Cities and Towns in Africa
Benguela was founded in 1617 by the Portuguese and was long an important port for the slave trade to Brazil and Cuba. There are still some fine colonial buildings left, including the churches of Saint Felipe and Saint António. Today, the city has a chilled vibe and the city's beaches are always popular with kids and teenagers.
Cabinda is the capital of the Angola exclave of the same name. It's, like the rest of Cabinda, a very quiet affair. It's located right on the shore and could have a beautiful waterfront, but the beaches don't seem to have a high priority. There are the usual selection of churches and a surprisingly high number of banks. Else, Cabinda is stripped of any significant sights.
Luands is a sprawling mega city with little to spellbound visitors. Add to that a reputation for being unsafe, but by taking the proper precautions and follow good advice from locals, Luanda can actually be an interesting encounter. There are the odd sights like the mausoleum of Neto, Fortress of São Miguel and Alta das Cruzes cemetery, but there are also the long beach on the Ilha and a thriving bar scene. Ship wreck beach (Praia Karl Max to Praia do Sarico) 90 min north of Luanda should also be visited.
Dirty. Rough. Full-on. Loathe it or love it, but Cotonou is as Africa's big cities are most. A place for business rather than comfort. Benin's de facto capital is somewhat of a West African Los Angeles. Too spread out and too trafficked; here's just no Venice Beach as the coast is dominated by a ginormous modern port. Cotonou is, however, also a great African melting pot and both peoples and businesses from all over the continent are thriving here. This show in the shopping and eating options and Cotonou offers plenty of good experiences in both. As for nightlife, it's hit n' miss. While there isn't too much to keep the casual visitor in Cotonou, the city is a good base for a number of nearby attractions, such as the stilt villages, Porto-Novo and as far as Ouidah.
“Nati” is a sweet nickname, but Natitingou is nobody’s dream destination. It is hot, dusty and isolated as the only large-ish town in Northern Benin. For the same reason, you might very well have to pass through here. This is where you catch transport, stock up on supplies and find decent accommodation. More interestingly, the town is also the staging point for excursions to the lions, hippos and elephants in Parc National de la Pendjari. Nati is also the place from where to arrange trips to the Atakora Region and the Somba’s tutu houses. The town is the main centre for the Somba ethnic group, which ethnography dominates local Musée Régional de Natitingou. If it is getting all too hot and dusty though, at least you can cool off in the Kota Falls 15 km southeast of town.
Though the town of Ouidah has a grim colonial past as the second largest slave port, it's a surprisingly nice and laid-back place today. There are still dilapidated old colonial mansions in addition to a few quirky sights, like Python Temple, both a Cathedral and Basilica, and a short motorcycle ride away, Door of No Return. Due to the trickle of tourists, there are a few would-be guides here and there.
A very pleasant surprise. Benin's capital city is low-key and relaxed. Life here moves as slow as the changes in African politics does. Porto-Novo, named as a "New Porto" by the Portuguese when their ships roamed these shores, is full of magnificent colonial architecture. Including a cathedral-turned-mosque and the old Institut Francais d’Afrique Noire. Here's also a restored traditional palace and Porto-Novo is West Africa's most exhilarating museum-city. A handful of excellent museums tells everything from local ethnography to the history of Brazilian diasporas in Benin. If you want to see all of Benin, but only have one day Porto-Novo got you covered. Here are even a few stilt houses down by the lake.
The capital of Botswana, Gaborone, is a serious candidate for the most tranquil capital on the globe. The streets have wide dusty curbs and buildings are low and far apart. A good chunk of downtown is taken up by government buildings which are all neat without being striking. Along roads and in every lot stand shady trees, making Gaborone a very green place. The people are friendly and helpful and there are no barbwire or electric fences anywhere, not even at the parliament or the president's office. The main areas of interest are sadly around the parliament and what is known as the Main Mall (a pedestrian street lined with small shops) and the real shopping malls on the outskirts of town. Some probably praise that Gaborone doesn't have that colourful African madness you find elsewhere on the continent, but many find it downright boring. No matter how you look at it, Gaborone is a one-day town.
Known simply as Bobo to its friends, Burkina's second city, Bobo-Dioulasso is a surprisingly lively place given is relatively small size. The town's unique mix of different peoples has made it a cultural hub – especially for music. Thus it's the country's tradition music centre, and the many bars around town do their best for the city to keep this alive. On any given night, it should be possible to find live music playing at, at least, one of the town's venues and on weekends it'll be difficult to get around to see everything. For the ultimate cultural fix seek out a concert with a balafon (wooden xylophone) orchestra. During day-time, the most interesting site in town is the old Vieille Mosquée from 1880 and the surrounding old neighbourhood.
Little more than a large truck stop, Fada is just about the only town of interest for travellers in eastern Burkina Faso. Not so much for all its sights – here are none. But because the town makes the ideal break for anyone moving between Ouagadougou and Benin or Niger. Or for anyone interested to see the little-visited national parks in south-eastern Burkina. The town is large enough to have a decent range of hotels, and it's the biggest transfer hub in eastern Burkina for anyone travelling off the beaten path. If stuck here, it might be worth seeking out the local paramount king for an audience – he's the third most powerful in the country after the ones in Ouagadougou and Ouahigouya.