This used to be our favorite city in the region. While Douala (pop. 1,030,000) still is the port of entry for most international flights and continues to offer wonderful scenery and fascinating sights, its high crime rate and steady dilapidation make it considerably less attractive than it once was.

Large, busy and fairly hilly, Douala lies within the equatorial forest region of the country—Mt. Cameroon is usually visible before the afternoon storm clouds gather. The Wouri River, laden with oceangoing cargo and passenger ships, winds through the town, and a mixture of cars, cattle and people vie for space on the streets and bridge.

While you're in Douala, be sure to see the Centenary Temple (allow about an hour) and the Manga Bell (designed to look like a Chinese pagoda). To get an idea of how the city looked during the colonial period, take a daytime or early evening walk in the neighborhood of the Meridien Hotel and the U.S. consulate. Many of the buildings date from before World War II. Houses there often have high ceilings, large verandas, shutters, wooden French doors and corrugated-iron roofs.

Douala can be seen in one day, but if at all possible, be there on a Sunday. Even though all the stores are closed, the highlight of your trip will be listening to the choir at services in the city's main cathedral. We were drawn into the cathedral by the choir's hypnotic voices and stayed through four masses and a funeral. The musicians and singers are screened from view, but the tinkling, clanking sound of the instruments combined with rhythmic singing keeps listeners enthralled.

Day trips are possible to Buea and Limbe. 125 mi/200 km west of Yaounde.

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