Explore the incredible wildlife of the Ivory Coast
By Dmitry Petrounin
Land of cocoa and coffee, the Republic of the Ivory Coast obtained independence in 1960. This former French colony is a combination of distinct landscapes with tropical forests, savannah and coast bordered with beaches on the Atlantic Ocean. What more could you want? Its National Parks preserve flora, but also its various fauna including elephants, hippopotamus and panthers. Fifty ethnic groups constitute the Ivorian population. The result is a beautiful cultural blend. The destination is accessible to all with interesting prices on charter flights allowing you to travel to the Ivory Coast with ease.
The ideal holiday is to blend an inland tour with a couple of days relaxing on the coast. The possible options vary according to the time you have. For those in a rush (less than 15 days), the classic tour is Abidjan-Yamoussoukro-Korhogo-Odienné-Man-San-Pedro-Abidjan. In this case, you should not stay in Abidjan too long, and plan your journey ahead through a tour operator or a local travel agency. Over 15 days, it is interesting to explore around the mentioned destination, as for example visiting the Abokouamékro and the Maraoué Parks around Yamoussoukro, exploring the Yacouba country around Man, the Sénoufo country around Korhogo, etc. You can find guides locally in each city. The best thing to do is ask your hotel to find you a serious guide offering a comprehensive package.
+The possibility of combining an inland and seaside holiday.
+The hotel infrastructure is good and the level of comfort is better than in most Sub-Saharan countries.
+It is a French speaking country, without language barriers.
-The climate is humid, with a heavy and wet atmosphere and clouded sky in the south; as for the north, towards January-February, the Harmattan blows, a Saharan wind that carries sand and dust.
-Strong delinquency in Abidjan.
-Car rentals are excessively expensive.
-Beaches are often dangerous (risk of drowning).
The Côte d'Ivoire's population is made up of up to sixty different ethnic groups (Malinké, Sénoufo, Lobi, Dan, Krou, Baoulé, Akan, etc) that each has strong customs and various initiation rituals. From an artistic perspective, these ethnic groups, in particular the Dan and Baoulé, have produced masks and statues of exceptional beauty, that are today amongst the most rated pieces on the African art market. Except for the Malinké and the Dioula, converted to Islam, most ethnic groups are Animist, that is to say they believe in a single god present in the entire universe, but in a diffused way. That is why these cults are also based on all sorts of more realistic intermediaries; such as geniuses, ancestors and secondary gods, that allow them to capture positive influences and reject the evil powers. You must witness an initiation ceremony and ritual festivities, punctuated by dances, drums, fluts, balafons and calabashes, like the Sénoufo Poro ritual or the Echassier dance in Yacouba country. Traditional events can be related to harvests (the Yam celebration), rites of passage, funerals, etc. Each ethnic group has its own traditions, and therefore celebrations, that follow different timetables. As for customs, bush villages follow strict social organisation. Each individual finds his place in a series of family links and clan spirit. Inside these cells, solidarity between members, submission to the chief and respect for taboos are crucial rules. That is why a visitor will not enter a village, and even less a house, without an invitation from the village chief that they will have contacted before, preferably through a guide.
Ivorians are renowned 'gourmets'. Amongst the national dishes, the most famous is the Foutou, a paste made from yam, plantain bananas and cassava, sprinkled with various sauces made from palm and peanut oils that meat or fish is cooked in. Attieké is a sort of cassava couscous, which is also eaten with fish or meat sauces. But most of the time, you will be offered braised chicken as a main course or some Kedjenou, chicken braised with vegetables and served with rice. Inland, they often cook goat, warthog and agouti, grilled or in a stew. The fruits found on savanna trees, such as the Néré and the Karité, are often used. Soumbala is a condiment made from the néré clove. Ivorian cooking is generally very spicy, but slightly less so in Abidjan as restaurants try to please Western tastes. Lobster, which has been outrageously exploited in restaurants over the last years, is nowadays rarer and its price has notably risen. In Abidjan and most other cities, you can eat at unbeatable prices in the numerous family food stalls, called "maquis par terre", most of the time run by women. One should, nonetheless, check the freshness of the dishes. There are also higher quality food stalls, the "maquis ministres", that sometimes offer delicious gourmet wonders. For drinks, you should taste the Bandji, a bush wine made from palm tree sap, that you swallow in one gulp from a small calabash, or even the Dolo, a beer made from mil (cereals) or sorghum.
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The bright coloured fabrics and loincloths that Ivorian women wear elegantly can be found on the tailor stalls of the Treichville market or in the Lebanese stores of the rue du Commerce in Abidjan, and on the Bouaké markets (loincloths and Baoulé covers) as well as in the markets of Man (batik fabrics). In Sénoufo country, the weaved sheets, that are then painted in Korhogo, are very renowned. You can also find beautiful weaved baskets, pieces of pottery, leather pieces and musical instruments. Gold, silver and bronze jewellery, bracelets and necklaces are all quite cheap. The masks and small statues are attractive, but they are craft objects made for tourists and have no ritual value. Ivorian craftsmen know of the westerner's love for African art, and have become masters in the art of producing fake ancient clothing. Ivory objects are made out of bones most of the time, which is a good thing as the importation of ivory into Europe is forbidden. Finally, with patience and a good deal of humour, bargaining is a constant in all transactions. Most shops are open from 9:00 am to midday and from 3:00 to 6:00 pm, but are generally closed on Saturday afternoons and Sundays.