Are you up for an off-the-beaten-path African vacation? If so then the Ivory Coast (officially Côte d’Ivoire) could be for you. This West African nation is a bona fide tropical utopia, home to miles of shimmering golden-sand beaches, unspoiled rainforests and lush green countryside. Cities thrive with African and French traditions and majestic wildlife roams freely across national parks. Having broke free from the shackles of a civil war, the Ivory Coast of today has a sanguine outlook and is witnessing modernization while clinging firm to its cultural identity. Here’s five great reasons to make it your next destination on the continent.
The World’s Largest Basilica
Whether you are a devotee or not, you’ll be blown away by the majesty of the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro. Finished as recently as 1990, this elaborate church spreads across an area of over 300,000 square feet and according to the Guinness World Records is the world’s biggest basilica. The dome is an impressive 500-feet-tall and the interior can accommodate some 18,000 worshippers at one time. Making it more dramatic is the fact that is rises up in the middle of a desolate and dusty landscape on the outskirts of the nation’s capital city, Yamoussoukro.
Pack your bathing suit because there’s a 320-mile-long coastline to explore along the shores of the Gulf of Guinea. The beach at artsy Grand Bassam is a stunning combination of white sand and swaying palm trees while easy-going Assinie is the place for swimming and surfing. Monogaga Beach boasts clean, crystalline waters, food shacks and live music. San Pédro blends low-key beach life with rainforests treks and Sassandra is a treasure trove of secluded fishing villages, decaying mansions and hippo-inhabited rivers.
The National Parks
Burnt orange roads take you away from the cities to the country’s eight national parks, where boundless opportunities for trekking and wildlife watching await. Explore one of the last-surviving primary rainforests of west Africa, spot nut-cracker chimpanzees and see pygmy hippos in Tai National Park. The grasslands, rainforest and savannah of Comoé National Park provide a natural habitat for chimps, dwarf crocodiles and exotic bird species. Get up close with buffalos, elephants and mongoose in Marahoué National Park. Don’t miss a tour of the lagoon islands and beaches of Iles Ehotile National Park.
Like its neighboring countries, Ivorian cuisine has its roots in grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, chicken, pig and seafood. Mouthwatering dishes to try include kedjenou (spicy slow-cooked chicken or guinea fowl stew) and attiéké (cassava ground into a couscous-like consistency). Feast on aloko (fried bananas) and fufu (boiled cassava and plantain). Be sure to stop at a maquis, which are traditional street side restaurants for quick snacks and meals. Garba is the king of street food, a combination of attiéké and tuna often served wrapped in a banana leaf.
Music flows freely through the veins of Ivorians and they grasp every chance to express themselves through song and dance. November’s Fêtes des Masques tops the bill of the annual festivals and is a celebration of the Dogon culture in the villages around the city of Man. Festival goers dress up in flamboyant masks and costumes and dance to honor the spirits of the forests. Head to Bouaké in March for the week-long Bouaké Carnival. In Gomon in April, the Fête du Dipri brings the community together for drumming and parades that exorcise evil spirits.