The independent republic of the Ivory Coast (or Côte d'Ivoire) lies on the south coast of the bulge of West Africa, consisting mainly of a vast plateau (except for mountains in the northwest extremity), hemmed in by five other countries and the Atlantic Ocean. Once, its main cities of Abidjan and Yamoussoukro were showpieces of the continent, politically stable and economically sound, attractive not only by dint of the physical beauty that abounds in the country but also boasting a rich culture.
In 2002 an armed rebellion split the nation, and although a peace deal between the rebels and the government was brokered in 2003, implementation was difficult and a further peace accord had to be signed in 2007. There has been relative stability since 2010 when Alassane Ouattara became president; although the beginning of 2017 did see some political upheaval. Most western governments advise travellers to steer clear of the western region of the country bordering Liberia, due to the risk of violence by the local militias.
Tourists that do brave the political situation can experience attractions in the Ivory Coast like one of the last remaining virgin rainforests in West Africa at the Tai National Park, an unspoilt wonderland of huge trees, gurgling streams and abundant wildlife. Then there is the impressive Cascade Waterfall, located in a bamboo forest in the lush region around the town of Man, which also hosts the intriguing annual Festival of Masks with performing stilt-dancers.
The cities are also worthy experiences. The capital Yamoussoukro, a unique city in Africa, boasts a full-sized basilica, reminiscent of St Peter's in Rome. The stunning cathedral, an internationally-rated golf course and multi-lane highways that disappear into the jungle, were built courtesy of long-term president Felix Houphouet-Boigny, who bestowed all these gifts on his hometown.
The largest city, Abidjan, has a cosmopolitan flavour lent to it by its large French and Lebanese communities. Abidjan presents an attractive aspect, set on a lagoon and boasting high-rise buildings like the spectacular Hotel Ivoire. The city has its landmark cathedral too; St Paul's was built in 1985 and was consecrated by the Pope. The city has a vibrant nightlife and bustling atmosphere, offering a few good museums for sightseeing and a rainforest reserve called Parc du Banco for shady relaxation.
Despite political unrest and societal challenges, Ivory Coast is undoubtedly a country of great beauty and potential.
The Ivory Coast has a number of interesting attractions available for sightseeing. Abidjan itself has the Parc du Banco on the outskirts of the city, where visitors can experience the rainforest's flora and fauna. Inside Abidjan city is the Hotel Ivoire, which is a glamourous place to stay. St Paul's Cathedral is another site within the city of Abidjan worth a visit for sightseeing tourists.
Further afield, visitors can see the capital city (by name only) of Yamoussoukro, which is famous for multiple-lane highways leading straight into the jungle, or city streets and blocks all laid out, but with no houses or structures lining the streets. Yamoussoukro is also famous for the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro (Basilica Notre Dame), which is roughly based on St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. The town of Man is also well-known for its fabric and the traditional masks on sale, as well as for its surrounding waterfalls and beautiful natural scenery.
Tourists looking for a little entertainment in Abidjan should head to the area of Treichville, a small commune located in the southwest of the city. Full of bars and restaurants, as well as a race course, swimming pool and sports park, this is the area in which visitors are most likely to run into other tourists or expats based in Abidjan. While visitors should check with their hotel on the safety situation before stepping out at night, Treichville is certainly the place to go if they want to sample some of the city's surprisingly vibrant nightlife. The market is worth a visit during the day, as it offers an array of interesting and affordable items.
Designed by Italian architect Aldo Spirito and covering a massive 14,625 square feet (4,500m square), this cathedral is reputedly Africa's second-largest church building and can seat more than 3,500 people. Pope John Paul II inaugurated the cathedral in a beautiful opening ceremony in August 1985. The tower itself is said to be a figure of St Paul, while the buildings behind the tower represent his robes. The interior of the cathedral includes a number of beautiful stained-glass tableaux. The building also offers spectacular views of the city that tourists can enjoy.
Yamoussoukro is the official capital of Ivory Coast, though this seems to be in name only. The city is a five-hour drive from Abidjan and appears to be one of Africa's strangest capitals. Paved streets and street lamps were built in preparation for the buzzing metropolis Yamoussoukro was supposed to be; however this development never came to pass, meaning streets now exist with little to nothing between them. The city's main attraction is the unforgettable Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro (Cathedrale Notre Dame de la Paix or Basilica Notre Dame). Larger than St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, Yamoussoukro's basilica is the largest Christian church in the world. It was roughly based on the Vatican's St. Peter's, and even though the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace seats slightly fewer people than St. Peter's, it has a taller dome and a larger surface area. The stained-glass windows are also exceptionally beautiful. The Basilica Notre Dame was consecrated by Pope John Paul II.
Man is a small town situated to the west of the central region of Ivory Coast. The town is known as the best area to buy the famous Yacouba masks, as well as beautiful traditional fabrics. Man is part of Dix-Huit Montagnes Region and is an important market town lying between mountains, including Mount Toura and Mount Tonkoui (the two highest in the country), and La Dent de Man, popular with hikers. Mount Tonkoui towers over the town at 4,000 feet (1,220m) and is quite a challenge for avid climbers. There are also a number of rivers and waterfalls, such as La Cascade, which is set in a bamboo forest close to the outskirts of the town.
The Parc National de Tai (Tai National Park) is undoubtedly the most staggering natural attraction the Ivory Coast has to offer. One of the last remaining areas of virgin rainforest in the whole of Africa, the Park was inscribed in UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites as far back as 1982. The spectacular primary forest is filled with trees that reach up to 150 feet (46m), blocking out the sunlight, and allowing for a dark, dank, and dense undergrowth to flourish. The park is also home to no less than five species of mammal included in the 'red list' on endangered animals: pygmy hippopotamuses, Olive Colobus monkeys, leopards, chimpanzees and Jentink's Duikers.
Located about an hour away from Yamoussoukro, the Parc National d'Abokouamekro (Abokouamekro National Park) is an up-and-coming Ivory Coast tourist attraction of great promise. Covering over 21,000 hectares of verdant grassland, criss-crossed by rivers and punctuated by towering trees, Abokouamekro National Park is also an important game reserve, offering refuge to the region's threatened wildlife. Visitors can gaze in wonder at the seemingly endless rolling green vistas, and be on the lookout for rhinos, giraffe, buffalo, hippos, monkeys and more.
Abidjan, like the rest of Ivory Coast, enjoys a tropical monsoon climate. Temperatures in this coastal city tend to remain in the region of 70°F (21°C) to 90°F (32°C) year-round. Abidjan experiences the majority of its rain during the monsoon months from May to July. October and November can be wet months but the average rainfall for the rest of the year remains minimal. Humidity is generally high, particularly from January to June when temperatures tend to remain constant at about 86°F (30°C). The best time to visit is during the cooler and drier months between November and January.
The coastal region, where temperatures stay fairly constant between 73°F to 80°F (23°C to 27°C), is dry for most of the year, experiencing an intensely wet rainy season between mid-May and mid-July. In the central forest region of the country, however, it is continually wet and humid. The hottest part of the country is the northern savannah, where temperatures can reach 90°F (32°C). The north experiences a long wet season from June to October.
There are a few good places for tourists to eat; from local cheap and cheerful spots with brochettes (kebabs) and beer, to Lebanese and French restaurants. Although leaving their hotel at night can be unsafe for tourists, Le Plateau is worth visiting if they do venture out for a late lunch or early dinner. The area has a small selection of restaurants.
The official currency is the West African CFA Franc (XOF), divided into 100 centimes. The CFA Franc is linked to the Euro at a fixed rate of exchange. New notes were issued in 2004 and only those issued by the Bank of West African States (Banque des États de l'Afrique de l'Ouest) are valid currency. There are a few ATMs in Abidjan but most will accept only Visa cards. It is unwise to use an ATM that is not guarded. Credit cards are accepted in the larger hotels and more established restaurants. Most shops require cash.
The official language of Ivory Coast is French but more than 60 native dialects are spoken.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Plug types in use are round pin attachment plugs or round pin plugs and receptacles with a male grounding pin.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the period of intended stay, and require a visa to enter the Ivory Coast.
British citizens must have a passport that is valid for six months beyound the period of intended stay. A visa is required.
Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the period of intended stay, and require a visa to enter the Ivory Coast.
Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the period of intended stay, and require a visa to enter the Ivory Coast.
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the period of intended stay, and require a visa to enter the Ivory Coast.
Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the period of intended stay, and require a visa to enter the Ivory Coast.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the period of intended stay, and require a visa to enter the Ivory Coast.
New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the period of intended stay, and require a visa to enter the Ivory Coast.
All foreign passengers to the Ivory Coast must hold proof of arranged accommodation, return/onward tickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination. Note that a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter the Ivory Coast. Visitors will need to get an e-visa prior to arriving. The process is straightforward and is done completely online.
NOTE: It is highly recommended that travellers' passports have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from their travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
There are a variety of health risks prevalent in Ivory Coast, and a yellow fever vaccination is required for entry; immigration officials will check this at the airport. Cholera is present in rural areas, and malaria is widespread even in urban areas. Typhoid and Hepatitis A vaccinations are also recommended. Meningococcal vaccine is recommended for travel between November and June. HIV/AIDS is widespread and Dengue Fever can occur, so travellers should pack an effective mosquito repellent. All water should be sterilised before use, and milk, which is unpasteurised, should be boiled. Travellers should avoid dairy products and ensure meat is well cooked and eaten hot. Fruit and vegetables should be cooked and/or peeled before consumption. Medical treatment in Abidjan is of reasonable standard, but private care is expensive, and facilities outside the major towns are very limited. Medical insurance with provision for repatriation is essential.
A service charge is usually added to hotel and restaurant bills in Ivory Coast. Where it is not, a tip of 10 to 15 percent is acceptable. Taxi drivers usually expect 10 percent.
The political situation in Ivory Coast is volatile and demonstrations can occur unexpectedly. Travellers should take care in public places and avoid crowds. If visitors decide to travel to the Ivory Coast, careful personal security arrangements should be made due to high levels of anti-western sentiment. Violent crime is on the increase, including armed break-ins, car jackings, muggings and hold-ups in restaurants. Evening rush hour on Abidjan's Charles de Gaulle Bridge is particularly dangerous.
Visitors should be meticulous in respecting the numerous army and police roadblocks. Police and security forces can be excitable and undisciplined. Particular care should be taken in the north and west of the country, where there have been frequent clashes. All travel to the 18 Montagnes and Moyen Cavally regions should be avoided. In the area between Duékoué and Odienne, armed elements are often under the influence of drink or drugs, which makes them particularly unpredictable. Travellers should be aware of con-men and touts when arriving at Abidjan airport. The bridges crossing the lagoon in Abidjan should be avoided by those on foot. Taxis, except for metered orange taxis in Abidjan, are risky and often unroadworthy. Buses are overcrowded and best avoided. Sea bathing is dangerous as strong sea currents are present, and drownings are common.
Photographing military or government installations is forbidden in Ivory Coast. Homosexuality is illegal. Dress is conservative for men and women. Shorts, tight clothing and strapless tops are frowned upon anywhere except on the beach.
Business in the Ivory Coast is fairly formal with punctuality a must, though more casual cotton suits are acceptable attire. Business is often conducted in French, but translators are readily available. Greeting and acknowledging each person present with a handshake is important. Business hours are usually from 7.30am to 12pm, and 2.30pm to 6pm on weekdays, and from 8am to 12pm on Saturdays.
The country code for Ivory Coast is +225. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). City/area codes are not required and all phone numbers have eight digits.
Travellers to the Ivory Coast do not need to pay customs duty on 200 cigarettes or 100 cigarillos or 25 cigars or 250g of tobacco; one bottle of wine and one of spirits; 500ml eau de toilette and 250ml of perfume. Currency should be declared.
Tourist Office (Office du Tourisme), Abidjan: +225 2025 1600
Ivory Coast Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 797 0300.
Ivory Coast Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7201 9601 and +44 20 7235 6991.
Ivory Coast Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 (613) 236 9919.
United States Embassy, Abidjan: +225 2249 4000 and +225 2249 4594.
British Embassy, Abidjan: +225 2244 2669.
Canadian Embassy, Abidjan (also responsible for Australia): +225 2030 0700.
Abidjan's public transport system can be difficult to navigate. There are a number of different taxis operating in the city: Orange taxi cabs operate throughout the city and are the most expensive but also generally the safest option; taxis of other colours operate only in specific areas, are usually shared, and tend to be much cheaper. Taxis are rarely metered and a fare should be negotiated before getting into the vehicle. Motorcycle taxis also operate in Abidjan, and although cheap, they are best avoided due to safety concerns.
Buses operate along fixed routes in Abidjan, but are often overcrowded and plagued by petty theft, especially at bus stations. Ferries travel across the lagoon. Car hire is available at the airport, although self-drive is not recommended as roads can be chaotic and difficult to navigate. Often the best option for visitors is to hire a vehicle with a driver. Mobile App taxi services like TaxiJet (similar to Uber) are also an option for travellers looking for convenience and safety.
Abidjan is not known as a tourist Mecca, but there are a couple of interesting sites to visit while in the city. It is a spread out city made up of a handful of districts but a good place to start a tour (probably the only place) is Le Plateau. Starting at Laza De la Republique and heading into the Tourist Information centre in the Air Ivoire Building will give visitors a good idea of what can be seen in Abidjan. From there they can walk up Blvd De la Republique. Travellers will pass the flea market on the left-hand side of the road and will find places to eat, but they should definitely take some water along.
Visitors who stay on this road will make their way to the Cathedral St. Paul. This modern imposing Cathedral is certainly one of the major landmarks in Abidjan. Built in honour of the Pope in 1985, the architecture is meant to symbolise the form of Jesus, though with hints of elephant tusks, the symbol of Cote D'Ivoire. The National museum is a short walk from the Cathedral. Travellers could make a day of this or at least half of one if they take their time.