Angola – personal impressions
Angola is opening up as a new tourist destination after the bush war of the past decades kept the borders firmly closed. Amidst dire warnings in recent Getaway and Wegbreek articles there are also indications in the same articles that it is a country worthy of a visit. The reports are conflicting and the only way to find out the truth will be to go yourself. I was fortunate enough to be invited on a two-week trip to Angola during April and want to share my impressions of this interesting country with you.
We covered a rectangle in the southwestern corner of the country from the Ruacana border post north to Lubango, west to the Atlantic Ocean at Namibé, south to the mouth of the Kunene River and, from there, east to Ruacana again. Impressions are based on what I saw on this trip through a small corner of a huge country and one cannot generalize for the country as a whole.
Angola’s infrastructure is a mess. Don’t go if you expect South African standard hotels, roads and facilities. Some of the roads are in a bad way but if you take your time, there will be no problem. Be self-sufficient with respect to supplies and camp out as far as possible. There are primitive lodges with camping facilities in Lubango and at the coast. For the rest, there are plenty of fantastic ‘bush’ camp opportunities if one stays clear of the towns and villages. Petrol and diesel are freely available in the larger centres. Small quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables, like bananas and pawpaws, can be obtained from roadside stalls (probably only in season). The fishing along the coast is good and even an amateur angler with basic tackle can expect to catch a meal or two in a couple of hours. The expert will have a whale of a time.
There is a lot for the tourist to see and photograph. This includes the Jesus monument overlooking Lubango, the incredible engineering of the tortuous Leba pass road to the interesting rock formations and dramatic scenery of the Tuvala Reserve. The town of Namibé is going to pieces but the remnants of the former Portuguese influence remain, providing wonderful and unique photo opportunities of wide boulevards with palm trees and non-working fountains and majestic, but decaying, buildings that could have been hotels or upper-class residences in the glory days of the colony. The fishing harbour at Tambor promises superb photographic scenes, provided that the weather cooperates. The morning we were there was cold with the Atlantic fog rolling in so no photos could be taken. This has to be one of the stopping places for a next visit. The barren desert with its fields of Welwitschias, the desolate coastline and the lush Mopani/Combretum woodlands towards the east provide enough contrast that one does not become bored with the scenery at any time. The bird life is unfortunately minimal and we saw no large mammals except for a couple of skittish Springbok. Interestingly enough, there was elephant dung at Foz do Cunene. How long it had been there is an open question. All in all it is a country of enormous opportunity for outdoors and landscape photographers.
The people are friendly and helpful but don’t expect to get anywhere with English. The lingua franca is Portuguese and without it you really battle. We had no problems with the authorities but be prepared for spending some hours at the border posts going through the formalities. We experienced none of the road blocks that have been mentioned as problems and, in fact, had three or four vehicle/licence checks in Namibia on the way north.
The land mine problem is, of course, a major talking point. Our professional guide assured us that there were no mines in the area we visited and we saw no maimed people. We walked in the veld wherever we wanted to with impunity. That there are many dangerous minefields in Angola is not debatable but I would like the authorities and travel writers to be more specific regarding their distribution. Scare-mongering reports, like in Wegbreek, are misleading. Could they be to prevent tourists adventuring in Angola without the services of paid guides, a possibility raised by Getaway?
There are few signboards and I don’t think there are any tourist guidebooks for Angola yet. Road maps are basic. One needs help in finding what to do and see and this is probably the visitor’s biggest challenge. Its up to you to decide whether you are going to bash around on your own or take the easy, guided tour route. Angola is a recommended destination if you have ‘done’ Botswana, Zim and Namibia and are looking for something more challenging for your next holiday or photo safari. Will I go again? You bet!
Jeff W Morris
A Forum to ask questions and share advice that pertain to self drive, self-sufficient overland safaris to Angola. Questions about border procedures, National Parks, Lodges and destinations welcome.
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