Angola | A different Angola


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What made you go back?

  • War isolated the country for many years and it’s still largely untamed, especially the rural parts.
  • Another big draw card is that for many South Africans Angola is where we had to fight, and one wants to go back to all the old haunts now that there’s peace.
  • The fascinating history of the Thirstland Trekkers is another attraction.

Would you go again?
The country is developing fast, and I’d like to return to see how it changesThe rivers are impressive and much wider than anything we know in South Africa. Places such as the Pedras Negras Mountains and the Kalandula Falls (both near Malanje) as well as the rainforests (mostly in the north) are also worth a second visit.That said, Angola isn’t nearly as beautiful as South Africa − it’s very flat and there aren’t game or parks to speak of.

What did you do differently the second time?
The first time we were 13 vehicles, but a group of 6 vehicles is the ideal size. Refuelling 13 vehicles in Angola becomes a two-hour operation because there aren’t many fuel stations and the queues are long.
The more roads are being tarred, the faster the demand for cars is growing. Although the lag in the construction of fuel stations hasn’t been eliminated yet, unleaded petrol is now available everywhere.

The best time to go?

Winter. Summer is too hot, unless you want to have a seaside holiday.

What has changed since your first visit?
The roads have improved considerably and there are hundreds of kilometres of new tar road. Only about 250 km of road still has to be tarred before you can drive all the way to Luanda on tar.
Supermarkets such as Shoprite and Nosso Super are popping up like mushrooms. Shops in southern Angola up to Lubango stock many South African products.
Border crossings were also easier on our second visit than on our first.
The Angolans are becoming a little more tourist friendly. Although it’s still difficult to get a visa, it has become easier.
You have to pay toll to cross a relatively large bridge and the Leba Pass. In the past there wasn’t a receipt in sight, but on our previous visit receipts were issued. I hope it’s a sign that corruption is being stamped out.

What should one be on the lookout for?
Despite the new tarred roads, some of the other roads have worsened since our previous visit. I wouldn’t want to tow a trailer on them – you’ll bend the axle and break the suspension.
Also take malaria tablets and make sure your source of drinking water is trustworthy.

Best parts of Angola?
The further north you go, the more beautiful it gets and the more you see mountains and forests. With its flat landscape the country’s south is uninteresting, and only river crossings break the monotony.
Of course large parts of the coast are breathtaking, with beautiful beaches and warm water.
The rivers in Angola are massive and not even the Orange River comes close.
The best climate is on the Huambo highlands where there are few pests such as mosquitoes.

And the worst roads?
A large part of the road between Caconda and Cuima south of Huambo is particularly bad and the bridges are in a bad state of repair.
While a new road is being build, detours aren’t maintained. Consequently, bad roads get worse until the new tar road has been completed.

In the far east of the country the roads aren’t passable yet, because the bridges that were damaged during the war haven’t been repaired or replaced.

Highlights?
Most South African tourists visit Angola either for the fishing or to visit places associated with the Thirstland Trekkers or to reach the Congo River.

On my second visit I did a bit of everything: fishing, visiting historical sites and places of interest.
From a historical point of view the Thirstland Trek is unique, and a highlight is to visit places where they wandered and stayed.
Due to Angola’s slave-trading history, it’s interesting to visit places associated with this, such as slave houses on the coast and the places such as that at Benguela from where slaves were shipped.

Places such as the Kalandula Falls, the Pedras Negras Mountains, the rain forests at Ndalatando and the cliffs at the Leba Pass (between Lubango and Namibe) are impressive.

Low points?
The bad roads and long distances between places are really taxing.
However, the roads are improving fast and because the country doesn’t have many mountains, the tar roads will ensure that you reach your destination quickly.

Although service has improved at the border posts, it’s still not mechanised, and everything is done by hand. That can take a long time.

Which route would you recommend to a novice?

Stick to the main routes from Oshikango on the Namibian border, past Lubango and Benguela to Luanda, then east towards Malanje and back south to Huambo past Lubango to Namibia. This route is 90% tarred and you can see most beautiful places on the route.

And for a more experienced traveller?
The Congo River is a drawcard for many, but the road there is in a bad state and you have to have nerves of steel. The route inland along the Benguela railway is also challenging.
From Benguela along the coast to Namibe there’s a short cut through the mountains. Until recently known as the Van Zyl’s Pass of Angola, this road will be tarred soon.

Should one be able to speak Portuguese?
It’s almost better not to speak Portuguese, because the police get frustrated if they don’t understand you and tend to let you through easier at the control points. It does however help if you know a few basic words.

Could one go without a guide?
You don’t need a guide, and there’s always someone around who can speak English if you get really stuck.

What if your vehicle breaks down or you have a medical emergency?

It’s important not to tackle Angola alone and to have a satellite phone.
Medical insurance is also useful so any serious casualties can be airlifted. Arrange it through the AA.

Best way of dodging bribery?

Patience. A cigarette or cold Coke can work miracles too. And be friendly, even if you can’t speak the language.

What does one absolutely have to take along?

  • The most important gear are spare wheels, tyre repair gear as well as recovery gear, a kinetic strap and a high-lift jack, especially when you’re driving alo
    ng lesser-known routes. There are no recovery services – you’ll have to arrange it from South Africa.
  • Take important spares along such as cooling pipes and fuses. These parts aren’t always available, and are also very expensive. There are plenty of Ford, Mitsubishi and Toyota bakkies in Angola and the parts are readily available in bigger places such as Luanda, Huambo, Lobito and Benguela.
  • A GPS with T4A is indispensible, especially on desolate roads.
  • Furthermore, you have to be self-sufficient, especially where meat is concerned. Imported from Namibia, meat is rare and expensive.

Best advice for border posts?
Be friendly and patient at border posts and police check points.
The road permit costs about R400 and works like the road tax in Namibia.
The officials are more concerned about that than your visa or passport. On our second visit the officials were much friendlier.

Best money and currency exchange tips?
Stop at a market, which most large towns have, and crowds of money changers will surround you. You get a better rate with them, and you don’t pay commission as you would at a bank.

What would you do differently next time?
If you’re touring in Angola where there are little or no facilities, you have to be able to pitch and break camp as quickly as possible.
I would buy the right equipment for that the next time: a rooftop tent that opens quickly, a self-pitching shower tent and cooking gear that is ready just about immediately.