Angola is hard to get into and blimmen expensive when you get there. The government are notorious for not issuing visas, and aren’t keen on visitors (unless you are Russians buying their oil). It was a portuguese colony until 1975 when Agostinho Neto (lots of monuments and pictures of him later) became the first president, and then the country descended into some pretty complicated civil wars that lasted until 2002 displacing one third of the population, with 15 million landmines laid down. Angola is one of the richest countries in Africa (lots of diamonds and oil) but is a global leader in corruption, and economic growth has been extraordinary since the end of the war – but the benefits only seem to be going to very few angolans. Luanda – the capital, is a apparently one of the worlds most expensive cities, but more than 3/4 of the inhabitants live in slums. Africa’s richest woman, is the president’s daughter. Isabel was appointed to head the state energy firm Sonangol in 2016 by presidential decree and she is worth an estimated $3bn. But the average wage in Angola is just under $2 a day.
My friends who had lived in Luanda had told me it was vile, so we weren’t planning to stay long,…. but as is often the way, we had an amazing time and there was plenty to see. Our new friend Candido drove us around town, making sure we took photos without the police harassing us (you often have to take them from a moving car so the police don’t bother you) and sorted us our our black market foreign exchange (you get twice the value on the street, but get a local to do it for you).
We stayed on the Ilha- a long skinny peninsular with an odd combination of posh restaurants and 4wds on one hand and barefoot fisherman and people squatting illegally in abandoned buildings . Mornings are lively with fisherman selling their wares and people doing pushups and bootcamp on the beach. We made sure we went all the way to the end of the Ilha to see the lighthouse and the view back into town. our hotel offered to loan us paddle boards, but I wasn’t excited about the smell of the sewerage 🙂
We went on a tour round town to check out the wonderful colonial architecture with the central bank being the best example and the cathedral of the sacred heart being quite lovely also.
We also liked the palacio ferro – the iron palace, a very groovy yellow building which is made out of corrugated iron. Apparently it was designed by Mr Eiffel (of the tower fame)
The ‘high city’ ciudad alta is where all the glorious parliament buildings were, with more police than you can shake a stick at.
The fortaleza was worth checking out – it felt like every school kid in Luanda was visiting, as well as a bunch of soldiers who were learning their history. It has stunning views over the Ilha and downtown, as well as lots of guns and cannons. Part of the view is down into a shantytown, but the government is systematically moving the occupants out to the suburbs (without giving them a choice) as they want the view to be nicer from the fort…. hmmmmm….
But my favourite thing in Luanda was the monument to Agostinho. Apparently it was half built by the Russians in the eighties, and finally finished by the Koreans in the early 2000s. It is an amazing bonkers space needle type construction, which also serves as the parade ground for the military. Definitely worth checking out.
We ate well while we were there, but it wasn’t cheap. Lunch would have been $100 for two mains, and one dessert and two diet cokes if we had gotten the official exchange rate, but even on the black market rates it was $50. Good hearty portuguese food!
- on the recommendation of friends, we stayed at Thomson Art Hotel on the Ilha. rooms were small but perfectly formed. breakfast was great. we booked airport pick ups and drop offs with them also
- there is apparently a new visa on arrival system – good luck! We used the old system which required a tonne of paperwork and a few elephant tears at the embassy
- definitely use the street market for changing money – the rate is double the bank rate, and seemed safe (we stayed in the car while someone came to the window)
- Immigration are some of the slowest in Africa – get to the airport on time on your way out
Luanda, May 4, 2018