Angola, Africa: The Land of Epic Sights!
Written: Jun 13, 2012 (Updated Jul 16, 2012)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Unspoiled beaches, amazing geology and geography, and the most fascinating nomadic tribes on earth!
Cons:Tedious visa process. Luanda is rated #2 most expensive city in the world, 2012.
The Bottom Line:
Do you yearn for an adventure of epic proportions? Then visit Angola's provinces, but skip Luanda. You'll have an adventure of a lifetime, with memories that will last forever.
Only ten years have passed since Angola emerged from three decades of war, a conflict which practically destroyed their infrastructure and killed many people. Angola obtained its independence from Portugal in 1975, and Portuguese is the official language.
English is somewhat spoken in hotels, restaurants, and banks. The Kwanza is the official currency, but US Dollars are widely used. Luanda is the capital city, with the not so glamorous reputation of being the #1 most expensive city in the world (Newsweek 2008, 2009 and 2010), and continues the trend into 2011, but it has it moved to the #2 position (International Business Times.)
Angolans are moving forward, reconstruction is taking place at a maddening pace, and change is very visible. The government is upgrading the country’s infrastructure by building roads, railways, and new hotels. While Angola is not quite ready for mass tourism, positive changes are taking place.
Where is Angola?
Angola is on West Africa, geographically speaking, on the Atlantic Ocean side, but they don’t like to be associated with West Africa, and prefer to say that they are in “Southern Africa.” As a reference, Angola is almost twice the size of Texas.
Angola enjoys relatively good climate, and the Benguela current ensures pleasant weather. The best time to visit is May to September, after the rainy season, when the weather is cooler, with temperature in the high 70’s at noon. Due to poor roads in the interior, it is not advisable to travel outside of major cities during the rainy season.
The African Cup of Nations 2010, the most prominent African soccer tournament was held in Angola in January 2010. This event attracted investors who built mid-range to luxury hotels, remodeled the international airport in Luanda, built several new stadiums, and new roads. However, due to Angola's convoluted immigration laws, not many people came to the games, and even reporters had a tough time getting their entry visas processed on time. Not much has changed since, by the way.
Reaching the capital of Luanda is easy. There are daily flights from Lisbon, Portugal, and South Africa. Twice weekly flights: London, Paris, and Dubai. Thrice weekly: Air Namibia, Air Ethiopia, and Kenya Airways. Once weekly: Lufthansa. From the U.S., there is currently a direct flight (Houston Express), thrice weekly, available only to workers/families of oil companies in Angola.
It is possible to hire a car with driver on arrival at the International Airport or through Hertz, Avis, and SIXT Car (EuropCar) online. Shocking is the price of $300 per day (with driver) for a mid-size car. Self-driving is not recommended, unless you speak fluent Portuguese, have an International Driver's license, and have guts of steel!
In Luanda, there is only one taxi company that is recommended and safe, and they are standing outside the Arrivals terminal. The Afri-taxi service is available from 06am to 08pm. Using any other type of "taxi" is strongly discouraged.
Thirty years of isolation preserved the country's natural beauty, and Angola offers clean, pristine beaches, a variety of impressive geography, and tremendous geological features.
A once lovely colonial city, is now dilapidated. However, there are many colonial buildings, such as forts, churches and government buildings, being restored, all of which are begging to be revisited. Three decades ago, Angola was a sought-after destination by Europeans; Luanda was called "the Riviera of Africa." Today, Luanda's attractions are the colonial buildings, cool bars, clubs, restaurants and beaches.
In 2012, there are many Avant-guard high risers that dot the waterfront, along with beautiful apartment buildings, and posh restaurants, meant to satisfy the taste of the Expat community, and the 5% the total Angolan population who are über rich (the rest still subsist on $2 a day).
2. Kissama National Park (http://www.kissama.org) is two hours from Luanda, offering game viewing. There are no predators, but there is a healthy population of elephants, giraffes, zebras, antelopes, birds, reptiles, etc. Entry fees: around $20 per person.
GPS Coordinates: S 09 21 40.5E013 10 38.7
Overnight accommodations: Kwanza River Lodge (http://www.aasafaris.com/), near Kissama. Half-Board: $175 ppn. The wooden cabins face the Kwanza river, are well-appointed to include air-conditioning. The food is also pretty good, including fresh caught fish and lobsters. This is a very beautiful place by the river..
3. Beaches: Luanda, Lobito and Benguela
Luanda has beautiful beaches, and Mussulo, the most popular, is a short ferry ride away. Enjoy the beaches on the ocean-side, but avoid swimming in the contaminated bay waters. Also, the Ilha is a small island linked to Luanda, with good beaches and great restaurants.
Lobito and Benguela are coastal towns approximately 550 kms from Luanda. The beaches are beautiful, as are the colonial buildings untouched by the war. Check the Hotel Terminus, a very nice and clean accommodation. $165 per person.
4. Waterfalls - Malange
Angola has several waterfalls, but the most important is Kalandulas (Calandulas), in the Lucala River, near Malange. Kalandula Falls is said to be Africa's third highest, and has a crest like that of Victoria Falls. The journey to Malange by road is an arduous six hours from Luanda, and even though the asphalted roads are only about three years old (built by the Chinese) are already undergoing repairs, especially after a couple of heavy rains. So, there’s always something to slowdown the drive.
GPS coordinates: S9 04, 540 E15 59, 950
5. Pedras Negras at Pungo Andongo
This attraction can be combined when visiting Malange (Kalandula Falls). The Pedras Negras (Portuguese) or black rocks are granite boulders that look like a bunch of giants standing around in the middle of nowhere. The landscape in punctuated with massive baobabs, and the locals believe the site is sacred. To date access is free, and from the parking area, follow the steep footpath to one of the bigger boulders. The views are beautiful! This place is a geologist’s dream come true!
GPS coordinates: S9 40, 110 E15 35.260
South Africans have known for decades that Angola is an "angler's paradise". The Flamingo Lodge in the Namibe is a very rustic lodge catering to fishermen. Half-Board: $190 ppn. The massive sand dunes near the lodge, rivaling the sand dunes of next door Namibia, are a sight to behold.
GPS coordinates: S15 34 09.9: E012 01 11.5
Home of the Cristo Rey, a statue standing with arms outstretched, watches its charge, from the summit of a mountain. The statue is eerily similar to the one in Brazil, but it is smaller in stature.
Lubango is a high-altitude city located in the province of Huila, with beautiful colonial buildings, amazing weather, and nomadic tribes. Lubango is the gateway to the Namib Desert, and the drive through the Serra da Leba, a highway built with hairpin turns, will leave you exhilarated.
The Casper Lodge is a friendly, safe and beautiful lodge in Lubango.
The Tundavala fissure is about 18 kms outside the city, and it is so deep that it’s hard to see the bottom. From the plateau, standing at around 2 600 meters above sea level, the view over the plains, all the way to the Namib Desert is spectacular.
GPS Coordinates: S14 49 01.3E013 22 55.2
8. Coming Soon (maybe – red tape gets in the way)
The Transfrontier Conservation Area is a proposed area roughly the size of Italy that promises to be the greatest conservation area in the world. The park will be shared by Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and it will allow the natural movement of game, such as elephants, and other migratory animals. If this park becomes a reality, Angola will certainly benefit in terms of tourism.
Entry Visa & Money
Visas must be obtained in your country of residence. The visa process is slow and tedious, requires letters of invitation from a person living in Angola. Alternatively, some lodges, such as the Kwanza River lodge, will sponsor you and will issue such letters of invitation, once you’ve paid your bookings with them. Cost of a tourist visa is around $240.
Credit cards: accepted at major hotels and restaurants.
ATM machines: found throughout the city and are relatively safe to use. The US Dollar is widely used and accepted, though some business have placed signs on their doors “be a proud Angolan, use only Kwanzas – dollars not accepted.
It is my intention to outline the beautiful country of Angola, and some of its epic sights. However, I deliberately avoided commenting on the Angolan politics, of how a very rich country in oil (an OPEC member), diamonds, and minerals, still has one of the poorest populations in Africa. That’s a different topic, to post in a different venue.
If you want to visit Angola, you won’t find tourism brochures or organized tours, although if you dig around enough, you will find groups who are willing to travel to Angola on an adventure.
Alternatively, you can contact Eco-Tur Angola, an expensive, but reliable company that organizes weekend tours to see some of the sights listed on this review, or can be hired for specific itineraries.
Angola is not a destination for the tourist seeking luxury, and seeing Angola requires a certain amount of fortitude and money (the timid tourist need not apply).
Those who venture here will be richly rewarded with amazing sights, very friendly locals, and memories that will last a lifetime! I can certainly vouch for that, and beautiful images will forever remain etched in my mind, and my photographs.
Luanda is very expensive, and the visitor should plan accordingly, with a budget of at least $500 per day (hotel, food and car), or much less when visiting other provinces outside Luanda.
The author (reginafug) lived in Luanda, Angola from February 2008 – September 2011.
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Best Time to Travel Here: Jun - Aug