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Things to do Douala, Cameroon – Understand
Douala, Cameroon isn’t exactly a tourism hot spot – I knew that much. However, this city really does not make it easy for travelers, either.
Douala has no real customer service culture and it can easily take 5 different desks to order dinner and the wait is 2 hours or more. There are long lines everywhere and the persistent insider culture makes it comically difficult to get anything done. It’s all about who you know and if that person has any serious influence. As a tourist, there is no way you can have this insider knowledge.
For anything you do here, allow at least 4 times as long as it would take anywhere else. Restaurants, traffic, entry permits – everything is in hours, not minutes, so take some extra patience!
Douala is expensive, with prices above US levels for almost everything. Hotels are moderately priced, but decent food, transport and anything else you will consume easily are at US levels or above.
Douala has an epic lack of care in maintenance, so never expect anything to work the way it was intended.
Douala isn’t as poor as many other African countries; it has fewer shantytowns and more ‘middle class’ African neighborhoods.
Cameroonians are usually fluent in French and English, although French will get you further and is more widely understood.
Things to do Douala, Cameroon – Safety
Douala is often named as one of Africa’s most dangerous cities. At check-in at the ibis Douala, the front desk mentioned that we should ‘not venture outside at any time’, which is too much fear-mongering. Douala downtown during the day can be hot and bustling but it is not more dangerous than most other African cities. Keep your wits about you, hide your valuables and leave credit cards and ATM cards in your hotel safe. It’s unfortunate that you can’t carry a DSLR camera to most places, as it would just attract too much attention.
Douala is badly lit at night and it may look scary; however, I felt safe in a car (with a trustworthy driver) at all times. Walking around at night wasn’t a good option of course.
Things to do Douala, Cameroon – Get Around
Taxi drivers are tough to negotiate with (your skin color is likely to be the biggest determining factor of the cost of a fare). It’s a good idea to group together several activities in one day and get a trusted full-day driver. This way you can do several things for one decent price.
Things to do Douala, Cameroon – Sights
Douala isn’t exactly rich in sights, but it’s all about how you approach a new place. There is plenty of stuff to see if you leave the traditional boundaries.
The Douala Shantytown – Bonaberi
Once you cross the bridge, Douala has its own version of a shantytown. It’s not as bad as you may expect and actually looks quite organized. Don’t go there at night and make sure you have a trusted driver or guide to do this adventure with.
This museum is highly-rated, but comes with a CFA 3,500 price tag (about $6.50). I actually did not venture inside because it seemed there wasn’t much to discover – but maybe I was wrong?
This is a great example of African catholic churches and located right downtown.
This place looks fantastic from the outside and even inside, but at the time of my visit there were just a few paintings and nothing else. It was also excruciatingly hot. If a better exhibition is going on when you drop by, then this might well be an awesome place to be.
This 4* star hotel has a great location in the middle of downtown and surprisingly features a wonderful, quiet pool area.
Nightlife in Douala
Douala dwellers swear by local nightlife, which starts at midnight at the earliest and is supposed to be some of the world’s best social gatherings. I was too sleepy to see any of it, but here is a list that comes with excellent reviews:
The obvious issue with nightlife is that you will be pretty exposed after dark and transportation can be shaky (unless you have your own car/driver).
Things to do Douala, Cameroon – Eat & Drink
This place looks like any other decrepit building downtown, but spins out delicious pastries, breads and pizzas. It’s hard to find such a high quality French bakery in Paris these days. It’s also cheap and the lines are long; this is THE place to eat in town.
This is another extremely delicious bakery located downtown. It’s more upscale than Zepol and the upstairs area is as good as any coffee shop.
Rounding out the delicious bakeries on the Deido side of town is Boulangerie MENO. It’s cheap, delicious and also serves deli food, but the area isn’t the safest.
Tonton Samy is a stately affair, with a beautiful property along the beach. It has some of the best grilled fish and chicken I have ever had. However, plan at least two hours for this place as the staff are extra bossy and the ordering process alone takes 30 minutes. The grill will then take at least another 60 minutes. Get some cheap beers while you wait but don’t forget the mosquito repellent.
The fish is expensive here, so bring enough cash as the credit card terminal is frequently ‘broken’.
White House Restaurant is known for its catering business, which seems to feed half the town. The ‘leftovers’ are on display to eat in the afternoon and evening. It isn’t exactly an inspiring interior design with its cheap fluorescent light and it has a windy terrace, but hey, they have parking and security guards 🙂
Deido street food
Deido isn’t the safest neighborhood, but every night it looks like one gigantic barbecue with the many grilled fish and meat stalls there. It’s a bit tricky to select your favorite stall, so ask around. Expect to pay $5-$8 for a portion of delicious fish or chicken.
Behind many of the stalls are their own bars. The area gets unruly in the later hours after 10PM, so make sure you know exactly what you are doing at those times.
Things to do Douala, Cameroon – Where to Stay
We chose to stay at the ibis Douala in Cameroon. While ibis does not exactly evoke thoughts of a great hotel, this one is exceptionally well-run – especially in comparison with its rough exterior.
As mentioned above, right downtown is this Douala institution that had old-school rooms but a lovely pool area. If location and pool are important to you, then go with this place.
This Pullman used to carry the Starwood Le Meridien brand, but is now rumored to be closing by the end of 2016. This hotel has a great history stretching all the way back to the 1960s, but it is now a shadow of its former self.