Serving as the capital from 1933 until 1983, Abidjan is the biggest and most important city of Cote d'Ivoire. With a population of around 4,000,000 people, it is the second largest city in West Africa after Lagos and has historically been the economic power base of the region. Following the death of long term president-for-life Felix Houphouët Boigny in 1993, the fortunes for Abidjan changed a great deal and successive coup d'etats in Cote d'Ivoire caused a massive exodus of the foreigners living there. Today, despite the current political issues in Cote d'Ivoire at large, Abidjan remains the economic and de facto capital of the country. Even after everything that's happened, it still boasts a large selection of restaurants, hotels, sites, and other reasons to visit. For those traveling through West Africa, it is a must-see city with one of the liveliest night scenes to be found for 1,000 kilometers.
Abidjan is well-connected internationally with regular flights on:
The roads to Abidjan are quite good despite their maintenance not being kept up as much as it should as of late. Traffic lights all but disappear once outside of Abidjan though, so be advised that driving outside of the city can be "active". It's important to note that whether in a private car, taxi, or gbaka (the shared minibuses) you will be stopped at various official (and unofficial) checkpoints where they will delay you at the very least and try to shake down a bribe at the very worst. Abidjan also serves as a terminus for long haul bus lines from Bamako, Mali, Ouagadougou, Burinka Faso, and Accra, Ghana.
The only train connection with Abidjan is the one that ends in Burkina Faso. While a possibly interesting ride, the schedule is quite unreliable and hard to predict.
Abidjan is quite spread out so walking can take a lot of time and bicycle riding isn't the safest choice (except nearer the water in Zone Quatre.) As such, there are many options to get around via motored transport.
They have a complex system that is comprised of two types of car taxis. The first type that most visitors will encounter are the orange (or red-orange) ones. These are legally able to operate anywhere in the city and you will most likely be able to ride solo in them. They are also the most expensive. A ride from the airport will run most people (especially non-Africans who speak little French) about 5,000 CFA, even to districts that are just 3km away. If willing to haggle a lot (the drivers will often complain that they have to pay a fee to pick up passengers there, which is a lie) you may be able to get it to 3,500 or 2,500 CFA. A ride between two distant districts such as Zone Quatre and Plateau will be about 2,000 CFA.
The other type of taxi is color-coded to operate in a specific neighborhood, such as the green taxis you'll see in an area such as Koumassi. These are significantly cheaper, but will most likely have to be shared and of course the distance they can travel is limited to a single neighborhood.
Travel books often make allusion to some taxis having meters. If they do (and this is rare), they are never working and you always, always agree on the price prior to departure.
There are several bus routes throughout the city. They are cheap and decently reliable, although they are often incredibly crowded due to insufficient numbers. Some of the bus stations can be overwhelming though, such as Adjame which, for those new to travel in West African cities will be a lot to handle. There is also the threat of pickpockets in these crowded areas.
In 2010, the Ivorian government relaxed import restrictions on small motorcycles. Prior to this, the amount of motorcycles you would see on the street was negligible and there were absolutely none acting as taxis as it was illegal. Times are changing on this front, but be forewarned that going about Abidjan on the back of a moto is probably the number one way to die during travels, although it is cheap.
If you just need to cross the lagoon and can make use of one of the ferry routes, by all means take it. While the lagoon is polluted in some parts, it's still a wonderful ride and gazing at the Abidjan skyline from the water at sunset is delightful.
Abidjan is sometimes referred to as the "Paris of West-Africa". During the long and stable rule of the Ivory Coast's Godfather Felix Huphouet-Boigny the city of Abidjan has flourished. However, the political instability and the civil war of the past decade have taken their toll on the city. Neglect, low maintenance of buildings and public space and the mass exodus of foreigners have given the city an atmosphere of "lost glory". Very nice is the public zoo. It really is a beautiful place with loads of interesting animals for just CFA 200, well worth this small sum. Also don't forget a trip to Bassam, Abidjan's no. 1 beach.
Other places of Interest
There are many places to eat Ivorian food, most of them on the sidewalk or on a small road side terrace. Make sure that you ask about the price before you sit down, in order to avoid lengthy discussions about the price when they try to overcharge you after the meal. The staple foods in the Ivory Coast are rice, cassava, yam and bread. Bread is usually eaten at breakfast or as a supplement to the meal. The cassava (manioc) can be eaten cooked whole, as a mash called plakali, mixed with banana (foutou) or in crums (atchiki). Fish is usually the cheapest meal. European style cuisine can be found in the wealthier neighbourhoods such as Plateau, Cocody, Deux Plateaux and Zone 4.
The number one place to go out at night in Abidjan is Princess Road in Yopougon. There are many bars to just relax and drink and also loads of dancing with live music or deejays. Don't forget to order some fried spicy chicken; they prepare it for you right on the street!
The best hotel by far in Abidjan is the Tiama in Plateau (the CBD) next to Standard Chartered Bank and opposite a police station. Civilisation will cost you around USD 150 a night. The Novotel is also OK and around the same price. The hotels Golf and Ivoire are owned by the government and very badly maintained.
There are a number of issues that plague Abidjan, which are indicative of the overall problems that Cote d'Ivoire is experiencing. First and foremost are the military checkpoints. While generally harmless for foreigners, they can make it maddening to get across the city in a timely fashion, especially if one is in a private car. Bribes are commonplace, but not an absolute. Carrying small bills is always a good idea. Otherwise, just agreeing with the officer bothering you is the best course of action. If you are respectful, they will usually let you be, unless you are French, in which case you will be hassled a good deal more due to the Ivorians having heavy disdain for French involvement in their country.
Also if you are in a private car, you will notice that most people roll through red lights late at night. While illegal, there have been incidents of carjackings when people are stopped, so heed this warning as you see best.
Something else to keep in mind is that Cote d'Ivoire literally shuts down at midnight until 05:00. As a remnant of a curfew imposed during the last civil war, they barricade all the main points of entry and exit to all the towns. If you find yourself on the wrong side of that barricade when it is closed (such as staying in Bassam, but partying in Abidjan) you will absolutely not be let through until 05:00.
Pickpockets are a problem in crowded places much like anywhere else in the world. Keep track of your personal items and make sure your bags are well closed when passing through busy bus stations or markets.
The most lively of neighborhoods - such as Koumassi, Treichville, and Yopougon - are probably best avoided, unless you go there with a local. Yopougon is undoubtedly the safest neighborhood with the most impressive assortment of street food, but there can also be young, drunken men in these areas who can be looking for trouble. That said, if you are not starting the trouble and try to diffuse the situation, you will probably not have any issues as people in Abidjan are used to an international crowd in their city.
Women should not go out unaccompanied at night. During the day, you will have no problems. Ivorian society is most definitely patriarchal, but at the same time, the men are respectful of international women and at times maybe a bit too respectful, giving you a lot more attention than you would like. If you receive unwanted advances, just do as the local girls do and firmly tell them that you are not interested. They will eventually get the point or move on to other women to "charm".