Our authors tell the story of this famous railway, found by Dr Livingstone.Read more...
Angola - The authors’ take
Angola, for many, evokes distant memories of grainy black-and-white TV coverage of a guerrilla war in a remote part of Africa. Those with good memories may recall the initials UNITA and MPLA and the names ‘Savimbi’ and ‘Dos Santos’. Few will know what these initials stand for, who Savimbi was, and who Dos Santos is, never mind why they were fighting.
Angola’s turmoil began in earnest in the 1960s as it fought for independence from Portugal, its harsh colonial ruler. The Luta Armada (Armed Struggle) did not stop when Portugal divested itself of its overseas territories and granted independence to Angola in 1974. Instead of grasping the opportunity and taking the fledgling country forward, the various rival independence movements fell out and the country descended into civil war. Millions were killed and injured. The infrastructure was shattered and the countryside laid to waste by minefields. Peace didn’t arrive until 2002, when Angolan TV broadcast pictures of the body of Jonas Savimbi, the charismatic leader of UNITA, who had been killed by government forces in Moxico province. The only international bodies to celebrate with them were oil and diamond companies – few outside Africa cared about the end of a war that had never truly been understood due to its complexities.
It is a true frontier that has many unique things to offer visitors, and seeing the country emerge from a dark past that persisted for decades into – eventually – a prosperous nation, is a genuine reward in its own right.
So what can a visitor expect when they go to Angola? The hackneyed phrase ‘war-torn Angola’ should be deleted and consigned to the recycle bin. Angola is not clinging mawkishly to its past; the war is over and there is no chance of a return to conflict. Angola is moving forward, reconstruction is taking place everywhere and there is a huge feeling of self-confidence, pride and optimism. Visitors will find a chaotic capital city, Luanda, several burgeoning provincial capitals (Cabinda, Huambo, Lubango and Benguela), and a handful of underdeveloped provincial capitals. In between there are miles of beaches, tropical rainforests, desert and savanna, all populated by some of the nicest people in Africa. Then there’s the amazing birding, the surfing, the Portuguese architecture, the food, and of course the sublime weather. More and more of the country will become accessible over the next few years as the road network is rebuilt and the railways reopen – visitors will be able to travel to places previously only accessible by air, or reach towns much more quickly, where previously you had to spend several days bouncing around in the back of a truck.
Having said that, Angola is not a holiday destination for beginners. The tourist infrastructure is basic but improving: there are few five-star hotels, flights are expensive, and hotels are fully booked for weeks on end. But before turning elsewhere, visitors should pause and take into account Angola’s recent past. Perhaps then they can appreciate what enormous steps the country has taken since the war ended and what enormous challenges it faces in the coming years.
Angola is keen to regain lost time and things are changing incredibly fast. Travellers shouldn’t waste another minute if they’re keen to see its raw beauty.
I first discovered Bradt back in the 1990s when their groundbreaking Eritrea and Ethiopia guides served as constant companions. The books gave me the confidence to explore and although I still felt like a pioneer, I knew that by reading them, I stood a good chance of finding a meal and a bed of sorts at the end of each day. My aim with Angola is to do the same – to equip visitors with information that will give them the confidence to travel beyond the comfort zone of the capital and explore the rest of this amazing country. It has to be said that Angola is not an easy place to visit: 30 years of war have left scars on everyone and everything. I owe it to the readers of this guide to paint an honest picture of some of the frustrations travellers will more than likely encounter, but I also owe it to the people of Angola to promote their beautiful country. I hope that I have got the balance right.
Angola was a fascinating challenge. From the minute I arrived in Luanda and began my research, I realised it would not be as simple as I anticipated. Angola is changing rapidly, but remains an incredibly difficult place to visit and travel around – it is as if everything is being worked on at once, from industry to infrastructure, to the redevelopment of city centres, and a renewed interest in the preservation and promotion of the country’s natural wonders to help build a tourist industry. By the time you read this, many things should be significantly easier in some respects, and unfortunately some will be just as difficult. However, it is a true frontier that has many unique things to offer visitors, and seeing the country emerge from a dark past that persisted for decades into – eventually – a prosperous nation, is a genuine reward in its own right.
Angola has been my home since August 2009 and, given the right attitude, it is a fantastic place to live. There are certainly frustrating aspects to life here, many of which are not unique to Angola. You may notice slow internet, unreliable phone networks, terrifying driving standards, poor healthcare provision, petty corruption and a lack of access to basic consumer goods. Other issues are slightly more unique, such as the high cost of living. However, these problems are not the whole story. Upon arrival you will see that Luanda is a vibrant, exciting city with a lot of entertainment to offer. Outside the capital, Angola has a stunning variety of landscapes for the intrepid traveller to explore, from tropical rainforest in the north to desert in the far south. With a bit of hunting around you can find everything from elephants and hippos to world-class surf. Unlike in nearby South Africa you will probably have these all to yourself. The people of Angola are very welcoming, even if you are one of the first tourists they have ever laid eyes on. Hopefully this guide will encourage readers to pack up their 4x4 and head out of the capital on one of the new Chinese roads to explore some of the lesser-visited corners of this fascinating nation.