War zones are not obvious vacation destinations, but with peace, Angola is rebuilding its tourism industry
Angola is a giant jigsaw puzzle of different climates, landscapes, cultures and colors. From mountains to vast open plains, wide white beaches to thick tropical rainforest, Angola has it all, as if each of its eighteen provinces were a different country. Lubango has a mild temperate climate, Luanda is hot and dry, while Cabinda is steamy and tropical.
|credit: Empresa Nacional de Fotografias
Much of the landscape is dramatic, with plunging waterfalls, bizarre rock formations and deep gorges. Leba mountain in Huila province rises out of Tundavala gorge to give stunning views of the vast Namibe desert. Roaring rivers snake across the country, cascading down rock faces at places like the Calendula waterfalls in the province of Malanje.
"We have incredible rivers, waterfalls and game parks. Angola could become an ideal tourist destination, especially for those interested in eco-tourism," says Tourism Minister Jorge Valentim.
Despite Angola's potential, it suffers from a chronic lack of infrastructure required for tourism. Decades of civil war have destroyed most of the country's roads and bridges, and the only safe way to travel is by air. However, with Angola now facing the real prospect of peace, new horizons are opening up. For instance, the remains of a motor racing track that was used during the height of the civil war as a runway for MIG fighter jets, is now being rehabilitated for racing.
In recent years, an increasing number of foreigners have been visiting Angola. According to government figures, the revenue generated by foreign visits to Angola in 2001 reached $25 million.
However, the authorities have to battle against the attitude of some Angolans to foreign visitors. "The long war has made people nervous and insecure. That's why they don't like people taking photographs. The government has to teach people to act differently now because times are changing. We have to promote a new and positive image of Angola," says Jorge Valentim.
If Angola is to become a more attractive tourist destination, a lot of work will have to be done to improve its numerous national parks. Wildlife stocks have been drastically depleted by poaching and war.
The statistics from Angola's most famous wildlife reserve, the Kissama National Park just outside Luanda, make depressing reading. In 1950, there were 450 lions in the reserve while at the last game count conducted in 1997, there were only five. The number of elephants in the park decreased from 1,200 in 1970 to just 20 in 1997. However elephant numbers have now risen thanks to the Noah's Ark project which involves bringing wild animals from other southern African countries into Kissama.
There are several other game parks in Angola including the Iona Park in Namibe, which at 5,850 square miles, is the largest in the country. But serious investment will be needed to get these parks fully functioning. As with the country at large, there is abundant potential, but releasing it will be a slow and arduous task.