The Central African Republic (French: République centrafricaine or Centrafrique, Sangho: Ködörösêse tî Bêafrîka), also known by the acronym CAR, is located in the heart of Africa. The former French colony has borders with six countries and has had a very troubled history since the 1960s.
Political instability, corruption, and recurrent rebellions and conflicts have beset the resource-rich nation and the country is one of the world's poorest and least developed countries.
Under less extreme circumstances, however, the Central African Republic is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered by the brave and the bold, with verdant rainforests and incredible wildlife.
- 1 Bangui — the capital and the starting point for most travel in the country
- 2 Bambari — a market city and mining centre that is the third largest city in the country
- 3 Bangassou — home of the Kembe Falls and right on the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo
- 4 Birao — sparsely populated, the city was completely burned down during the Central African Republic Bush war
- 5 Bouar — home to many megaliths and natural attractions
- 6 Bria
- 7 Kaga-Bandoro
- 8 Mbaiki — a small city close to Bangui and known for its large Pygmy community
- 1 Dzanga-Sangha National Park — a large national park that attracts adventurous tourists and researchers from all over the world. Has a sizeable Pygmy community. This might be the safest area to visit in the whole of CAR
- 2 Manovo-Gounda St. Floris National Park — a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
|Currency||Central African CFA franc (XAF)|
|Population||4.6 million (2017)|
|Electricity||220 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, Type E)|
|Time zone||UTC+01:00, Africa/Bangui|
|Emergencies||117 (police), 118 (fire department), +236-1220 (emergency medical services)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Until the early 1800s, the peoples of Central Africa lived beyond the expanding Islamic frontier in the Sudanic zone of Africa and thus had relatively little contact with outsiders. During the first decades of the 19th century, however, Muslim traders increasingly began to penetrate this region and to cultivate special relations with local leaders to facilitate their trade and settlement in the region. The initial arrival of Muslim traders in the early 1800s was relatively peaceful and depended upon the support of local peoples, but after about 1850, slave traders with well-armed soldiers began to penetrate the region.
European penetration of Central African territory began in the late 19th century during the so-called Scramble for Africa. The French, Belgians and Great British competed to establish their claims to territory in the Central African region.
In 1889 the French established a post on the Ubangi River at Bangui, the future capital of and the CAR and in 1894, the "French Congo's" borders with (Belgian) Congo Free State, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo and (German) Cameroon were fixed by diplomatic agreements. The French named their colony Ubang Shari.
On 1 December 1958 the colony of Ubangi-Shari became an autonomous territory and took the name Central African Republic. The founding father, Barthélémy Boganda, died in a mysterious plane accident in 1959, just eight days before the last elections of the colonial era. On 13 August 1960 the Central African Republic gained its independence and two of Boganda's closest aides became involved in a power struggle. David Dacko won and by 1962 had established a one-party state.
Since then a series of coups, including a tyranny under a self-declared emperor, Jean-Bedel Bokassa, and periodic violence from rebel groups, have dealt a very bad lot to the citizens of the Central African Republic. Today, it remains one of the most lawless, dangerous and unstable nations on earth, and is the world's poorest country as of 2019. The northeast of the country is the heart of the rebel movement and the CAR's most dangerous region.
The climate is generally tropical. The northern areas are subject to harmattan winds, which are hot, dry, and carry dust. The northern regions have been subject to desertification, and the northeast is a Sahel desert akin to neighboring Darfur. The remainder of the country is prone to flooding from nearby rivers.
In the November 2008 issue of National Geographic magazine, the Central African Republic was named the country least affected by light pollution.
Central African Republic is a melting pot of various cultures. There are more than 80 ethnic groups in the country, each having their own language.
Christianity is the largest religion in Central African Republic and is practiced by the majority of the population. Most Christians in the country are Protestants.
Islam is the second largest religion in the country. Most Muslims in the country are Sunni Muslims.
The Central African Republic has experienced longstanding tensions between its Christian and Muslim communities. The country's civil war, which began in 2012, was largely driven by these tensions.
The national holiday December 1st is Republic Day, whose main highlight of the celebration involves traditional dugout canoe racing.
Most people are required to apply for a visa to enter the Central African Republic.
Central African visas are very expensive to obtain and it can be difficult to apply for one since there are very few Central African embassies around the world.
Citizens of the following countries can visit the country without a visa: Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Israel, Liberia, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, and the United States.
The Central African Embassy in the United States charges US$150 for a short stay (0-1 month) visa and the Central African Embassy in France charges €80 for a short stay visa. The longer you intend to stay, the more expensive the visa will be. Long-term visas (6 months to a year) are rarely issued unless you have a good reason.
You can, obtain a visa on arrival if your country doesn't have a CAR embassy, but you must get permission from the authorities to take advantage of that opportunity. Entering the country without a visa will result in a heavy fine.
Visa application requirements
Although visa requirements vary from embassy to embassy, you're typically asked to submit the following:
- A copy of your passport.
- Two passport-sized photographs with a white background.
- Two visa application forms.
- A copy of your travel itinerary.
- A letter from your employer stating that you will return after your visit. (Note: Only required if you're applying for a CAR visa in the US)
- A copy of an invitation letter (a hotel reservation will suffice).
- Proof you've been vaccinated against yellow fever.
The country's only international airport (and only airport with scheduled flights) is Bangui M'Poko International Airport (BGF IATA). There is no Central African airline to provide regional connections or transfers to domestic flights. Air France provides the only service to Europe, flying to Paris. Ethiopian Airlines flies to Addis Ababa. Kenya Airways serves Bangui on its three-city route Nairobi-Bangui-Douala. Royal Air Maroc flies the three-city route Casablanca-Douala-Bangui. TAAG Angola Airlines flies two three-city routes connecting Luanda-Brazzaville-Bangui and Luanda-Douala-Bangui.
Other airlines serving Bangui include: Camairco (to Douala) and Toumai Air Chad (to Brazzaville, Cotonou, Douala, Libreville, Lomé, & N'Djamena).
Bus service is available from Cameroon and Chad, although the length and the dangerous countryside makes such bus trips infrequent. In terms of safety and ease of passing through checkpoints, however, traveling by bus is preferable to traveling by 4x4.
Other African cities and countries are accessible via boats and barges that travel infrequently along the Ubangui river. The Ubangui River flows into the Congo River, which is navigable all the way to Stanley Falls near Kinshasa/Brazzaville. Although slow, there are regular (although adhering to no set schedule) barges which travel from Bangui to Kinshasa/Brazzaville.
Boats also traverse the Bangui river from Bangui to Zongo, DRC, which is connected to the DRC's limited & rough road network, continuing onward to Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi.
The Central African Republic is one of the least developed countries in Africa and its road network is in poor condition and services are almost non-existent away from the largest cities and towns. The police/military are extremely corrupt and checkpoints (set up for bribes more than any other reason) are frequent. There are no roads through the dense jungle between the CAR & Congo-Brazzaville. Travel from Cameroon to Bangui and onwards to Dzanga-Sangha Reserve is relatively easy, but bribe checkpoints are common.
In the northern & eastern parts of the country, local rebels and nominally government-controlled soldiers pose a great threat. Kidnapping and banditry are grave dangers in these regions and travel in the northern or eastern regions of the CAR (especially if you plan on driving your own vehicle) should only be done in consultation with local experts. This includes all routes to/from Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, & crossings into the DRC east of Bangui.
Borders with Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (at least east of Bangui) are very insecure and any attempt to travel across them by land is not recommended. There are no land routes between the CAR and Congo-Brazzaville (Republic of the Congo).
Getting around in the capital is easy with taxis, which make large parts of the city accessible. The fare must be negotiated before departure, there are no taximeters. To get to the provinces, you have to stick to buses that offer appropriate tours. You will need to plan a lot of time and some difficulties, especially during the rainy season. It is advisable to have an off-road vehicle and an experienced tour guide.
You have to organize rides in minibuses yourself and negotiate prices.
There are a few companies that offer intercity bus service in the country, primarily between the capital city of Bangui and other major cities.
Due to the challenging security situation in some parts of the Central African Republic, travel by bus can be risky, especially for foreigners. Banditry, theft, and other criminal activity can occur along the roads, and roadblocks set up by armed groups can disrupt transportation.
Traditional trade is carried on by means of shallow-draft dugouts. Oubangui is the most important river, navigable all year to craft drawing 0.6 m or less. There are 282 km (175 mi) of waterways are navigable to craft drawing as much as 1.8 m.
The main language is French with a dialect called Central African French, which is easily understood by speakers of French. There are a lot of indigenous languages also. While French is the official language of the Central African Republic, only a few people in the country know more than a few words of it.
Sängö (also referred to as Sangro or Sangho) is the lingua franca and is spoken by most of the people in the Central African Republic (some 2000 have it as a mother tongue whilst 80% of the country have it as a second language). To find out if someone speaks Sängö, simply say Balâo (which means Hello), if they respond back with Balâo mïngï then you have found a Sango speaker.
English is spoken by almost no one, even in the capital.
The Musée Ethnograhique Barthélémy Boganda in Bangui is the country's national museum and has a decent collection of local instruments, weapons, tools, and displays about local traditions, religion, and architecture.
Prehistoric rock paintings can be found in several locations, but some of the best can be found in Bambari.
The "Chutes de Boali", a possible daytrip from the capital, are a rather picturesque series of waterfalls, which are even more impressive in the rainy season.
Megaliths near the town of Bouar are positioned in concentric circles and are remnants of the CAR's ancient peoples.
As with most of Africa, local markets can be a feast for the eyes, offering a wide arrangement of crafts. Just be vigilant, as markets in the CAR are rife with petty and violent theft.
The country is made up of vast swathes of tropical rainforest that make it popular for exploring.
Visits and stays with the Pygmy communities are probably the biggest attraction for the country's few tourists. Possible activities include: hunting with traditional weapons/devices, gathering medicinal plants with the women of the village, participating in a night of music & dance.
Visit the Dzanga Sangha Special Reserve to trek through the jungle in search of gorillas, elusive forest elephants, chimpanzees, & more. A visit to the reserve is often combined with a stay in a Pygmy village. The reserve is part of larger protected area, with Dzanga-Ndoki National Park (which consists of two noncontinuous parts: "Dzanga Park" & "Ndoki Park") flanking Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve on two sides and which in turn is part of a larger, tri-national protected area including Lobéké National Park in Cameroon & Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in Congo-Brazzaville.
Should the CAR ever emerge from the grip of conflict & dysfunctional government, the country would be an appealing ecotourism destination similar to Gabon. Bamingui-Bangoran National Park and Manovo-Gounda St Floris National Park are promising wildlife reserves that are in insecure regions and without facilities.
Exchange rates for CFA francs
As of January 2023:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The currency of the country is the Central African CFA franc, denoted FCFA (ISO currency code: XAF). It's also used by five other Central African countries. It is interchangeable at par with the West African CFA franc (XOF), which is used by six countries. Both currencies are fixed at a rate of 1 euro = 655.957 CFA francs.
Coins of the Central African CFA franc come in denominations of 1-, 2-, 5-, 10-, 25-, 50-, 100 and 500 francs CFA. Banknotes of the Central African CFA franc come in denominations of 500-, 1,000-, 2,000-, 5,000 and 10,000 francs CFA. Central African franc CFA coins bear a common design on both the obverse and reverse sides and are valid across the six states that make up the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC; Communauté Économique et Monétaire de l'Afrique Centrale). Central African franc CFA banknotes share a common design on both the front and back sides and are valid for use across the six states that make up CEMAC.
There are Ecobank ATMs in Chad where you can get a cash withdrawal with a Mastercard or Visa card.
Costs in the Central African Republic are exorbitant for foreigners who plan to maintain a lifestyle similar to those in their origin country. Much of the commerce and goods must be flown or shipped into the nation, explaining the high costs for many goods. "Local" goods that are imported into CAR from regional nations such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon are slightly less expensive (rice, beans, water, etc.) Finally, many of the supermarkets in Bangui and other cities are owned by Lebanese people and families, so there is abundant Middle Eastern food imported into the country, although these products are also very expensive.
There is a wide diversity of food in Bangui, including Chinese, Lebanese, French, local food and so forth. Food in restaurants owned by foreigners are very expensive and can be US$10–20 per dish (or more). Local food, however, may also be expensive depending upon the restaurant and its location. There are abundant French bakeries in the downtown area in the centre of Bangui with moderate prices for baked goods as well as meals. Food in supermarkets is very expensive, although cheaper food can be purchased at local markets and from sellers in the street.
Local beer ("33", Mocaf, Crystal) and soft drink (Mocaf is a major producer) is similarly priced to products in Europe and the United States. Wine is available in some French wine shops but can be very expensive. Palm wine is common. Water is produced in Cameroon and Central African Republic and can be purchased in all of the local supermarkets. Imported products such as Coca-Cola and Fanta are also available.
Outside the capital and the Dzanga-Sangha nature reserve, there is almost no tourist infrastructure.
Although public education in the Central African Republic is free, years of conflict and instability have damaged the country's educational system.
Most Central Africans are unable to get an education and literacy rates in the country are incredibly low.
The educational scene of the country is unlikely to be attractive to most people reading Wikivoyage.
There are myriad opportunities for working by teaching English or for any of a number of humanitarian or religious organisations in the Central African Republic. Many of the streets of Bangui are lined with organisations including MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières), UNICEF, International Red Cross, European Union, WHO, Institut Pasteur, Catholic Relief Serices, COOPI and many others. Most organisations are involved in health and development programmes, although others deal with education, religion, etc. Speaking French is essential for somebody who wants to be effectively involved in working with these organisations, as English is rarely spoken, even in Bangui.
The Central African Republic is a volatile country. Since the early 2000s, recurrent civil conflicts and political unrest have adversely affected the country's overall state of security.
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 wary of drunks and do not even think about drinking with locals (you will be out-drunk).
The Central African Republic has the distinction of being one of the most lawless countries in the world. Most Central Africans write their government off as hapless, corrupt, and ineffective at maintaining peace, order, and stability.
Demonstrations and protests occur from time to time and they can be violent. Regular monitoring of local media is advisable.
As one of the most lawless nations in the world, the authorities of the Central African Republic are incredibly corrupt and are only there to do two things: deprive you of your personal property and harass you. Do not trust them at all and do not expect them to solve your problems; they will not help you.
Members of the police and army often set up makeshift checkpoints to extort unassuming travellers. They are poorly marked and you may be forced to hand over whatever possessions you have on you at such checkpoints.
Be aware of your surroundings at all times, and be smart about what you say or do openly; getting into a tiff with corrupt officials or the wrong person in a country far away from home is not something you (or anyone) would want to do.
In accordance with Central African law, you are required to have ID on you at all times. What this means: carrying a certified copy of your passport or your national identification card.
In theory, visitors can obtain a permis de filmer from the Ministry of Tourism in Bangui with a turnaround of a couple days.
Photography is generally regarded with suspicion and aversion, not only by law enforcement or military personnel around sensitive locations like government buildings, infrastructure, and checkpoints, but also by ordinary people almost everywhere. Taking photos conspicuously warrants permission from anyone you intend to photograph, even in public places.
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 or 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.
The locals often eat with their hands. If you are eating with them, and using your hands as well, eat with your right hand. The left is generally used for lavatory purposes, and therefore it is rude or unappealing to them if you eat with your left hand.