Untapped Tourism Potential in Angola

Capitalizing on its flora and fauna, natural wonders, and cultural heritage, Angola is claiming its place in African tourism.

Angola has a relatively untouched tourism sector, though this is not due to a lack of attractions. With stability returning to the country, many travelers on the lookout for unspoiled tourism attractions are considering Angola. At the same time, the tourism sector’s foundations are being laid in the country with the revision of visa laws, construction of more hotel rooms, and launching of new flight routes to and from Luanda.

Angola’s natural splendors are currently its number one attraction for visitors. The country has a wealth of national parks with unique flora and fauna. The ecosystem varies from thick forests to thinner savanna grasslands and even steppes and deserts, which are home to a diverse mix of fauna: quintessentially African mammals such as lions, hyenas, rhinos, and elephants. This makes safaris and similar sightseeing adventures an exciting activity. Visitors can observe elephants and giraffes, among other beasts, at the Kissama National Park—better known as the Quiçama National Park.

The country’s flora is equally interesting. While the mostly lush country is home to unique wetland vegetation around the Okavango Delta, Angola also borders the Namib Desert to the south, which is not only an impressive feat of nature but also home to several local tribes. Many of these tribes are happy to interact with visitors and provide them with a glimpse into their nomadic way of life.

The cultures and people of Angola form yet another major attraction for visitors. The native culture of Bantu still continues to influence the identity of many Angolas, though many elements of the Western way of life as well as Christianity have also been incorporated into the popular culture.

Other native cultures such as Ovimbundu, Ambundu, Bakongo, Chokwe, and Mbundu are also alive, each with their own interesting customs and traditions. In the southern third of the country, a few hunter-gatherer groups continue to practice their ancient nomadic way of life, which is highly appreciated by anthropologists.

Historical monuments and landmarks are not few in Angola, many of them dating back to the colonial era. A statue of Christ, known as Christ the King, overlooks Luanda. Though the statue is a relatively recent addition to the city (built in the 1950s), it has become an iconic landmark popular with the tourists.

Those who wish to go back further in history can pay a visit to the Museum of Agostinho Neto (modern Angola’s founding father), the Iron Palace (Palácio de Ferro), and the National Museum of Slavery—though this latter place is replete with bitter reminders of the darker realities of Angola’s colonial past.

Despite so many attractions, the country’s immigration laws and regulations have create a bottleneck for the growth of tourism. The country has a rather strict visa policy, which differs from most countries in the region. While many African tourism hotspots grant visas on arrival to most nationalities, an Angolan visa is notoriously difficult to obtain. Many stakeholders across the country’s tourism sector have proposed a review in the nation’s visa policy.

Thankfully, since March 2018, visa issuance has been considerably simplified for some nationalities. Almost all Europeans, North Americans, and citizens of wealthier Asian and South American countries can now secure a provisional visa online, which will automatically turn into a 30-day visa upon their arrival. This scheme is adding to the number of annual arrivals in the country. And “arrival” is indeed a keyword here.

Angola is diversifying the ways in which visitors can come to the country. A luxury train route called the “Trail of Two Oceans,” which runs from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Lobito, Angola, is under construction. Upon its completion in 2030, the railway will connect the Indian Ocean in the east of the continent to Angola’s Atlantic coastline. The planned 4,000km railway will create a corridor for commerce and tourism along its tracks which pass through Angola, Zambia, and Tanzania.

As for the people who are likely to pay a visit to Angola, the country is at an advantage. The African nation is capitalizing on something called diaspora tourism: “It’s aimed at the descendants of Angolans who Portuguese colonizers sold as slaves,” as EuroNews puts it. There is a sizable population of people of Angolan origin living in Brazil, Portugal, and even the US who enjoy a relatively high spending power and will appreciate a visit to their ancestral land.

Such people are likely to also appreciate the cultural heritage of Angola, and they can be relied upon to spread the word about the attractions of Angola upon returning to their country of residence. Others, meanwhile, will surely come in larger numbers as the nation’s transportation infrastructure expands. In addition to the Trail of Two Oceans, Luanda’s new international airport is set to be completed possibly in 2023, which will pave the way for still more arrivals.