Once boasting one of the most successful and stable economies in Africa, Côte d’Ivoire (as Ivory Coast is called in French) exemplified the prosperity implied in its name. The stunning modernity of Abidjan (known as “the Paris of West Africa”), the traditional cultural richness, and the great natural beauty of the beaches and national parks, all contribute to the country’s many charms.
Unfortunately, Côte d’Ivoire has been in political flux since 1999, with coups and a civil war creating substantial political instability. An agreement was signed in 2007 between the government and northern rebels to reunite the country, but presidential elections have been postponed indefinitely, and troops from France and the United Nations remain to support the peace process. The economy has also suffered in recent years as a result of falling global prices for cocoa and coffee, the country’s primary
Nevertheless, Côte d’Ivoire is a country that will, one hopes, soon return to its former state of stability and flourish again.
The Top 10: What to Do in Côte d’Ivoire
1. UNESCO World Heritage Parks:
Taï National Park (one of the last remaining primary tropical forests), Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve, and Comoé National Park are all located in Côte d’Ivoire. Go with local guides to spot African wildlife, including lions, chimpanzees, and hippos.
Bask on the beaches of the coastal resort towns. Do as the locals do and retreat to charming, colonial Grand Bassam, or try Assouinde. If you plan to swim, do so with caution, as the coastal currents can be extremely strong.
Take a trip to the official capital city, Yamoussoukro. Côte d’Ivoire’s former president Felix Houphouet-Boigny lavished many gifts on his hometown, but the most spectacular by far is the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, a stunning, full-size replica of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The structure contains more stained glass than is found in all of France.
4. Le Plateau:
Witness the fruits of Côte d’Ivoire’s previously strong economy by strolling through Le Plateau, the central commercial district of Abidjan, and marvel at the modern skyscrapers. Don’t miss La Pyramide, one of the most striking buildings in the city, and check out the many shops, offices, and restaurants.
Visit the Musée National in Abidjan to learn more about Côte d’Ivoire’s rich history through more than 20,000 objects, including masks, pottery, and, of course, some ivory. See modern Ivorian and African art at the Musée Municipal d’Art Contemporain.
6. Cathédrale St-Paul:
Located in Abidjan, this structure, consecrated by the pope, was designed in a nontraditional style by the Italian architect Aldo Spiritom.
Take advantage of the shopping that Abidjan has to offer. Try the well-stocked Marché de Treichville or the Hypermarché Sococé. The Marché de Cocody is good for picking up some touristy tchotchkes.
Sample the local Ivorian cuisine (the staple foods are rice, cassava, yams, and bread) at Abidjan’s food markets or on the sidewalks. Try the national dish, alloca, which consists of fried plantains. Indulge at one of the city’s many restaurants. Maquis Chez Fifne is perfect for an African lunch; for delicious and less traditional fare, some recommendations are Nuit de Saigon (Vietnamese), Delhi Darbar (Indian), La Cascade (French), and Boulangerie Pâtisserie du Rond-point (for the pastries).
9. Happy Hour:
For a cocktail-infused sense of Côte d’Ivoire’s colonial history, head to Abidjan’s Bar des Sports in Le Plateau to hang out with French expatriates in French-designed interiors. Then head to the Butterfly Lounge, the stylish, “it” spot, with live outdoor jazz.
You mustn’t leave Côte d’Ivoire without checking out one of the local nightclubs. The Treichville district of Abidjan is known for its vibrant and busy nightlife. Dance to Afro-Cuban music with the patrons of Place Vendôme, or appreciate the sense of history at Midnight, one of the oldest clubs in the city.
When to Go
The weather is tropical along the coast and semi-arid in the far north. There are three general seasons: warm and dry (November to March), hot and dry (March to May), and hot and wet (June to October).