Its name may be synonymous with strife, but since the civil war ended in 2002 Angola has been enjoying something of a renaissance. Safe and welcoming, this friendly nation transports the laidback, community-orientated lifestyle of southern Portugal to continental Africa – and travellers are once again discovering its charms.
Most enter the country via the capital, Luanda, which has the dubious and surprising distinction of being the most expensive city in the world. With its gleaming skyscrapers, grand government buildings and palm-lined promenades, downtown Luanda’s prosperity probably come as a revelation to many visitors. But the spoils of Angola’s considerable oil wealth soon give way to unofficial shantytowns, proving that not everyone is benefitting from the black gold rush.
It is along Angola’s stunning 1,700 km (1,000 miles) coastline, in cities like Luanda, where Portugal’s colonial influences are most striking. The faded, art deco splendour of cities like Benguela and Namibe provide a welcome distraction from the country’s sandy shores.
Further inland, the landscape becomes one of almost endless plains. Here remote national parks are slowly being restocked with wildlife, while the newly renovated Benguela railway wends through the seemingly endless countryside. One of the world’s most evocative rail journeys, riding through the landscape with its people is a great way to delve into the psyche of laughter-loving Angolans.
To the north – and separated from the rest of Angola by a 40 km (25 miles) arm of the Democratic Republic of Congo – the exclave of Cabinda is Angola in miniature, with empty beaches once popular with expats, elegant towns and virgin rainforest full of wildlife.
Youthful and energetic, Angola, like its people, has its own way of doing things. Fun-loving and eager to impress, it is a country still shaking off its troubled past while looking firmly at the future.