Bangui

Overview

Introduction

A mere four degrees north of the equator, Bangui (pop. 732,000) is really the only place in the country where you're likely to find anything resembling modern conveniences. It even has a few French patisseries and a bookstore where you can find month-old copies of Newsweek. There are some interesting museums in town: The Artisanal Center for African Art has ivory carvings and images made with butterfly wings, an art form rarely seen outside the C.A.R. The Boganda Museum has cultural items and ethnic artifacts. (We particularly liked the musical instruments.) Also walk by the shores of the Oubangui River, a major tributary of the Congo River, to watch the fishermen in their dugout canoes. (For a small fee, the fishermen will take you up the river to watch net fishing.) Bangui also has a town market, but it's less interesting than those in other parts of Central Africa. Other attractions include the former president's palace (no photos allowed), the cathedral and diamond-cutting workshops. The city's nightlife is centered in an area called "Kilometre Cinq" (Km 5, pronounced kah-SANK). Unfortunately, this is also the city's most dangerous quarter: If you go, be careful and travel with a group.

About 45 mi/75 km northwest of Bangui is the scenic village of Boali, near the Boali Waterfall (750 ft/229 m tall, 150 ft/46 m wide). The waterfall only occurs on Sunday when water is released from an upstream dam. Be sure to take the staircase behind the falls to the restaurant. The falls are at their best during the wet or rainy season when the water volume is greatest (April-October).

An hour's drive southwest of Bangui, near M'baiki, the Lobaye Forest is home to Pygmy tribes. We highly recommend a day trip to visit their villages and see how they live. On our visit, we were welcomed by a traditional song. If you plan to visit the village, it's a good idea to take along some gifts (e.g. soap, sugar or cigarettes). About 6 mi/10 km northeast of M'baiki, you'll pass a village that specializes in ebony carvings. Bangui is 300 mi/480 km northeast of Dzanga-Ndoki National Park.

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