Côte d’Ivoire, or the Ivory Coast, is known for its natural beauty, but that can be said about many destinations around the world. Here, the Ivory Coast derives its uniqueness from its will to dazzle you with a colorful palate of green towering palm trees, turquoise tranquil beaches, and its russet colored rural roads.
But while this tropical paradise is most famous for its southern coast, the entire country is filled with natural beauty. As you travel north, throughout the rest of the country, there are lush mountains, inland lagoons, and sprawling rivers.
Bienvenue – Welcome to Côte d’Ivoire
While the majority of this country is rural, there are various large cities. The impact of modernization is helping Côte d’Ivoire mov towards a better future, but the country hasn’t forgotten its past and underneath its identity remains intact. In more recent years, Côte d’Ivoire has strengthened its economy and tourism is once again booming.
Côte d’Ivoire maintains a unique identity with the help of two capitals – Yamoussoukro and Abidjan. Yamoussoukro is the administrative capital of Côte d’Ivoire and arguably, the less famous of the two for tourism. But while it doesn’t have the picturesque beauty like Abidjan, it is known for its Bascilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro. Abidjan is the most famous of the two capitals and considered to be the major hub for the country’s economy and culture. The second capital hugs the Ébrié Lagoon and is known for its metropolitan beauty. Here, tourists flock to this urbanized center to explore before they head off into the wild.
Culture and Language
While Africa is known for its long history with hominids, it has been more difficult to trace the area’s history throughout the Neolithic and Paleolithic periods because of the humid climate. But there have been small traces found of five different groups of people who arrived before the 16th century.
However, the country is most famous for its period of influence from the French, which began in 1483. It was in this year, that the French completed their first voyage to West Africa. But France didn’t solidify its presence in the Ivory Coast until the mid-19th century and by 1893 the country was officially declared a French colony.
During the colonization period, France wanted to assimilate their culture into the local culture. This meant that the country would then use the French language, institutions, laws, and customs. But while the people originally welcomed change, they ultimately realized that France wanted to be the superior authority.
In order to cut ties, Côte d’Ivoire began to seek independence. By August 1960, the country gained its independence and entered into a period of stability under the leadership of Félix Houphouët-Boigny. But unfortunately, the stability didn’t last long and by 2002, the country entered its first civil war. This led to a collapse within the country as the economy plunged and tourism began to slow. But by 2011, the country began to recover, and the Ivory Coast is currently on the up and up.
But with such a vast history, the country has been able to successful reflect its past in a multicultural and diverse mosaic. With influences from French and local cultures, the people of Côte d’Ivoire have always lived with diversity. Familiarity is important for many people in the Ivory Coast and many conversations may turn towards one’s family. The local people are also curious to know about visitor’s lives and learn about their culture. With a friendly disposition, the people have always welcomed visitors with open arms.
Leftover from the days of France’s control and colonization, French is the country’s official language. But there are 78 languages spoken in total. While French is spoken within the government, taught in schools, and is the common language, indigenous languages are also prevalent with five main branches throughout Côte d’Ivoire.
English is not as common in Côte d’Ivoire and many people may only understand a limited vocabulary. For travelers, this can be frustrating. But as a francophone country, French will be much more useful, if you have the time to learn a few phrases.
For US citizens who are interested in visiting Côte d’Ivoire, you are required to request a tourist visa prior to your arrival to the country. However, you will only be submitting a request, and will either be approved or denied of pre-enrollment. Once you have been approved for pre-enrollment, you can finish your enrollment upon arrival at the airport.
Your pre-enrollment for an e-visa will begin at the official country’s e-visa page, which requires that you submit your passport information, airfare booking, invitation letter or certificate of accommodation, and paying the application fee. The cost is currently $80 US dollars and it will grant you a 90-day visa within the country. Within 48 hours, the applicant should receive an email with an approval or denial.
Finally, upon your arrival to the country with your pre-enrollment approved, you will also have to give biometric data, which is your fingerprint and photo. This is required for all travelers who are over the age of 12.
Other visa requirements include having a US passport that has at least 6 months validity remaining. Your passport needs to have 1 blank page, as well. There are no currency restrictions for entry, but you may not leave with more than $1,000 US dollars.
While it is suggested that you are up to date on all vaccinations, you are only required to have proof of a Yellow Fever vaccine. But you should be aware that other diseases like HIV/AIDS, Malaria, Meningococcal disease, Tuberculosis, and Dengue as also present. Malaria has an exceptionally high transmission throughout the country, even in urban areas. It is highly suggested that you talk with your general physician before you depart for Côte d’Ivoire about how you can avoid and prevent Malaria. You should also ask about receiving the drug Malaria prophylaxis, which is highly recommended for all travelers, no matter the duration of their visit.
The US government has also issued a Level 2 Travel Advisory due to crime and terrorism, but it is mostly concentrated on one area. You should reconsider travel to the northern border area due to terrorism. Travelers can also enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which will give them up to date alerts from the US Embassy regarding current events in Côte d’Ivoire.
While a tourist visa is always top priority so that you can enter Côte d’Ivoire, it is also important that you are prepared and plan your spending budget for the duration of your trip. Côte d’Ivoire is a country that can be traveled on a limited budget or you can treat yourself to luxury. For most travelers, safety is very important, and you may find yourself raising your budget to accommodate your preferences. The most important part of your budget will be your airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
Airfare is your first major purchase of your budget and even though Africa is far away, flights to Côte d’Ivoire won’t break the bank. The average cost of a flight from the US to Côte d’Ivoire is $600 US dollars. But there are sometimes special deals that can lower the price to about $350 US dollars. However, if you wait too long to make a reservation, you could see the price increase up to $900 US dollars or more.
Flights will also be more expensive if you travel during the tourist high season. November to May are the most popular months to visit Côte d’Ivoire because it is the dry season. However, the ultimate peak number of tourists will visit from May to July and then October and November.
Accommodation is another important part of your budget because you need a place to rest after a day of exploring. However, hostels are not very popular in Côte d’Ivoire and instead there are basic hotels, which often have a starting price of $25 US dollars per night. A nicer hotel room that has air conditioning would cost double that and start their rates at $50 US dollars per night. A more westernized hotel will be the most expensive option and will start their nightly rates at $100 US dollars.
The nicer hotels and western style hotels will often be considered luxury. But there are plenty of luxury locations that cost hundreds of US dollars per night. So, if you want to experience the best of the best, you should expect to raise your budget significantly.
Food is another important part of a trip because it is not only a necessity, but it allows you to experience the local culture. Côte d’Ivoire’s local cuisine is known for having a heavy base of root vegetables and grain. Yams, plantains, rice, corn, and peanuts are all staples used within local dishes.
Attiéké is fermented cassava and it is everywhere in the country. The dish is often compared to couscous in texture and is often eaten by hand. Alloco is Côte d’Ivoire’s version of fried plantain, which are often cut into small pieces and eaten as a snack. Foutou is a sticky dish made of banana and cassava. The trick to eating it is to dip it into the accompanying sauce so that it doesn’t stick to your fingers. Sauce kopè is another favorite with crab, escargot, fish, or beef.
The good news is that good food is relatively affordable, and many dishes can be purchased for less than $4 US dollars. Local restaurants will cost more with prices normally ranging from $6-$13 US dollars. However, fine dining can be expensive, and you should expect to pay $25 US dollars or more for a meal in nice restaurants or tourist areas.
For some travelers, drinking is another important part of their experience and they will need to incorporate the price of alcohol into their budget. Many drinks are affordable and can be purchased for $5 US dollars or less. This can include a glass of wine or beer. If you head out to the nightclubs, the drinks will be a lot more expensive and you should expect to pay up to $10 US dollars per beverage.
Overall, budget travelers can have a great time in Côte d’Ivoire, if they are willing to plan ahead and stay in affordable locations or eat at local restaurants. Budget travelers should expect to spend about $35 US dollars per day. A more moderate budget would have you spending $75-$93 US dollars per day. But if you want a luxury experience, you should expect to spend about $120 US dollars per day, as a minimum. There are always options that would have you spending even more per day.
How to Get Around
Another important part of your budget is transportation, because there are a lot of exciting destinations in Côte d’Ivoire for you to explore. For safety, transportation can be tricky because most people will choose to pay more for private transportation, rather than take public transportation.
But private drivers can be very expensive. However, they are the safest option. If you do choose to hire private transportation, you should expect to pay $70-$170 US dollars per day. For many travelers, the choice of safety does not have a price. But it is worth noting that there are safe public transportation options.
Public buses are also a great transportation option and they will cost a fraction of the price of a private driver. Many bus tickets will cost less than $1 US dollar per ride within cities. Taxis are another option and will cost less than $1 US dollar for short trips, but up to $3 US dollars for longer trips.
Other methods of transportation include domestic flights, trains, and bush taxis. But finding accurate information can be difficult. Domestic flights can be expensive but are mostly reliable. Trains are another option, but it is rather limited and is not available all throughout the country. Finally, bush taxis are the least reliable method of transportation and can be unsafe.
Walking is also safe in tourist areas, as long as you are aware of your surroundings and keep your belongings close by. However, travelers should be cautious about walking alone and be exceptionally alert if they choose to venture out during the nighttime.
Top Places to Visit: Cities
While Abidjan often takes the cake as the city to visit, there are a few other cities that have made it onto the map too. Here are the top city destinations in Côte d’Ivoire.
The frantic buzz of Abidjan is an energetic way to introduce yourself with Côte d’Ivoire. As the second capital of the country, this is by far the most popular city to visit as the unique sites, dining, and shopping provide you with endless entertainment.
With resorts, beaches, and mansion, Grand-Bassam has earned its title as a World Heritage Site. While the old parts of the city are slowly fading away, the new parts of Grand-Bassam have become a hit with the tourists. Here, you can relax in the sun, sand, and surf or hit the town to explore its history. Princess Road, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the National Museum are all big hits for tourists to visit.
Located in more rural areas, Man is dominated by a vision of the Tonkoui and Toura Mountains in the backdrop. The Cascades waterfall is another hotspot in the area and a major hit for traveling families. For insect lovers, the nearby bamboo forests are also a refuge for rare creepy crawlers and beautiful butterflies.
San-Pédro is a major port city for the country and the area was famous for its cargo of minerals, ores, and fish. Now, with more urban development, the city has become a nice suburb with the occasional energetic vibe of bars and nightclubs. It is also located close by to the Taï National Park and Bas-Sassandra.
Bouaké is filled with plenty of markets and is one of the best places to visit if you want to shop for local crafts and artisanal goods. The city itself is down to earth and filled with friendly locals. While the area once struggled to find peace, it has now settled and become a fascinating place to explore.
The palm lined beaches of Jacqueville are what attracts the tourists from Abidjan. The close proximity to the second capital allows people to escape the chaos of the city and relax in the soft sand. Here, the surf is a peaceful view and the colonial buildings provide a picturesque backdrop.
Points of Interest
Côte d’Ivoire is also filled with a large variety of locations that have become points of interest for tourists. Here are some of the top points of interest that you can explore in Côte d’Ivoire.
Taï National Park
With misty rainforests, the Taï National Park is one of the most well-preserved areas in Côte d’Ivoire. The land is also divided by rivers and valleys, where the animals hide in the local fauna. One of the cutest residents of the area are the pygmy hippopotamus. But there are numerous monkeys and also chimpanzee that also call this park home.
Comoe National Park
Located near the border with Ghana, the Comoe National Park is a diverse landscape with green forests, savannah plains, and the Comoe River. This park is a favorite for ecotourism because of the numerous animal species that live within the park. Some of the guest favorites are the rare pangolin, colobuses, lions, leopards, and Mona monkeys.
Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve
Treasured by UNESCO, this reserve is considered to be one of the most important in all of West Africa because of the lowland rainforests and grass plains. The earthy roads are lined with tall grasses and the area is famous for its toads, butterflies, and chimpanzees. The Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve is situated close to the borders of Liberia and Guinea.
While Sassandra can look undeveloped in some photos, it is a popular place because of its beaches and colonial history. With influence from the French, British, and Portuguese, it was one a major logging port in West Africa. Now, the area is filled with bars and cafes, while the industrialization has been pushed further from the resorts.
Marahoué National Park
For the nature advocates, this is one of the most important parks to visit because of its devastating loss. With 93% of its habitat lost in the last ten years, this park is an important image for the advocation of preserving our precious wildlife. But it is still important for tourists to visit because they can change the future and help bring back Marahoué National Park’s former glory.
Get Out and Go
While Côte d’Ivoire may not be the landscape that you envision for Africa, it is still a beautiful destination that can help you reconnect with the roots of nature. The various national parks and reserves have worked hard to preserve West Africa’s wildlife and the country’s history only gives you more to explore. From a trouble past to a bright future, Côte d’Ivoire is putting itself on the map and becoming one of the best up and coming travel destinations.