Claudio Silva, founder of the leading hospitality blog, Luanda Caipirinha Lounge, shares his top tips for a weekend in Luanda with Angola-Today.com and The Luxury Channel.
You wake up to quiet streets and the absence of the usual clamor; you cannot hear the incessant honking of the ubiquitous candongueiros, and even the colorful and boisterous zungueiras seemed to have receded into the city’s fabric. And the traffic… well, the traffic is completely gone. Welcome to Luanda on the weekend.
Affluent residents of Luanda like to dedicate the weekend to friends, family, and the few leisure activities one can do in the city. Most of these leisure activities invariably revolve around the ocean. Drawn-out lunches with friends and family, as well as days spent on the beach, are the traditional favorites.
If you find yourself in Luanda city centre during a weekend, start off your day with a leisurely stroll around the Cidade Alta (Upper City), the seat of power in Luanda. It is a small agglomeration of pink government buildings, among them the Presidential Palace, several important ministries, and the Igreja de Jesus, one of the city’s most famous churches. Due to its proximity to the Presidential Palace, this smart and quiet area overlooking Luanda Bay is very safe and constantly policed.
As you make your way down the Cidade Alta, keep to the left and you will see the beautiful Fortaleza de São Miguel, commonly known as the Luanda Fort, an imposing white military structure inherited from the Portuguese. Today, it houses some historical artifact, including a few fighter jets and statues of colonizers past, and offers expansive views of the Marginal, Luanda’s bay.
Finally, continue your trek downwards and stroll along the recently renovated Marginal itself, the city’s newest and most frequented public space. You’ll see young lovers, joggers, people skating, old men reading on benches facing the ocean, and one or two people just contemplating the ever-hanging face of their beloved city.
If hungry, one option is to head back up the hill towards Luanda Fort and eat at one of the city’s most charming and unique addresses, the Naquele Lugar Restaurant, located on the cobblestone road leading to the Fort. Your immediate sensation upon entering this courtyard restaurant is that you are having dinner at a friend’s garden somewhere in the Mediterranean. The decades-old building housing the restaurant and it’s kitchen give the place an authentic, charismatic feel. Their specialty is the Pepper Steak and it never disappoints.
Alternatively, you can head to the Ilha, where Luanda’s moneyed elite and emerging middle class flock to on the weekends, filling its numerous seaside bars and restaurants. The Ilha is really a peninsula jutting out from mainland Luanda into the Atlantic Ocean. Among its most frequented establishments are Chillout, which doubles as a sexy and sophisticated sea-side lounge and dance club at night, Cais de Quatro, which sits on the side of the Ilha overlooking Luanda and has some of the best views of the city, and Coconuts, which many Luandans consider to be the best restaurant on the strip. Take your time at one of these establishments. Savor the food and the ocean breeze, nurse your glass of wine or caipirinha and come prepared to spend at least $80 per person.
As night-time approaches, you’ll slowly start to notice the increase in street activity. There are more cars on the road. People walk by you impeccably dressed. Loud music, of many different varieties, starts to fill the air. Luandans love their nightlife and are known as skilled revelers, with parties lasting all-night and spilling into Sunday morning.
You can start your night with a cocktail at one of the city’s several attractive lounges. Doo.Bahr, located on the third floor of Edifício Escom, Luanda’s tallest tower, has some of the best cocktails in town and a rather opulent ambiance. Floresta Lounge, in the Kinaxixi neighborhood, is a much more eclectic establishment, known for its chilled music and excellent sangria which can be sipped in the lounge’s outdoor patio.
As the hour advances and you start to get in the mood for a change of scenery, you are again spoilt for choice. Many of your friends will head to the Ilha, the preferred destination for the city’s night owls. Lookal São Jorge, another seaside venue, features an expansive variety of music and several international acts per month. The more alternative Elinga Teatro, located on a historical building facing the Marginal, is another unique location that is heavy on house, reggae, and sometimes hip-hop. The current darling of Luanda’s nightlife, however, is Kasta Lounge, the city’s premier club destination and located on the road that leads to the Luanda-Sul neighborhood.
When you finally awake on Sunday, and if you are lucky enough to be friends with a Luandan, there is nothing better than the traditional, drawn-out family meals so common in the city’s quintais (backyards). Such occasions are a staple of Angolan culture and offers the extended family a chance to sit down and talk about the past week, current events, politics, family affairs, and the like; the conversation flows and so does the beer and wine, and the food spread is quite extensive. It is here that you are most likely to try many of Angola’s favorite national dishes, including the ubiquitous funji(ground cassava flour), which is eaten with a variety of stews, beans cooked in a palm oil sauce, grilled tilapia fish, and several other local specialties. In the event that you, for whatever reason, aren’t invited to one of these lunches, there is nothing to worry about. Tia Guida on the Ilha has plenty of this type of fare for a very reasonable price, while the more adventurous among you can try the incredibly fresh grilled seafood at one of the roadside shacks in Chicala, on the side of the Ilha facing the Atlantic (ask anyone at the entrance to the Ilha and they will direct you there). Other Sunday favorites include Veneza Restaurant, where you are served heaping portions of Portuguese cuisine or one of the best steaks in the city, or even the aforementioned Lookal, which has among the best variety of seafood in Luanda and is a great place to watch a sunset to the sound of relaxing music and great cuisine.
By Monday, the magic of the Luandan weekend will have disappeared and the city will have returned to its usual state of organized chaos. But you can rest safe in the knowledge that there is always next weekend, and that for 48 hours at least, you got to meet and experience a different facet of Luandan life and culture.