11 things you’ll love in one of the most expensive cities in the world

Are you guessing Oslo or London? Tokyo or Zurich?

Not today, folks. We are further south in the world. In the southern parts of Africa. Angola, to be precise, a green and gorgeous country and Africa’s largest oil producer (even larger than Nigeria), and infamous for a 27-year-long devastating armed conflict – encompassing both a civil war and a USSR/USA proxy war. Sadly, that’s what usually happens when an occupier – Portugal in this case – just leaves without a plan for putting a democracy in place.

Angola has also been infamous for having had a rigid visa regime – had being the operative word. Some 10 years ago, it took a friend of mine 2 years of pretty active effort to obtain a visa for Angola. But not any more. Today, no visa is required for the casual tourist, i.e. me – and citizens of 90+ other countries. That is quite rare. More and more countries offer visa on arrival and/or eVisa, but very few African countries require no visa at all. Well done, Angola.

‘But but… hang on,’ I hear you say. ‘Did you say one of the most expensive cities in the world?’

Sure did. Especially if you want to stay a while. Renting a 3-bedroom apartment in Luanda’s city centre will set you back USD 3,500 on average. Fortunately for my wallet, I’m not going to live here. I’m merely a visitor, here to have a look at Luanda, and enjoy the annual carnival. Also on the agenda, is a visit to the exclave Cabinda. And since I’m in town, I want to get a little feel for the Angolan capital, as much as a few days will allow.

11 things you’ll love in Luanda

There’s plenty of fun things to see and do in Angola’s capital: interesting museums, cool architecture, long sandy beaches, delicious fresh fish and friendly folks.

Let’s jump right in!

1. Fortaleza Sao Miguel

The 16th century Fortaleza de São Miguel is a remnant from colonial days and the oldest building in Luanda. Today, it’s home to Angola’s Armed Forces Museum. If you, like me, are not into military memorabilia, it is still a worthwhile stop, for the views –

– and also for the collection of old airplanes,

My inner Amelia Earhart wants to go up up up

– and for the fabulous star gate with the eye-catching mosaics.

2. The Agostinho Neto Mausoleum

Dr. Antonio Agostinho Neto, physician, poet, and leader of Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA), was not very popular with the colonisers. Like many African liberation movement leaders, he was arrested, exiled and imprisoned, and 30 of his followers massacred by Portuguese soldiers.

When Angola finally won its independence in 1975, Neto became the country’s first president, a post he held until his death 4 years later. He is remembered here in the middle of Luanda with a massive, Brutalist space ship-like obelisk, built by (and possibly funded by) North Korea.

3. Neto statue

Agostinho is also remembered with this statue on Independence Square, surrounded by evocative mosaics.

4. Ilha do Cabo – and Angolan food

The Ilha do Cabo peninsula – or Ilha de Luanda – has beaches, food and fun. Restaurants, bars, beach clubs, sun, sea, and sand abound. This might very well become your favourite part of Luanda.

Grilled fish and local Cuca beer, here at Bela Mar Casa do Peixe – a fun place with very loud music.

5. Avenida 4 de Fevereiro

4th February Avenue is Luanda’s lively waterfront promenade next to the beach. You’ll have great views of Luanda Bay and it’s good for architecture spotting.

The pink Banco Nacional de Angola building across the street from the promenade seems to go on for ever

6. The EuLuanda sign

Also along the promenade is the obligatory I sign. This one is a bit different, with Eu instead of I. The Portuguese version.

Nothing to do with the EU

7. Palácio de Ferro: the Iron Palace

Photo by Mbatchi, one of our friendly guides in Luanda

This enigmatic yellow building  is made entirely of iron, and was constructed by Gustave Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty fame. Maybe! No one really knows anything about this structure. It was sent by ship from France headed for Madagascar, but ended up on the shores of Angola’s Skeleton Coast after the ship ran aground. Mysteries all round here.

8. Miradouro da Lua

My favourite thing to see in Luanda is not actually in town, but about 40 km away: Viewpoint of the Moon.

Miradouro da Lua is a curious geological formation – a striking, otherwordly karst landscape overlooking the Atlantic.

9. Museu Nacional da Escravatura

Not far from the Viewpoint of the Moon, is the National Slavery Museum, focussing on slavery in Angola and the country’s role in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Most of the enslaved people from Angola was sent to Brazil, another Portuguese colony.

The building housing the Slavery Museum once belonged to the vile Álvaro de Carvalho Matoso, one of the main slave-traders in Africa in the 1700s.

Enslaved people were forcefully baptised here before they were sent off across the Atlantic, and you can see the baptism font and hundreds of artefacts used in the slave trade. Yet another place in the world where we are reminded of humans’ capacity for cruelty.

10. Market

For a bit of balance, just outside is a colourful market, where you can shop for clothes and art work.

11. Carnival in Luanda

You might want to time your visit to Luanda to mid-February, in time for carnival – several hours of parades, music, dancing.

No drunkenness or debauchery here, just an enjoyable show.

12. A day or two in Cabinda

And yet again, 11 is rarely just 11 here on Sophie’s World. I’m sure that doesn’t come as a surprise. As a bonus, I give you… Cabinda.

This blog is about the world’s curious places, and Cabinda fits the bill. Stuck between Congo-Brazzaville and Congo-Kinshasa, this Angolan exclave was once another Congo. Several daily flights make the 45-minute hop between Luanda and Cabinda. More about the third Congo over here.

And that concludes this episode of 11 things you’ll love.