When you think of top tourist destinations across the world, Angola may not immediately come to mind in the same way that France, Morocco, and Thailand do.
The Angolan Civil War, which plagued the country for decades until the early 2000s, held the tourism sector back for a long time, with many governments warning their citizens to avoid all unnecessary travel to Angola.
And obstacles to travel remain. The country's visa policy is so complicated that hardly anyone understands it, sometimes including the officials in charge of visa issuance.
To obtain a visa to set foot in Angola you usually need a notarized letter of invitation, a thorough explanation with regard to your purpose of travel, and a detailed map of places that you may or may not visit while in the country, among a dozen other things.
As of publication, Angola has not changed its strict visa policy much.
However, there are ongoing talks about Angola joining the KAZA UniVisa program—an African plan similar to the Schengen visa scheme that so far has the support of Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.
If this happens, entry will be much facilitated for interested tourists. The KAZA visa will be issued without much difficulty, and holders will be able to travel freely across the bloc.
The sooner Angola joins this visa plan, the sooner the annual visitor rates will rise.
With this in mind, Angola is preparing to make up for lost time and become a major player in African tourism.
Its tourism sector is currently limited due to underdevelopment, but it is growing by capitalizing on the country's natural beauty, climate, rivers, lakes, and wildlife.
For example, the Cameia National Park in Moxico province contains some of the most unique seasonal rivers in the world, and the plains of the Zambezi River basin have, thankfully, not changed much since the arrival of humans.
The unique climate has created an ideal habitat for certain species of amphibian and aquatic animals, especially aquatic birds.
There is no shortage of similar national parks. The Cangandala National Park in Malanje province, the Iona national park in Namibe province, and the Mupa National Park in Cunene province are just as attractive.
The capital city, Luanda, has a population of 2.5 million and is big enough to entertain most visitors for several days.
Luanda is one of the oldest colonial strongholds in Africa, and the Atlantic port city is replete with remnants of colonial architecture. Several fortresses, including the famous Fortaleza de São Miguel, are well-preserved and visited by historians and the public alike.
The language of the conquerors of the city, Portuguese, is still spoken in the capital city, making Angola the third largest Portuguese-speaking country after Brazil and—obviously—Portugal.
The city has a sad story, as well. It was once the world's largest center of the slave trade to the Americas, especially to Brazil.
Many Brazilians of African ancestry come to the city to pay tribute to their ancestors, who were cruelly captured and sold.
But, you can also find joy and entertainment in the capital city. Contrary to what many might imagine, Luanda can also offer much in the way of nightlife. A certain neighborhood known as Luanda Sul is often frequented by well-to-do locals, expats, and the fashion-conscious. The neighborhood is known for its discos, bars, and restaurants.
All things considered, Angola has something to offer for everyone; while the nature lovers can explore its intact natural parks, others can admire Angola's rich cultural heritage, or spend a carefree night or two in the Luanda Sul neighborhood.
If the visa policies are finally relaxed, the number of arrivals in the country will certainly pick up soon.
Make sure to follow TBY's Angola coverage in the coming months at www.thebusinessyear.com/Angola