After spending months travelling across West Africa we were ready to move on. Visiting Central African Republic (CAR) wasn’t initially part of our planned travels on this leg of Africa, but while doing research we learned more about this country and decided to travel overland to see the wildlife in the Dzanga-Sangha lodge.

Visiting Central African Republic on a map of Africa

Central African Republic on a map of Africa ( Credit Free Vector Maps)

The Central African Republic is one of the least visited countries in the world and visiting Central African Republic really isn’t for everyone. It has struggled to find its feet since its independence from France in 1960. Today it ranks as the poorest country in Africa.

The official language is Sangha, but French is widely spoken. The main currency is the Central African Franc.

Visiting Central African Republic – Is it safe?

You won’t find a guide book for the Central African Republic and there are very few blogs. Most Western governments have issued explicit warnings advising against travel to the Central African Republic under any circumstances.

Violent crimes such as armed robbery, muggings, and homicide, are too common. CAR had some of the worst cases of poachers in recent years too.

Visiting Central African Republic

Heavily armed UN vehicles patrol the roads in downtown Bangui – Visiting Central African Republic

As large parts of the country are controlled by armed warlord groups who regularly kidnap, injure, and kill civilians, any visitors are either discouraged to visit or are restricted to only a few areas. Consular services are often either extremely limited or non-existent as most countries have now closed their embassies within CAR and in case of civil unrest would be unable to help.

So you need to do a lot of research and ideally connect with someone on the ground before visiting Central African Republic.

What to see in the Central African Republic?

Tourism in the Central African Republic is pretty much non-existent due to the troubled history. Security in the country is particularly unstable in the north and northwest. Most visitors are therefore limited their visit to either the capital city, Bangui or the Dzanga Sangha National park in the southwest of CAR. Visiting Central African Republic is not cheap and the logistics to see more of the country do add.

travelling central african republic street

The streets of downtown Bangui – Visiting Central African Republic

Bangui

With the only international airport in the country, Bangui makes the obvious entry point for many travellers. The lack of flights means your best option is the $200-$250 flight from neighbouring Cameroon.

We arrived in the late morning from Douala. Our complimentary arrival hotel transfer never showed up so we ended up negotiating a taxi and off we went through the dusty streets of the capital.

In some way, Bangui almost looks like some other capital cities in West and Central Africa we have been to. However, we could tell things were a lot tougher here.

The heavy presence of UN vehicles combined with the hardship in peoples faces reminded us that this country ranks as one of the poorest in the world and their internal unrest was still ongoing.

travelling central african republic

The heavy presence of UN vehicles in Bangui

The Ledger hotel seems to be the place most foreigners stay as let’s face it, there are almost no tourists here. As for the diplomats, UN workers and businessmen, this is the type of hotel that they book. This is mostly due to the higher level of security and I guess the level of comfort too.

After check-in, we decided to use some of the facilities and spent a few hours at the pool. This was busy with UN troops and a few diplomats with pop music and a pool bar.

It was nice to finally relax after some challenging travels in West and Central Africa. We found out that this was a popular place to spend the weekends. We certainly felt like we were on another planet and not in CAR.

travelling in central african republic

Yes! A few hours to relax by the pool.

The downtown of Bangui wasn’t too far from the hotel, but we decided to jump in a taxi and check it out. Most people warned us about photography and muggings so we were quite happy to just have a look and take it in.

We found that there is very little to see in this city apart from a few old landmarks.

Dzanga-Sangha National Park

Dzanga-Sangha National Park is without any doubt is the star of the Central African Republic. Our plan to visit overland from Cameroon backfired due to our Cameroon visas being issued incorrectly. They were issued as a single entry instead of a double-entry that we’d requested. So once we would enter CAR we would have to continue onwards to the Republic of Congo.

This would place us further away from Chad, where we were planning to go next, and as our friend who has just done it advised – we needed plenty of free passport pages for many police checkpoints as they stamp them.

We were running desperately low on pages already so this really wasn’t an option. So Dzanga Sangha was out of the question unless we were planning to pay for a chartered flight. Not likely.

There is a local Lodge (Sangha Lodge) that offers both accommodations as well as activities in Dzanga Sangha, such as Lowland Gorilla Trekking, boating safaris, and visits to the famous Dzanga Bai. So if you are looking at visiting Central African Republic, we suggest you look at what they do. We’ve decided to put it on our bucket list to return to in the future.

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