Angola… long the forgotten country. First she was subjected to 400 years of Portuguese colonial rule and plunder. Then followed 30 years of civil war during which the country became a major proxy battleground in the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, with Cuban, South African, Namibian and various Angolan forces doing the actual fighting.
In the process this beautiful country was raped and ravaged, losing much of her wealth while her infrastructure was crippled, investors and tourists fled, and her people were killed and maimed and much of her natural beauty became no-go areas full of landmines. Uncertainty and danger prevailed, politicians became corrupt, and the country bled.
Angola became the forgotten country.
Fortunately that has all changed. Following the end of both the Cold War and Angola’s civil war and immense changes in the global geopolitical situation, Angola returned to peace, with prosperity soon beginning to follow. The healing started and the investors returned.
And while her people are still largely poor and the standard of living low despite her immense mineral and petroleum wealth, and while many of the scars of war still remain, there are signs everywhere of new energy, new wealth and investment, and a flow in and out of the country of people from all over the world. Its economy is now among the fastest-growing in the world.
The once forgotten Angola, is now Africa’s bright rising star.
A visit to this country, Africa’s seventh largest and the world’s 23rd largest, is a rewarding and mesmerising experience. Despite her size, the population is a multi-ethnic one of an estimated 26 million people only. The country is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the north, Zambia to the east and Namibia to the south. It also own the separate, oil-rich enclave of Cabinda in the norther, which is separated from the rest of Angola by a 60km wide strip of the DRC.
Although Angola lies within a tropical zone, the country’s climate is uncharacteristic thereof because of the proximity and influence of things like the cold Benguela Current passing along the coast, and the Kalahari and Namib Deserts in the south. As a result the climate is split between two seasons – a rainy season and a drought season. The natural environment ranges from rain forests and tropical landscapes in the north and coastal areas, to the grasslands and mountains of the central plateau highlands, to the sandy and relatively dry, bush-covered south-eastern parts, and to the semi dessert region in the southwest. The coast and the north are tropical and hot, the highlands in the center and the south are temperate-tropical and the southeast is mostly dry and hot.Much of Angola is hot or humid, with heavy rainfall occurring in the rainy season between November and April.
When what is Angola today was gradually being colonised by the Portuguese from the late 1500s the territory was inhabited by different tribes and kingdoms, whose initial resistance gradually waned. But long before the arrival of the Portuguese, Angola was largely populated by Khoisan groups who were later displaced by Bantu peoples arriving from the north, most likely from the area that today comprises Nigeria.
One of the major political entities of that time was the Kingdom of Kongo which extended northwards from Angola into today’s DRC. Two major figures from that era who tried to resist the Portuguese, were Queen Ana de Sousa of Ndongo and King João I, Manikongo of the Kingdom of Kongo. A new statue for the legendary queen was unveiled in Luanda not long ago.
The borders of modern Angola were only established in the early 1900s. Administratively, Angola is divided into eighteen provinces and 162 municipalities, with the latter further divided into 559 communes (townships). Major cities are Luanda (population approx. 7 million), Lubango, Lobito, Huambo, Benguela, Cabinda, Malanje, Cuito and Uige.
The country is gradually reopening to tourism. And although Angola is working hard to restore its cities, parks and other attractions and places to their former glory, the country is still not fully geared to some of the more sophisticated aspects of tourism, especially in rural areas and its parks. But you won’t go wanting for adventure, beauty and a pristine African experience, while Luanda and some other bigger cities offer a truly sophisticated, cosmopolitan experience.
Luanda, the capital, is a fascinating, pulsating city with a brand-new skyline as many high-rise buildings were constructed after the end of the civil war. The city is built around the edge of Luanda Bay with views across the water of Ilha do Cabo, also known as Ilha de Luanda, a narrow sandy peninsula that these days is a playground for those who have money. There are many hotels, clubs, bars and restaurants, as well as flea markets and marinas that attract visitors. The beaches is lined with cabanas where visitors enjoy cocktails as the sun sets across the Atlantic.
Lining the bay is the Marginal promenade with its palm trees, a defining feature of Luanda. At night the promenade is lit up and a constant stream of cars pass by as people come to enjoy the many restaurants, clubs and bars that line the promenade.
The city, once a centre of the slave trade, is also the seat of the Roman Catholic archbishop and the location of most of Angola’s educational institutions, including the private Catholic University of Angola and the public University of Agostinho Neto. The city is home to many monuments and museums, including the National Museum of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Museum of the Armed Forces and the National Museum of Slavery. Since 2009 the city hosts the very popular annual Luanda International Jazz Festival.
History buffs will enjoy a visit to the Fortress of Sao Miguel de Luanda which overlooks Luanda from a high plateau with a commanding view of Luanda Bay and the surrounding islands. The fort’s interior walls are clad with typical historic blue tiles that depict the story of when the Portuguese first landed in Angola. In the courtyard there are statues of prominent leaders and explores of the a bygone era. Founded in 1576 by Paulo Dias de Novais, the fortress today also houses the Armed Forces Museum.
Not too many people are aware of it, but just lone hour south of Luanda, Cabo Ledo is known as one of the best surfing beaches in Africa.
Wildlife and national parks
Angola has many national parks, all in various stages of recovery after the many years pf war and plunder. In many parks elephants were slaughtered for their valuable ivory, which, apart fro diamond smuggling, is said to have funded much of the rebel Renamo forces’ war effort against the ruling MPLA and its Fapla fores.
Nonetheless, there are a number of Angolan national parks that are truly worth a visit, not only for the wildlife but also for the stunning scenery. One of these is Kissama National Park located in north-western Angola some 70km from Luanda. The park covers about 3 million acres and is home to a great variety of wildlife ranging from zebras to elephants and antelopes. After the war elephants were relocated to this park from other overpopulated parks in Africa.
Cameia National Park is located in Moxico province and is bordered by the Chifumage, Lumege and Luena rivers. Much of the park falls within the Zambezi River basin and there are also extensive miombo woodlands, similar to those in the Zambezi basin of western Zambia. The natural attractions of this park are very unique and don’t occur anywhere else. Two lakes, Lago Cameia and Lago Dilolo (the largest lake in Angola) lie just outside the park boundaries and both have extensive reedbeds and grassy swamps that accommodate many aquatic birds.
Cangandala National Park is the smallest park in Angola, situated in Malanje province between the Cuije River and territories of the Cuanza River, with the towns of Culamagia and Techongolola on the edges of the park. The park was created in 1963 while Angola was still under Portuguese rule.
Another park that one should visit is the Iona National Park, located in Namibe Province in the south on the coast near the cities of Namibe and Lubango and just north of the Namibian border. During the war much of the rich animal life of this park was destroyed, but they are slowly being returned. The park has some truly unique flora and some incredible rock formations.
A must-do is a visit to Lubango, the capital city of the mountainous province of Huila on the road between Namibe on the coast and Cuito Canavale in the east. Cand . Because of abundance of rain and the mountain terrain, there is an abundance of cascading waterfalls, rivers and lakes. The city of Lubango is home to the dazzling marble statue of Christo Rei. It can be reached by daily flights from Luanda. On the coast just south of Namibe is Flamingo Lodge which is popular for angling. Diving, hiking and other adventure activities. Here guided boat tours are also available for dolphin and whale watching and shark fishing expeditions.
Along with Brazil and Madagascar, Angola is one of the three countries with the highest biodiversity worldwide. Nowhere else on the African continent is such a wealth of animals and plants to be found, which truly makes Angola a fascinating destination.
Official Language: Portuguese.
Entry requirements: A visa or a residence permit, and a passport valid for at least six months.
Vaccination Required: Yellow fever.
Safety: Angola has been at peace and stable since 2002; beware of usual inner city crime in larger cities; central Cabinda is not safe due to insurgent activity; landmines are still to be found in some parts of the country and information can be obtained from the NGO HALO Trust (www.halotrust.org / firstname.lastname@example.org).
Health: Angola is a malaria area. Hospitals and clinics are generally poor, except in Luanda. Beware of food and water in rural areas, and some food markets ion the cities.
Car hire: Available in most major cities via international providers.
Road infrastructure: Good connecting roads between the big cities but road in many rural areas are still in poor condition.
Public transport: Fly local airline TAAG between cities; use the customary minibus taxi (Candongueiros) in the cities.
Communications: Landline phones are available in the capital and other major cities and telephony is covered by three providers in Angola, namely Angola Telecom, Movicel and Unitel.
Photography: Photographing government buildings and military facilities is prohibited. It is also forbidden to photograph people in public spaces without their consent.
Tourism Information: There is no official contact centre outside the country for tourists wanting to travel to Angola – best is to contact the nearest Angolan embassy or the national airline TAAG or your own country’s embassy in Angola.