua (CFA2500, 2V2 hours), N'Gaoundere (CFA3500, five hours), while Camaroon Airlines flies to Yaounde and Douala.

MAROUA

Dusty Maroua, Cameroon's northernmost major town, is popular with travellers. It's a good starting point for exploring the nearby Mandara Mountains and Pare National de Waza, or to catch your breath if you're tackling the nearby borders with Chad and Nigeria. Neem trees lines the streets, and there's an easygoing feel in the air. With its good range of accommodation and facilities, you can easily spend a little longer here than you had anticipated.

Information

The fastest, most reliable internet is at Braouz (per hr CFA750), with Marouanet (per hr CFA400) a cheaper option.

For medical emergencies, try Meskine Hospital, southwest of town off Garoua road.

Maroua's banks can be reluctant to change even cash euros. If the main banks won't help, try CCA Bureau de Change next to SGBC. The latter also has an ATM.

Maroua has numerous tour operators that can arrange trekking in the Mandara Mountains and visits to Pare National de Waza. Better ones include:

Extreme Nord Safaris ((§) 229 3356; [email protected] .com)

Fagus Voyages (§§ 986 1871; www.fagusvoyages.com) Porte Mayo Voyages (@ 984 1573) Through Relals de la Porte Mayo.

Sleeping

Auberge le Voyageur (@ 229 2100; Rue Mobil; r CFA5525-8500; (El) This standard-issue hotel is handy to the town centre. Some rooms are a bit dreary, and you pay extra for air-conditioning. Nothing special, but a decent option.

Relais Ferngo 229 2153; off Blvd de Dlarenga; r CFA6000; ® IE) This is a delightful budget choice. Simply furnished but spotless boukarous sit between shady trees, ideal for whiling away the hours. Well located for buses and some great suya stalls.

Motel Coffana (®) mobile 970 9643; off Blvd de Diarenga; rCFA6000-10,000;(PI) You'll find nicely turned out boukarous here, freshly painted and welcoming. Cheaper rooms in the main block have fan only, but are airy enough with high ceilings.

Relais de la Porte Mayo ( s 229 2692; Pont Rouge; s/d CFA13,900/15,000, apt CFA17,500; (g) (HI) There's a lovely relaxed ambience at this French-run establishment, with well-planted grounds and freshly uniformed staff. Rooms in boukarous are well presented, but sometimes a little small for the price. The restaurant-bar is good, and there's a fancy souvenir shop-cum-boutique.

Hotel Sahel ( @ 2292960; Blvd de Diarenga; s CFA14,500-18,000, d CFA21.500; (PI (gl) This whitewashed, modern hotel is a lot bigger than the exterior promises. The rooms are good, and there are lots of outside sitting areas and a posh bar. Check out the traditional beehive-houses in front of reception.

Eating & Drinking

Maroua has plenty of bars, the liveliest of which are strung along Blvd de Renoveau.

Grilled Chicken (dishes from CFA1000; ® 10am-midnight) Opposite the Champs Elysée Bar, this place does fantastic whole chicken covered over coals, served with bread and a green salad (ask for no sugar in the dressing, though). As it's Muslim-run there's no alcohol, but staff

CCA Bureau de Change Extrême Nord Safaris Marouanet Meskine Hospital Porte Mayo Voyages SGBC

Auberge Le Voyageur Hotel Sahel Motel Coffana Relais de la Porte Mayo 10 A3

Relais Ferngo 11 B3

Grilled Chicken 12 B3

Le Point des Chutes 13 B3

Relais de la Porte Mayo (see 10)

Restaurant Le Baobab 14 C2

15 B3

TRANSPORT

Cameroon Airlines 16 C2 Gare Routière for Koussérl,

Bank! & Points North 17 D2

Star Express 18 C2

Taxistand 19 C2

Touristique Express 20 B3

- 7o Carrefour Farrafi i-fi.m); Farrafi i-fi.m); Airpyrt [ 19km); Mokolo iSlkm'i; FDurmiki iKXJkm'i; Garotia C^llkm'i

- 7o Carrefour Farrafi i-fi.m); Farrafi i-fi.m); Airpyrt [ 19km); Mokolo iSlkm'i; FDurmiki iKXJkm'i; Garotia C^llkm'i

CCA Bureau de Change Extrême Nord Safaris Marouanet Meskine Hospital Porte Mayo Voyages SGBC

Auberge Le Voyageur Hotel Sahel Motel Coffana Relais de la Porte Mayo 10 A3

Relais Ferngo 11 B3

Grilled Chicken 12 B3

Le Point des Chutes 13 B3

Relais de la Porte Mayo (see 10)

Restaurant Le Baobab 14 C2

15 B3

TRANSPORT

Cameroon Airlines 16 C2 Gare Routière for Koussérl,

Bank! & Points North 17 D2

Star Express 18 C2

Taxistand 19 C2

Touristique Express 20 B3

will happily bring your meal to you if you prefer to sit in the bar next door.

Several stalls on Blvd de Renouveau offer brochettes (kebabs), suya and grilled fish, all of which can be eaten in the bar of your choice in the same way.

Le Point des Chutes (meals from CFA1500; S 8am-11pm) Just off the main drag, this small one-room outfit does great breakfasts for CFA1000, generously portioned Cameroonian standards and freshly squeezed fruit juice to die for.

Restaurant Le Baobab (dishes from CFA2000; S 7am-11pm) This pleasant spot has outdoor seating under a thatched roof, a great atmosphere and good food. Check what's available - the lunchtime menu can be a bit limited.

Relais de la Porte Mayo (dishes from CFA4500; S 7am-11 pm) For upscale dining, this is Maroua's best option, and very popular with the local French community. The restaurant has great French and Italian options, while there's a cheaper snack menu available from the bar.

Getting There & Away

Flights are available three or four times a week with Camaroon Airlines ( g 229 2019) to Yaoundé and Douala (both around CFA89,500), sometimes via Garoua. The airport is 20km south of town along the Garoua road (CFA3000 in a chartered taxi, if you can find one).

Touristique Express has several daily buses to Garoua (CFA2500, 2Vi hours) and N'Gaoundéré (CFA6000, eight hours). You can also book tickets for the N'Gaoundéré-Yaoundé train here at the same time. Several other agencies operate along the N'Gaoundéré route, with depots on the same road; Star Express in the town centre is also good.

Plentiful transport to Mokolo (CFA1000, 1 Vi hours) and less frequently to Rhumsiki (CFA2000, around three hours) departs from Carrefour Parrah in Djarangol at the southern end of town.

Transport to Kousséri for the Chad border (CFA3500, five hours) departs from the gare routière on Maroua's eastern edge. Minibuses to Banki for the Nigerian border (CFA2000, two hours) also depart from here.

MANDARA MOUNTAINS

Running west of Maroua to the Nigerian border, the Mandara Mountains area is one of the most enjoyable places in Cameroon - rich in tribal culture, natural wonders and beautiful scenery. With traditional hillside villages of round huts, huge stone formations and wide green valleys, it's no surprise that the area offers Cameroon's best trekking.

There are many fascinating villages, including Rhumsiki, with its striking mountain scenery; Djingliya and Koza set against steep terraced hillsides; Tourou, known for the calabash hats worn by local women; and Maga, with its unique domed houses made entirely of clay. Mora has a particularly notable weekly market. Hiking between villages is one of the best ways to appreciate the scenery and culture alike.

Rhumsiki is the main entrance point for visitors to the Mandara Mountains, and is the one place where there's a tangible feeling of a tourist scene, although being Cameroon this is something of a relative term.

There's accommodation in Rhumsiki, Mokolo, Mora, Waza, Maga and a few other villages, but otherwise, no infrastructure. If you're travelling independently, allow plenty of time and plan to be self-sufficient with food and water. Local minibuses usually set off around 6am. Moto-taxis are sometimes the only option for getting around.

For those with limited time, travel agencies in Maroua can organise visits, although it's just as easy to arrange things on the spot in Rhumsiki or Mokolo, which will ensure that more of the money you spend is pumped directly into the local economy. Expect to pay around CFA9000 per day, including guide, simple meals and accommodation.

PARC NATIONAL DU WAZA

The most accessible of Cameroon's national parks Waza (admission CFA5000, vehicle CFA2000, camera CFA2000; S 6am-6pm November 15-May 15) is the best for viewing wildlife. While it can't compare with East African parks, you're likely to see elephants, hippos, giraffes, antelopes and - with luck - lions. Late March to April is the best time for viewing, as the animals congregate at water holes before the rains. Waza is also notable for its particularly rich birdlife. The park is closed during the rainy season.

A guide (CFA3000) is obligatory in each vehicle. Walking isn't permitted.

The park entrance is signposted and about 400m off the main highway. Unless you have your own vehicle, the best way to visit is to hire a vehicle in Maroua (about CFA30,000 per day plus petrol). See p296 for listings of tour operators. A 4WD vehicle is recommended.

Accessing the park by public transport is difficult; any bus between Maroua and Kousséri should be able to drop you at the park turn-off, but after that you'll be reliant on hitching a lift into the park itself, which is likely to involve a long wait.

Sleeping

Waza can easily be done as a day trip from Maroua if you start early (bring a packed lunch). Otherwise, there are three places to stay near the park entrance.

Centre d'Accueil de Waza ( @ 229 2207; camp sites per person CFA2500, r CFA7000) This simple place at the park entrance has accommodation in no-frills two-person boukarous with shared bathroom facilities. Meals can be arranged (CFA2000) and it has a small kitchen.

GIC-FAC Café-Restaurant du Mme Millénaire (r around CFA4000) The local women's group has a few very simple rooms in a basic guesthouse. Meals can be arranged. It's just off the main road along the park access road.

Campement de Waza ( (g 229 1646, In Maroua 229 1165, in Waza 765 7717, 765 7558; s/d CFA14,800/16,000; (S) ) This is the most luxurious option, with accommodation in reasonably comfortable boukarous and an attached restaurant. There are also a few cheaper rooms with fan only. It's located on a small hill about 700m from the park entrance, on the opposite side of the main road.

There's also basic accommodation in Waza village, just north of the park entrance.

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