Travel Postard: 48 hours in Luanda, Angola

LUANDA Fri Apr 9, 2010 9:40am EDT

Angolan youths play against the backdrop of the capital Luanda January 20, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Angolan youths play against the backdrop of the capital Luanda January 20, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Hutchings

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LUANDA (Reuters Life!) - There is one thing you should know about Luanda: hardly any tourists come here. Getting a visa can take many months and finding a hotel room, if you can afford it, is equally challenging.

Branded the world's most expensive city in 2009, according to a study by consulting firm ECA International, Luanda -- the capital of Angola on Africa's southwest coast -- is an eye opener in more ways than one.

Sift through the ruins of Portuguese colonialism, explore African outdoor markets, chill out at expansive beaches or visit virgin wildlife parks that are being restocked after an almost three-decade long civil war ended in 2002.

Before you come, though, make sure you get a yellow fever shot, your visa is in order and bring a wad of dollars in your pocket since credit cards are rarely accepted.

Your travel agent should arrange for a driver to pick you up at the airport. There are very few taxis in Luanda except for the jam-packed minibus vans daily commuters use to travel from the slums to the city center.

Got 48 hours to explore Luanda? Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors make the most of Angola's capital city.

FRIDAY

6 p.m. - Sit back, relax and enjoy the sunset with a nice cold Cuca beer at Bahia, a restaurant and bar facing the bay of Luanda. Local artists sometimes perform at the upstairs bar. Great view and atmosphere.

9 p.m. - Take a drive along the palm-lined marginal (promenade) along the bay and into the ilha -- a long thin strip of peninsula. Stop at Cais de Cuatro, one of the best and most expensive restaurants in town. Great seafood and sushi although the service can be a little bit slow.

Midnight - Head to Chill-Out, Luanda's most popular outdoor disco in the ilha with a private beach facing the Atlantic Ocean. Dance to the sound of local and international DJs and mingle with Luanda's super rich.

SATURDAY

9 a.m. - Start your day off with fresh orange juice and a croissant at Bolo Rei, a typical Portuguese bakery popular with expatriates on weekends located on a side street near the Sagrada Familia Church.

11 a.m. - Head downtown. Look out for the striking domed pink facade of the Banco Nacional de Angola. Check out the newly restored "Iron Palace," designed by Frenchmam Gustave Eiffel in the 1890s. Also check out Luanda's old churches hidden among rising skyscrapers.

12 p.m. - Make sure you stop by Luanda's oldest surviving building: the Fortress of Sao Miguel. Built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, it guards the entrance to the bay of Luanda and offers a superb view of the city center.

1 p.m. - For lunch, try Caribe, a seafront restaurant in the ilha with a private beach and good service. You can order a la carte or try the buffet, which includes seafood as well as local African dishes. Be prepared to spend around $100 per person.

3 p.m. - Head south to Benfica market for a spot of heated bargaining. Continue along the coast to the Miradouro da Lua and the beautiful Kwanza river, where you can stop for a drink at the Kwanza River lodge, before making your way back to Luanda.

9 p.m. - For dinner, you can try Pintos, sit down inside this cozy restaurant and sip on cocktails before trying great Portuguese food. If you're looking for a taste of typical Angolan food try the Funge House. Funge (cooked polenta type dough made from corn or yucca flour mixed with water and seasoned with salt) is served with a saucy mix of vegetables and fish or meat.

11 p.m. - Treat yourself to more of Luanda's nightlife and drop into Palos. The tropical atmosphere inside this roofless two-storey building will make you feel at home in Africa.

Professional dancers normally appear on stage to sing Angolan rap, dance to the hard-hitting beat of kuduro or the more sensual kizomba. Palos is to the modern day Luandanese what world famous Studio 54 was for New Yorkers in the 70s.

SUNDAY

10 a.m. - Drive to the ilha de Luanda for brunch at Cafe del Mar -- a nice modern seafront cafe. The brunch buffet has a range of fresh fruit as well eggs and toast on offer to help shake off your hangover. Relax on some the beach beds and enjoy the sound of African and European music.

2 p.m. - For last minute shopping stop by a small outdoor market near the end of the ilha and buy some typical Angolan paintings, tapestries and woodcrafts before making your way back to the hotel.

5 p.m. - Start making your way back to the airport at least four hours in advance to avoid Luanda's mammoth traffic jams.

(Reporting by Henrique Almeida, editing by Paul Casciato)

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