The seventh largest country in Africa, Angola is essentially comprised of a vast plateau that descends in steps from east to west towards the Atlantic Ocean. It covers two thirds of the country and has an average altitude of between 1,000 and 1,500m. Mount Moco, culminating at 2,620m of altitude in the middle of the country, is the highest point in Angola. The coastal plain extends from north to south. Fertile and used for growing crops, except for in the south of Moçamedes where the desert of the same name begins, the plain stretches out for nearly a thousand miles.
Angola's river courses are very irregular. They descend in steps from the high plains in the middle of the country right down to the ocean. Because of this, they are sometimes broken off by rapids and impressive waterfalls, such as the Kalandula Falls on the Lucala River, which make navigating down them impossible.
From Luanda to Soyo in the north, Angola's coast is a never-ending beach. Deserted or occupied by fishermen, it is superb but hard hit by the Atlantic swell. There are also some beautiful spots on the southern part of the country's coast, where beaches and cliffs alternate.
Angola is a country with four distinctive geographical zones: the tropical forest in the north, the savanna in the south, the prairies in the south-east and the coastal palm groves. This mosaic of landscapes is a real paradise for the flora and fauna that proliferate here. It is home to all of the typical African wildlife, such as lions, hippos and rhinos. However, this unique ecosystem also serves as a refuge for a number of other animals. This is notably the case for the gorilla. And, of course, the lush vegetation provides the ideal home for many birds, including eagles, falcons, pelicans, parrots and the rare hornbill.
Despite Portuguese colonisation, the Angolans were able to preserve their artistic and cultural traditions. The Chokwe people played a large part in this, notably in the areas concerning sculpture, the creation of masks used during initiatory rituals, dance, and music.
Capoeira, a well-known dance in Brazil, originated in Angola. Its roots are found in a dance-combat part of a ritual performed during Bantu marriages (one of Angola's ethnic groups). The semba, the kuduro and the kizomba also originated in Angola.
In terms of visual arts, like the majority of African art, the Angolan arts of wooden mask-making, sculpture and, in particular, the art of the blue mask of Angola, are not practiced with an exclusively aesthetitc aim. They play an important role in cultural ceremonies representing life, death, marriage, the passage from childhood into adulthood and the celebration of a new harvest.
The Luanda Carnival towards the end of February is a definite must. It commemorates the country's independance day. For two days, the city's inhabitants dress in disguises and parade in the streets. It is actually the festival that spawned the famous Carnival of Rio de Janeiro.