Côte d'Ivoire has been the topic of news channels for several years now, mostly because of the civil war events that ended in 2012 but also because of the Ivorian football team, aka les Elephants (The Elephants) that has won their second African Cup of Nation in 2015 and been qualified three consecutive times for the World Cup. Without mentioning the famous football players that have played in the biggest clubs in Europe, like Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure or Salomon Kalou to cite a few. But what do you know about the country itself? Here are a few things to know before traveling to Côte d'Ivoire.
Quick facts about Cote d'Ivoire (pronounced kot dee-VWAHR)
Language: the official language is French, the slang is called nouchi and there are about 60 native dialects
Population: 21.6 million (2016)
Capital: Yamoussoukro is the political and administrative capital of Côte d'Ivoire while Abidjan serves as the economic capital of the country.
World's leading producer of cocoa, second of cassava and tenth of coffee
The largest basilica of the world Our Lady of Peace is in Yamoussoukro in Ivory coast. It was obviously inspired by the basilica of saint Peter in the Vatican city and was consecrated by the pope John Paul II in 1990.
Currency: CFA Franc (1euro = 656 FCFA)
Plan your trip
Before you go
Since a couple of years, in order to facilitate foreign investors to do business in the country, it is now possible to claim an e-visa online without going to the embassy. Which is also handy if there is no Ivorian embassy in the country you reside. Getting an online visa cost about 70 euros and you will also need couple of documents, get vaccinated against yellow fever and get a treatment against malaria. You can find more information on the SNEDAI website. The process is pretty straightforward at the airport. I will explain it to you in another post.
Which airline companies?
If you are traveling from Europe, regular flights are scheduled from Paris and Brussels with Air France, Corsair and Brussels airlines. Other airlines operating flights to ivory coast include Turkish airlines, Emirates or Royal Air Maroc. The flight time is about 6 hours from Paris to Abidjan.
Best time to go?
I would advise to go while winter in Europe. The climate is tropical along the coast and semi-arid in far North. There are three seasons - warm and dry from November to March, hot and dry from March to May, hot and wet from June to October.
Where to stay?
There are several hotels of international standard in Abidjan. There is a choice for every budget from luxury to medium range and cheaper accomodations. It is advisable to book in advance. Also lately, some local started hosting on airbnb at very competitive prices. I believe this would be the best option to live with locals if that's your first time in order to get the best tips to get around.
How to get around?
The system of taxis in Abidjan involves different type of car colors:
Orange cabs can legally operate in the city and offer solo or shared rides. It is advisable to agree on a price with the driver before setting off as they rarely have meters. Fares depend on the distance covered.
Other districts have their own color coded taxis and are usually cheaper.
There is also a new service equivalent to uber called Afri-cab that has recently been created.
I would recommend using the first or third option if that's your first time in the country.
Things to do in Abidjan?
Eat the local food
Ivorian people love their food and we have many different delicious meals. The street food is cheap and tasty but sanitary measures are not compliant. If you do not have a strong stomach I would advise you to go to the local restaurants also known as "maquis" (pronounced MAH-key). From main meal as Grilled fish or chicken to side dishes like fried plantains (alloco) and cassava couscous (attiéké), you will have a blast if you are a food lover. Also be aware that one typically eat with one's hand (the right one) at a maquis, therefore do not be surprise if they offer you a bucket and soap for hand washing before and after you eat.
Visit The markets
There are several markets in Abidjan where you can find everything you want, from food to clothes and souvenirs. The most popular ones are the one from Marcory, Adjamé and Cocody. In the latter, you will be able to find some souvenirs. The prices are usually high, especially if they know that you are a foreigner, so be ready to bargain.
If you want cheaper products and more choices, go to Grand Bassam and visit the artisanal market along the beach road. There you will be able to see the genuine talent of local artisans. Its amazing to see what they are capable to do. They are also very friendly and welcome travelers with open arms.
Escape to the beach
There are many beach spots along the coast but the most famous one if you stay in Abidjan are:
Grand Bassam, first capital of Cote dIvoire, famous for its history, museums, lagoons. Avoid to swim there as there is a dangerous deep current.
Assinie, perfect holiday destination, between lagoon and sea, the choice of activities are endless: surfing, jet skiing, nautic skiing, horse riding, quads etc... the choice is yours.
Browse around Abidjan
The city has many things to offer, from the busy business district area (Plateau) with their bright lights billboards and skyscrapers where you can also go shopping, to the bars, restaurants and nightclub areas in Marcory, 2 plateau and Treichville to cite a few, you will always find something to do.
Overall, the most important thing once in Cote d'Ivoire is to remove your watch. There, no one is in a rush and we take our time to live and enjoy the moment. There is a local quote saying " The occidental people wear a watch but never have time. We do not wear a watch but we've got plenty of time".
I hope this travel guide will help you if you decide to travel there one day. Do not hesitate to reach out to me if needed.