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'All Africa in one country': Cameroon wants its place on the tourist map

Cameroon boasts diverse wildlife, beautiful forests, savannah and mountains

Claudine Moore | 1/22/2014, 9:32 a.m.
A colorful market in Limbe, a lively town on the Atlantic coast of Cameroon Credit: Ministry of Tourism and Leisure

— The black sand beaches are home to beach lovers and local fisherman, and it is fascinating to sit back and watch the fishermen going about their chores. Be sure to ask before you take any pictures of the fisherman as they may not take kindly to the intrusion. Nevertheless, if you are lucky like I was, you could be taken on an impromptu and interesting tour of the area where the fish are cleaned, smoked and prepared to eat. The fish found in Limbe are mainly bar, ribbon and cuttle fish and are the freshest I have ever tasted.

Wildlife and tea

Limbe Botanic Gardens provide the opportunity to see rare flowers and walk amongst the 1,500 closely planted trees, many of which are medicinal. The abundance of trees and flowers makes the gardens a paradise for birds.

This is a great place to visit for the entire family; It has a large open-air arena where local traditional dancing and drumming take place, and the dancers actively encourage visitors to join in as they teach you traditional dance moves. There is also a wonderful arts and crafts store where you can buy incredible souvenirs from all over Cameroon.

The Limbe Wildlife Center is a thrilling treat. A collaboration between the government of Cameroon and the Pandrillus Foundation, the center is home to 15 species of primate and several other animals native to Cameroon. The center is designed so you feel like you are walking almost amongst the primates despite the electrified wire fences that secure both the animals and visitors.

A visit to the Tole Tea Estate, the oldest tea plantation in Cameroon, is another treat. Visitors are taken on a tour around the plantation where you witness each step of the entire tea-making process. At the end of the tour you are treated to a delicious cup of tea presented in a beautiful British-style traditional cup and saucer accompanied by a delightful English biscuit. The juxtaposition of this against the West African backdrop is cause for pause, amusement and delight.

Somber reminders of slavery

Like other countries in West Africa, Cameroon was a part of the dark history of slavery when for centuries many Africans were taken from the continent to North and South America, and the West Indies. Not far from Limbe is Bimbia village. Situated on the Atlantic Ocean, Bimbia served as a slave port, and while not as intact as other slave castles in West Africa, you can still clearly see the remains and relics of the former fortress.

Currently under restoration, the path to Bimbia Slave Port requires a long walk through bamboo and bushes, and poignantly this is the same path thousands of slaves walked for centuries on their way to the port. Not to everyone's taste, there is a reenactment of captured slaves complete with shackles and chains, which brings the experience of the slave port to a dramatic reality.

Nightlife

Nightlife in Limbe is lively and fun, and ranges from outdoor restaurants to packed nightclubs. The Fini Hotel has a fantastic restaurant that serves an array of Cameroonian dishes and local delicacies such as bitter leaf stew, crocodile and cassava as well as shrimp and fish prepared with local spices like fufu and Eru. Plantains and cocoyams seem to accompany almost every meal. French wines are plentiful in Cameroon, but by far the most popular alcoholic beverages are beers, and Cameroon has its own Castel and 33 beer, which are as popular as they are strong.

The popular local nightclub Le Calyspo is part of the Fini hotel, and is designed with the international party going crowd in mind. Another popular nightclub is Spyce. Part of the Chariot Hotel, Spyce was much like any other club you would find elsewhere in the world, with a great sound system and energized crowd that dance to everything from local makossa rhythms, to international pop music.

This is just a small sample of what Cameroon has to offer tourists. It must be pointed out that the country is an emerging tourist destination, which means there is still much work to be done in fully developing the tourism sector.

While the country is easy to travel around, there are advisories warning against travel to the Far North Province and certain border areas. Amenities can vary dramatically, and even the most seasoned African traveler should be prepared to fully embrace a certain amount of ruggedness.

Nevertheless, Cameroon is one of the most rapidly developing tourism markets in sub-Sahara Africa, providing a chance for tourists to visit this stunning part of the world before everyone else catches on.