Travel Black Book: Ambassadors series

Angola's Luanda: Where nature and culture meet

The best of home: Ambassadors to Singapore provide an insider's guide to their favourite destinations

Who: Mr Fidelino Loy de Jesus Figueiredo, 79, Ambassador of the Republic of Angola to Singapore.

Favourite destination: Luanda, the political, economic and cultural centre of Angola. The Portuguese colony of Angola was founded in 1575 and lasted almost continuously until Angolan independence in 1975. This makes the country quite different from its neighbours, which were mostly colonised by the Germans, Dutch and British.

Angola is home to more than 100 ethnic groups and dialects, and while touring Luanda, travellers will see its historical sites, the diverse ethnic composition of the population and the resulting unique Afro-European culture.

SEE

The National Museum of Anthropology (www.facebook.com/MNAntrolopogiaAngola) is a relatively small museum, but it houses more than 6,000 pieces that represent Angolan cultural heritage, including masks, musical instruments, jewellery and homeware.

The Fortress of Sao Miguel was constructed by the Portuguese in 1576 and is Luanda's oldest surviving building. It took its present star-like shape when it was remodelled in 1664 and it was the headquarters of the commander- in-chief of the Portuguese Armed Forces in Angola until 1975.

Today, it houses the Museum of the Armed Forces (museusluanda.weebly.com/museu-dehistoacuteria-militar.html), where visitors can see vehicles, planes and artefacts used during the Angolan War of Independence (1961-1974), the South African Border War (1966-1989) and the Angolan Civil War(1975-2002). The fortress also offers sweeping views of the city and is an ideal place to watch the sun set.

  • GETTING THERE


  • • Singapore Airlines operates daily direct flights between Singapore and Johannesburg, South Africa. From Johannesburg, travellers can catch two daily flights to Luanda operated by South African Airlines and TAAG Angola Airlines.
  • TIPS

  • • I recommend one week to explore Luanda and its surroundings.

    •The base of Angolan culture is the family. At the same time, Angolans are very open and curious, so we welcome and embrace other cultures. Say hello and experience the colours, sounds and smells of a different culture and way of life.

    • Luanda and Angola are mostly safe, but I advise common sense when travelling to ensure a nice and safe stay in Angola. Travellers should also ensure that their vaccines are up to date, including courses or boosters for diphtheria, hepatitis A, tetanus, typhoid and yellow fever.

    •For more information, go to www.welcometoangola.co.ao.

To experience and understand the local culture and to appreciate the diversity of the Angolan people, spend some time on Mussulo Island, a small paradise about 40 minutes from downtown Luanda.

Mussulo is a sandy peninsula which juts out of the mainland and it has several nice resorts and beautiful beaches. For many Angolans, it is the perfect weekend getaway. Most people get there by boat, which leaves for Mussulo from the pier next to the National Slavery Museum.

EAT

For great ambience, food, wine and service, my favourite restaurant is Pimm's (www.pimmsangola.com), which serves Portuguese food with an Angolan touch.

I highly recommend the bacalhau no forno (baked cod fish), arroz de marisco (rice with local seafood), feijoada (bean stew) and mousse de maracuja (passion fruit mousse). A meal there costs about US$60 (S$84) a person, including wine.

When in Luanda, travellers must try funge, a cassava or corn flour paste which has a sticky texture but does not have much flavour, so it is eaten with different sauces made of fish, meat, chicken or beans and vegetables. We often use our extra spicy condiment called gindungo - made of chilli peppers, garlic and onion - to add extra flavour.

The other must-try is mufete. The dish is a combination of grilled fish, beans cooked in palm oil, boiled plantain, boiled sweet potato, cassava flour and a sauce made of chopped onion, lemon and olive oil. It is a mouthful of delicious flavours.

I also recommend paracuca (sugar coated peanuts) and grilled banana pao (a type of banana which is commonly used in desserts).

You can get these dishes at any local restaurant, but I recommend trying funge at Funge House (bit.ly/2qCvVt7), and mufete at Quintal da Tia Guida (bit.ly/2lsFYQQ). A meal at these restaurants will cost about US$35 a person.

Ilha de Luanda, a neighbourhood on a spit across Luanda Bay from the city, is a favourite spot for locals and where you can find cosy and traditional restaurants serving fresh and delicious seafood.

Ilha de Luanda has a number of hotels and trendy restaurants too. For the perfect place to relax and enjoy the beach and sea views with some music, go to Cafe Del Mar (www.coconutsluanda.co.ao), a beach club with lovely decor, a trendy lounge and great food. I usually go there for brunch.

PLAY

Travellers should try to attend Carnaval, one of the most popular festivals in Angola. It was introduced by the Portuguese and, over time, it has become part of our culture. It starts on the Thursday before Lent, usually in February or March.

Celebrations are held across the city, but the main event is the parade, which takes place on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, when the top 10 carnival groups move in a procession down Marginal Avenue, singing and dancing energetically to pulsating rhythms and percussions.

For a short trip outside Luanda, drive 120km south to the beautiful Cabo Ledo Beach. To get there, you will have to drive through Kissama National Park, a natural reserve where you can find different kinds of vegetation such as mangroves, dense woods, savanna, cacti and the Baobab tree.

This diversity makes an ideal habitat for a variety of fauna, so do not be surprised if you see 60 or more elephants wandering by.

When I have time, I usually fly from Luanda to Lubango, about 900km to the south. From there, I drive 185km to Namibe, a coastal city,a gateway to the Namib Desert, which stretches for more than 2,000km along the coasts of Angola, Namibia and into South Africa. It is thought to be one of the oldest deserts in the world.

I used to travel here with my parents when I was a child and my most memorable moment was seeing the welwitschia mirabilis, endemic plants of the Namib Desert, for the first time.

The welwitschia is notable for its ability to survive in the extremely arid conditions of the desert, mostly deriving moisture from the coastal sea fog. It is commonly referred to as a living fossil because many of the plants are thought to be 1,000 to over 2,000 years old.

The area along the Angola- Namibia border is also home to the Himba, semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers who are distinctive because of the protective paste they use which turns their hair and skin orange and red.

SHOP

For the best shopping and unique souvenirs, go to galleries and artisan workshops such as Espelho da Moda (bit.ly/2qzaDP5). Also visit the Centro de Artesanato-Benfica, a craft market next to the National Slavery Museum, which is about a 40-minute drive out of the city centre. Here, you can find a variety of handicrafts, sculptures, paintings, clothes and accessories made in Angola.

STAY

My favourite place to stay is the Epic Sana Hotel (www.luanda.epic.sanahotels.com), a five-star hotel with very modern, well-maintained facilities and a good location overlooking Luanda Bay. Rooms start at US$410 a night.

For more budget-friendly accommodation, I recommend the Ibis Styles IU Luanda Talatona (bit.ly/2pJxkkv), a 120-room three-star hotel in the city's commercial area where rooms start at US$150 a night; and Thomson House (www.thomsonhouseangola.com), a 16-room boutique hotel on the beach in Ilha de Luanda, where rooms start at US$100 a night.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 21, 2017, with the headline 'Where nature and culture meet'. Print Edition | Subscribe