The name Angola, West Africa, invokes images of a war-torn country, of 30 years of mortal struggle between two political parties, the UNITA and MPLA, a countryside littered with landmines, and a shattered infrastructure.
Gentle readers, the good news is that the war ended in 2002, Angolans are forging ahead, reconstruction is taking place at a phenomenal pace, and change is visible from week to week! Most Angolans are full of optimism and self-confidence, and while their country is not quite ready to receive masses of tourists, positive changes are taking place.
Self-travel in Angola presents a bit of a challenge for the occasional tourist or even expatriates residing in Angola, especially those who have limited use of a vehicle, and those who have a limited command of the Portuguese language. However, there are some options, such as a reliable touring company called Eco-Tur.
What does Angola offer?
Thirty years of isolation has had a positive effect on a country’s natural beauty, as it is well-preserved. Angola offers clean, pristine beaches, a variety of impressive geography, and tremendous geological features; all of which, are begging to be re-visited. I say “re-visited” because over three decades ago, Angola was a sought-after destination by Europeans; in fact, Luanda, the capital city, used to be called “the Riviera of Africa,”… sadly, that term has now been relegated to a fond memory, and the glory has been assigned to another African city, but I digress.
Seeing Angola with EcoTur
This young company was started by two gentlemen: a Portuguese-Angolan (Mario) and an Englishman (Paul), with a deep knowledge and love for Angola. EcoTur has been properly registered with the Ministry of Tourism, so traveling around the country with them is a safe and reliable. The fact that all of their guides are extremely familiar with Angola, its attractions, and of course, that the guides are fluent in English, Portuguese and French, can set one’s mind at ease.
With EcoTur one can expect door-to-door service, reliable, fully-equipped 4×4 Land Cruiser vehicles, and a competent driver. In most cases, Mario or Paul will be driving and guiding, and, if it’s a big group, several cars travel together.
Upon request, a trip can be organized for the long-haul, or just for a long weekend. Often, EcoTur will announce trips within short-notice, but that seems to work well for the company. Normally, EcoTur advertizes through Facebook, their own website, sends e-mails to previous clients, or piggy-backs (with permission) on Expat associations websites.
The Cost of Tourism in Angola
Angola is an expensive destination: food, accommodations, transportation, you name it, have a high price tag on it, and it’s no wonder Newsweek declared in late 2009, that Luanda, Angola, was the #1, most expensive city in the world, two years running!
Hotels outside Luanda, at best can be given 3-stars, regardless of what they claim, but they charge the same price of a solid 4-star hotel anywhere else in the world, from $200 upwards. The only 5-star hotel in Luanda is a brand new hotel located in the Convention Center, and it costs well-over $500 a night for a standard room.
Our Three-days tour to Malanje, Pungo Andongo and Kalandula Falls
Day 1: The adventure begins!
We were picked up in our home, around 07:30, and there was just one more client traveling with us. It was fun to have someone who had never seen any parts of Angola, as he was seeing everything with great interest.
We traveled on the new Autostrada and in less than one hour’s travel we left Luanda behind and saw the impressively undulating Angolan countryside. We were traveling on an excellent quality highway, leading us to Malanje. Although the road is good quality, the traffic was heavy, with mostly large vehicles carrying all sorts of equipment, and our progress was not swift.
The province of Malanje is on the central plateau of north of Angola, and it shares a small portion of the Angolan border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Malanje has a pleasant climate, though it can be a bit humid at times, with temperatures averaging between 70-78F. The drive to Malanje should take only six hours if you drive directly, but of course, there were some side attractions to be seen, a detour for lunch, and the Botanical Garden in N’dalatando. We stayed on schedule, and we arrived in Malanje, to the Palacio Regina Hotel, right at dusk.
The Palacio Regina Hotel looks nice from the outside, a soft yellow, three stories building, located directly across the UNITA headquarters. The lobby is small, modern and well-appointed. Our guestrooms were ready on arrival and we spent two nights in this hotel. This hotel is considered the best hotel available in town (4-stars they say, I say 3-stars). Dinner was included in the price, and we chose from the menu; we were impressed with the good quality of the food, and preparation.
Day Two: Kalandula Falls (Cachoeiras de Kalandula)
After a decent, but not fantastic buffet breakfast, we left the hotel and headed out to a NossoSuper, a local supermarket where we stocked up on beverages and snacks for the trip. Refreshments are included in the cost of the trip, and we got to pick what we wanted.
A day-trip to Kalandula Falls from Luanda is not possible, thus, you must do the overnight trip to Malanje. The falls were previously known as the Duque de Braganca falls, but this name was used pre-independence, and since 1976 the falls have been known as Kalandula. The Kalandula falls are the second tallest in Africa, and they are beautiful.
The Falls are only 85 kilometers from the city of Malanje, and while we made several stops along the way, we managed to arrive at the falls, no later than 10:30. There is a “safe” lookout point to one side of the falls, and we took many photographs of the beautiful waterfalls. Our guide decided that we were fit enough to descend to the river level to observe the falls from that point of view; this was probably the most exciting adventure, as we felt like chimpanzees, swinging from tree vines and clambering over rocks and huge tree stumps, and in the end we were covered in mud! The next goal was to make it to lunch, at the nearby town, no later than 2:00 pm.
After a good hearty lunch, we drove around the town, stopped to check out the river, stopped at the Quessua Mission, talked to the pastor (an American) and continued our drive back to Malanje. We had a full day, and we arrived at the Hotel Palacio Regina, again, right at 18:00 hrs. It was a wonderful day, but very tiring… we crashed after dinner.
Day 3 – The Black Rocks (Pedras Negras) at Punto Andongo
After breakfast, we loaded up the car, and made our way to the gas station to refuel, and continued to Pedras Negras, located midway between Malanje and N’dalatando. The road to Pedras Negras has been asphalted, and the journey from Malanje takes about one hour. The Rocks of Pedras Negras can be seen quite a distance away and are very impressive. We were glad to have visited these amazing geological formations, and we spent two hours climbing the large rocks and enjoyed the sweeping views of the countryside.
After our visit there, we ate lunch in N’dalatando, and about two in the afternoon, we headed back to Luanda, expecting another six hour drive. Surprisingly, because it was a holiday weekend, traffic was not heavy, and we made it back to our home in less than five hours.
Trip Cost and Inclusions
The two-nights, three day tour to Malanje, cost $1,790 for two.
The vehicle, a Land Cruiser 4×4 was fairly comfortable with individual seats with arm rests, etc. Our vehicle was equipped with a sophisticated GARMIN GPS system, of the commercial variety, a heavy duty recovery system, a satellite telephone, and a first aid kit.
Two nights hotel accommodations in a self-rated 4-star hotel, though it’s a borderline 3-star in my opinion.
All refreshment in the car, picnics, snack, and three meals a day were included in the price, but alcoholic beverages were excluded.
We found Mario and his wife to be extremely attentive and helpful. They have spent a great number of years in Angola, understand the culture, know the various regions in great detail, and also, have a deep understanding of the Angolan history. We learned a lot from them, and we felt safe in their company.
In spite of the cost, we were glad we participated in this wonderful adventure into the Angolan countryside. This review aims to discuss the services received from EcoTur rather than presenting what we saw in the Malanje region. As an expatriate living in Angola, and with limited access to regions outside of Luanda, a company like EcoTur allows us to travel in safety and comfort, to places we could not on our own. Recommended.