Introduction - The Central African Republic (CAR) is a landlocked country located in Central Africa. This country of staggering exceptional natural beauty is neighboured by Chad in the north, Sudan in the east, the DR Congo and the Republic of the Congo in the south and Cameroon in the west. The capital city is Bangui. Bangui is so popular with adventurous travelers. The city is built on a rock, shaded by tropical greenery; watered by River Ubangi and features many modern architectural buildings. Places of interest for tours include the lively Central Market (renowned for its malachite necklaces), the Boganda Museum, the Arts and Crafts School, the cathedral and the Saint Paul Mission, whose small brick church overlooks the river, and the Hausa quarter. Other top attractions in the country aside from the Bangui attractions include the Chutes De Boali (a series of spectacular waterfalls); the Dzanga-Sangha National Park popular for its gorilla concentration; Bamingi Bangoro National Park; St. Floris National Park; Andre Felix National Park. These wildlife conservation areas are home to forest elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos plus several other animals. One of the lowland gorilla’s last habitats is found in the rainforests of the south and offers a perfect destination for Central African Republic safaris. Dominantly the southern border is covered by streams of River Congo, with the Mbomou River in the east joining with River Uele and forming the Ubangi River. The eastern border lies along the edge of the Nile river watershed. In the west, River Sangha flows through part of the country. Because the country is well watered, it generally experiences a tropical climate. With a history of turmoil and ongoing internal conflict, Central African Republic (CAR) is not a particularly safe travel destination. Years of tyranny under the Bokassa regime has rendered it one of the poorest countries in the world. However, it does have friendly locals, natural splendour and amazing wildlife.
Travel Alert: Due to increasing rebel activity and violent civil/political unrest, travel here is discouraged for most of the country, especially the north of the country. The government is volatile and maintains a weak grip on the country. Banditry and general lawlessness are major problems outside Bangui. Travel outside Bangui, except for the relatively peaceful southwest area near Dzanga-Sangha National Park, is dangerous and not advised for any reason. This includes all land routes from Cameroon. Check out for the latest travel advice from government.
Area: 622,984 km2
Languages: The national language is Sango, but French is the official administrative language and is essential for business. Another 68 languages and dialects have been identified in addition to these.
Passport and Visa: Passports are required by all visitors to CAR and must be valid for six months from the date of arrival. Visas are mandatory for all except for nationals of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Israel, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Mauritius, Monaco, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Sudan, Switzerland and Togo provided they are travelling from their own countries. If there is no embassy of CAR in your country, the French embassy should be able to provide you with necessary documents.
Health and Safety: Some areas of Bangui have clean and filtered drinking water, so it is safe to drink water served at some restaurants and bars. However, the purity of the water is not reliable and thus it is safer to buy bottled water or boil/filter water. Outside the capital there is no guarantee of water purity. All food should be cooked or peeled prior to being served, particularly food purchased at local markets, where hygiene is a concern. If illness should arise, it is better to seek counsel with one of the doctors at an embassy (the French embassy and US embassy both have fine doctors) or at a clinic at an organisation like Institut Pasteur. The local clinics and hospitals sometimes have a limited supply of necessary resources such as syringes, medicine, etc. Hepatitis E is present and hepatitis B is hyperendemic. Diarrhoeal illnesses are common. Bilharzia (schistosomiasis) is present; avoid swimming and paddling in fresh water. Meningococcal meningitis is particularly prevalent during the dry season in December, especially in the north of the country. Vaccination is strongly recommended. There is also a high incidence of HIV/AIDS; sensible precautions should be taken. Rabies is present. For those at high risk, vaccination before arrival should be considered. If you are bitten, seek medical advice without delay. Hot, dry, dusty harmattan winds affect northern areas. Floods are common. Police manning checkpoints will demand bribes, expect no less than US$5; there are many reports that a trip from the Cameroon border to Bangui will cost hundreds of US dollars or Euros in bribes. Police will often confiscate an item (passport, camera, watch) and demand money for it. Armed robberies on roads in the country are common. Violent crime in the capital is common even in daylight, particularly around the "kilometre 5" bus station. Alcoholism is a major problem with city-dwellers, so be weary of drunks and do not even think about drinking with locals (you will be out-drunk). In March 2003, rebel forces took over the government of the Central African Republic, and the group's leader named himself president. He remains in power today, and despite peaceful elections in March 2005, tourists could be at risk, particularly during public gatherings. Nonetheless, South West Central African Republic is a relatively stable and popular tourist destination. No incidents of crime involving tourists have been reported on the road from Bangui to Dzanga Sangha and many diplomats frequent the region on holiday.
Religion: 25% of the population is Protestant. 25% is Roman Catholic. There is a small Islamic minority of 15% and 35% of the population have indigeneous beliefs.
Social conventions: Local customs and culture in the Central African Republic are split between the relatively equal Muslim and Christian populations, so conservative dress is a good idea in all areas, including covered thighs and shoulder for women. It is customary to shake hands. Women are strictly segregated, especially in towns. In Muslim areas, visitors should not smoke or drink in public during Ramadan. In rural areas it is customary for people to eat with their hands, but one should never eat, shake hands, or offer someone money with their left hand. Always ask permission before photographing a military or government building.
Clothing: Africans generally place great emphasis on clothing, and a trip to the CAR is a treat to see the quality of people's dress. Women often wear a loose top and a length of cloth (pagne) around the waist as a skirt. Men's casual clothes - which look like pyjamas - are in the same distinctively 'African' designs, but most of the cloth is imported from the Netherlands. The most authentic cloths are the handmade, designed fabrics, such as woodblock prints and batiks and tie-dyed cloths. Dress is normally conservative and shorts are frowned upon, and the standards are usually tougher for women than men.
Climate: From May to October the southern parts of the Central African Republic are subject to heavy rainfall and during June to September the rains head north. The mercury rises to 40º C in both the north and south between February and May and the humidity can sometimes be unbearable. In summer, the Harmattan, a hot dry dust laden wind that blows from the Sahara Desert, blows through the country. Average annual temperatures in Bangui range from 21º to 29º C (70º to 84º F) in July and August to 21º to 34º C (70º to 93º F) in February.
Best time to visit: With the constant rainfall, the best time to visit CAR in winter, between November and April. Even though it rains in the south of the country and Bangui in February most of the national parks are open all year long.
Money: CFA (Communauté Financière Africaine) Franc (XAF) = 100 centimes. Notes are in denominations of XAF10,000, 5,000, 2,000, 1,000 and 500. Coins are in denominations of XAF500, 100, 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1. The CFA Franc is tied to the Euro. There are no ATMs in CAR and credit cards are generally not accepted. Take travellers cheques in euros to avoid additional exchange-rate charges. Even so, commission charges can be very high and the exchange rates very low – up to 25% below the current internationally accepted rate.
Currency restriction: The import and export of local currency is limited to US$125. There are no restrictions on the import of foreign currencies.
Currency Exchange: You can only exchange money in Bangui and Berbérati (banking hours are 7am to 11.30am Monday to Friday).
Getting around towns and cities: There are very few scheduled flights and getting around the country by air is limited to chartered planes. While driving around the country in a hired vehicle is an option, it is important to remember that the roads are in a state of disrepair and pockmarked with innumerable potholes. The constant rain doesn’t help much, making the road muddy and slippery. There are no breakdown or fuel services along most routes, so it’s a good idea to take along a large petrol supply and spares. International Driving Permit required. Identification (e.g. residence permit or certified copy of passport) must be carried at all times. Failure to do so can result in detention by police. Self-drive or chauffeur-driven cars are available. Limited bus services run in Bangui on a two-zone tariff. Taxis are only available in the urban areas; they do not have meters and fares must be negotiated. Minibuses serve Bangui and other major towns.
Emergency Numbers: You can call the Central Police Station by dialing (236) 21.61.13.00.