Lobéké National Park is located on the extreme southeast region of Cameroon in the Congo Basin, and covers an area of 217,855 hectares. Lobéké forms part of the trans-boundary conservation initiative, known as Tri-National de la Sangha (TNS). This priority landscape also includes Dzangha-Ndoki (CAR) and Nouabale-Ndoki (Congo Brazzaville) national parks. The triple park area has the lowest human footprint in all equatorial Africa.
Why visit Lobéké National Park?
Also a favourite with poachers, most people venture this far to see Western lowland gorillas in the wild. It is remote and takes a minimum of two days to get there along an unpaved road. At the time we visited in January 2018, this park officially had 200 visitors per year and we were the only people in the park during our stay. I have no doubt that in the future, Lobéké will be one of Cameroon’s premier wildlife viewing destinations.
Getting to Lobéké from Yaounde
There are two ways of travelling from Yaounde to the border town of Mambele, by air or road. We didn’t travel by air but there are three airstrips owned by logging companies in Kika, Lokomo and Libongo. I have no idea of prices or how to easy this is to organise; the WWF in Yaounde may be able to help.
To reach Mambele by road is a mission and you need some good humour and African patience to travel the 824 km journey. Expect to be stopped by the Police about 30 times, don’t pay them any bribe money but be sure to have your passport and yellow fever certificate. Of the 824 km road, only 340 kms is tarred, making it virtually impassable during the wet season. If you hire a private driver, you can arrive after two very long days but you’ll need to pay for four days (return journey), plus driver food and accommodation so bargain hard and ideally for a land cruiser or four wheel drive! The other option is public transport and that’s where you need time and patience. From Yaounde, take the excellent VIP bus some 340 kms to the major city of Bertoua where paved roads promptly end. I recommend staying at the Hotel de Paris (CFA 12,000 per room per night).
From here you have two options, take the Alliance Voyage public bus to Yokadouma (minimum 13 hours with no breakdowns), or reserve a space in a private car (approximately eight hours). Alliance Voyage is your classic West African bus experience whereby it won’t depart until full, packs them high and wide, plus stops along the way. After getting off this bus, we swore not to return the same way! The other option is to go to the bus station early (5:30am is best) and see if any private cars are going. Keep in mind there will be 4-5 people in the back and four up front (including the driver) so you may want to pay extra for more room. Yokadouma is 300 kms from Bertoua. The only hotel in Yokadouma is Elephant Hotel which is basic but perfectly ok.
Warning: Yokadouma is your final opportunity to purchase groceries and bottled water for your time in Lobéké. You will have very limited options in Mambele and unlikely to find drinking water. Keep in mind that you are likely to be subsidising the guide and porters food (whether you like it or not) so consider this when buying for the trip. We bought a sack of rice, pasta, tomato paste, eggs, garlic, onions, ginger, canned veggies, cornflakes, coffee, sugar and powdered milk. Remember also a cup, bowl, plate and cutlery. A bottle of alcohol is ideal in the evening and worth the effort and helps break the ice metaphorically speaking.
From Yokadouma to Mambele, you can travel by Alliance Voyage but as we had so much water and luggage, we hired a private driver (car not 4WD), a guy called Lawrence 660532095 who we paid CFA 70,000 for the five-six hour journey. My advice is get dropped off at the WWF office (just outside the park entrance) where you can arrange your permits, guide, porters, cook and pay for various other expenses.
Where to stay in Mambele
You are really in the middle of the forest now so it should come as no surprise that your options are limited. There is a simple but awesome bar in town where you can meet the locals and be offered illegally hunted animals such as pangolin.
Initially a camp to house researchers, Camp Kombo now hosts tourists en route to Lobéké. The camp has bungalows with two single beds in each and external toilets. Camp Kombo is surrounded by virgin forest with no electricity or water and although there is a roof over your head, it is basic. CFA 10,000 per person per night.
This guarded compound is where the WWF staff live and where we opted to stay. There is electricity, bucket showers, washing and cooking facilities, lounge and the best option for charging before going bush. CFA 10,000 per person per night.
What will it cost me to enter Lobéké National Park
Below are the various costs associated with visiting Lobéké. Obviously there are some you can pick and choose from, however I have added a star beside the ones which are mandatory.
– Park Entrance – CFA 5,000 per person per day *
– Cook – CFA 5,000 per day
– Porters – CFA 5,000 per porter per day *
– Eco-guards – CFA 5,000 per guard per day *
– Transfer – CFA 47,000 return transfer *
– Petrol – CFA 36,000 return transfer *
– Driver wages – CFA 7,000 return transfer *
– Chainsaw man (for fallen trees) – CFA 5,000 per person *
– Tent rental – CFA 2,000 per tent per day
– Camping mat rental – CFA 2,000 per mat per day
– Set of cooking pots rental – CFA 500 /per night
– Camera – CFA 4,000 (for two people)
– Binoculars – CFA 1000 per night
– Sleeping bag rental – CFA 500 per person per night
Into Lobéké National Park
Wildlife viewing in Lobéké centres around forest clearings (some twice the size of a football field), where mineral deposits prevent trees from growing. The forest animals and birds all visit the clearings to lick or eat the mineral rich soil. Observation towers (mirador’s) have been constructed on the edge of these clearings and can accommodate up to five people. The important thing to remember is you need to be patient, silent and remain out of view and the animals will come to you!
As there were two of us, our ‘entourage’ consisted of two ‘eco-guards’, two Ba’Aka porters and a cook/translator. We spent one night at the WWF compound either end of the trip, and four nights camping inside the park — three at Petite Savane and one at Djangui.
During our time in Lobéké we saw Western lowland gorillas, egrets, stalks, monkeys, sitatunga, elephant footprints and pooh, African Green pigeons, African Grey parrots, buffalo, mongoose, and chimpanzee. We observed Gorillas every day we were inside the park.
The most common two clearings and the two we visited, are Petite Savane and Djangui (Grand Savane). Petite Savane is a two hour walk through the forest, and Djangui is another three hours further. Both have basic rough campsites and you’ll need tolerance to washing in streams, using long-drop toilets and to bugs (especially at night)!
The campsite is basic and about two hours walk after the road ends. There is a stream running nearby for washing, and an area for cooking. Petite Savane is a partially swampy clearing and is commonly visited by lowland gorillas. The springy black and white colobus monkeys are also common to this area, as are sitatunga. The clearing has a watch tower and base camp which can accommodate up to five people. There seemed to be more activity from 14:00 onwards in our experience.
A further three hours walk, this swampy clearing is at the centre of the park and is a haven for buffalo and birdlife. Every morning and evening, we saw the most phenomenal spectacle of tens of thousands, of African Green pigeons performing the ‘bird dance’. Vast flocks would erupt from the trees with the crash of thousands of wings, and swoop through the sky, diving and turning, flocks merging, changing direction and forming patterns. The evening display is amazing to watch as the setting sun created silhouettes, however the morning display was perhaps even more spectacular, as the sun was behind us and revealed the bright green and pink hues of the pigeons. We also watched as monkeys and mongoose tried in vain to catch the pigeons. It truly was one of the most magnificent things I have ever seen on planet earth!
Lobéké National Park is still very much in its raw and basic form. Tourism infrastructure is young so animals don’t have this fear yet. It is the perfect time to visit and see gorillas in the wild, and a fraction of the cost from what is offered in Rwanda and Uganda.
In case you want to see a short video which summed up our time in Cameroon, click the video below:
If you get stuck for information about Lobéké, try email firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy travelling folks.