Ivory Coast is a country of extremes; a land of pulsating metropolises and pristine rainforests, vast churches and verdant hills, fancy restaurants and sprawling street stalls. Its reputation might be sullied by the recent civil war, but most areas are now stable and ripe for discovery.
Coastal Abidjan is the unofficial capital and the entry point for most travellers. The French influence is clear to see here, not least in the food, which is served in some bistros with the kind of pomp you might expect in downtown Paris. These eateries are a stark contrast to the traditional maquis restaurants, which sprawl out onto the city’s bustling streets. Pull up a plastic pew, order some food and share a meal with locals.
Dubbed the “Manhattan of Africa” the gleaming skyscrapers and manicured gardens of The Plateau give downtown Abidjan a decidedly modern feel. This commercial district is also home to St Paul’s Cathedral, which boasts impressive stained glass windows and great views across the city.
While most of the action takes place in Abidjan, Yamoussoukro is the official capital. It is notable for its massive mosque and even bigger Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, which is the largest church in the world. Football is also a religion here and watching The Elephants, the national football team, offers a memorable day out for sports fans.
Ivory Coast’s true beauty really shines through when you get out of the cities. There are no fewer than eight national parks in the country, including Comoé, the largest protected area in West Africa, which boasts the most biodiverse savannah in the world. Expect to see anything from lions and leopards to aardvarks and African elephants. The pygmy hippos of Tai National Park are also a big draw for naturalists, while the beautiful beaches around San Pedro,Assine and Grand Bassam attract bathers of all stripes.
Sure, Ivory Coast has had its problems, but a sanguine spirit is binding this country together again and putting it back on the map.