Only in recent years beginning to establish itself as an attractive tourist destination after decades of civil war, Angola today has much to offer, from superb, unspoiled beaches and tropical islands, to national parks now restocked with plenty of game, mountain passes, desert landscapes, fascinating historical buildings and a vibrant culture. Accessed by road from neighbouring Southern African countries or by air, its main airport is Luanda International Airport.

Bordered by Namibia, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Atlantic Ocean, Angola has one of Southern Africa’s fastest-growing economies because of its vast oil reserves in the Cabinda province.

Formerly a Portuguese colony and today the second largest oil producer in Africa after Nigeria, present-day Angola is revitalising itself after the end of its civil war in 2002. It’s also a rapidly growing tourist attraction.

Oil rig – Angola is the second largest oil producer in Africa after Nigeria.

Oil rig – Angola is the second largest oil producer in Africa after Nigeria.

(Image: darksida)

Founded by the Portuguese in 1575, its largest city, major seaport and capital is Luanda on the Atlantic coast, with a metropolitan population of nearly three million people. It’s also the world’s third most populous Portuguese-speaking city, behind Brazil’s São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

It’s a challenging, dynamic city and home to some of Africa’s richest and poorest peoples. In the crowded city centre your clients can expect glitzy hotels, fine restaurants and palatial mansions, while the city’s outskirts abound with poverty-stricken bairros (settlements) and makeshift dwellings.

Lunada has a rich historical past. The National Museum of Slavery, where slaves were baptised before being sent off to the Americas, is well worth a visit, as is the Fortaleza de São Pedra da Barra, originally a 17th-century fort to protect Luanda from invasion, subsequently a slave-holding enclosure. Your clients shouldn’t miss the beautiful Baroque Igreja Nossa Senhora do Pópulo, the first Anglican church in Angola, dating back to 1492 and one of Angola’s national treasures.

But Luanda is all about the sea, and its beaches and range of water sports are fabulous, especially at Ilha do Mussulo, Ilha de Luanda, Cabo Ledo, Palmeirinhas and the less-crowded Sangano.

Your clients can stroll along Marginal, the scenic promenade that stretches from the local port to the Ilha de Luanda, the peninsula jutting into Luanda Bay. And they shouldn’t miss the Benfica Handcrafts Market south of the city – it’s a great place to people-watch and shop, so they should go with a local guide and bargain for an incredible range of goods, from animal skins and ivory to perfumes and fabrics.

Angola’s game parks are one of the country’s top attractions, especially the large 9 960km2 Kissama National Park (also called Quiçama National Park), situated 70km south of Luanda. Its western border consists of 120km of breathtakingly beautiful coastline, while north and south it’s bordered by the Cuanza and Longa rivers.

Established as a game reserve in 1938 and proclaimed a national park in 1957, Kissama was initially home to a large variety of species that were shot out during the country’s civil war. In 2001, however, the Kissama Foundation’s Operation Noah’s Ark moved large numbers of animals to Kissama from neighbouring countries, one of the largest animal relocations in history.

Today the park is almost completely restored and because of its unusually large variety of habitats, there is a wide variety of wildlife, including elephants, dwarf forest buffaloes, rhinos, eland, roan antelope, bushbuck, waterbuck, marine turtles and manatees. The park is also a birdwatcher’s paradise, with good birding throughout the whole year.

The completely different Iona National Park, at just over 15 000km2 the largest in Angola, is an amazing destination. Bordered to the west by the Atlantic Ocean, it forms part of a continuous block of 1 200km of protected land together with Namibia’s Skeleton Coast Park and the Namib-Naukluft National Park.

Here your clients will discover a variety of desert and semi-desert ecosystems, including mobile dunes along the coast, desert grasslands, open woodlands, savannah, incredible rock formations and one of the oldest living plants in the world, the Welwitschia mirabilis.

The stunningly beautiful remote desert landscape is a photographer’s dream. It’s home to many indigenous peoples such as the Himba, who have remained isolated from the outside world, and are described as one of the most culturally intact on the African continent.

Iona National Park.

Iona National Park.