by Bengt Hildebrand - 7 months, 3 weeks ago
Dear TBT-members (and others) !!!
In the company of two Swedish friends and (like me) globetrotters, I toured the Sahel region this Easter (2017) sampling the Central African Republic, Chad, Niger and Burkina Faso.
I didn't find a whole lot of travel reports on this or other websites but managed to get some fairly recent info on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum and on http://www.jasonaroundtheworld.com/category/countries/central-african-republic/
We arranged our visa at the CAR embassy in Brussels, Belgium, and the process was hassle free with our visas ready in about a week.
Originally we had planned to stay with the Swedish (and Norwegian) Honorary Consul Miss Charlotte Mararv in Bangui who runs a guest house but it turned out she was booked full with long term guests. See her website https://karakandji.wordpress.com/
Since also the accomodation owned by her parents was booked out we opted for the posh Ledger Plaza Hotel (part of international chain Laico) that markets itself as a five star hotel or so and the only accomodation in CAR that you can book on www.booking.com The webiste of the hotel is http://www.laicohotels.com/ledger-plaza-bangui/
Since we found some info on the internet that Ledger sometimes claims internet bookings don't exist we called the hotel and made sure everything was OK.
We flew in on Bangui with Royal Air Maroc which has a direct flight from Casablanca and arrived very early in the morning. Immigration and customs went very smoothly. No bribes asked. Lots of UN helicopters and planes on the tarmac.
Ledger Plaza picked us with their shuttle and had our rooms ready for us despite the early hour. They only accepted payment in cash. We knew this beforehand and were prepared. A bit strange though that a "Five Star" Hotel doesn't take credit cards. There was an ATM in the lobby and we withdrew money from it successfully. We don't know if there are other ATM:s in Bangui. Ledger is very expensive but is easily the poshest and safest accomodation in Bangui. Armed UN soldiers were on site guarding us and other guests. The pool was nice, Wi-Fi was OK as were the rooms except some bouts of brown water from the shower and sink. Breakfast was included and was good. We didn't have any other meals at the Ledger.
I'd like to caution you about a scam that two male staff tried on us. After settling our bill (at check-in) and having it stamped "PAID" two guys took turns knocking at our door demanding a surcharge for us being two people in the twin bed room. They wanted us to hand over the money in the hallway and also kept calling our room. We went down to he front desk and asked to see some of the Arab management but the guys refused to involve them. Instead, after some time, they fetched a female local receptionist that they claimed be the "manager". She obviously felt very uncomfortable about the whole thing and didn't say much. I fired my camera in the guys faces and said I'll report them to the Laico head office. This brought the scam to a full stop. The same scheme was tried on another traveller in 2015 ( see Jason's report above).
There are other hotels in Bangui like the Oubangui and others. When everything is calm even middle class hotels are generally safe.
We had been informed by the Swedish consul that her father Mr Roland Mararv (email@example.com) rents cars and drivers for the day so we went down to see him. He also has rooms and flats but all was booked out at the time of our visit. He provided us with a 4WD and a reliable driver who took us around Bangui the first day and to Boali falls the second. The Mararv family has lived in CAR for almost 40 years and their children (one of whom is the consul) are born there. They all speak sango!
Our sight-seeing of Bangui took us through the various districts, including the infamous muslim neighbourhood "PK5" which, as the rest of the city, was calm for the moment. We visited the cathedral, the presidential palace (the former Bokassa palace - now hidden behind a wall), roundabout monuments and some of the city's many arches. Photography is prohibited but we largely ignored this shooting from inside our car. At one point though we were pulled over by the police and pretending we didn't speak French and didn't know about the photo ban solved the situation with 5000 CFA and a smile. The highlight of the sightseeing was having a few beers at the Oubangui Hotel's beachfront bar "La Tourangelle" facing the Ubangi river and the green hills of the DR Congo on the other side. We had dinner in the restaurant Relais des Chasses which is the best in town.
The next day we went to Palm Sunday mass in the cathedral that was packed with dressed up people swaying palm leaves and singing. Quite an experience. Right after mass our driver took us 2 hrs north on a very good tarmac road to the Chutes de Boali (Boali waterfalls). The last few km were on a good gravel road. We paid a small entrance fee and were then followed by three would be guides that did their best but that we didn't really need (or ask for). We gave them a small tip each. The falls were really nice and there were multiple viewing platforms. Apart from us, some NGO-people and local middle class people visited. There was a nice covered platform next to the falls were we had picnic.
On the way back we drove by strange termite mounds that looked like mushrooms. We also saw bush meat being sold roadside and bought some bats for our driver. The smell was awful so the driver had to tie the bush meat bag to the roof of the car. We were fined by the police at one of the few roadblocks on the way back to town for not wearing seat belts. While this happened a car with about 3 metres of luggage on the roof and 4 people sitting on top of that passed us without any reaction from those policemen. We stopped in a village watching a local soccer game and the teams were posing for photos with us. In the evening we drank and ate at La Brasserie Kiss in downtown Bangui that had live music.
Please note that CAR is francophone. Since one of us is fluent in French everything went much easier.
Daytime Bangui was safe at the time of our visit. At night a taxi is advised if going to a restaurant or so. Taking photos will get you in trouble with the police. We were lucky to get caught only once. Try to solve the situation with the officer directly, not at the police station (or refrain from taking photos).
The next day we left without any hassle at the airport.