Chad travel guide

Chad travel guide


Few can identify Chad as a country – let alone pinpoint it on a map. Googling ‘Chad’ reveals not vacation tips, but news reports; clichéd African tales of poverty and illiteracy, conflict and coups. As Chad settles into more peaceful times, refugees pour in from its battle-scarred neighbours, and the unrest drags on.
But what the few, intrepid visitors find here is not war – but a rare kind of peace. Away from the capital, savannah gives way to Sahel, which bleeds into Sahara. Otherworldly limestone pinnacles, sculpted by sand, rise from dunes punctuated by Technicolor lakes and salt pans. There is no traffic, no towns, no electricity – the outside world ceases to exist. This land is known savagely as “the dead heart of Africa”, but cast aside preconceptions to find a gently throbbing pulse, as Toubou clans herd cattle and camels, cultivate palms and move their camps with the pastures. Gazelles skip over plateaus; rare crocodiles bask in oases. Discover this country’s hidden soul in our Chad travel guide.
Chad is...

far from a barren desert. Over 200 ethnic groups live here, speaking over 100 languages and dialects.
Chad isn't...

easy. This is an expedition, not a vacation; you’ll be counting the stars above your desert camp, not on your hotel.

Chad map & highlights


This vast desert nation is characterised by savannah in the far south and Sahara in the north – with a wide band of semi-arid Sahel in the middle. Until the 1980s, Chad got by with just 30km of roads; today there are several hundred (still a tiny amount for such a sprawling country) but many remain unusable in the wet season. As soon as you leave N’Djamena you’re in expedition mode: crossing dunes, desert and limestone landscapes in a 4x4; passing the odd palm grove or tribal village; and setting up camp under the stars each night. To reach some of the geological attractions in the mountains, you’ll need to leave your vehicle and trek for an hour or two – this is true explorer territory.
Douguia & the Sahel Ennedi Plateau Gerewol Festival, Dourbali Ounianga Lakes Tibesti Mountains Zakouma National Park

Douguia & the Sahel

In contrast to much of Chad, Douguia is a veritable oasis, overlooking the Chari River along the border with Cameroon. The simple hotel is a welcome respite, as it will often be hardy travelers’ first sight of luxuries such as a shower, electricity and running water after several days in the Sahara. Fishing villages line the riverbank; head out in a pirogue to spot hippos and birds and learn about local life.

Ennedi Plateau

A sprawling jumble of sandstone peaks, eroded into surreal sculptures over thousands of years by dusty desert winds. The semi nomadic Toubou people live here, and one of the highlights of Ennedi is seeing them bring several hundred cattle to drink in the Guelta d’Archei – a waterhole sunk between dramatic limestone cliffs and inhabited by one of the last Saharan populations of crocodile.

Gerewol Festival

Men vying for the attention of women is universal – but rarely is their performance as peacock-worthy as it is in the Gerewol Festival. The more famous – and touristy – version happens in Niger, but few have the privilege of seeing Chad’s festivities, where the polygamous Mbororo men wear elaborate makeup and clothing, and dance and sing to attract a(nother) wife, a girlfriend – or just a fleeting night of passion.

Ounianga Lakes

18 Saharan lakes of strikingly different hues on a backdrop of red, yellow and white sandstone make up this UNESCO World Heritage Site, in an area with less than 2mm of rain per year. The lakes are both saline and freshwater – some are inhabited by fish – and you can take a dip in the freshwater Lake Boukou. Visit scattered nearby villages that once sat on important trade routes to Libya; the caravans have long since dried up.

Tibesti Mountains

This Star Wars-esque landscape was historically out of bounds, but now Tibesti – ‘The place where mountain people live’ – is open to a tiny number of intrepid adventurers. The fiercely independent Toubou inhabit the date palm oases; rock art hints that they’ve been here for millennia. The Tibesti’s most surreal sight is the Trou au Natron, a vast, collapsed volcanic chamber with salt flats and a perfectly formed crater within.

Zakouma NP

Chad may not be synonymous with national parks and game drives – but the little-known Zakouma is something of a conservation success story, and one of the last refuges for game in Central Africa. Across its varied vegetation zones live several hundred elephant – despite severe issues with poaching – as well as a number of lions and leopard. In total there are around 120 mammals species, plus 373 birds.
Photo credits: [Search banner: Native Eye] [Top box: Amcaja] [map intro: Undiscovered Destinations] [Douguia & the Sahel: ToB] [Ennedi Plateau: Desertman~commonswiki] [Gerewol Festival, Dourbali: Martin H] [Ounianga Lakes: Dr Brains] [Tibesti Mountains: berlin] [Zakouma National Park: Pixeltoo] [helpdesk box: Native Eye]
Written by Vicki Brown
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