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 exports.
Nevertheless, Côte d’Ivoire is a country that will, one hopes, soon return to its former state of stability and flourish again.
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.
2. Beaches: 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.
3. Yamoussoukro: 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.
5. Museums: 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.
7. Shopping: 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.
8. Eat! 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.
10. Nightlife: 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.
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).
Visas: A visa and a certificate showing current yellow fever immunization are generally required. Check with your local embassy or government for details and the latest updates.
Transportation: Most major airlines fly to Côte d’Ivoire. Buses and taxis are available for travel within Abidjan.
One notable item that you should follow up on if you’re planning to travel to Côte d’Ivoire soon: the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has determined that Côte d’Ivoire’s Civil Aviation Authority is not in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Côte d’Ivoire’s air carrier operations.
Mobile Phones: GSM 900 cell phone frequency is used. Plan to buy a SIM card in Côte d’Ivoire if you have a GSM-enabled phone.
Travel to Côte d’Ivoire is currently strongly cautioned against until the political situation has stabilized; at the end of 2010, elections were under way but results were slow to be announced. Despite the 2007 agreement, the country is still divided, with the rebel New Forces still controlling the northern and some western parts of the country. There is a risk of spontaneous demonstrations and political unrest that could escalate into violence. Power cuts may also be intermittent. Visitors should not travel after dark.
Within Abidjan, there is a high risk of crimes such as mugging, robbery, burglary, and carjacking, especially when vehicles are stopped in heavy traffic or at roadblocks. Be polite and cooperative, but do not pay the police if you are asked to do so at vehicle checkpoints. After dark, it is particularly dangerous to visit the Treichville, Adjame, and Abobo districts and the DeGaulle and Houphouet-Boigny bridges. Exercise the same kind of common sense you would in any large city.
In addition, visitors are strongly discouraged from swimming in coastal waters. Many people, even excellent swimmers, drown each year in the dangerous ocean currents.
For the most updated information, check the U.S Department of State’s page on Côte d’Ivoire.
Little is known about Côte d’Ivoire’s precolonial history. France first established contact with Côte d’Ivoire in 1637 and made it an official colony in 1893. The country remained under French control until its independence, on August 7, 1960.
Felix Houphouet-Boigny was president of the republic from its formation until his death, in 1993. Under Houphouet-Boigny, Côte d’Ivoire became politically stable, economically successful, and a leader in West Africa, as well as maintained a close political allegiance to the West.
Houphouet-Boigny’s successor, Henri Konan Bedie, remained in power until economic pressures and corruption led to a coup on December 24, 1999, heralding a period of political flux that has continued to the present day. A highly disputed and violent election after the coup brought about Laurent Ghagbo’s presidency. Another coup was attempted on January 7, 2001. The country then divided on September 19, 2002, when the New Forces rebel group gained control of the northern and western parts of the country. Peacekeeping troops from other West African countries as well as France maintained the dividing east–west line, known as the Zone of Confidence.
On March 4, 2007, President Gbagbo and the New Forces leader Guillaume Soro signed the Ouagadougou Political Agreement (OPA) to reunify the country. The Zone of Confidence has been officially dismantled but is still patrolled by both mixed and impartial forces. Many governmental institutions have resumed operations in New Forces–controlled areas. New elections were announced for November 30, 2008, but have been postponed indefinitely in order to allow for the completion of voter registration. Current political conditions are still unstable, and the threat of political uprisings and terrorism is high.
1. Côte d’Ivoire is located in western Africa, its southern coast facing the northern Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Liberia to the west and Ghana to the east.
2. Abidjan is a major city and the economic and administrative center, as well as one of the largest cities in western Africa. Yamoussoukro is the official capital.
3. French is the official language of Côte d’Ivoire. More than 60 native dialects are also spoken, the most common being Dioula.
4. The government has requested that the country’s name be “Côte d’Ivoire” in every language, but it is still commonly known as “Ivory Coast” in English.