Cities and Towns in Africa
Moya is semi-famous for its pretty beach sought for wedding photo ops. Located on the southern side of Anjouan island, the village has a great view of the ocean and the road to get there either from Domoni or Mutsamudu is absolutely stunning. As with most beaches in the Comoros, Moya's beach isn't the place to lounge lazily half-naked for it is heavily used by the local fishermen, and it disappears almost entirely at high tide, but it sure is a lovely place to chill and learn about the local customs.
Wedged between the mountain and the sea, the small city of Mutsamudu is the most charming of the Comoros. Yes, it’s dirty and dishevelled, but boy does it have character! The old medina takes up a good area of the city and is a wonderful maze of crooked alleys, mosques and half-demolished (or half-built) buildings, some with old Swahili wood-carved doors. People here are friendly and the women are beautiful, with sandalwood paste on their faces. The old citadel built in the 18th century overlooks the city and offers splendid views of the mountains and the sea. And since fairly cheap accommodations abound in the city (a rarity in the islands), there is no reason to pass on this gem.
Though Nioumachoua is the second largest town on Moheli, it's still just a large village. It's beautifully located on a hill that slopes down to a long pretty beach. There are splendid views from everywhere over Moheli Marine Park and its uninhabited islands. During the day, the kids play football under the big baobab tree, while in the afternoon the fishermen come to shore with their catch and turn the beach into a lively market. For a bit of exploration, it's possible at low tide to pass the rocky outcrop at the eastern end of the beach and get to the mangroves on the other side.
Little Ouallah 2 is a very refreshing place. The quiet village on the southern side of Mohéli is by a little bay with a picturesque beach. It's also by far the village with the best "bungalows", those basic rooms managed by local organisations throughout the island. The villagers here have really put an effort and the wonderful layout and landscaping are only bested by the food cooked by a very talented local lady. What's even more interesting is the pristine condition of the village: you'd be hard-pressed to find any trash around, houses are well kept and the infrastructure is well maintained. You wouldn't think it was worth mentioning in a travel guide, but among all the other towns and villages, we assure you this one stands out!
West Africa's most impressive skyline is unrivalled. Positioned on a hill called La Plateau, downtown Abidjan is the centre of Côte d'Ivoire's economic powerhouse. Skyscrapers built in glass and steel, housing banks and other big business dominates, but the most famous building here is La Piramide, an abandoned highrise looking like something taken straight out of a sci-fi, not looking unlike an Imperial Destroyer from Star Wars. Abidjan, in general, and La Plateau, in particular, is where the rich and famous from all over West Africa come to enjoy executive dining, posh nightclubs and other joys of the hedonistic life. Travellers, with the right wallet size, can easily rub shoulders with the elite here, while the rest of us will have to appreciate that Abidjan has good food and good nightlife for any kind budget.
Corrugated iron gates and streets of thick dust dominate Grand Bassam's Quartier Colonial – France's first colonial outpost in Côte d'Ivoire. Founded in 1842 and functioning as the primary French settlement until independence (though the capital was moved to Bingerville in 1899), Grand Bassam is the clearest evidence of Côte d'Ivoire's colonial history and therefor also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Life is quiet here, dominated by the town's sandy boulevards and romantic French buildings that are falling slowly apart. Some restoration work has begun, and buildings such as the old post office and the Palais du Gouverneur (now a museum) have been saved from ruin, while a few pillars are all that remains of the old courthouse across from the Palais. Other buildings, such as the former headquarter of the French West Africa Company (CFAO), seems undecided in whether or not they will be willing to stand the test of time. Situated on a small strip of land between the ocean and a lagoon, Grand Bassam is also a first class beach location should you need a break from all the crumbling evidence of colonialism.
Not many people get to build their own city. One of the few to get this opportunity was Côte d'Ivoire’s first president, Felix Houphouët-Boigny, who followed his engineering dreams by constructing a new capital city from scratch. Before this, Yamoussoukro where just in a small village in the central region of the Côte d'Ivoire, where Houphouët-Boigny happened to have grown up. The construction began back in the 1960s, shortly after independence, and didn't finish until the big man's death in 1993. Almost surprisingly he named the city in honour of, not himself, but his aunt, Yamoussou. Yamoussoukro thus means the city of Yamoussou. Among the most remarkable architectural wonders are a five-star hotel, a peace and conference centre, and the world's largest Catholic church (no, really). Besides the prestige projects, however, Yamoussoukro quickly comes off as a vision unfulfilled, with broad empty boulevards and broken street lamps.
Boma is a smallish trade town on the banks of the Congo River. Due to its strategically position, it has played an important role in history. Today you can still see some of the historical buildings like the house of the first Belgian governor and Fort de Shinkakasa, as well as the Baobab de Stanley.
Bukavu is Goma’s twin, at the opposite end of Lake Kivu, although it’s a very different kind of place. You’ll still see the occasional UN vehicle, but this is a bustling, messy and very colourful city. There isn’t really anything here in the way of sights, so you’re unlikely to feel the need to stay for very long, but it’s worth a wander to check out the markets or simply observe daily life in urban DRC. It’s also the gateway to Kahuzi-Biega National Park, home of the endangered eastern lowland gorillas. Getting here is half the fun – although it’s possible to arrive by road from both Goma and Rwanda, the boat trip from Goma (around 4 hours on a speedboat or slower if you opt for the larger - and potentially unsafe - local ferries) across Lake Kivu is a much more interesting alternative.
Goma may not be much to meet the eye upon first glance, but it has three redeeming features. First, it’s your gateway to eastern DRC, so you’ll pretty much have to go through here. Second, its location could be a lot worse: Lake Kivu on one side, and the Virunga volcanoes on the other. There’s even a beach, used equally for frolicking and laundry by the locals. Finally, everything that happens in eastern DRC – be it rebel uprisings, UN troop movements, NGO initiatives or tourism activities – either starts here or passes through at some point, making it a great place to spend a day or two to soak up the atmosphere and talk to the colourful foreigners and locals who frequent its restaurants and bars. Check out the first couple of chapter's of Ben Rawlence's book Radio Congo for an great account of what goes on here.