1. Explore an adventure travel destination par excellence
Angola lies on the west coast of Southern Africa, bordering on Namibia to the south, and the Republic of Congo to the north. The nation was a warzone until 2002 and is only now slowly recovering and rebuilding the country. In terms of adventure travel this means that the country is still a novice in the tourism industry, which translates into vast, virgin territories still largely unexplored by travelers. The adventure travel destination par excellence!
Angola offers breathtaking, awe-inspiring scenery: the iconic Tundavala Gap and Serra da Leba (road between Lubango and Namibe), the Calandula waterfalls (second only to Victoria Falls in Africa, see our feature photo) and Pedras Negras (a series of mysterious rock formations, many incredibly and spectacular shaped in the form of animals) in the Malanje province, the Quiçama (Kissama) Park, Kwanza River, the beaches of llha Mussulo and Cabo Ledo (the latter three in the area of Luanda), and the coffee plantations in the Kwanza Sul province.
2. Be aware of the strict entry requirements
You need to get a valid visa before you travel to Angola. Be aware that, because of the backlog, this may take much longer than for other countries (up to 8 weeks or more), so we recommend you initiate the process several weeks before your intended travel date. Note that visas cannot be obtained at the airport.
Yellow fever vaccination is also required from all travelers. Just making sure you got your yellow fever vaccination is not enough. The government of Angola requires actual proof of yellow fever vaccination, so make sure you carry your Yellow Fever vaccination certificate with you. There’s a yellow fever check immediately after the passport check, and failure of proof will have you boarded on the next flight back or vaccinated on the spot.
3. Avoid self-drive and fully organize your trip
While we usually shun the canned experiences of organized travel tours and do as much self-guided traveling as possible, Angola is one of the countries where we definitely recommend to organize your trip through an experienced small-group tour operator.
Angola was at war until 2002 and outside major towns many roads are still covered with land mines and large pot holes making it very dangerous and difficult to self-drive without a local guide. There have been incidents of mines exploding in so-called ‘cleared’ areas and places that were previously thought to be safe. During the rainy season (November-April) mines can become displaced due to floods. As a result they may surface outside known mining fields. Actually, outside the major urban areas mines can be anywhere, not just on secondary roads, but also on and near bridges, in buildings and in many areas in the countryside.
Apart from the risk of mines, road conditions in Angola are generally very poor and the terrain is usually very rugged and challenging, so a self-drive would not only be very difficult and dangerous, but also irresponsible. We recommend you always travel in the company of persons or small tour operators experienced in local conditions.
Hotel accommodation is extremely limited outside Luanda and even in the capital there is a shortage of hotels. Most hotels are fully booked weeks and months in advance, which is an extra reason to fully organize and book your trip to Angola well in advance instead of traveling “happy go lucky”.
Note that foreigners traveling into the inland of Angola need an internal travel document. If you travel with a local tour operator, this is normally be taken care of by them. Did I say “book with a local tour operator?”
4. Don’t play with your health
One of the major health concerns in Angola at the moment is the ongoing dengue epidemic. Dengue fever is a potentially severe disease caused by a virus transmitted through mosquito bites for which no vaccine, prophylactics nor cure exist. Unlike with malaria, the mosquitos infected with dengue (usually Aedes aegypti) bite during day time, with a peak three hours after sunrise and before sunset, and especially indoors or in shady areas, so the precautions you generally take against mosquito bites should be adapted and reinforced during the day. Always apply sunscreen before the mosquito repellent!
Symptoms of dengue include fever, severe headache, pain behind the eyes, joint and muscle pain, and rash, and in more severe cases also nausea and vomiting. Some forms of dengue fever are mild, but the disease can be severe and even cause dengue hemorrhagic (bleeding) fever (DHF) which can be fatal if not treated. Symptoms develop within 3 days to 2 weeks after you are bitten by an infected mosquito, but usually end in a week. Travelers should take the usual precautions to protect themselves by preventing mosquito bites.
5. Stay on the safe side and respect local customs
Most visits to Angola are trouble-free, if you use your common sense and stay out of the ‘troubled’ areas. Crime rate in the capital is very high, so it is not recommended to walk around the city after dark.
The UK Foreign Office and Departments of Foreign Affairs of the US, Canada and Australia recommend to avoid all non-essential travel to the Cabinda province. There are regularly reports of foreigners and Angolans being raped, murdered or kidnapped in this part of the country. For slightly different reasons, also avoid all non-essential travel to the diamond producing provinces, Lunda North and Lunda South. The presence of diamonds increases the risk of banditry and armed hold-ups, particularly on roads leading to and from these areas. As a foreigner you may also be subject to movement restrictions or even detention by the Angolan authorities in these sensitive areas.
Apart from this, the same common sense rules apply as in other countries. Do not show signs of affluence (expensive watches, jewelry, cameras). Do not use cameras, binoculars, GPS equipment, etc. near government or military buildings. Be also careful when taking photos of urban areas as this may be frowned upon by police.
Travel advice provided by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office http://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/angola
Travel advice provided by the Government of Canada http://travel.gc.ca/destinations/angola
United States Department of State – Angola Crime and safety report http://www.osac.gov/pages/ContentReportDetails.aspx?cid=13904
Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – Angola Travel information http://smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/view/Advice/Angola
Photo credits (top to bottom): feature photo, Calandula waterfalls mp3ief; Serra da Leba by Filipe Brandão; Cabo Ledo by Filipe Miguel; Quiçama by mp3ief; Sombrero by F H Mira; Women in Mucuma by Alfred Weidinger; Benguela beach by F H Mira, Pedras Negras by André P.