Douala, Cameroon’s financial centre

Douala is both Cameroon’s economic hub and its culinary heart. The city’s restaurants offer traditional foods, and some of the finest French cuisine, sure to trip up anyone’s taste buds.

Once upon a time Cameroon made football history by becoming the first African country to reach a World Cup quarter-final. That was way back at Italia 90. The enduring memory of that tournament was the goal celebration of Douala’s favourite son, Roger Milla.

Milla’s wiggle made one thing clear about Cameroon’s financial centre: its citizens know how to live exuberantly. This comes as a surprise to visitors in this chaotic hodgepodge of a city.

Douala is home to the first stock exchange opened in central Africa, the country’s biggest port and main air hub. But what sets the city apart is its open-air drinking-and-dining culture.

Business meetings are often scheduled after 5pm to avoid Douala’s stop-start rush-hour traffic. Business is often discussed over dinner in the city’s surprisingly large number of quality French restaurants.

French cuisine is cool. But you’re in Africa. So maybe conclude your deal enjoying local dishes in the Bonjano neighbourhood.

Take Roger Milla’s advice and try n’dole, a type of Cameroonian spinach. Cameroon has opened up to tourism over the last few years. And where the tourists are, chefs will follow. It’s possible to find good-quality restaurants influenced by Cameroon’s French and English colonial history. You can also find great Indian food, Spanish tapas, and global cocktails.

A night out in Douala should begin at 5 Fourchettes, where the cosmopolitans are perfect, the menu eclectic and the green peppercorn sauce spicy. Douala is relatively safe, so a stroll through neighbourhoods like Bonapriso and Bapanda will allow you to enjoy the city as its citizens do, surrounded by neighbours with a Castel beer in your hand.

Douala sits on the bank of the Wouri River. This is the place for one of the city’s biggest attractions: the Sawa tribe’s pirogue race. The race, according to Sawa culture, is a way for the living to contact their ancestors who live in the water.

Douala is short on cultural attractions but offers visitors sandy beaches, a beautiful bay and an active volcano. Limbe, just outside Douala, has some of the best beaches and is home to the Limbe Botanical Garden.

Founded in 1892 by the Germans, the Garden was a testing and research centre for the introduction of exotic crop species such as coffee, cocoa, rubber, oil palm, banana, teak and sugarcane.

The Limbe Botanical Garden is worth a visit simply for the beauty of its setting on the slopes of Mount Cameroon. More than 70 wildlife species call the park home but it is best known among locals as a wedding venue. The Jungle Village amphitheatre is embedded among the cultivated wildness of the Garden.

Limbe is the placid cousin to Douala, where the young dance till dawn to bikutsi, the dance music of Cameroon. Before your night out begins, as the days heat diminishes and the cool sea breeze comes up, walk through the city. Take in the muscular foothills of Mount Cameroon and the wide-open bay – and remember, this is the country they call Little Africa.

TOP IMAGE: The interior of Gare de Bessengue, the primary train station in Douala, Cameroon. (Image: Mark Fischer, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr)

  • Words: Sulaiman Philip
  • Editing, photo research and captions: Mary Alexander