Our authors tell the story of this famous railway, found by Dr Livingstone.Read more...
Angola - Travel and visas
Tourist visas were introduced for the first time in November 2007 and are still something of a novelty for Angolan embassy staff who sometimes issue short term visas instead. A short-term visa should not cause you any difficulties but do check the validity, the number of entries (single or multiple), and any conditions that may be stamped in your passport. Tourist visas should be applied for in advance and cannot be bought on arrival at the airport. Advertised visa-processing times vary between embassies, but you should allow at least 15 days and preferably much longer. Do complete the form fully and submit all the relevant documents at the time of application or it will be returned and delayed, perhaps by a week or more. If you are travelling with an organised group or using a travel agent they will need to provide the embassy with a letter of support. You’ll need a valid passport with at least six months’ validity and two spare pages, four photos, return air tickets and proof of your means of support whilst in Angola (US$200 per day is specified in the regulations). Tourist visas must be used within 60 days of issue and are valid for multiple entries and for a stay of up to 30 days. They can be extended once for a further 30 days. Tourist visas do not allow the holder to work in Angola. If you plan to travel overland to or from the exclave of Cabinda, check carefully that your visa is a multiple-entry one, particularly if you were given a short-stay visa instead of a tourist visa. If travelling from the UK, UK-Angola is a specialised visa facilitation company based in London (www.ukangola.com).
The vast majority of visitors will fly into the international airport at Luanda. Flights into and out of Angola tend to book up weeks in advance and are very expensive. All the major online air booking companies will find and book flights for you, but they won’t book hotels or car hire – this is best done through local Angolan tour operators. The airport is only two miles from Luanda, but it can take anywhere between 20 minutes and 90 minutes, depending on traffic, to reach the city centre. The airport is properly known as Aeroporto 4 de Fevereiro and its name commemorates the start of the armed struggle against Portuguese colonialism. It has two terminals: one each for international and domestic flights. If transferring between international and domestic flights, allow at least a couple of hours and seek the help of ground handling staff. A new airport is being built 30km out of Luanda close to the town of Viana and is expected to open in phases from 2013. The economy and business sections of most flights are full of walrus-moustachioed oil workers with Deep South accents who often take full advantage of the drinks trolley as the next 28 days on a dry oil platform are going to be tough. First class is full of Angolan bling – designer clothes, leather boots, gold chains, dangly earrings, chunky rings and bracelets – and that’s just the boys.
Apart from the occasional cruise liner, passenger ships do not dock in Angolan ports. Private yachts and other small vessels would be treated with great suspicion and mooring facilities are poor to non-existent outside of the capital.
Domestic airlines in Angola do not have a good reputation. Until recently, old Russian Antonov-12 aircraft were still regularly used and presented particular safety concerns. TAAG, the national airline, was banned on safety grounds from flying into the European Union in 2007. In November 2008, the European Union extended the ban to all Angolan airlines including domestic airlines, even though they had no intention of flying into Europe. All Angolan airlines (except TAAG which has special conditions) remain on the EU’s banned list as of April 2012 (http://ec.europa.eu/transport/air-ban/list_en.htm). The Angolan Civil Aviation authorities are now in the process of certifying domestic carriers. A number, including Air Gemini, which have not met the required standard have been grounded until improvements can be made. At the time of writing the following airlines were certified by the Angolan authorities for domestic flights: TAAG, Fly540, Sonair, Guicango and Air26. Others, including Air Gemini, Air Two, Angola Air Service, Trans-World, Omni Aviation and SJL are still going through the certification process.
If you decide to fly, you cannot make internal flight bookings more than one month in advance. Check-in often closes 60 minutes before the flight is scheduled to depart. Most Angolan domestic airlines are small and have very limited backup or support. Flights are cancelled without notice, and can leave passengers stranded with no information or refund.
You can buy tickets for most of the domestic airlines from any travel agent in Luanda. However, they are unlikely to be able to issue the ticket immediately, meaning you will need to face the traffic again and return later that day to collect it. Expect to pay a service charge of around US$50 to the travel agent for the privilege of issuing your ticket. Alternatively you can go to the domestic terminal at the airport and buy your ticket from one of the booths at the front of the car park. It’s chaotic and you may find it easier to give in and ask one of the many aggressive touts to buy the ticket on your behalf. If you do, be sure to fix a full and final price before you part with your money, and specify clearly and loudly who you are going to pay, and how much. Don’t expect many staff or touts to speak English and keep an eye on your bags.
The domestic terminal at Luanda airport was enlarged and refurbished in 2012. It now has VIP and CIP waiting rooms, shops, a café and a limited parking (only 90 cars). Allow at least two hours for check-in. You will need your passport even for domestic flights. Before you board the plane you will need to identify your checked bags which will be laid out in lines on the tarmac beneath the belly of the plane. If flying to Benguela or Catumbela double-check where you will land, as flights can be switched between these airports and the printed ticket may be inaccurate.
Until very recently, Angola was one of the few countries in the world where there were no licensed taxis to pre-book or hail on the street. Things are improving slowly and there are now at least four licensed taxi companies – Afri-taxi, Morvic, Arvorense Táxi and Rogerius Táxi. Afri-taxi is the largest with a fleet of 300 vehicles with 150 in Luanda and the rest distributed between Cabinda, Benguela and Lubango. It has plans to introduce a further 200 taxis. It operates between 06.00 and 22.00. Reliable taxis are still in short supply and this makes life for the visitor incredibly difficult as walking in Luanda is generally considered to be unsafe, and great care should be taken elsewhere. Business visitors should ensure that their company or sponsor has arranged transport to and from the airport and will provide a car and driver for the duration of their visit.
Tourists will need to make arrangements in advance with their hotel or a local travel agency for airport transfers (not all hotels offer a transfer service), or take their chances that a taxi will be available at the airport. If not, they may need to take a potentially unsafe informal taxi or use collective minibuses. To use an informal taxi, just ask around at the airport or hotel or even on the street. There will be plenty of offers but the vehicle is likely to be unlicensed, uninsured, unroadworthy, badly driven and expensive. Embassies recommend against using them. Personal safety is a concern and single females and anyone carrying valuables should not get into the car of a complete stranger. If possible use a driver recommended by your hotel, or contact a travel agency. Informal taxis can be hired for short or long journeys. They tend to ply fixed routes and charge fixed prices, usually 50AOA. However, you’re likely to be charged more as a foreigner than other local passengers. If you are planning a longer journey and need a car to yourself, most Angolans know someone, who knows someone, who has a car and could drive you. Be sure to negotiate a rate in advance and stick to it. If you are staying in an expensive hotel you won’t be able to negotiate a cheap rate – so expect to pay US$100 upwards per day.
First-time visitors to Luanda would be well advised not to hire a car on arrival. The roads are chaotic, traffic is very slow, there are few decent maps and even fewer road signs. Instead I strongly recommend you ask your hotel if they will provide an airport transfer service or contact one of the local travel agents.
There are grand plans to link the cities of Cabinda, Soyo, Nzeto, Dande, Luanda, Porto Amboim, Lobito, Benguela and Namibe by ferryboat. Whereas these are rather ambitious, there are more realistic plans to run four 800-seater ferry boats in the Luanda region between Panguilla, Luanda Port, Chicala, Mussulo, Benfica and the Slave Museum. No start date has been set, but if it comes off, it could be a very attractive way to get to the southern coastal area of Luanda and avoid the road traffic.
On rural roads hitchhiking may be the only way to get around if you do not have your own vehicle. Your driver will ask for a gasosa (a payment) and bear in mind that very low driving standards make hitching a seriously risky option.