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Often receiving bad press as being lawless, and also somewhat in the shadow of neighbouring Nigeria, Cameroon has plenty of positive attributes. Its small size makes it easy to tour the main reserves, such as the Dja Faunal Reserve, while culture is rich in ethnic villages like Rhumsiki. Deserts, beaches, rainforests and mountains are all close at hand by car from the capital city Yaoundé.
Most roads are unpaved and four-wheel drive is recommended, particularly in the remote east and especially outside the dry season. There are few road signs, traffic laws are routinely flouted and traffic police are often non existent.
Driving licences: an International Driving Permit must accompany your UK licence and is good for up to one year.
Which side does Cameroon drive on: the right.
Speed limits: vary considerably, so please check local signage.
Alcohol limits: 0.08 per cent, the same as in the UK, though enforcement is lax and many local road users drive when intoxicated at night.
Driving age: 18 years; rental companies require drivers to have held their licence for at least one year.
Seatbelts: all travellers are supposed to buckle up, if cars are fitted with seatbelts (many four-wheel drives are without rear seatbelts).
Mobile phones and GPS: it is officially against the law to talk on a mobile phone while driving. GPS coverage is minimal so be sure to download maps.
Cost of fuel in Cameroon: petrol and diesel are significantly cheaper here than in the UK.
Car hire and fuel payment: pay by cash. While some major city petrol stations accept VISA, fraud is a problem. Car hire firms require a credit card when booking and picking up a vehicle.
Insurance: third-party insurance is compulsory though having fully comprehensive insurance when renting is a must. Having excess insurance is also advised.
Traffic and parking: city traffic is typically hectic, with cars often double and even triple parked on main roads. The main Yaoundé-Douala route is especially busy.
A limited rail network and differing gauges mean there are no outside connections. There are a few services within the borders, mainly between the main centres of the west and north. Camrail operates service between Yaoundé and Douala daily, as well as an overnighter from Yaoundé to Ngaoundéré. The bus is quicker and cheaper on this leg though the train is safer and comfier. Also from Douala is a regular service to Nkongsamba, incorporating a run to Kumba from Mbanga. Seats and compartments are available on Camrail trains and there is also a restaurant car.
There are shared and private cabs, both being cheap for visitors at around £0.25 per person for most city rides. Shared taxis run like buses, picking up people and then deviating to the next destination. Taxis are not metered but they operate on fixed fares within cities.
Most services from nearby countries—including Chad, Nigeria and Congo—typically require a trip to the border, from where taxis and/or minibuses run to the nearest town. Within Cameroon, there are decent bus services between the big cities, including services from Yaoundé to Douala, Bafoussam, Foumban and Dschang. Services are comfy and usually have air conditioning, with tickets typically bought just before departure. Buses go when there are enough passengers; if not, so-called ‘bush taxis’ (a taxi/bus cross) are the alternative.
Ferries run on the Ntem River from Gabon as well as from neighbouring Equatorial Guinea.
Direct air links between Douala International Airport and Paris (Charles de Gaulle) and Brussels are available. Camair-Co operates domestic flights to the far north city of Maroua for access to Waza National Park. Departing passengers must pay an airport tax of around £12. It is a six-mile journey from the airport to the city.
The national parks and reserves are the main reasons for coming, and the UNESCO World Heritage Dja Faunal Reserve in the south is a big draw. It is loaded with gorillas, elephants and sublime waterways, and is within reach of Yaoundé, the capital, by car.
Other natural areas include Bénoué National Park in the north (accessible from Ngaoundéré)—for its lions, hippos and crocodiles—and Waza National Park, farther north again. The latter also has big game, but is especially known for its wonderful birdlife. A side attraction is Rhumsiki, home to the Kirdi folk.
Yaoundé is the main gateway and has several landmarks worthy of a day’s exploration. There are good museums, including the National Museum and Mont Fébé, and the Notre Dame Cathedral is particularly striking.
Douala is another major city and a popular base for hikers; the region is strewn with valleys and waterfalls as well as being near the coast. The town of Limbe, meanwhile, has access to Cameroon’s best white sand beaches. The Jungle Village here is noted for its seafood eateries.
Temperatures are pretty uniform year round, at about 25°C (77°F), although it is best to visit in the dry season from November/December to March. Spring and autumn are the worst periods for driving, with torrential rains in April, May and October. It is cooler at these times, however, with average temperatures in Yaoundé around 22°C (71°F).