Earth : Africa : West Africa : Côte d'Ivoire
Close ties to France since independence in 1960, the development of cocoa production for export, and foreign investment made Côte d'Ivoire one of the most prosperous of the tropical African states, but did not protect it from political turmoil.
In December 1999, a military coup - the first ever in Côte d'Ivoire's history - overthrew the government. Junta leader Robert Guei blatantly rigged elections held in late 1999 and declared himself the winner. Popular protest forced him to step aside and brought runner-up Laurent Gbagbo into liberation. Ivorian dissidents and disaffected members of the military launched a failed coup attempt in September 2002. Rebel forces claimed the northern half of the country, and in January 2003 were granted ministerial positions in a unity government under the auspices of the Linas-Marcoussis Peace Accord. President Gbagbo and rebel forces resumed implementation of the peace accord in December 2003 after a three-month stalemate, but issues that sparked the civil war, such as land reform and grounds for citizenship, remained unresolved.
Elections were finally held in 2010 with the first round of elections being held peacefully, and widely hailed as free and fair. Laurent Gbagbo, as president, ran against former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara. On 2 Dec 2010, the Electoral Commission declared that Ouattara had won the election by a margin of 54% to 46%. The majority of the rest of the world's governments supported that declaration, but the Gbagbo-aligned Constitutional Council rejected it and then announced the country's borders had been sealed.
The presidential election led to the 2010–2011 Ivorian crisis and to the Second Ivorian Civil War. After months of unsuccessful negotiations and sporadic violence, the crisis entered a critical stage as Ouattara's forces seized control of most of the country.
By Apr 2011, pro-Ouattara forces had penetrated Abidjan and street-level combat between the two sides led to the capture of Gbagbo and the situation has now stabilised. However, many governments are still advising their citizens against travel to Côte d'Ivoire even though several thousand UN peacekeepers and several hundred French troops remain in Cote d'Ivoire to support the transition process.
Tropical along coast, semiarid in far north; three seasons - warm and dry (November to March), hot and dry (March to May), hot and wet (June to October). The coast has heavy surf and no natural harbours; during the rainy season torrential flooding is possible.
Mostly flat to undulating plains; mountains in the northwest. Most of the inhabitants live along the sandy coastal region. Apart from the capital area, the forested interior is sparsely populated. The highest point is Mont Nimba (1,752 meters).
Three National Parks are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
All non CEFA country citizens visiting Côte d'Ivoire must obtain a visa before arrival. The process is online at the Official Website for Visa. Citizens of the United States can now apply for a tourist visa over the internet. The website design is lacking and completing the application process may require you to translate some french. Alternatively, Americans looking to travel to Côte d'Ivoire may contact the embassy in Washington D.C. directly .
The Ivory Coast embassy of Conakry currently (April 2016) refuse to deliver visas from Guinea to Ivory Coast, and the border is theoretically closed.
The Felix-Houphouet Boigny International Airport (ABJ) has daily scheduled flights to and from Paris (Air France and Corsair), Istanbul (Turkish Airlines), Brussels (Brussels airlines), and Dubai (Emirates). There are also semi-weekly flights to Cairo (Egyptian Air), Casablanca (Royal Air Maroc) and Johannesburg (South African Airways). There are also regular flights to other West-African capitals. The airport is a modern facility and increased security has shaken its old reputation as a place for travelers to be ripped off. Unfortunately, it's also one of the most highly taxed in West Africa, with an average of $90 in taxes and fees added to the cost of every international ticket.
The train journey between Abidjan and Ouagadougou usually takes around 30 hours and costs 30'000 CFA for a one-way second class ticket. Trains are packed with people and luggages as well as the incidental goat. Seats are rather uncomfortable. Nevertheless, this is an amazing experience that's well worth the price and back aches. Be aware that pickpockets are very common on this train, especially when you're an obvious tourist. Never leave your luggage unattended and don't go showing your newest smartphone or Breitling.
It is ill advised to try to enter Côte d'Ivoire from Guinea, Liberia, Mali, or Burkina Faso. The Ghanaian border is fairly secure. If you enter at Elubo, you can easily catch a shared taxi to Aboisso and then a bus to Abidjan. There are about ten military check-points between the border and Abidjan so have your documents ready. If you do not have proper documentation of your inoculations at the border you will be forced to pay a small fine and they will give you an injection at an on-site clinic.
Buses run daily between Abidjan and Accra. The service is offered alternating between the STC (Ghana) and its Ivoirian equivalent.
Abidjan has a beautiful evening ride on the lagoon in the city for tourists. It might not be breath taking, but is a very good pleasure trip. Daily, hundreds of Ivorians take the lagoon route to reach offices on the port side.
Inter-city travel in Côte d'Ivoire is usually more comfortable than travel in neighbouring African countries. The roads are generally in good condition and the bus service is relatively modern. The down side is the very frequent military check-points which add hours to a trip. Though the stops are a hassle, Ivoirian soldiers tend to be pretty professional and don't hassle non-French western travellers. Soldiers in Ghana for example are much more likely to demand a bribe than in Côte d'Ivoire. Most western governments recommend that their citizens steer clear of Côte d'Ivoire. This should be taken particularly seriously by people travelling on French passports. An Ivoirian soldier's attitude towards you will change very quickly when you explain that you are not French.
UTB - Union de Transports de Bouake offers frequent busses to most destinations of interest. Their bus stations are widely known in the cities and are semi closed compounds so travel is not a hastle.
Travel in Abidjan is the best when you have your own vehicle to travel around. The roads are fairly good for the region, but traffic rules are flouted routinely, especially by taxis. There is no lane discipline and traffic lights are merely suggestions. Traffic jams get bad at rush hour and some selfish drivers make things worse through illegal and often reckless maneuvers. The police response to this is laughable, as they are unable to chase/punish the worst offenders and shake down people who aren't doing anything wrong.
Taxis are a great and easy way to get around in Abidjan. Just look for an orange coloured car and flag it down. Fares are very affordable: US $2-4 depending on the length of the journey. Always negotiate before you get in the taxi -- don't use the meter as you'll almost always pay more.
The official language and lingua franca is French, but there are 60 native languages as well. The most widely spoken is Dioula. Other native languages include Baoulé, Bété, Sénoufo, Attié, and Anyin. But one cannot survive without French for longer time duration. And business travellers need French on their tongue to close any small deal.
Tourist villages, beaches, and photo safaris are some of the main tourist attractions to see in Côte d'Ivoire. Famous Mapouka dance
You can also climb a beautiful mountain called, 'Mount Nienokoue'. It is 230 meters tall and consists mainly of forest and exotic animals. There are many breathtaking views. You can climb Mount Tonkoui in Man in the west of the country and see until Libera if the weather permits. You can visit Tanu Sakkasu near Bouake and see how the black pottery is traditionally made. You can visit the Wananiere Village des Tisserands near Korhogo and learn how the traditional cloth is made.
You can buy traditional wooden masks, they all have spiritual meanings and can be either good or bad.
Good eats are cheap and you can find very good restaurants in Abidjan. You should get a vaccine for Hepatitis A before coming but even street foods are fairly clean.
Grilled "braisé" (pronounced "BRA-zay") fish and chicken are very good and can be found on at outdoor restaurants called maquis (pronounced "MAH-key"). Try the national dishes like "alloco" and "attiéké". Alloco (pronounced "AH-low-coh") is simply fried plantains, mostly accompanied by a spicy sauce called piment (pronounced "PEE-monh"). Attiéké (pronounced "AH-check-ay") is fermented cassava (yams) that looks like couscous but taste slightly sour--is often served with grilled chicken or fish and vegetables (tomatoes, onions, cucumber) and a must-try. Usually white rice or french fries are starchy alternatives to alloco and attiéké as side dishes. Another specialty is the excellent "shougouilla" a blend of charbroiled meat! You can always ask for extra vegetables, especially avocados, which are amazing during the season.
Service can take a while at a maquis -- typically women cook and sell the food and men sell the drinks, so don't be surprised if you're billed separately for food and drinks. Since one typically eats with one's hands at a maquis, usually they will have a sink or offer a bucket and soap for hand washing before and after you eat. Note that locally people eat only with their right hands and kleenex are used for napkins.
Other kinds of restaurants
You can find most typical maquis food at more mainstream restaurants too, usually mixed with standard French and international dining options. In Abidjan, Lebanese food is another good offering, and there are several fancy (and expensive) French restaurants that are very good. Vietnames nems (fried spring rolls) are very popular and cheap.
When in doubt, skip getting a burger, local beef is very dry. Fish and lobster are usually freshly caught if you're near the coast. Fresh fruits, like mangoes, pineapple and papaya are everywhere, and are the best in the world when in season.
La nourriture "végétarienne"
Be aware that it's common for locals to say that dishes containing chicken or fish are vegetarian since they don't have "meat" in them, so it's helpful to clarify if you're looking to avoid it.
A service charge is not included in the bill, and usually it's seen as acceptable to tip at a flat rate of 500-2000 CFA, depending on the size of the group and effort of the waiter.
The drinking age in Côte d’Ivoire is supposedly 21. However it is not enforced.
It is recommended for visitors from the west to visit bars and night clubs with security. Havana Club and others are in Zone 4 or Zone Quatre. If you do go, be aware of prostitutes that will want to talk to you. Other places are in Treicheville and Cocody but you should have private transportation or a cab.
This is the cheapest drink and is locally fermented and served out of large water bottles. It will likely give you a wicked hangover if you can stomach the taste.
Almost every bar or restaurant will sell Flag, Castel, Touborg, Heineken and occasionally Bock beer. Only Bock is Ivoirian; the rest are either regional or from Europe. Flag is seemingly the most-popular brand.
Most of the wine here is imported from France and can be purchased for a reasonable price at any grocery store in Abidjan. Wine in restaurants is usually not very good and/or extremely overpriced.
Some of the nicer, but more expensive and safe hotels in Abidjan are: Hotel Ivoire (Sofitel) in Cocody, Hotel Tiama in Plateau, the Golf Hotel in Riviera Golf, and there's a new Radisson Blu being built near the airport. Looking for something more charming and still very clean? Check out a wonderful hotel called La Licorne in Deux Plateaux, located behind the Total Station on the Rue des Jardins.
Some areas of Ivory Coast currently suffer from a widespread issue of extortion by security forces. Security forces of all kind (army, police, gendarmerie, customs, anti-drug police) set-up illegal checkpoints where they stop cars and minibus and either find or create a reason to request money from the driver or its passenger.
Most of the crime committed in Abidjan is by unemployed youth. Should you ever feel in danger it would be wise to seek the help of a middle-aged man. This older generation is often very contemptuous of young criminals and will likely help you out if you are being hassled.
Generally, Ivoirians will recognize the dangers to foreigners in their country and will often be very protective of naive travellers. This is especially true in the Abidjan neighbourhoods of Treichville and Adjame.
If you do drive at night do not stop fully at lights or signs. Beware of potential car jackers. Keep a brisk pace so they cannot carjack you.
Due to the high unemployment rate, prostitution was made legal. But only the exchanging sex for money, and only between adults (aged 18 and over). And Cote d'Ivoire has become a popular place for sex tourism. However, hiring a prostitute in Cote d'Ivoire is highly NOT recommended, due to the high rate of HIV/AIDS. Don't do it.
HIV/AIDS has once reached epidemic proportions in the country, but has since seen huge improvements with an adult prevalence of 4.7%.
Neighboring Liberia and Guinea suffered under the Ebola crisis, but there have been no confirmed cases in Côte d'Ivoire and Ebola screenings are performed at all border crossings.
Although the country was previously referred to in English as "Ivory Coast", the country has requested that it be called "Côte d'Ivoire" (the equivalent in French). Pronouncing it "Coat di-VWAR" is close enough for an English-speaking person.