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Interesting Facts on Visiting Angola

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Chances are, you probably won’t be visiting Angola anytime soon … but it’s always good to be prepared. Here’s a starting point.

***

1. The capital city of Luanda is now the most expensive city in the world—by far. Forget Tokyo, Moscow, or even your good friends up in Equatorial Guinea—Luanda wins.

Here’s how the Economist added up a few typical costs recently:

Monthly Apartment Rental: $10,000-15,000
Mediocre Hotel Room: $400/night
Hotel Breakfast: $75
Non-Alcoholic Drink: $10
Average Taxi Ride: $50
Mellon at Supermarket: $100 (!)

2. Before you can earn the right to purchase such bargains as the disappointing $75 breakfast buffet or the $100 melon that is not actually encrusted in gold, you must first obtain entry to the country. To do so, you begin by requesting a “letter of invitation” which allows you to apply (and pay for) an actual invitation in the form of a visa. My letter of invitation cost $450. My visa application then cost $141, in addition to processing fees and two-way FedEx charges.

3. You next ensure that everything is in order with your application, having procured the $450 letter, written in Portuguese by a local agency and submitted to the New York consulate courtesy of a processing service, which also charges a fee. You might have already purchased your plane ticket and made non-refundable hotel reservations, since proof of both actions is required before applying for the visa. And then you might wait twelve days without your passport, under the assurances that everything will be fine.

4. Two days before you are scheduled to travel, you might discover that your passport has been returned to you, without the necessary visa, without the fee you paid to apply, and without any reason or explanation at all.

5. You might spend the next two days frantically phoning the unfriendly consulate, only to have your calls go unanswered or unreturned.

6. Thus you might find yourself in a difficult situation: what to do? Your itinerary can no longer be rerouted. At least eight flights involving three continents are connected to each other in a certain order for a certain reason. Time is also running out on a certain goal you set for yourself more than five years ago.

7. You might also remember the successes of the past—being the first Western traveler to crash Karachi with no visa, that weird weekend in Saudi Arabia where you also arrived without a visa, and other things you’ve vowed not to tell anyone until the whole quest is over. (“What happens in Erbil stays in Erbil.”)

8. Thus you might say hell-yeah and board your Lufthansa flight for Luanda anyway, hoping for the best. The way you get on a flight without permission to visit the destination country is also better saved for another time.

9. Reading up further on other travelers’ experiences in Luanda, however, you might feel a bit discouraged prior to arrival. The local airport requires you to check in four hours’ early? Boarding time is two hours before the actual flight? You can’t take any amount of local currency into or out of the country, and the customs officers request an inspection of your wallet before flying out, pocketing any cash for themselves? Taxis turn on their meters while driving around by themselves, then require you to pay the balance before agreeing to take you to your destination? Wow. As the saying goes, you’re not in Kazakhstan anymore.

***

Upon becoming aware of such facts, you might not feel very excited about visiting Angola. Seasoned traveler that you are, and lover of the African continent, you nevertheless might have a sense of trepidation about popping into Luanda before going on to Johannesburg and the more-anticipated Malawi. The part about not having a visa or speaking more than five words of Portuguese doesn’t help either.

And thus you might be surprised, because when you arrive on the other side of the curtain at 4am, it’s not so bad after all. English translators are rustled up. Everyone smiles. People say “no problem” and are genuinely helpful. You sort out your visa issue without paying any money or being thrown into jail. Sitting outside on a bench two hours later, someone offers you a ride into town—no charge.

Your extremely limited number of Portuguese phrases now include, “Have a nice trip,” since you hear it three different times on the way back out. The wallet inspection is a little creepy, but since you paid for things in dollars and never exchanged currency, you don’t lose anything.

Thus, you might concede, everything is relative. You probably won’t rent a second apartment in downtown Luanda (hang on to that spare $15,000 a month), you don’t need any $100 melons, and you’re thankful to have traveled with an ample supply of granola bars in your carry-on bag.

The odds of returning here might, in fact, be quite low—but, truth be told, you might also be glad you came.

###

Image: Wilson

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48 Comments

  • Nikoya says:

    I’m shocked at the numbers… 100 bucks for a piece of fruit? That area must be really, really deprived.

  • Bryan says:

    Congratulations Chris glad you made it!!

    I went to Angola last year on an overland trip around Africa, we got a 5 day transit visa to travel over 2000km from North to South which was just about impossible on a big truck on the bad roads in the North, so we had to get an extension. We were lucky do, a guy on a bicycle got the same visa!!!
    We bypassed Luanda however as it was too expensive, but got to Lubango, where the scenery is beautiful and spent paddy’s day drinking beer in a local shop waiting for our visa extension!!

    I’m very impressed with your goal to visit every country and it was an inspiration for me to travel overland in around Africa.

  • Benny Lewis says:

    Funny account, thanks for sharing Chris!

    Sometimes the visa thing isn’t as complicated when you can explain it to someone in person and in some countries. Charm has helped me more than bureaucracy on more than one occasion.

    If I can ever afford it or find out a way for someone to sponsor me to go, I’ll check out Angola and see how the locals are with someone who can speak Portuguese, but that could be some time away with all these warnings. 🙂

  • Johnny Jet says:

    Interesting indeed. I had no idea it was that $$$

  • Benny says:

    Wow I had no idea Angola could be so expensive! That makes a buffet on the strip in Las Vegas look cheap!

  • Chris Stott says:

    Fascinating! On the one hand it’s like a fiction novel from crossing boarders a decade or more ago – thinking about ‘safe’ & ‘easy’ travel destinations only means many people do not come across strange Visa goings on. On the other hand I’ve always felt that customs and borders crossings are part of what makes travel fascinating.

    It often seems as if these things are put in place just to annoy the weary traveler, but just entering western countries has similar frustrations albeit in different ways – finger prints, inside leg measurement, bra-size?

    The fact that it is a) so expensive, and b) so hard to get in means you are seeing something many people never will and that is infinitely more appealing to me.

  • Amy Putkonen says:

    Wow. What fun to live vicariously through your posts. Better than watching 1000 Places to See Before You Die on video from the library!

  • tobias says:

    Lovely piece, very well done – had me on the edge of my seat until the end, wondering how it played out! I’m glad, vicariously, that it didn’t prove the showstopper for your crazy quest…

    Funny how the ‘poorest’ places can often be the most expensive to visit, too – probably my coistliest stopover was in Ujung Pandang (now Makassar) on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. Everything was absurdly expensive, albeit not Luanda-level absurdity. Oh, and it rained torrentially without pause for the entire 3 days we were there. Funny, it’s not on my must-repeat list either!

  • Angola is ‘different’…

    A colleague of mine once went out with some friends to a nightclub. They started off playing three rounds of bingo in the front room, before they ‘qualified’ to get into the club at the back.

    Your post is a good reminder that, contrary to popular belief, Africa is not a country, but a continent full of the most incredibly diverse group of countries.

  • Brandy says:

    Wow Chris, that sounds intense! $100 melons! Awesome.

    Glad it turned out okay in the end. Also, I enjoyed reading the sarcasm-infused retelling. It makes a great story! And I’m sure a lot of others will agree. Perhaps that makes it worth the hassle.

    Hope you have fun in Johannesburg and Malawi! (Or had fun, as the case may be.)

  • Kerry Murray says:

    Love this. I’m laughing in Cape Town. Thanks for the tips, I think I’ll go practice my Portuguese in Mozambique.

    Well done, Chris! Hope Malawi was good to you too!

  • Gerard says:

    This might not be the comment people expect or want to hear, but reading this post makes me wonder if Angola will ever rise out of poverty if it is like this.

  • AWESOME! I’ll give you $1 for some photos!! Portugese? I know more RUSSIAN than Portugese….

  • Deborah A. says:

    I can hardly wait to read the chapter in your ‘certain to be written book’ in a few years on how to board a flight to a destination you don’t have permission to visit! Plus all the yet untold stories and adventures– Woo-hoo!!!

  • Witt says:

    Went through Angola in 2004 overland from North to South. Getting the visa in Matadi, DRC was a hassle, taking about 4 days and costing $60 for 30 days. The country was beautiful though, with deserted beaches to camp on along the southern coast.

    Luanda at that time was also a mess – we thought the prices were insane then, but nothing compared to what Chris reports. The only thing that was cheap was diesel – US 40 cents per gallon!! I almost filled our drinking water tank with the stuff until my wife talked me down.

    After a year in Africa, Luanda stood out as the best example of the “African Resource Curse” – Vast oil and mineral wealth leads to corrupt officials and highly paid expats living behind walls and barbed wire next to people trying to grow a few stalks of corn in front of their hut. In contrast, the people of Malawi, while also poor, seemed happier and their society much more stable.

  • Alfredo Abambres says:

    Yes, getting to Angola, specially if you are an American citizen is sometimes complicated – and there are many valid reasons for why this happen.

    But I’m glad you finally managed to visit my birth country and finally realize that not all things are bad – and some are even amazing.

    The second fastest growing country in the world would had to have something good right?!

    Luanda is a “different” Angola. On a next visit you should go out of Luanda and visit places like Lubango or Lobito (probably 2 of the most beautiful cities of Africa).

    Wave on “caro amigo”.

  • Rachael Lorick says:

    I’m booking a trip to Angola as i read this blog. How funny.

  • This post is a perfect example of why I love, and keep reading, this blog. It isn’t simply a unilateral attack on what must have been infuriating run-ins with beaureaucratic redtape. Chris, I appreciate the sense of humor and charitable attitude that you carry into any situation. I’ve realized that 90% of the things that I think will go wrong actually don’t, and 90% of things that go right turn out better than I expected. I’d like to live my life with open arms, and you set a good example. Thank you.

  • Tom Ewer says:

    Chris, I read your post, gave it some thought, and decided to cross Angola off my holiday list! 😉

    Nonetheless, I hope you have a wonderful experience there.

  • Norbert Doetsch says:

    I’ve had a similar experience with ‘wallet inspections’ in Luanda. About 20 years ago I had to go to the Angolan Diamond Area (Lunda Norte Province) quite often. On leaving Angola you had to have permission to export any remaining foreign currency (US$, UK Pounds etc). Once, an AK47 toting soldier checked me at the Luanda Airport just prior to boarding an UTA flight to Paris and found 20 $ in my shirt pocket; without saying anything he took the bills and put them in his pocket. He continued to search my carry-on luggage and found this brand-spanking new Sony Walkman (around $150 at the time). Next thing, he took the just-confiscated $20 and told me in broken English that he wants to buy the Walkman. I was speechless. Luckily some Cuban officer arrived and sorted things out.
    I could write a book about my experiences in Angola, this place was just unreal.
    I’ve spend over 20 years in Africa, mainly South Africa. My second home is Durban.

  • Sophia Guida says:

    Wow, YOU DA MAN! Makes my extended stay in Somaliland sound like a cake walk. Keep it up!

  • Pete says:

    One of my favorite updates of all. Your narrative skill demonstrates how you’ve honed your craft.

  • Ariane says:

    Good for you, Chris. I’m glad things turned out all right. As for the prices in Luanda, who would have thought it?

  • J.W. Ramp says:

    Boa noite from Angola!

    I work here in the oilfield and definitely feel your pain regarding work visas and cost of living. I feel like half of our work is dealing with visa crap. What did you find to do for entertainment? Go to any nice restaurants on Isla?

    If anyone else is coming to the city, I can’t guarantee I’ll be onshore to say hey(spend plenty of time on the offshore rigs), but would be free to answer questions.

    Cheers,
    -j.w.

  • devin says:

    I know this all sounds awful and corrupt. To me it sounds like a great story and what makes travel both beautiful, memorable and horrible all at the same time.

  • Rui says:

    Don’t forget the rampaging corruption, paying policemen here and there for the privilege of driving in the street… or making a business needing most capital to be of angolan nature, etc.

    I’ll visit Angola perhaps when it’s the last habitable place on Earth.

  • Kelly P says:

    I always find it interesting when countries try their hardest to keep travelers out. Makes me want to scream, “Tourism will be good for you – I will spend my money with you!” Glad that you found all frustration to be worth it though.

  • Kris says:

    Was that Angola $ or US$ and what is the conversion. Courageous adventures, lets have more courage in all things!

  • That’s awesome, Chris. Hilarious re-telling.

    I’m glad everything worked out for you! Even so, reading some of those reviews makes my skin crawl. They take your money? The cabs overcharge, $15,000/month? How do they get away with that?

  • Great you put the spotlight on a pretty off-the-beaten track part of Africa. I used to live in neighbouring Namibia in the 90’s when it was a pretty dangerous part of the world and well remember the refugees and shots coming across the river – sounds like things have improved!

    Enjoy the rest of your trip 😉

    Cathy

  • I must admit I cheated. I got on a boat in northern Namibia in 2009 and went across to the other side of the river. Border being in the middle of the river, I can now claim, very dubiously, that I’ve been to Angola 😀

    Well done Chris and great article.

  • Roy says:

    WOW, you did it. Congrats dude. I gotta say though, I’m adding Angola to my “never want to visit list”.

  • Hana says:

    Hey Chris, I didn’t know quite which direction your post was going when I began reading, but was impressed as always that you managed to turn a bit of a disaster into an optimistic adventure. It’s lovely to see an example of approaching a situation in a positive frame of mind and thus being rewarded by a positive experience! Thanks for sharing.

  • karen smith says:

    Absolutely fascinating! Perfect way to tell the story & a great life lesson in there, too. I may never get to Angola, but somehow I almost feel like I was there. Thanks for the window!

  • claire says:

    many us embassies around the world are exactly the same as the angolan ones. expensive inefficient and downright rude.

  • Linda Giella says:

    very cool, chris. kudos to you for going for it.

    can’t wait to read the book!

  • osayi says:

    This is probably one of the best blog entries of yours I have read so far.
    yes – believe it or not…there are places in Africa that can be very expensive.
    And as they say (or maybe “as I say” would be more appropriate) – “Confusion & trepidation is in the eye of the beholder”
    🙂

  • Lach says:

    Wow—great story. Very entertaining. But one wonders what compelling reasons there are for visiting Angola other than completeness?

  • Kudos on hanging in there through all the pre-trip angst. I grew up in Asia as a Swedish TCK and the war stories shared in the expat / foreign worker circles made you a paranoid wreck at immigration check points. I noticed that offering to pay a “fee” could allow face saving and easier passage but it was always uncomfortable to be so incredibly subject to the whim of the particular immigration officer you landed…

    How did you feel the oil revenues were distributed across society in Angola? I’m assuming the disparity in economic status was pretty pronounced. Think the GDP growth rate will eventually smooth out some of the inequality?

  • George says:

    I loved Angola!
    Some terrible things happened when I was there, and some that gave me hope.
    I found myself on the wrong side of the Angola/Zaire (Democratic Republic of the Congo) border with my passport with the authorities in Luanda – that was a bit scary.
    As always it is the people I met that I remember most though. Thanks for stirring up those old memories…

  • Jordan says:

    Is it weird that this blog made me want to go to Angola? That place sounds wacky. But I’m glad you got in safely. How long will you be there?

  • Karl says:

    What a fascinating experience. What I love most about travel is how one is forced to come to that place of surrender, where you don’t know what to do in a certain situation, and you just have to let go.

    Or to quote Lao Tzu: “By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go.”

  • Clemson says:

    When you stop in Malawi, you absolutely have to visit Lake malawi and try the local Chambo. The fish is amazing and best served grilled, over an open flame. If you have time I would also recommend visiting Cape MacClear. I paid $20 for an all day boat charter, fresh Chambo lunch, and snorkeling trip. The fresh water tropical fish varieties were some of the most amazing I have ever seen. Definitely a must, when you visit the country. Also check out Liwonde Nation park if you can. Just be wary fo the hippos that come roost beside your chalet at night!! Have an awesome trip.

  • Jay says:

    Hiya, i was also thinking of doing an across Africa trip, though doing it as a solo woman AND it’d be my 1st. i Just got to the Angola part and started my research and started seeing how it isnt that easy to get into. and those prices seem outrages though im from London so they dont seem out of this world.

    I’m still not sure what to think of Angola…..to try or not to try..*ponders*

    thanks for all the advice though 😀

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  • Ria says:

    Wow glad you made it! I just want to ask ifcan i get a visa in london but pass into Angola from neighboring countries instead of taking a flying there and if yes is there any way to get into the country with a bus/train? By the way I have a Greek and an Albanian passport, so would it be even more difficult to get a visa?

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