- Luanda is the world’s most populous Portuguese speaking capital.
- Angolan model and actress Leila Lopes was crowned Miss Universe in 2011.
- It’s illegal to take photos of government buildings in Angola or even view them through binoculars.
- Cuba was instrumental in Angolan independence, providing military training and weapons to freedom fighters.
- The giant sable, endemic to Angola, was thought to be extinct but was rediscovered in 2014.
Choose your own adventure
- Luanda, more than a thriving commercial hub
- Beach living and historic architecture in Benguela
- Kalandula Falls, one of Africa’s largest and most beautiful waterfalls
- Otherworldly views at Miradouro da Lua
- A lively, dynamic culture
Though I’m not one for gambling I’d be willing to bet that most people reading this article have never considered Angola as a holiday destination. The country is known for a 27-year civil war that broke out after independence in 1975, its rich oil reserves and for having one of the world’s most expensive cities for expats (Luanda). Beyond that the country largely remains shrouded in mystery.
But what doesn’t make the headlines is precisely what could make Angola a worthy tourist destination. The country has a stunning array of landscapes. Angola has over 1,600 kilometres of coastline, rainforests, mountainous regions, splendid waterfalls and desert landscapes. It has a rich culinary tradition drawing on local foods, with some Brazilian and Portuguese influences. The country also has a number of national parks and protected areas, the most accessible being Kissama National Park.
Most visitors to Angola travel there for business, with Luanda being the country’s economic hub. Angola has a rapidly growing economy spurred by oil and diamonds.
In the past, getting to Angola meant going through a notoriously tedious visa application but the process of obtaining a visa has been made much easier with the e-visa, introduced in 2018. Do note, Zambians, along with nationals of a few select countries, do not require a visa to enter Angola. While travelling in Angola may sometimes present some challenges it is a destination for you if you love to explore undiscovered, diverse lands. It is a destination for you if you’re willing to get off the beaten track, get lost in a new culture and be flexible and a little spontaneous.
Much of the wealth derived from Angola’s oil and diamond reserves can be seen in parts of the country’s capital Luanda, which is dotted with skyscrapers and wide avenues. However, there is more to Angola than gleaming skyscrapers and commerce.
Speaking of Luanda’s architecture, Luanda is home to the Palácio de Ferro (Iron Palace), designed by Gustave Eiffel. He is best known for designing and overseeing the construction of the Eiffel Tower and also contributing to the design of the Statue of Liberty. Palácio de Ferro was previously used as an art centre. After years of neglect it is undergoing renovations with money from Angola’s oil boom and has come to symbolise the country’s resurgence from a dark past.
Other iconic and historic buildings in Luanda include the Military Museum, the National Museum of Anthropology, the National Museum of Slavery, the Agostinho Neto Mausoleum, the Fortress of São Migueland the National Bank of Angola with its gorgeous pink façade.
Luanda has plenty of beautiful beaches which you should definitely check out but don’t skip one unusual coastal attraction, the ship cemetery. On São Tiago Beach, just outside of Luanda, you’ll find 50 rusting ships. There are a number of theories as to how they got there but no one knows for sure.
Ilha do Cabo is a sandspit off the coast of Luanda, connected to the mainland by a bridge. It has plenty of bars and restaurants and is especially popular among expats and well off Angolans. Even on the mainland there is no shortage of restaurants, bars and lounges but to avoid too much strain on the budget, opt for more local spots over those popular with expats.
It is undeniable that Luanda is an expensive city but with some extra planning and research you can have a (relatively) affordable stay. And don’t forget that there is more to Angola than Luanda.
Benguela is one of 18 Angolan provinces and sits along the western coast. The region is growing in popularity as a travel destination and its cities offer a more affordable alternative to Luanda. Major cities include its capital, also called Benguela, and Lobito. The region is known for its culture, beaches, seafood, great shopping and architecture (cathedrals, lighthouses, museums and palatial government buildings, etc.). The area not only has some of Angola’s best beaches and clearest waters but also has some great scuba diving spots. In addition, Lobito is said to have one of the most spectacular harbours in Africa. Benguela city, full of natural beauty, is known as the city of red acacias.
There is a range of high end and budget-friendly accommodation options. (The same can be said of Luanda but you will have a few more options on the budget-friendly side.)
Kalandula Falls on the Lucala River is one of Africa’s largest waterfalls although just how large is disputed. Depending on who you ask, it is either the second largest or the third largest waterfalls on the continent. What isn’t disputed is that the falls are absolutely breathtaking and not to be missed. The horseshoe-shaped falls is located in Angola’s rainforest in Malanje Province. Despite being one of Africa’s grandest waterfalls, it receives relatively few visitors.
You can take a day trip to the falls or camp out for longer and really take in the beauty of the area. You can also swim at the base of the falls.
The falls are at their fullest during the rainy season which lasts from September to April, with November to January being the months with the most rain.
Miradouro de Lua is a collection of cliffs shaped by wind and rain to give it an otherworldly appearance. In fact, its Portuguese name translates to viewpoint of the moon. You would be hard pressed to find geographic formations anywhere on the African continent that look like this and on this scale.
Many visitors have combined their trip to Miradouro de Lua with a safari in Kissama National Park. Starting at the park and then heading out to the cliffs. And if you stay long enough, you will catch the most amazing sunset over this natural wonder. I would recommend this site to anyone but especially to those in search of photographic holidays.
Portuguese filmmaker Jorge António was inspired by this geographical feature so much so that he named one of his films after it and even filmed some scenes in the area. The award-winning O Miradouro de Lua was the first Portuguese-Angolan film collaboration.
A cultural exchange
A number of traditional and contemporary dance and musical styles have been developed in Angola and form part of the country’s culture. Kizomba is an Angolan dance style and type of music which is similar to salsa and originated in the 1980s. Kizomba means party in Kimbundu, one of Angola’s local languages. While still not as well-known as salsa or the tango, it has gained popularity on dance floors around the world and you can take kizomba classes in a growing number of world cities. From Joburg to Amsterdam, Tokyo to Mumbai, Shanghai to London, kizomba has made an imprint. Kizomba has been identified as a means of attracting more visitors to Angola and could have a lot of potential if done right. Other popular dance styles in Angola include semba and kuduro.
Capoeira is a Brazilian form of martial arts practised around the world that was shaped by Angolans. This unique martial art combines dance, music and acrobatics. Enslaved people taken from present-day Angola developed capoeira in Brazil, influenced by dance styles, sounds and rhythms from their home. Unfortunately, Angola’s contribution to capoeira is often downplayed or not acknowledged. But whether in Angola or outside one can experience the country’s culture through dance and capoeira.