What to expect in Luanda, Angola
Angola is a big country with a relatively small population of 12 million in South-West Africa. It is one of the biggest oil producers and has plenty of minerals it carves out from its rich soil. After being a sleepy Portuguese colony until 1975 it fought a bloody civil war and has found riches in just 13 years since. For years the economy grew so fast that GDP growth was tough to calculate.
The country is one of the last frontiers of tourism. The government discourages tourism and its also extraordinarily expensive to travel. To make matters even worse it is even more dangerous than most African countries with petty crime and sporadic violent crime and kidnapping against foreigners.
Nor for most of us the story of going to Angola ends here. However things can change quickly so let's explore what Luanda and Angola has to offer.
For starters coastal Angola features a pleasant climate more akin to coastal Peru and Baja California. The cold current that comes up from South Africa and Namibia makes it all the way up into Angola.
Since Angola ranges all the way from desert, to Savannah to highland to tropical rain forest the diversity of scenery and wildlife is amazing.
Since the official policy is to discourage tourism tourist visas are hard to come by. Apparently the Angolan Frankfurt consulate in Germany has been the place to go for many. It rather easily gives out tourist visas (at least for EU passports) for EUR 150 without a 'letter of invitation'.
Many other consulates make it difficult to obtain a tourist visa and many travelers have been applying for a transit visa instead. This 5 day visa is granted rather easily and you can argue that your flight schedule requires that.
All you need is a flight ticket that has 3-4 nights of stopover in Luanda. You may need to show proof of visas to your onward destinations before a visa is granted which can make it a tme sensitive affair.
In any case you need to show a yellow fever vaccination (something you should have anyways!).
Luanda airport sees a number of African and non-African direct flights. Lufthansa, Emirates, British Airways and Air France all have daily flights. The strong currency and burgeoning business climate (even at a lower oil price) all made it a very profitable destination. Iberia used to fly a brand new refurbished A330 with lie-flat seats to Luanda but this flight has been cancelled.
The passenger volume in 3 years more than tripled (if we believe in the airport statistics).
Luanda is know as the worlds most expensive city for many years running now. everything is out of touch expensive - hotels, apartments, drivers and food. The basic issue is the mineral and oil export that drives up the currency - dutch disease' at its worst - making it impossible to build other competitive industries or develop tourism.
Luanda has been in a building boom for a decade and there a number of modern hotels. However no major chains are in town so no options to redeem your hotel points and a basic 4 star will cost you $250 a night.
Starwood has big plans to invest in a property in Luanda but it hasn't happened yet.
Hilton was rumored to give its brand to a US$7 billion waterfront development but this also did not come to fruition.
Apparently the Accor group has actually signed a number of projects.
Security is an issue in Africa so it is advised to find a place with good security and not go for budget hotels most of the time.
Things to Do in Luanda, Angola
The island is a short ferry ride away from Luanda town and seems as scenic as it gets. Tripadvsor counts a total of 3 reviews - all from 2012 and before - this is not a place where you have endure a lot of fellow tourists!
Baia Azul Desert Beaches
This string of desert beaches is unlikely to EVER get crowded.
Cataratas do Ruacaná Waterfalls
Cliffs of Fenda Tundavala
Morro do Môco
Angola's highest mountain is literally off the map - it's hard to even find - Wikipedia only has one sentence to say about this 8,600ft peak.
Rio Cuito and Rio Kwanza
These two huge rivers snake their way through Angola.
Angola is certainly a white spot on the map. If you go prepare yourself for the country. Have a Portuguese speaker, know the safety rules in Africa, bring enough cash to explore the hinterlands.
I'd love to hear some first hand experience - if you have been - please chime in!