Soft, sandy beaches, tall palm trees, and clear waters – Côte d'Ivoire, or Ivory Coast as it is known in English, is a country stunning in its beauty. It offers a tropical holiday experience along with cities filled with intriguing historical sites.
The country is located in West Africa, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and borders Liberia, Mali, Ghana, and Guinea.
It has a population of 23.7 million (estimated by a 2018 census), placing it among the lesser-populated countries in Africa; South Africa and Nigeria have populations of over 50 million and 190 million respectively.
With millions of people to meet, fascinating stories to hear, places to discover, and marvels to behold, Ivory Coast is an amazing and underrated travel destination. Pack your bags, double check your flight booking, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime.
Here are a few must-know facts about Ivory Coast:
Currency: West African CFA franc (XOF)
Official Language: French
Like many other African countries, Ivory Coast has two main cities: the capital, Yamoussoukro, which has around 335,000 inhabitants, and the most populous city, Abidjan, with 4.7 million people (about 20% of the overall population).
Visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace and experience the remarkable architecture. English-speaking guides are available if you're interested in the history and the miniscule details of how this astonishing building came to be.
Ivory Coast has a rich and culturally diverse history. Called Ivory Coast due the it becoming a main trading hub for Ivory into Europe, the country has a long history with Ivory in all its forms. Determining when the first humans settled in the region is difficult due to natural conditions such as erosion that have destroyed human remains. However, the first humans were estimated to be in the region from around 15,000 BCE.
Some North African merchants documented their business dealings during the Roman Empire era, telling of how they traded various wares across the Sahara Desert. Thanks to these records, we know that, because Ivory Coast was a popular trade route for salt and gold, it was also a battleground for powerful empires looking to take control of the region. Notably, in the 14th century, the Sudanic Ghana Empire flourished in the region.
Later on, the country was colonised by France as the first French missionaries established themselves in 1637. Ivory Coast gained its independence from French colonialism in 1944 and has established itself as a major exporter of palm oil and pineapples.
The city of Abidjan hosts an array of attractions, such as La Pyramide, a beautiful building of modernist architecture. Designed by Italian, Rinaldo Olivieri in 1970, this balconied concrete pyramid is a true marvel.
Cathedrale St Paul is located near Le Plateau, Abidjan's central business district (CBD), and is a brilliant example of the city's blend of historic and modern architecture. Like La Pyramide, the Cathedrale St Paul was designed by an Italian architect – Aldo Spiritom.
Also in the region of Le Plateau, the Musée des Civilisations de Côte d'Ivoire houses an interesting collection of paintings, sculptures, craftwork, and pottery dating back throughout the ages.
Exploring out from the city centre, you'll find the Parc National de Tai, the largest wildlife reserve in West Africa. The biodiversity in this UNESCO World Heritage Site makes for the perfect day out if you want to see nature up close.
Another must-see is the Presidential Palace in the capital city of Yamoussoukro. Built for the first president of Ivory Coast, Felix Houphouët-Boigny, the palace sits on a lake teeming with what the locals refer to as sacred crocodiles. Although the palace is only visible from afar, groundskeepers conduct scheduled crocodile feeding shows.
Tip: Although crocodile feedings occur frequently, it is best to contact the Palace in advance and book a timeslot, as the feeding depends on seasonality and an adapted feeding schedule.
Ivory Coast's major cities, Abidjan and Yamoussoukro, offer an array of hotels and Airbnb accommodation for those looking to splurge or stick to a budget. Compare all the accommodation options to find the best possible deal for you.
Tip: Before booking accommodation at any hotel, resort, or Airbnb, read as many reviews as possible to get a better understanding of what the accommodation offers and how others have experienced it. To avoid disappointment, book your accommodation as early as possible; places can be snapped up quickly, especially during holiday seasons.
Ivory Coast has world-class tropical beaches with clear waters and warm sands. Water sports, like surfing, are popular in the coastal regions, along with more leisurely activities like fishing and scuba diving. Venture into the water and you'll find an array of marine life, including sharks, swordfish, marlin, and red carp.
Hike through the country's dense forests and view the rock formations of the La Dent de Man region, home to the Dan people, an ethnolinguistic group famous for their wooden art.
The nightlife is quite an experience in the major cities, where the streets are scattered with vibey bars, cafes, and theatres.
The climate is tropical throughout most of the year, with a dry season from December to February. The rainy season occurs between April and October, when the African monsoon may take over. Heavy rainfall is usually expected nearer to the coastal regions.
Ivory Coast can be visited almost anytime throughout the year, as the temperature is generally quite pleasant. Winter months experience temperatures of up to 30 degrees Celsius while the summer months can reach up to 45 degrees Celsius.
Tip: When visiting in the summer, especially nearer to the coastal regions, always have a fresh water supply with you and wear cool clothing.
Because Ivory Coast is a tropical country, you can expect loads of fresh fruits and vegetables. Local dishes, like alloco (fried plantain), are commonplace in the streets of Abidjan, along with foufou, a dish made from palm oil and mashed plantains, topped with crushed nuts, a sauce, grain, and red oil.
Another dish you have to try is maafe, which consists of lamb, chicken, or beef prepared in a peanut sauce.
There are major fast food outlets, such as McDonald's and KFC in the cities, but travel away from the metro hubs and you'll struggle to find a familiar chain.
Tip: Many of the country's traditional dishes contain peanuts as a main ingredient. Know your allergies and dietary requirements before sampling into any of the dishes.
The crime rate in major cities like Abidjan is high, due in part to the increasing population.
Some of the most common crimes are theft, car jacking, and residential robberies, according to the Ivory Coast Crime Report.
Ivory Coast is accessible in several ways as it is surrounded by land and sea. Travelling to Ivory Coast requires an e-visa for South African citizens. This electronic visa is easily obtained via an online application.
Here is a breakdown of the various ways you can travel to and around Ivory Coast:
If you are driving to Ivory Coast from the east side, you will cross the border through Ghana.
For those who plan to travel with a rental car, ensure you have the relevant driving permit and documentation. These documents can be acquired from several Ivory Coast car rental agencies.
Tip: The roads in Ivory Coast's major cities are well maintained; however, driving can be hazardous when venturing outside main regions. Many rural roads are dirt tracks, so make sure you have the right kind of rental car, a spare wheel, and comprehensive travel insurance, which can help if you are stuck in the middle of nowhere with a quick towing service or mechanical assistance.
Because Ivory Coast overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, the harbours welcome cruise ships and other tourists into the country. Cruise ships most often dock at the Abidjan Harbour.
Port Bouët Airport, the country's only international airport located in Abidjan is the largest and busiest entry point into the country. The capital city of Yamoussoukro has its own airport as well, but it is regional only.
Ivory Coast is home to various cultures and religions, so knowing where you are going and what traditional cultural rules apply to the region is important. Over 47% of the population is Muslim and 33% is Christian.
The people of Ivory Coast love sport, especially football, with their national team performing well Internationally. Didier Drogba is a famous Ivorian football player who made his name at the English club, Chelsea.
The weather is consistent but can be harsh if you're not prepared for it. Make sure you always have sunscreen and other UV protection with you.
The country has a low average life expectancy of 53.58 years, with poverty and HIV being two major issues there. If you wish to help or provide any kind of aid, you can contact one of the humanitarian efforts operating in the region.
If you book a holiday tour, make sure the tour company you use has a certified guide by contacting them and requesting verification.