During my Fulbright grant, my fellow grantees and I took a 5 day trip to Côte D'Ivoire (Ivory Coast). We spent two days in the bustling city of Abidjan and spent our last three days in the capital city of Yamoussoukro. Many tourists come to Ivory Coast and spend most of their time in the buzzing city of city of Abidjan or on the white sand beaches in Grand Bassam. While we began our trip in Abidjan, we actually decided to spend most of our time in Yamoussoukro, the quieter capital city of the country, where we were able to visit with some other Fulbright grantees. Below are some of my favorite things to do from our 5-day in adventure in Côte D'Ivoire!
1. Visit the beautiful Parc National Du Banco
One of my favorite things about Côte D'Ivoire is that it's incredibly green. If you're looking for an opportunity to be close to nature and learn more about the flora and fauna of Côte D'Ivoire, look no further than Banco National Park. Here you can take a guided hike through the forest. The Park is about 30 square kilometers large, but you're able to pick the length of the trail you'd like to hike. I'd recommend getting a guide so that you can have a more fulfilling experience and learn as much as possible. Travel in West Africa tends to peak in December, so if you find yourself in Abidjan during this time you might just overlap with the Abidjan Green Arts (AGA) festival, a really cool art festival in the forest. Check out my blog post about AGA if you're interested!
2. Stock up on wax fabric!
I found out shortly before my trip that Côte D'Ivoire is known for having some of the best quality wax on the African continent. Wax (also called ankara) is the colorful, patterned fabric you'll see sold in many markets across Africa. I personally love the prints and colors of wax, but I sometimes avoid it, as it tends to be really stiff and kind of heavy for my tastes (which also doesn't mix well with the heat in Dakar). I was pleasantly surprised by the wax in Côte D'Ivoire, which is not stiff at all. It was actually quite light and flowy. I found some prints that I probably would've never been able to find here in Dakar. In Côte D'Ivoire, you can find your wax at a street market or you can go to a mall, which is what my friends and I opted to do. There is a large wax chain called Woodin that sells really high quality wax, but be sure to bring enough cash because that stuff is not cheap.
3. Try the local cuisine at a "maquis"!
One of my favorite things about Côte D'Ivoire was the food! You have to try some local Ivorian dishes like Kedjenou, a delicious chicken stew, or attieké, a couscous-like side dish made of dried cassava root. No matter what you food you opt to try, you can't really go wrong when in Côte D'Ivoire! Good restaurants are abundant in both Abidjan and Yamoussoukro, but I would recommend trying a maquis for the best food. Maquis are informal street restaurants that you'll see all over Côte D'Ivoire (and many other West African countries!). I had some of the best grilled fish I've ever had in my life in Yamoussoukro (and I say this as someone who eats grilled fish on a very regular basis in Dakar).
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The next two highlighted activities center Yamoussoukro, the political capital of Côte D'Ivoire and the hometown of the country's first president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny. Despite Houphouët-Boigny moving the country's capital from Abidjan to Yamoussoukro and funneling millions of dollars into infrastructure and attractions in an effort to attract economic and political activity to the city, Abidjan still eclipses Yamoussokro in both areas decades later. While the hustle and bustle of Abidjan can be enticing, Yamoussoukro has a vibe all its own that I think is worth checking out. Below are a couple reasons to check out Yamoussoukro on your next trip to Côte D'Ivoire!
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4. Visit the Basilica Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro!
Yamoussoukro is home to the Basilica Our Lady of Peace, the largest basilica in the world. Houphouët-Boigny constructed the 300-million-dollar church as part of his project to make Yamoussoukro the social and political capital of Côte D'Ivoire. Although the sanctuary can seat just over 18,000 worshippers (with personal air conditioning for most of the seats), Côte D'Ivoire has a Christian population of just about 30%, so only a few hundred people attend services each week. Tourist admission to the church is 2,000 CFA (about $3.50), and English-speaking guides are available upon request. I will say– the tour was long, at least two hours, and the place is huge, so be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes if you choose to go on a guided tour. The day I visited, the elevator was broken, so our tour group had to walk up who-knows-how-many flights of stairs to get to the roof, but even so, the beauty of the church and the history we learned made it worth it.
5. Visit "The Crocodiles of Yamoussoukro" at the Presidential Palace
In addition to the basilica, Houphouët-Boigny constructed the Presidential Palace, another monument to himself and his hometown. Although the palace itself is closed to tourists, it is the moat surrounding it, which Houphouët-Boigny filled with crocodiles, that attracts both locals and foreigners alike. Although the daily live-chicken feedings have been discontinued, I have heard that you can arrange a special feeding by talking with one of the guards of the palace. The price will likely be enough to cover the costs of the (live) chickens fed to the crocs and a tip. We did not arrange a special feeding, but simply seeing the huge crocs laze about in their not-so-natural habitat was fulfilling enough for me.
There are, of course, tons of other things to do in Côte D'Ivoire. Check out this list of 65 activities for more ideas on what to do in Ivory Coast!