Eight-and-a-half thousand kilometers from Lisbon, Luanda is the most populous Portuguese capital city in the world but, unlike many cities in Europe, English is not a priority for locals here, so it’s worth brushing up on some basic Portuguese to avoid being rude – and to aid in the ordering of food and other basics
South Africans do not need visas (provided they stay no longer than 30 days), but make sure you have all appropriate travel papers with you, regardless. One of those should be an up-to-date International Certificate of Vaccination. This must include being cleared for yellow fever, and you’ll appreciate the caution once you see the mosquitoes – take plenty of repellent to stay safe – which are also a risk for malaria.
Also note that the city is one of the most expensive in the world for visitors (a legacy of the civil war that ended in 2002, damaging a great deal of infrastructure and supply lines), so budget accordingly, particularly if you want to spend some time out and about, and not just in a business suite or conference room. Those are some of the challenges, but there is much to entice, too.
Eat, drink and be merry
One thing there are plenty of in Luanda are places to eat, and the food, unsurprisingly, features the wonderful tastes of both Portuguese and Brazilian cuisine, with local touches added to the mix. For carnivores, there is the juicy picanha (rump steak) and cod, as well as Angolan dishes, which include calulu (a fish-based stew made with red palm oil sauce) and moamba de galinha (also stew, but with chicken as the main ingredient). There’s more fish on offer, unsurprisingly for a seaside city, and grilled fish from street traders is a popular choice with travellers. Try mufete – grilled tilapia with plantains, beans, sweet potatoes, onion dressing and a spicy sauce.
Small, informal restaurants known as quintais serve relatively affordable fare, including soup and barbecued meats, as well as Italian and Indian food. Or, if you’re on an expense account, head out into the upmarket Ilha do Cabo area, where there are many swanky, luxury
To wash down whatever you’re eating, do as many locals do and wash it down with beer. It’ll save you money – both Cuca and Tigra, two popular brands, are cheap (less than R10 for a Cuca; about twice that for a Tigra). Or, if you’re not a beer fan, try one of the many Portuguese wines on offer – they’re available everywhere – or consider a cocktail. The specialty in the area is the caipirinha, but, as in South Africa, gin and tonic is increasing in popularity, and they’re not shy with portions here.
Know where to go
It pays to be aware of the way the city works on a daily basis – otherwise you’re definitely going to get stuck in traffic. Broadly speaking, Luanda has two parts – the central downtown section, and the prosperous southern suburbs (known as Luanda Sul). In the centre of town are the city’s historical buildings, including Angola’s seat of government, and you can expect much more foot traffic than in the more upmarket south. At quiet times of day, there’s a 20-minute commute between the two, but the same distance will take two hours to cover in the morning or evening rush hours.
If you can afford it, make navigating the, er, ‘forceful’ local driving someone else’s problem, by hiring a car with a professional behind the wheel. Or catch a candongueiro – the Angolan equivalent of a South African minibus taxi – which is much cheaper, though you need to do a bit of homework before you get on board, as the vehicles aren’t labelled, and you’re going to need to know what names to listen out for in the commentary shouted out by the taxi’s money handler, so that you know when you’ve reached your destination.
If you’re in town on business, get some notes on specifics, as many of the roads are either unnamed or blessed with several titles – one from colonial times, one recent update, and sometimes a nickname used by the city’s residents. If you’re on holiday, chat to your hotel hosts or restaurant staff. And if that still leaves you confused, plan to rendezvous with friends or contacts somewhere on the Praia do Bispo or Marginal – the famous seafront avenues – that can be reached by simply heading downhill until you hit the water, if you get lost.
Angola is one of the few places where the exchange rate is in favour of the South African rand – R1 will get you around 40 Angolan kwanza – but the high prices of everything rather nullify that potential bonus. It is good to have some cash on you, though, as credit cards are not accepted everywhere, and you don’t want to be caught short.
Note that there might be scrutiny when you are seen taking photographs, particularly if the focus is on government buildings or anything else related to politics (such as monuments). Be sensible, and rather ask anyone official-looking who might be watching you if it’s ok to take a snap. And, speaking of being sensible – as in any large city, keep an eye on your stuff, and expect the usual parking attendants and other informal assistants who might request a small fee for their actions or advice.
To close out the day, work off any excess energy on the dancefloor, where the locals dance the kizomba (a sexier version of the country’s traditional semba). There are a number of venues with different specialities all over town – choose what’s closest to where you’re staying, or go where whatever you’ve packed in your suitcase allows you to fit in with the stylish patrons.