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Tips for Travelling to Chad

Chad is a vast, landlocked country in northern Central Africa. I just toured it for 2 weeks, being driven around for 3,300 km as part of a convoy of 4 tourist jeeps. The focus of the tour was on the 2 WHS (Ennedi and Ounianga), but we also witnessed more sedentary life in the Sahel, the sand dunes of the Mourdi Depression and the fossil-rich Djourab desert. Its strength lies in the natural landscape and the nomadic life; it will appeal especially to those who like Mongolia and Namibia. Please find below my Top Tips for Travelling to Chad as a WH Traveller.

1. Give it a chance

The few people that I found online testifying about visits to Chad didn’t give it much time. It is one of those countries the country tickers move through fast – 5 or 8 Central African capitals in 10 days, flying between them. Africa Overlanders are a different category, but these generally are only interested in driving and their cars – and driving through Chad as fast as possible. Both groups produced a lot of “haters” while they never really made an effort. In fact, it’s a rather gentle country where it is not hard to get in and there is little hassle. Visit it not only for its 2 excellent WHS, but also for its still vibrant nomadic life which is unique for the region. And if you love camels of course!

2. Completionists beware!

Because of the large size of the country and the bad infrastructure (there is only 1 paved main road), Chad is difficult to cover for completionists. You’d at least want to visit Ennedi, Ounianga, Tibesti (Emir Koussi volcano), Lake Chad, Zakouma NP. Lake Chad is the one really out of bounds at the moment due to Boko Haram activity, but combinations of the others are difficult as well. Zakouma is seasonal (March-May) and lies in the south, far removed from the Ennedi and Ounianga. Visiting Tibesti in the far north will mean another week of travel added to the Ennedi/Ounianga circuit. People in my group also did a pre-tour extension to include the Wodabe festival in southern Chad – only available in October and takes another week of your time.

3. Be prepared for 2 weeks of wild camping

I really wanted to see Chad – but wait, there are no hotels? Outside of the capital N’Djamena which has some decent ones, you will mostly encounter ‘white elephants’: buildings that carry the name hotel but are deserted and not staffed (more worryingly, they do have a tendency to do that with schools as well in Chad). So camping it is, wild camping even without showers or toilets. Fortunately, the tour companies come well equipped and it turned out quite comfortable. We camped every night in fantastic scenery. I’d recommend bringing your own pillow, enough camera batteries (phones can be charged in the car), toilet paper, wet wipes, and some non-melting snacks if you are a fussy eater. Clothes will dry easily when attached to the outside of your tent overnight. ‘Wild’ also means no electricity or wifi of course. The 3g coverage across the populated areas is good, but receiving data was only possible with a Chadian sim and just now and then in the bigger towns.

4. It will be expensive

Chad’s WHS are expensive to visit as the logistics force you into a guided tour: they’re essentially in the middle of the Sahara and there are no paved roads or public transport (though the truly adventurous might be able to hitch a ride on top of a truck or in a pick-up; you could get to Ounianga Kebir like that if the police allow you, but the Ennedi seems impossible). You can join a scheduled group tour or arrange a private tour. I did a group tour with SVS Tchad, the most established tour company and I would heartily recommend them (and not only for their great Italian food!). Tchadevasion and Eyte are also renowned tour operators. They all generally do the same Ennedi itinerary. There are other companies as well, but be sure to enquire beforehand about what is included: do they travel at least with 2 cars (to reduce the risk of getting stuck for days in the Sahara), how many passengers per car (4 means cramped), do they provide a cook and all meals, do they cover all tourist taxes (for our tour that added up to 40,000 CFA, some 60 EUR), do they supply a Letter of Invitation and a Travel Permit? Once or twice a year there are also ultra-expensive tours (10k+ EUR) that use charter flights to reach the Ennedi and then continue to Zakouma NP.

On the road in Chad, I hardly spent anything. I only bought a few soft drinks, which go for 300-500 CFA (about 0,60 EUR). There aren’t many souvenir opportunities, although the hardcore shoppers in our group managed to return packed with baskets and wooden objects that they picked up at local markets and the bigger Artisan Market in N’Djamena.

5. Accurate travel advice is hard to obtain beforehand

Because ‘no one’ goes there, it is hard to get good advice in advance. The wikivoyage page was ridiculous (I rewrote it a bit). Malaria for example: is there a risk only in the wet season, only in the south, or everywhere all the time? Chad has a high prevalence and malaria is its deadliest disease. However, outside of the rainy season, if you’re careful in N’djamena and avoid Lake Chad, the rest of the center and north will not be an issue. General safety as well: if you read the Australian government advice you’d think it would be better to kill yourself immediately before embarking on a trip to Chad. The country however is firmly under the control of the central government and has been so since the war with Libya ended in 1987. Going through the small international airport is a breeze and in the interior, there are no checkpoints along the way where they solicit bribes. You do need a travel permit and report to the police in the regions where you’ll be staying, but any good travel company (see tip #4) will arrange that for you swiftly.

Els - 20 November 2022

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Els Slots 20 November 2022

In or around towns, sometimes a data connection can be picked up when you buy a Chadian sim (I didn't bother). But it will be unreliable and slow, and your best bet for contact with the outside world is Whatsapp.

Christravelblog 20 November 2022

Thank you! SVS Chad is already bookmarked. I'm for sure going one day. Their fixed dates just have to line up.

How was connection during the trip? 2 weeks totally offline or at days you had connection? This because of my work.