"Lived here before" Top 5 Page for this destination Luanda by Ramonq

Luanda Travel Guide: 138 reviews and 257 photos

First Impression

Luanda, facing the South Atlantic Ocean, is a city by the bay. Along its shore runs a sweeping tree-lined esplanade called Marginal, which reminded me of Mumbai, Beirut, or Manila. The Marginal is perhaps the most appealing site in Luanda. It also gives a good view of the very long thin strip of peninsula across the bay called the Ilha. In the city centre, Luanda boasts some beautiful old Portuguese architecture. Many of these buildings are painted in pastel colours which echo the genteel times when Luanda served as the main enclave for the Portuguese colonisers in Angola for more than 500 years. One of Angola's most famous landmarks is the National Bank of Angola building, a most amazing example of colonial architecture. The large pink structure overlooks the Luanda bay and the island.

Luanda has remained the principal city of Angola after its independence from Portugal. It was relatively unharmed by the ravages of a long protracted civil war in Angola between 1975-2002. But the strains of mass migration of refugees from the war ravaged hinterlands to Luanda are showing. Luanda, which was meant to accommodate only half a million people, is now heaving with 5 million souls. Housing is obviously gravely inadequate, and the roads just cannot cope with the millions of people trying to earn a living.

The telltale signs are clearly visible. The nearby surrounding suburbs (bairro) of Luanda are virtually squalid slums with very little, if any, amenities. Rubbish collection is non-existent and there are no proper sewerage systems in place. To say the least, the city is a mess. Life is extremely tough in these bairros. Cramped in dingy mudhouses, families have to contend with the stench of rotting garbage and put up with poor water supplies.

The roads leading to Luanda proper are sorely lacking. However, despite its alarming poverty, there´s a substantially large number of wealthy Angolans who can afford 4-wheel drives and the latest car models. These vehicles clog up the narrow streets creating some of the worst traffic this side of Africa. Across the city are ambulant street vendors who sell to motorists just about anything you could imagine. The side streets are basically dusty reddish dirt roads that run through the city slums which turn muddy after torrential rains.

Catching up

Despite all that, Luanda still offers some respite. The Marginal is a breezy esplanade that runs along the bay which is currently being modernised and beautified. This will be Luanda´s showcase. There´s currently a lot of construction work around the city, that would hopefully improve the lot of its suffering citizens. Roads are being widened, parks rehabilitated, new highrise offices are being constructed. Clearly Luanda is developing and trying to catch up with the modern world, even though there´s still a long way to go.

Luanda does have its affluent sections. The Ilha, has rows of expensive restaurants and clubs. A meal in one of these restaurants could cost more than a meal in Paris or New York,because Angola imports most of its food. To the south of the city are gated enclaves of the elite and a brand new city for the well-to-do´s is being built at Luanda do Sul, complete with malls and golf courses.

The most glaring example of the great wealth divide in Luanda is the paradise-like Mossolo island, where the wealthy own beautiful private villas and resorts that would remind you of Carribbean or Thai resorts. The long thin strip of land is just off the mainland, where Luanda lies. I could not believe that I´m in the same city as soon as I disembarked from the boat. It felt so remote from the chaos of city, but the city is clearly visible from its shore. Luanda appears very calm as viewed from Mossolo island.

History of Luanda

Before the Portuguese arrived, native African people called the Ilha as Loanda, which means "flat land." At that time, area was just a small village ruled by the kingdom of Congo. Cowrie shells were the principal currency of the empire. On the late 16th century, Paulo Dias de Novais landed in Ilha in command of a small fleet, carrying a hundred families of colonists and around 400 soldiers. They then moved to the present-day Luanda and called it Sao Paulo. The area, with its sheltered port, was an ideal site to control the silver mines in the hinterland.

Over time, Luanda became the main port to export slaves bound for Brazil. A museum now stands to educate tourists about the slave trade. Luanda attracted more settlers from Portugal and they constructed more buildings in the flourishing city, such as the Cathedral of Luanda in the late 16th century, followed by the Jesuit Church, and the Monastery of Sao Jose. Sao Paulo was then conferred a city status, making it the first city in the western shores of Africa. The Dutch captured the city briefly, but was retaken by the Portuguese in the 17th century. By the end of that century, the city was a small town made up of an upper part, the Cidade Alta where colonial power, the Church, and the bourgeoisie were based, and a lower zone where rough traders who made their living largely from the slave trade. Luanda became a multi-racial town with the intermingling of Europeans and Africans. Power and wealth were measured chiefly by the numbers of slaves one owned; a petit bourgeois owned on average fifty slaves, while the aristocracy would have thousands.

Infrastructures such as parks and roads were built, but water was always a problem in Luanda. Yet the city continued to flourish and became known as "the Paris of Africa" in the late 19th century. Streets and neighbourhoods sprang up without the slightest overall plan or geometric design. Luanda ports were soon busy with trade in cotton, peanuts oil, palm oil, coffee, lime, wax, leather, copal, cassava flour, and other items.

The abolition of slavery in the late 19th century ushered the unplanned expansion of native huts on the musseques (red sands). The musseques developed into the city for blacks and Luanda proper, the city for whites. Roads and the rail system brought these two cultures together. The improved education system for the blacks led to new thoughts

During the mid 20th century Luanda grew very rapidly. High coffee prices was the main reason for this spectacular growth. Many more Portuguese settled in the city that by the 1970's there were two whites in Luanda to every five blacks. Most of the hotels now to be found in the capital were built during this period. The biggest - such as the Trópico, the Presidente, and the Panorama were built during the 1970s.

Stirrings for independence grew louder from the musseques. When Portugal gave up Angola in 1975, civil war broke out and most of the white Portuguese deserted the city in a hurry. Luanda experienced several critical situations between 1975-2001 including a civil war, the emigration of technicians, the mass migration into the city by the rural refugees. Population explosion and the consequent collapse of infrastructure has turned Luanda into a classic Third World city.

Today, Luanda is recovering from years of strife and the first buildings built are finally completed and in use. High rise modern buildings and highways are now being constructed with the help of Portuguese, Brazilian and Chinese engineers. It appears Luanda is gradually resurrecting itself. In a few years time, one would not be able to recognise Luanda because of so many improvements in the city.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Mussolo island
  • Cons:Slums and traffic
  • In a nutshell:A city on the rise
  • Intro Updated Dec 1, 2008
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Reviews (17)

Comments (6)

  • Jim_Eliason's Profile Photo
    Aug 19, 2013 at 10:05 PM

    Good tips

  • SLLiew's Profile Photo
    Apr 7, 2008 at 2:25 PM

    Luanda is a less travelled destination. Thanks for sharing.

  • canuck68's Profile Photo
    Nov 3, 2007 at 4:28 PM

    A very interesting page. I must admit I did not know anything about Luanda. It was good to read but somewhat depressing with all of that poverty. I hope things are somewhat better now.

  • Rachel972's Profile Photo
    Aug 21, 2007 at 10:31 AM

    Your Luanda page is fascinating and depressing. I'm waiting for your Okavango report (in Botswana).

  • Diceman_'s Profile Photo
    Aug 20, 2007 at 11:29 AM

    An informative page of a city I'm afraid I hadn't heard of.

  • MarioPortugal's Profile Photo
    Dec 12, 2006 at 12:26 PM

    Great Page on Luanda. Congrats. If possible, please write more insights & Tips about Angola & Luanda itself. Looking forward for it. b/r. -Mario-

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