Central African Republic Overview
Referring to its notoriously challenging (and equally rewarding) travel environment, Lonely Planet describes a trip to the Central African Republic as ‘the backpacking equivalent of bungee jumping’. Sandwiched between numerous regions of conflict, and known for its uncaring governments and abject poverty, CAR is certainly not an effortless experience. Your government will probably advise against ever setting foot in this perpetually fluctuating nation; those who do will find a shambolic but welcoming taste of a very authentic Africa.
If you want to err on the side of caution (though, frankly, why would you come?), capital Bangui – reputation for theft aside – is a relative safe spot. The city sits on the banks of the rolling Ubangi River, and major sites include the scandalous luxury of the presidential palace (and it really is a palace next to the destitution of its neighbors), and a columned white arch commemorating former emperor Bokassa. The loud salesmen of the central market draw you in; equally your very presence will doubtless attract a large crowd, as tourism is a rarity here.
At the other end of the spectrum, the rainforests around Mbaiki are home to primitive pygmy tribes, who live in shambolic huts made from leaves and sticks set around dusty forest squares. During rainy season, a trip along the Ubangi River is a faster and more enjoyable way to see the country than the pothole coated inter-city roads, winding through plains and forests and giving a real close up view of the wilds of rural CAR.
When the political situation allows, a trip to the Dzanga-Sangha Reserve is a real must do. The Dzanga Saline is home to an estimated 3000 wild elephants (it’s not uncommon to see 30 at a time), as well as gorillas, colossal wild boars and elusive forest buffaloes.
Though much of the country is often either inaccessible or highly hazardous to enter, those who do venture into the Central African Republic are overwhelmed by the warmth of the people and enthusiasm for foreign visitors. With tourism such a scarcity, you’ll feel like a new-world explorer, and there are plenty of treasures to be found.