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A weekend in Luanda: “Africa’s Manhattan” waits to be discovered

On the Angolan coast, the African metropolis of Luanda waits to be discovered.

Rich in culture before colonial times, then greatly influenced by the Portuguese in the 16th century, Angola has plenty to celebrate in its heritage, cuisine and traditions.

A city of constant change, Luanda offers much for visitors; from colonial architecture and a diverse musical culture to an upscale beach scene and delicious grilled fish.

The Luanda province gives visitors a good taste of urban Angola, a mixture of Portuguese and African culture, but it can also be a great place to start your journey to discover the country’s many natural wonders. Angola has 1,600km of coastline, with beautiful deserted beaches, rainforests, savannahs, a desert in the south, plus a year-round extraordinary climate.

Luanda is one of the most important industrial and cultural urban centres in Africa and is home to five million people. Portuguese is the official language.

What to do first? The landmarks.

Luanda’s old town dates back to the 16th century when the Portuguese first arrived and built a settlement. They stayed for four centuries, and the influence is deeply felt.

You can travel back in time to colonial Luanda by visiting monuments such as the Iron Palace, believed to be designed by – or by someone close to – Gustave Eiffel, or the baroque Sé Cathedral, another of the city’s oldest constructions. The Fortress of São Miguel, built on the side of Mount São Paulo is the oldest in Angola and is also worth a visit.

After visiting the fortress head back to the old port by walking by the Marginal promenade (Avenida 4 de Fevereiro), a beautifully renovated seaside boulevard running along the Luanda bay. Throughout its three kilometres, the bay has a life of its own with plenty of green spaces, shops, lively bars and restaurants.

A music state of mind

In Angola, music and dance play a central role in cultural life. In Luanda, people gather in the Marginal to “Kizomba na Rua” (dancing kizomba on the street) every Sunday evening. The best dancers from Luanda usually show up. Everyone is very friendly and you’ll probably be invited to join.

Another great Angolan-styled music to discover is Kuduro, a popular nationwide genre that blossomed in the 1990s. Head to the Rangel district to find the “next Kuduro generation.” You’ll be greeted by a festive atmosphere, fast beats, and spontaneous choreographies.

Did you bring your appetite? You’ll need it.

Luanda’s gastronomic tradition is well established, promising to appeal to seafood lovers and culinary exotics. The city has a vibrant restaurant scene, drawing on both local and historic food influences (such as the Mozambican, Portuguese or Brazilian).

Angolans excel at cooking fish, so be sure not to miss a good grilled catch – Calulu fish is always a good option. Also try the Muamba chicken, and the Mufete, a generous national dish with fish, beans, plantain and sweet potato. Dairy production is well developed in the region, for something special opt for home-made goat cheese and yoghurt. If you have a sweet tooth, try doce de ginguba, a peanut jam which is also great to buy as a souvenir, or the Cocada Amarela, a delicious coconut pudding.

Where to eat

A standout dining institution is La Vigia, in the Maculusso neighbourhood. It has a large coal grill and their fish and steaks are displayed for you to choose your cut. Portions are big and the beer is always cold. Luandans love their beer and, because of the Portuguese influence, they love wine too. The Rooftop by ListenSound is a great place for a drink and to grab a bite while enjoying the views of the Luanda skyline. If you’re up for sushi, K. Sushi in downtown Luanda or its sister Restaurante K in Talatona are splendid choices.

Cafe del mar is another great pick, and not only because of its private beach. The place has been at the forefront of the culinary scene for more than two decades. It is situated on Ilha de Luanda (Luanda’s island), which is always a fun place to be.

Beach time is a must

Along with the upscale beach scene in the “Ilha de Luanda” peninsula, there are many other beaches to explore near and around the city, a favourite is Mussulo island. But countless other secluded and wild beaches await to be discovered on the coast. Just outside of Luanda, a short road trip will take you to Barra do Donde in the city’s north or Sangano to the South.

Now if what you’re looking is a laid-back atmosphere, drive south to Cabo Ledo, the surfers’ destination of choice. Only 100 km away from Luanda, Cabo Ledo hosts one of the longest left-hand waves in the world. If skydiving is on your bucket list, Cabo Ledo also offers the opportunity to test your resolve and jump out of an aeroplane.

Sportfishing is another great option around Luanda, Angola offers some of the best conditions in the world for marlin, sailfish, dourado and tuna.

Not so salty getaways

If sandy and salty feet are not high on your list, head to Miradouro da Lua (Viewpoint of the Moon), a stunning landscape Hollywood could claim to be the moon. The lunar-like cliffs are the result of erosion caused by the rain and wind – it is stunning to see. The place also offers a nice view of the sea, which makes it a remarkable aperó and sunset setting, bring your picnic!

Not too far away from the Miradouro da Lua is the mouth of the Kwanza River. Head here and take a river cruise to discover the region’s wildlife: monkeys and colourful birds await. We went for a boat ride with the Kwanza eco-lodge. Another fun option is to rent a kayak and move around at your own pace.

Shopping

Angola is rapidly growing, so visiting its capital will always be filled with new discoveries and unique contrasts. Local products show the country’s diverse culture and lively, open-air markets are the best places to find them. One of the most well-known ones is Benefica, in the south of Luanda. It sells everything from food and jewellery to art and clothes.

Animal carvings are very popular, and so are signature pieces of Angolan art such as the “Penseur sculpture,” and the Mwana Pwo traditional masks, said to represent the feminine ideal.

If you want to hit up a classic mall, Belas Shopping, Shopping Avenida, Talatona Shopping and the Fortaleza Shopping all offer an international shopping experience.

How to get around?

Taxis are the best and safest way to get around in Luanda. You can also opt for candogueiros (mini bus cabs) for a more authentic experience, there are many and easy to spot thanks to their pale blue and white paint. Candogueiros are safe and convenient during the daytime and the same rule applies for walking: best when the sun is out! If you prefer a more exclusive ride, apps like Kubinga, T’Leva and Heetch all offer an “Uber-Like” experience. There are also several car rental services, hiring a driver is also recommended if the budget allows. If you would like to explore a luxury train experience, be sure to research the Rovos Rail train journey between Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and Lobito, Benguela.

Angola is twice the size of France and is blessed with a remarkably beautiful, diverse and wild territory – you’re guaranteed a fascinating trip.

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