Apr 02, 2012 - National Geographic Explorer
Luanda, capital city of Angola, is today the third largest Portuguese-speaking city in the world after Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, leaving Old World Lisbon trailing in its wake. With a teeming and youthful population, Luanda cannot fail impress with its vitality and new-found optimism of the will after a generation of post-independence civil war, the latter driving some one-and-a-half million refugees into the city, which is still visibly creaking under the strain. Current estimates of population for the entire metropolitan area run as high as eleven million in a city that, when the civil war ended in 2002, had an infrastructure suited to a population of only half a million.
Construction projects are apparent everywhere: tower block housing in the hands of Portuguese and Brazilian construction companies, new offices for oil companies such as Total, and major public works projects such as the renewal of the once-famed esplanade, complete with palm trees specially imported from Miami to ensure a faithful replication of the original art deco style. Along the fashionable sand-spit, known as Ilha, shanty dwellings are being removed to restore the ocean view for fashionable nightclubs, bars, and restaurants, one of the famous of the latter being owned by the country’s first lady. The oil money that finances these developments makes Luanda one of the most expensive cities in the world in which to reside.
Influx of population, relatively cheap gasoline prices, and roads closed because of building projects produce near total traffic gridlock at peak times in the city but improvement is the name of the game. Just a few years ago, the city’s residents were wearing facemasks against the dust generated by reconstruction. Within a few years it is anticipated that a remarkable transformation will have been effected and some sense of the beauty and style for which this city is remembered will have been restored.
Those guests who opted for the half-day city tours were certainly impressed by the traffic but also by the places that were, eventually, visited. The National Museum of Anthropology contained a wonderful selection of artifacts, from agricultural and iron-working implements to ceremonial masks. At the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Remedies, an early colonial edifice dating from 1655 that was restored in 1995, we were greeted by traditional dancers. Also visited were the mausoleum of the Angola’s first president, Dr Agostinho Neto, and the city’s original Portuguese fort, also currently undergoing reconstruction. The full day tour to the Quiçama National Park, south of the City, provided a safari drive with good sightings of giraffe and antelope, including the eland, the largest antelope in the world.