Our authors tell the story of this famous railway, found by Dr Livingstone.Read more...
Angola - When and where to visit
Angola’s climate varies according to latitude and altitude but the dominating influence is the cold Benguela Current which keeps temperatures bearable and rainfall down, at least on the coastal strip. In broad terms the country can be divided into four climatic zones: the north, where the rainfall is very heavy and the temperatures high; the central plateau, which is generally dry with average temperatures of 19°C, though much colder at night; the coastal plain which is cooler and dry; and finally the hot, dry Namibe Desert towards the south.
Luanda is pleasant during the dry season from May to August, though early mornings and evenings can be chilly; lows vary between 19°C and 23°C and highs range from 24°C to 29°C. It will not rain during this period and so it gets very dusty. Even in the hot and rainy season, from September to May, it is rarely uncomfortably hot, but on days when the humidity is high, Luanda can get rather steamy. The first few days of rain in September wash away the months of accumulated dust and give the city a cleaner and brighter feel. Most rain falls in March and April and can occasionally cause severe flooding in Luanda and throughout the rest of the country. The few days when there is torrential rain can make for a pretty miserable time as the city sometimes grinds to a halt.
The rainy season is not a good time to travel off the main roads as rains make many roads impassable due to mud, floods, landslides and washed-out bridges. Avoid the rains too if you want to see wildlife as the grasses grow high, and obscure both the animals and their tracks through the bush. However, the rainy season or just afterwards is a good time to visit the Kalandula waterfalls and the Binga waterfalls as they are in full flow.
Angola is a great destination for beach lovers © ibnluanda, Flickr
Drive around Luanda looking for the once impressive, but now rather dilapidated, forts, churches and government buildings left over from Portuguese colonial rule. Head across the bay to the Ilha sand strip for a bite to eat with views of the city on one side and the Atlantic on the other, then party on the strip’s numerous sophisticated bars and clubs. On the downside, shopping is very limited, and culture vultures will miss the arts, but there’s enough to do in Luanda to keep most people occupied for three or four days, particularly if they want to spend a day relaxing on the beaches of the Ilha. Luanda is also a great base for discovering the rest of the country.
Safari-style game view trips to the Kissama National Park are popular with tourists and expatriate residents of Luanda alike. Kissama is about three hours’ drive south and it is possible to visit the park and return to the capital the same day, though an overnight stay in the park or one of the nearby lodges on the Kwanza River is recommended.
Lobito and Benguela
Lobito and Benguela are pretty and relaxed towns some 550km or so south of Luanda. Both have fine beaches. The road is now very good and it is possible to drive from Luanda in about five or six hours provided you do not get caught up in the horrendous traffic or get lost in Luanda’s suburbs – expect to do both. Whilst it is possible to do the journey in one day you could avoid this by staying in comfortable lodges on the Kwanza or Longa rivers. All of these lodges serve tasty home-cooked food, usually based around fresh fish and seafood. There is also a handful of reasonable hotels and restaurants at the halfway point in Sumbe.
If you are a beach-lover, Luanda, Benguela, Lobito, Sumbe and Porto Amboim all have beaches that are easily accessible. Pack your board and long shorts for a weekend of surfng at Cabo Ledo. There are also loads of deserted beaches just waiting to be discovered – but only for those with a 4x4 and a sense of adventure.
If waterfalls are your thing, you won’t be disappointed. The falls at Kalandula are said to be Africa’s third-highest at 105m, and Binga Falls are a worthwhile side trip from sunny Sumbe. Hunguéria Falls are not easy to find, but getting there is fun.
Spend two/three days exploring Luanda. When you are bored of lobster and chilled beer on the Ilha, head for the beaches of Mussulo and rub shoulders with the glitterati of Angolan society. Try some game-spotting in Kissama National Park and spend a night or two listening to the wildlife around you. And if you remembered to bring your fishing tackle, try your luck at reeling in tarpon, giant African threadfish and dorado – but be sure to bring your camera, otherwise the folks at home won’t believe your tales of record-breaking catches.
After exploring Luanda, head east to the mysterious and imposing rock formations of Pungo Andongo – a site that held David Livingstone’s attention for a couple of weeks in 1854 and where you can hunt for Queen Ginga’s footsteps, which are petrified in the rocks. Overnight in Malanje’s restored colonial Palácio Regina Hotel. Then set of early the next day to Kalandula Waterfalls and scramble to the bottom for a refreshing dip in the river. You could also try one of the suggested itineraries for road trips around Kwanza Sul.
Drive down the coast to Benguela, stopping off on the way for two or three days of perfect relaxation and perhaps a bit of fishing, birdwatching and turtle-spotting at idyllic jungle lodges on the Kwanza or Longa rivers. Explore the dusty old fishing towns of Porto Amboim and Sumbe. Take a side trip to the Binga Waterfalls, or the spectacular Gabela escarpment, perhaps camping in one of Angola’s finest birding areas. Enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the seaside town of Lobito, where the veranda of the Terminus Hotel is ideal for whale- and dolphin-watching. Pretend to be Indiana Jones and ride the open carriages of the creaking Benguela railway. Wander around the balmy town of Benguela and enjoy the fine seafood. Return to Luanda, scrub off the dust and put your glad rags on for a night out on the town.
Three to four weeks
Load up your 4x4, recharge the satellite phone, switch on the GPS and head towards Namibe. On the way visit the old Boer cemeteries at Humpata and Barracões; hold tight as you teeter over the edge of the vertiginous Tunda-Vala cliffs; visit the statue of Christ overlooking Lubango – he’s modelled on the one in Rio de Janeiro; and drive through the bush for a day to find Hunguéria Falls. Return on good tarmac roads and enjoy the hairpin bends as you descend through the Serra da Leba pass and into Namibe province. Visit the abandoned mineral port, frozen in time, just outside Namibe town, and stock up with fresh provisions in dusty Namibe before heading into the desert. On the way you’ll see the rare endemic Weltwitschia mirabilis, antelopes of various types, and perhaps even the odd snake and scorpion; have the chance to mingle with the topiary-haired youth of the Nhaneca-Humbe tribe as they lead you to prehistoric rock paintings at Tchitundo-Hulo, miles from anywhere; and look for leopards at Pediva’s hot spring oasis. For much of this trip you’ll be camping, but there’s very welcome respite at Omauha Lodge with its bungalows fashioned out of rocky outcrops, or Flamingo Lodge with its amazing fishing. For the return journey (and only for the very well equipped and those with experienced guides), the beach run between Foz do Cunene and Baía dos Tigres is a race against the tide. Get stuck in the sand here and you can wave goodbye to your 4x4.