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Unlike most West African countries, Cote d'Ivoire's experience with European colonialism was a relatively positive one. Deemed unattractive by slave traders (it had poor harbors compared to neighbouring lands), the French were the first to take an active interest in Cote d'Ivoire. The nation was the jewel at the heart of France's West Africa domination scheme and thrived under the benefits of plantations. In 1960, when the French gave Cote d'Ivoire its independence, the nation could look forward to a rich future.
As a result, Cote d'Ivoire has developed to become one of the region's best destinations. Cote d'Ivoire's art is reputedly the best in West Africa. The old ways of life carry on in many parts of the country, with the majority of the population practising traditional religion. A handful of excellent beaches add to Cote d'Ivoire's charm.
Unfortunately, recent political conflict makes Cote d'Ivoire a destination to be enjoyed with caution.
Five important states flourished in Côte d'Ivoire in the pre-European era. Compared to neighboring Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire suffered little from the slave trade, as European slaving and merchant ships preferred other areas along the coast, with better harbors. Only in the mid-nineteenth century did the French establish themselves firmly in Côte d'Ivoire. In 1843–1844. French explorers, missionaries, trading companies, and soldiers gradually extended the area under French control inland from the lagoon region. France also wanted to maintain a presence in the region to stem the increasing influence of the British along the Gulf of Guinea coast. Thereafter, the French built naval bases to keep out non-French traders and began a systematic conquest of the interior. By the end of the 1880s, France had established what passed for effective control over the coastal regions of Côte d'Ivoire, and in 1889 Britain recognized French sovereignty in the area. That same year, France named Treich-Laplène titular governor of the territory. In 1893 Côte d'Ivoire was made a French colony. France's main goal was to stimulate the production of exports. Coffee, cocoa and palm oil crops were soon planted along the coast. Throughout the early years of French rule, French military contingents were sent inland to establish new posts. The African population resisted French penetration and settlement. Until 1958, governors appointed in Paris administered the colony of Côte d'Ivoire, using a system of direct, centralized administration that left little room for Ivoirian participation in policy making.
At the time of Côte d'Ivoire's independence (1960), the country was easily French West Africa's most prosperous, contributing over 40% of the region's total exports. When Houphouët-Boigny became the first president, his government gave farmers good prices for their products to further stimulate production. Coffee production increased significantly, catapulting Côte d'Ivoire into third place in world output (behind Brazil and Colombia). By 1979 the country was the world's leading producer of cocoa.
In the early 1980s, the world recession and a local drought sent shockwaves through the Ivoirian economy. Due to the overcutting of timber and collapsing sugar prices, the country's external debt increased threefold. Crime rose dramatically in Abidjan. In 1990, hundreds of civil servants went on strike, joined by students protesting institutional corruption. The unrest forced the government to support multi-party democracy. Houphouët-Boigny became increasingly feeble and died in 1993. He favoured Henri Konan Bédié as his successor. Similarly, Bédié excluded many potential opponents from the army. In late 1999, a group of dissatisfied officers staged a military coup, putting General Robert Guéï in power. Bédié fled into exile in France. The new leadership reduced crime and corruption, and the generals pressed for austerity and openly campaigned in the streets for a less wasteful society.
The 21st century has seen civil war, unrest and an unstable position of Cote d'Ivoire and although the situation has been getting better over the last few years, most of the country is still not safe to travel. The presidential elections that should have been organized in 2005 were postponed until November 2010. The preliminary results announced by the Electoral Commission showed a loss for Gbagbo in favour of his rival, former prime minister Alassane Ouattara. The Constitutional Council, which consists of Gbagbo supporters, declared the results of seven northern departments unlawful and that Gbagbo had won the elections with 51% of the vote. After the inauguration of Gbagbo, Ouattara, recognized as the winner by most countries and the United Nations, organized an alternative inauguration. These events raised fears of a resurgence of the civil war; thousands of refugees have fled the country in 2011.
Côte d'Ivoire is a sub-Saharan nation in southern West Africa located at 8 00°N, 5 00°W. The country is shaped like a square. Its southern border is a 115-kilometre coastline on the Gulf of Guinea on the north Atlantic Ocean. On the other three sides it borders five other African nations for a total of 3,110 kilometres: Liberia to the southwest for 716 kilometres, Guinea to the northwest for 610 kilometres, Mali to the north-northwest for 532 kilometres, Burkina Faso to the north-northeast, and Ghana to the east for 668 kilometres. Ivory Coast comprises 322,460 km2, of which 318,000 km2 is land and 4,460 km2 is water, which makes the country slightly larger than the U.S. state of New Mexico, or about the size of Germany. Ivory Coast's terrain can generally be described as a large plateau rising gradually from sea level in the south to almost 500 metres elevation in the north. The terrain is mostly flat to undulating plains, with mountains in the northwest. The lowest elevation in Ivory Coast is at sea level on the coasts. The highest elevation is Mount Nimba, at 1,752 metres in the far west of the country along the border with Guinea and Liberia. The southern region, especially the southwest, is covered with dense tropical moist forest. The mountains of Dix-Huit Montagnes region, in the west of the country near the border with Guinea and Liberia, are home to the Guinean montane forests. The Guinean forest-savanna mosaic belt extends across the middle of the country from east to west, and is the transition zone between the coastal forests and the interior savannas. The forest-savanna mosaic interlaces forest, savanna and grassland habitats. Northern Ivory Coast is part of the West Sudanian Savanna ecoregion of the Tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome. It is a zone of lateritic or sandy soils, with vegetation decreasing from south to north.
Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro, also known as Basilique de Notre Dame de la Paix de Yamoussoukro, is a Roman Catholic church in the capital in Yamoussoukro. After being completed in 1989, at a cost of over 300 million USD, it became the world's largest Christian place of worship. The Basilica has a greater surface area and higher dome then St. Peters in the Vatican City, although the church can only seat 18,000 people. This church is an amazing sight and well worth the visit.
Comoé National Park is a Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Zanzan and Savanes Districts in the northeast of the country. It is the largest protected area in West Africa, with an area of 11,500 km2, and ranges from the humid Guinea savanna to the dry Sudanian zone. This steep climatic north-south gradient allows the park to harbour a multitude of habitats with a remarkable diversity of life. Some animal and plant species even find their last sanctuary in some of the different savanna types, gallery forests, riparian grasslands, rock outcrops or forest islands. The park was initially added as a World Heritage Site due to the diversity of plant life present around the Comoé River, including pristine patches of tropical rain forest that are usually only found further south. As a well-eroded plain between two large rivers, the land in the area is home to relatively infertile soils and a moisture regime suitable to a richer biodiversity than surrounding areas. In 2003 it was added to the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger due to poaching, absence of management, overgrazing of the park by cattle, problems that intensified after the outbreak of the First Ivorian Civil War.
Les Éléphants is the national football team of Cote d'Ivoire. Being one of the best teams in Africa they made their appearance on the international level at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. Many people thought they would have done better if they had not drawn such a difficult group. Try to catch a game in the Abidjan if you can.
The Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve is a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site that straddles the border of Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire. The park has a wide range of animal life and plant life that are protected in the area that include Chimpanzees, several big cats, duikers and many types of viviparous toads. The reserve is labeled Strict meaning that no tourism is allowed. It is possible to see the reserve from a distance.
Some great music can be found in Cote d'Ivoire. The country is a crossroads between Western African art and music. That means there is a very interesting blending of cultures and styles across the country. Go check out some of the amazing musical groups around the country or maybe hit up a large music festival in the city of Abidjan.
Taï National Park is a national park containing one of the last areas of primary rainforest in West Africa. It was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1982 due to the breadth of its flora and fauna. Five mammal species of the Taï National Park are on the red list of threatened species: pygmy hippopotamus, olive colobus monkeys, leopards, chimpanzees and Jentink's duiker. Taï National Park is approximately 100 kilometres from the Ivoirian coast on the border with Liberia between the Cavally and Sassandra Rivers. It covers an area of 3,300 km² with a 200 km² buffer zone The Tai Forest reserve was created in 1926 and promoted to National Park status in 1972. It was recognised as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1978 and added to the list of Natural World Heritage Sites in 1982.
The Ivoirians version of Mardi Gras, this week-long carnival is one of the most well-attended events in the Ivory Coast. It is held in Bouaké in March each year.
This eccentric April celebration is held in the town of Gomon, where people perform different kinds of rituals in order to exorcise and drive evil spirits out of the village. The event starts at midnight and continues until late afternoon the following day.
Ivory Coast’s Independence Day is celebrated on August 7 each year to commemorate the country’s liberation from France. The event is marked by all kinds of cultural activities, lively performances, parades, and other festivities.
The most popular of all the Ivory Coast events, Fêtes des Masques, or the Festival of Masks, is an annual event held in November. It is a time to pay homage to the forested spirits embodied by the villagers who wear colorful costumes and masks. The celebration is held in the northern region in the town of Man.
Christmas Day (December 25) is celebrated by local Christians with all-night church services that start on Christmas Eve (December 24) and end at 6:00 a.m. During worship, you can expect singing, group dancing, poetry recitation, skits, testimonies, prayers, and a sermon. Ivoirian Christians do not exchange gifts on Christmas, they wait until the new year to signal good prosperity.
Major Muslim holidays are celebrated and observed in the Ivory Coast. These include the period of fasting known as Ramadan and the post-Ramadan feast known as Eid al-Fitr. Tabaski, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, is observed by religious families. The event dates vary according to the lunar calendar.
As Cote d'Ivoire stretches from the Atlantic coastline towards the edges of the Sahara desert, the climate, although being hot almost anywhere anytime, has some variety.
The coastal area is hot and humid yearround, with temperatures around 30° C on most days. February to May is a bit hotter, when even nights are very warm at 26° C on average. Although the rainy season lasts from May to October, there generally is a peak in May/June and another in October, while in between it is relatively dry. The coastal area of Cote d'Ivoire is however wetter than the countries immediately east like Ghana, Togo and Benin. Towards the west it becomes even wetter.
In the north of the country, there is single rainy season from May to September and a long and hot dry season from October to April. The total amount of rain is much less compared to the southern and coastal zones. Temperatures during the hot season can reach well over 40° C during the days. From December to February the hot, dry and dusty Harmattan wind blows over most of the country as well, reaching almost to the coast although here with prevailing southwestern winds, the Harmattan only infects life for several days a year.
Air Ivoire is the national airline of Cote d'Ivoire and is based at Félix Houphouët-Boigny International Airport (ABJ) near Abidjan. International destinations include Accra, Bamako, Conakry, Cotonou, Dakar, Douala, Libreville, Lomé, Monrovia, Marseille, Niamey, Ouagadougou and Paris.
Other cities served with mostly their respective national airlines are Algiers, Tripoli, Brussels, Nouakchott, Casablanca, N'Djamena, Johannesburg and Tunis, and a few other cities in neighbouring countries in West Africa.
Due to safety reasons it's not advised to travel overland through Cote d'Ivoire on your journey through Africa, even though borders are open at the moment.
No regular passenger services exist, you might be lucky enough to enter or leave the country by cargo ship but don't hold your breath.
Sophia Airlines is supposed to fly daily except Sundays between Abidjan and San Pedro. There are no other domestic services.
Although services were suspended during the civil unrest in the country, there might be trains running again between Abidjan and Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, stopping en route in Bouaké and Ferkessédougou.
Cote d'Ivoire has an extensive road network and many roads are tarred and in a good condition. Travelling around by car is best avoided during the night, but cars can be hired at the international airport in Abidjan or downtown in Abidjan and several main towns. Traffic drives on the right and you need your national driver's licence.
Modern aircon coach buses travel between the main cities and towns. They are comfortable but a bit slower than minibuses and shared taxis, because it takes longer at the checkpoints along the roads. Minibuses and shared taxis are also a bit more expensive.
There are boat services in and near Abidjan, but most travel is overland.
Most nationals from West Africa do not need a visa. All non-CEFA citizens visiting Côte d'Ivoire must obtain a visa before arrival. The process is on-line at the official website for visas.
Check the nearest embassy or consulate of Cote d'Ivoire for more information about costs and whether or not you need one beforehand.
See also Money matters
Cote d'Ivoire uses the CFA Franc as a currency. The CFA Franc is divided into 100 centimes. Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 500 francs while banknotes come in denominations of 500, 1,000, 2000, 5000 and 10,000 francs.
The exchange range is fixed at aproximately 656 CFA Francs for one Euro.
In Cote d'Ivoire the West African CFA Franc (XOF) is used which has the same vallue as the Central African CFA Franc (XAF), but it's not possible to use both currencies in the same country.
Fourteen countries in Africa use this currency, eight in West Africa and six in Central Africa. The West African CFA Franc can only be used in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo, while the Central African CFA Franc can only be used in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
The main language of communication though is French. There are 60 native dialects as well. The most widely spoken is Dioula. Other native languages include Hamdunga, Loftus Africanus, Gigala, Oloofid, and Ulam. But one cannot survive without French for longer time duration. And business travellers need French on their tongue to close any small deal.
Good eats are cheap and you can find very good restaurants in Abidjan. You should get a vaccine for Hepatitis A before coming but even street foods are fairly clean. Try the national dishes like "garba", "alloco" and "attiéké". Alloco is simply fried plantains, mostly accompanied by a spicy vegetable sauce and boiled eggs. L'attiéké - grated cassava that look like couscous but taste slightly sour - is often served with grilled fish and vegetables (tomatoes, onions, cucumber) and a must-try. Braised fishes and chickens are also very good and can be found on every corner. The most established chain is Coq Ivoire. When you order, make sure that you let them know whether you want the intestines. You can always ask for extra vegetables, especially avocados, which are amazing during the season. Another speciality is the excellent "shoukouilla" a blend of charbroiled meat! For the ones who are not adventurous you can find the Hamburger House or the French restaurant at the Sofitel Hotel.
There are good hotels in Abidjan and other major cities and some coastal areas. Outside of these areas, hotels might be more basic but cheaper.
Travellers from the west might want to take a security detail with them when visiting bars and night clubs. Bidul Bar, Havana Club and others are in Zone 4 or Zone Quatre.
Only drink bottled water; tapwater is unsafe to drink.
See also Travel Health
Proof that you had a yellow fever vaccination is required upon entering Cote d'Ivoire. Also you have to have a cholera stamp (proof of the fact you don't have the disease) when entering Cote d'Ivoire overland.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Cote d'Ivoire. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A as well as typhoid would be recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. When staying longer than 6 months, vaccination against meningitis might be recommended, depending on your contact with other people and time of year.
Like most African countries south of the Sahara, Malaria is prevalent in the country. Don't underestimate this tropical disease and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Dengue is present as well, especially in urban areas, but there is no vaccination.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Côte d'Ivoire experiences periodic political unrest and violence in northern regions, and it is recommended to contact your embassy or consult other travellers about the present situation prior to travel inland.
The UK's Foreign and Commonwealth office as well as the US State Department advises against all but essential travel to the western regions of Dix-Huit Montagnes, Haut-Sassandra, Moyen-Cavally and Bas-Sassandra of Côte d'Ivoire at this time.
Most of the crime committed in Abidjan is by unemployed youth. Should you ever feel in danger it would be wise to seek the help of a middle-aged man. This older generation is often very contemptuous of young criminals and will likely help you out if you are being hassled. Generally Ivorians will recognize the dangers to foreigners in their country and will often be very protective of naïve travellers. This is especially true in the Abidjan neighbourhoods of Treichville and Adjame.
See also International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to Cote d'Ivoire is 225.
To make an international call from Cote d'Ivoire, the code is 00.
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