Adjusting to the climate is the main priority in Cameroon, where the equatorial sun can wilt the newly arrived visitor in minutes. A second consideration, not far behind, is dressing appropriately for a country which puts great emphasis on appearance and status. Light, breathable fabrics are essential, while collars and longer, loose pants and skirts will strike the right note.
With temperatures nudging 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the north from March to May and year-round sweltering humidity in the equatorial south, Cameroon presents a formidable challenge to the traveler wanting to remain both presentable and comfortable. Backpackers may be able to get away with light T-shirts, cargo pants or jeans and walking boots, but should avoid standing out as a tourist in major cities such as Yaounde or Douala, where petty crime is a concern. Business travelers and those likely to attend formal occasions will be most comfortable in loose cotton shirts, pants or skirts, adding layers when transitioning from outside to air-conditioned hotels or offices, which can be bitingly frigid. Avoid white clothing, which will discolor in the terracotta-colored dust, and bring long sleeves and long pants for dawn and dusk when the mosquitoes attack.
While dress in the cities tends to be fairly Westernized, most Cameroonian women still wear distinctive wraparound “pagnes,” made of beautifully patterned cotton fabric in vivid colors. Men, on the other hand, keep cool in free-flowing “boubous” which reach below the knee and are worn over matching pants. Visitors out in the provinces who wish to dress locally might raise a few eyebrows but will not cause offense. A guaranteed way to win approval, on the other hand, is to slip on a fetching green Cameroon soccer jersey, which packs the added advantage of coming in a breathable fabric.
One of the more idiosyncratic quirks of Cameroon, and many other African countries with close ties to France, is the widespread devotion to what is locally called “le sap,” a term which loosely means dressing as a dandy. Cameroon’s fashionable nightclubs and bars are adorned with young men and women impeccably turned out in expensive designer labels, bold colors and carefully assembled accessories. Travelers do not necessarily need to invest in thousands of dollars worth of silk finery, but should be aware that Cameroon culture finds little to admire in deliberately dressing down. This is a chance to be bold when going out for the night. In business situations, however, pressed, formal business suits are still the norm and ostentatious displays of costly couture would strike a jarring note.
Women should wear skirts that go below the knee and avoid any clothing that is provocative or revealing, as Cameroon is generally a conservative country in terms of dress. The south is predominantly devoutly Christian and 20 percent of the population is Muslim, spread across the nation, with both communities defined by a sober dress sense. Footwear, too, is taken very seriously. Flip flops are seen as unprofessional, and old, tired sneakers or deck shoes will cause bemusement. As in many Central and West African countries, visitors should avoid wearing camouflage clothing or military fatigues. While not explicitly prohibited in Cameroon, wearing a uniform can come across as a provocative gesture.