Angola is a vast country in Africa, offering unique travel experiences. It’s one of those places very few know nothing about, and even fewer have traveled there. Usually, the only thing you hear about the country is how expensive it is due to an oil boom. Luanda, the capital city, has even been named to be one of the most expensive cities in the world. And yes, while I also found the city to be quite expensive, I was more interested in visiting the countryside and natural wonders of the country. Some of these sights include the Kalandula Falls – one of the largest waterfalls in Africa and Pedras Negras de Pungo Andongo – some unusual rock formations.
Getting the Tourist Visa
For me, Angola was the last country left in this part of Africa, and I had been waiting for a long time to visit it. The reason why I hadn’t traveled there before, was the difficult visa process but luckily things changed in 2018 when Angola started a new tourist eVisa. One of the most challenging countries to get in suddenly got so much easier!
You can apply for the evisa on their SME e-visa site. Filling out the application might sometimes be a pain in the ass. At least for me, the site crashed several times and I had to start it all over again about five times.
For the visa application, you will need:
- Passport photo: Width (381 – 571) pixels. Height (496 – 744) pixels. Maximum file size – 200 KB. Image format – JPEG.
- Passport: A copy of the passport page which displays data and photo. Maximum file size – 300 KB. Image format – JPEG.
- Vaccine Certificate: A valid international vaccine certificate (a yellow fever certificate)
- Proof of accommodation: Hotel reservations or proof of accommodation
- Proof of livelihoods: Proof of Livelihoods equivalent of 200USD per each day of stay in the territory (a bank statement)
- Ticket reservation: Ticket reservation with a return flight
The document images should be scanned in grayscale with a resolution of a minimum of 100dpi and a maximum of 150dpi in JPEG or TIFF format. Maximum file size TIFF – 15360 KB (15 MB). Maximum file size JPEG – 350 KB.
I wrote all the required sizes and everything up because they are very strict about it. I needed to resize a lot of documents several times to get them to be the exact size that was required. Otherwise, I couldn’t continue with my application. But please, still check the latest requirements from the official site, because they can change.
I applied for the visa at the very last minute (flying in on Monday and filling out the visa application the following Friday) and got the visa approved in two hours. However, the recommended time is to leave your application two weeks prior. Luckily, they were really fast processing my visa application!
The visa fee is $120, and you will pay it in cash at the airport when you arrive. The international airport is tiny, and at least when I arrived, there was a separate room on the left side where all visas where processed. While sitting there and waiting for my turn, I looked around in the room. All the other people there were businessmen in their suits coming to the country on business visas. I wasn’t surprised though; I guess Angola wasn’t still high on people’s travel list, despite the new tourist visa.
Currency and Money Exchange
The official currency is Angolan Kwanza, and you can get the best rate when exchanging money at the black market. You can use this local website to check the current black market rate.
I exchanged both euros and US dollars with no problems. The local people will know where you can find the money changers, so ask for directions. Count the kwanzas first before handing over your bills to be on the safe side.
Portuguese is the official language, but since I don’t speak it, I got by using either English or Spanish.
If you would like to use the internet, and especially if you’re traveling outside the capital, I highly recommend buying a local prepaid SIM card. Unitel has the best coverage, and I purchased one of their SIM cards. When going to a store to buy a SIM card, bring your passport with you.
Where to Stay in Luanda
Luanda is expensive when it comes to accommodation. I tried to choose the most budget-friendly option but also checked the reviews and opted for a hotel that offered a free airport transfer. I highly recommend arranging your transport before your arrival because if there are any taxi drivers at the airport, they will surely rip you off. My choice of accommodation was Residence DB, and they were waiting for me at the airport.
We drove to the hotel, and I kept looking outside, trying to take in everything I saw. The neighborhood of the hotel looked a bit dodgy, and the entrance was hidden at the back of a dirty alley, but when I finally got inside, it started to look like a real hotel. The people working at the reception were very nice, and even though it was early morning, I could already check in to my room. I was tired after two days of traveling, so getting some sleep before exploring Luanda, was a good idea. The room was decent and clean, and there was air conditioning. The wifi also worked surprisingly well.
If you are on a budget, Residence DB is a good option. The prices usually vary between $50-$80, so compared to many other countries, this is not considered a budget option, but unfortunately, accommodation is very expensive in Luanda. You can book the hotel on Booking.com or HotelsCombined.
Another good option with a different kind of location is Thomson Art House. Located in Ilha de Luanda right at the beach, this hotel is a very stylish boutique hotel featuring local art. I would consider this to be more of a tourist-friendly hotel. I didn’t stay there but visited it (more about it later on the post) and would recommend it for anyone. You can book Thomson Art House on Booking.com or HotelsCombined.
I rechecked the hotel prices when writing this post, and it seems like Thomson Art House has decreased their rates, and Residence DB increased them. I would only stay at Residence DB again if it was noticeably cheaper than Thomson Art House. But always compare the prices on sites like HotelsCombined to get the best deal.
What to See in Luanda
Ilha de Luanda
Ilha de Luanda is a spit off the shore of Luanda. There are sandy beaches and some nice restaurants (although most of them quite expensive). For swimming, I would recommend visiting Ilha do Mussulo instead.
Fortaleza de Sao Miguel
Fortaleza de Sao Miguel is a must-visit in Luanda. It’s a beautiful Portuguese fort, full of history, and initially built in 1576 to defend the access to the city.
Mausoleum of Agostinho Neto
The Mausoleum of Agostinho Neto is an obelisk-like concrete structure serving as Neto’s final resting place. Neto served as Angola’s first president from 1975-1979 after Angola secured its independence from the Portuguese. The style of the mausoleum reminded me of Soviet monuments, and you would expect to see something like this in old Soviet Union countries in Eastern Europe.
Bay of Luanda Waterfront
The new waterfront is an urban area providing great views of the gleaming new towers. The promenade has a lovely clean walkway and some palm trees. This is also a place where you can clearly understand the stark divide between rich and poor that exists in Luanda due to an oil boom.
Cidade Alta is where the parliament building and presidential palace are located. This place is recommended for everyone interested in old Portuguese architecture. However, as in most African countries, taking pictures of government buildings is not allowed. So, unfortunately, walking around and acting as a tourist is not possible here if you don’t want to get in trouble. I managed to take one photo from a moving car.
Other Places Around Luanda
If you have more time and can arrange transport, I highly recommend visiting some places around the capital city. Some popular sights are the Ship’s Cemetery and Miradouro da Lua.
Ship’s Cemetery is a shipwreck beach with a dozen of large abandoned ships. The place is located about 35km north of Luanda, but the beach itself is quite isolated. Some tourists have been robbed here so I would only recommend visiting with a guide and a car.
Miradouro da Lua is located around 40 km south of Luanda. The Moon Viewpoint offers views of a spectacular landscape, shaped by years of rains and erosion, which make it look similar to the surface of the moon.
Getting from Luanda to Malanje/Kalandula Falls/Pedras Negras
While in Angola, I wanted to see something else besides the capital city. I decided to head to the countryside to see some of the beautiful natural wonders of the country: Kalandula Falls and Pedras Negras.
I started to research on transport options to get me to these places, but it turned out difficult, mostly because of the limited time and the fact that the sites are quite remote. Usually, I travel overland by using public transport, but this time, I had already booked my return ticket for the visa application. I didn’t want to risk not making it back to Luanda to catch my flight to São Tomé and Príncipe.
If you have time, one option is to take a bus to Malanje and from there, organize trips to the Kalandula Falls and Pedras Negras. Both of these places are quite remote, and you can’t reach these by taking the typical African minibuses. You can either hire a driver or hitchhike (typically when hitchhiking in Africa, you’re expected to pay for the driver, so ask for the price before getting in).
My hotel’s reception didn’t turn out to be too helpful when trying to research transportation options. I guess they don’t deal with tourists too often. I had already tried to find tour companies in Angola but came to the conclusion that they were way too expensive, asking for thousands of dollars for short trips. I also considered renting a car myself, but I’m happy that I didn’t do that, seeing the condition of some of the roads later on.
I decided to find more tourist-friendly hotels and ask them for help. I found Thomson Art House when visiting Ilha de Luanda and found their staff to be very helpful and friendly. They knew some people and helped me to organize a car and a driver at a reasonable price.
Visiting Pedras Negras
The plan for the first day was to drive from Luanda to Pedras Negras. We left Luanda early in the morning because the drive was quite long. The roads seemed to be in a quite good condition before we reached a road construction. Then for a long time, there was no proper road at all, just a muddy dirt road, and we encountered a lot of cars that had gotten stuck there. I was happy that our car was a proper 4×4, so we didn’t have any problems. It was raining a bit, so the dirt roads were in bad shape, but it was nothing compared to the situations I’ve had in other African countries (like the Mozambique – Tanzania border crossing).
Pedras Negras de Pungo Andongo (the Black Rocks at Pungo Andongo) are very unique rock formations. The rocks are huge, and standing high above the flat African savanna, so you can see them from far away. When you get closer to the rocks, there are two viewpoints. The first one is easy to find. It’s on the right side of the road, and you can park just next to the viewpoint.
The second viewpoint is a little further down the road after a village. This viewpoint requires a short walk and climb to get you to the top. Here you can get a beautiful view of the village and the rocks.
Where to Stay in Malanje
The best accommodation options around this area are in Malanje, so that’s where I headed for the night. I walked into the first hotel I saw and asked for the prices. A single room there cost 20,000kz, which I considered to be very expensive, considering how rundown the place looked. I found another hotel called Hotel Portugalia. The price was the same, but the hotel itself looked much nicer. The room was very clean and modern, and breakfast was included in the price.
Visiting the Kalandula Falls
It takes around an hour to drive from Malanje to the Kalandula Falls. Just like Pedras Negras, the Kalandula Falls also have two viewpoints offering different views of the falls.
The first viewpoint is located at a hotel that stands directly opposite the falls, offering beautiful views. If you wish to enjoy the falls longer, you can also stay overnight at the hotel.
The second viewpoint is a little bit further down the main road, and this spot offers a closer look at the falls. Here you can also find some local kids who can guide you to the bottom of falls if you wish to pay them.
Kalandula Falls are one of the largest falls in Africa, and they are truly an amazing sight. This is something that shouldn’t be missed while in Angola. I had already seen the Victoria Falls in Zambia/Zimbabwe, but I have to say that I found Kalandula Falls to be more impressive. The best part is that these falls are still a very well kept secret, and I could have them all to myself – there weren’t any tourists.