Safe journey! Travelling in CameroonEsly van Dam
Within cities, there are two major ways of public transportation you can use: motorbikes and taxis.
Motorbikes (often called achaba or okada) are a way of public transportation inside cities or villages. In the main cities, Yaoundé and Douala, you cannot take your motorbike everywhere. However, they are fast and especially useful if you need to go somewhere off the main roads.
Although motorbikes can be useful, they can also be dangerous. Cameroonians sometimes wonder ‘what happens in the head of a man when he starts his bike’. Helmets are rare and most achaba boys are young and pretty reckless. In smaller towns, with less traffic, bikes are safer and sometimes really a better option.
Outside the cities motorbikes are also often used for transportation between villages. The advantage in this case is that you don’t need to wait for other passengers to fill the car. Normally a car will carry four adults on the backseat, two on the front seat and one person sharing with the driver.
Within cities you can also take a shared taxi. Unfortunately, this only works if you know where to go and can drop somewhere along a main road. Simply stand on the road side and yell your destination and the price you are ready to pay through the open window. If the car goes in your direction, the driver will stop and take you. Prices depend on the distance and you can ask your colleagues or neighbours for prices so you have an idea.
Taxis normally take five passengers, three on the backseat and two on the front seat. If you don’t have exact change, you should ask the driver if he has change when you enter.
Another way to use taxis is to use one privately. In this case, the taxi can take you anywhere and allows you to be more flexible. This is called a taxi drop or depot in French. It’s also very useful if you don’t know the exact location you are going to. A depot in Yaoundé should normally cost you 2,000 XAF during the day, although the prices go up for long distances and late-night transportation.
After sunset, a depot is recommended, since pickpocketing is common in shared taxis, especially in the dark.
Travelling between cities usually takes a lot of time. The roads are often bad and checkpoints can cause serious delays. The concept of one-seat-one-person is unknown in many vehicles, which makes travelling quite a challenge.
You can travel by coach between major cities. Because of its size, the bus is a bit safer than taxis. However, some drivers are crazy and accidents can happen. There are many bus companies which all have their strong and weak points. For longer distances you can also take a night bus and many companies run a VIP or first-class service. Although you can’t expect a lot of luxury here, but the advantage is that these buses normally don’t stop in every single village. It is advisable to check for a bus which has windows you can open as the AC is often not functioning properly.
VIP buses normally don’t overload, meaning the one-seat-one-person principle is respected here (although that only goes for adults). There are many companies offering connections to the most common destinations. Between Yaoundé and Douala the most popular providers are Touristique Voyage, Le Voyageur VIP, and Buca Voyage. If you want to travel between Yaoundé or Douala and Bafoussam or Bamenda Amour Mezam, Moghamo and Vatican are some reliable companies.
Taxis and Minibuses
Between smaller towns, taxis and minibuses are serving as public transportation. These taxis don’t leave according to a schedule; they leave when they are full. That means, four adults on the backseat, two on the front seat and one person sharing his seat with the driver. Children can still be added on the various seats. Also for minibuses the number of passengers is normally much higher than the number of official seats.
Needless to say, this way of transport is not very comfortable. In taxis you can normally buy two tickets if you prefer to occupy the front seat alone.
CamRail, the Cameroonian railway company, runs trains between Douala and Yaoundé, Douala and Kumba and Yaoundé and Ngoundéré. Some people prefer the train over the bus as it is more secure.
The Cameroonian Airline Company Camair-Co operates flights between Douala, Yaoundé, Ngoundéré, Maroua and Garoua. This is of course the most expensive option, although probably also the safest one. Delays are common though and every few months newspapers report the airline is (almost) bankrupt.
Your Own Car
Travelling with your own car, with or without a driver, is really the most comfortable way. However, outside the cities the roads may be very bad. It is important that you keep this in mind before you hit the road.
The most common car in Cameroon is Toyota. In Douala, you will find parts for other brands without too many challenges but in Yaoundé it already becomes a bit difficult. Outside these cities it will be a real problem to find the spare parts needed and mechanics may not know how to repair your vehicle.
If you plan to use your car outside the main cities, a four-wheel drive is recommended. Especially during the rainy season, you will encounter a lot of slippery mud. In the dry season you may still suffer from slippery dust and sand on the streets.
Cameroon has a road safety police department. If they pull you over, they mainly check if you have two triangles, a fire extinguisher, a first aid box and some kind of blocks to prevent your car from rolling when you have a breakdown.
Documents are also often checked. You will need a complete file for your car, including your driving license (you can have an international license but you can also apply for a Cameroonian one), an insurance card and a valid ‘visite technique’. This is the yearly technical control of your car. This can be done in all major cities. You will also need a windscreen license which you can buy at the Hotel des Finance in your region.
Regarding the condition of the roads, you will always need to carry some basic tools. It is also advisable to check your spare tyre before taking off to make sure you will not end up with a flat if you need it. You may also want to pack some water for the car as water for the cooling system is not always available.
Outside the major cities, many foreigners use drivers but inside the cities (especially Douala and Yaoundé), they often drive themselves. The traffic is pretty heavy and most drivers don’t respect (or even know) traffic rules. However, you will get used to it!
Outside the cities it is less common to see foreigners drive. Especially in villages a white person (and especially a woman) driving gets a lot of attention. Officially, Cameroonians drive on the right side of the road. However, roads may be so bad that you will find yourself driving anywhere, even besides the road. You should watch the road right in front of you because of potholes, but also need to look a bit ahead for herds of cows and bikes transporting couches, for example, and taking up a lot of space.
Esly van Dam is Dutch, living in Cameroon since 2014. She lived in a small town before moving to the capital and enjoys sharing her local experiences with others. Esly is an InterNations ambassador in Yaoundé.