On arrival in a new city, I am the kind of person who will turn straight to guide books or TripAdvisor to find the best things to see and do. This is easily done in say, Rome, which has numerous tourist attractions awaiting visitors. Abidjan however, is a city far less oriented towards tourism, and though there are a few “attractions” to visit, you will see that even these aren’t always prepared for keen visitors. Nevertheless I have given it my best shot, and here are some of my experiences whilst attempting to be a tourist in Abidjan.
Attempt #1: Musée des Civilisations de Côte d’Ivoire
Opening Times: Monday to Friday 9am-6:30pm, and 9am-5pm on Saturdays (supposedly)
Price: 3000 CFA
I got off to a bit of a false start when, a week and a half into my stay, I took myself to visit the Museum of the Civilisations of Ivory Coast: the only museum in the city of Abidjan. I had already read that it wasn’t much to rave about, but I still thought it would be worth going to have a look. I was sure I could gain something from the visit and the artefacts on show. My optimism was unfortunately dumbfounded. At this point public transport was still a mystery to me, so I paid for a taxi to drop me at the entrance of the museum at 11am on a Saturday, however as we pulled up to the front gate the guard questioned our presence. Despite standing next to a sign which clearly outlined the opening times of the museum, the guard at the gate told us the museum was shut. Hmm. I hope to attempt another visit in the coming months, to learn a bit more about the history and culture of the Ivory Coast (the masks in the museum are meant to be fascinating!) but then again I don’t really want to make a specific trip to town only to be told the museum is shut again.
Attempt #2: St. Paul’s Cathedral
Opening Times: 7:30am-5pm daily, though you should bare in mind that there will be mass on Sunday mornings, and sometimes weddings are scheduled to take place there at the weekend.
Price: a small donation
Following a failed museum visit, I took myself to see the distinctive St. Paul’s Cathedral which isn’t far from the museum. The building is already something to see from the outside! The unique architecture stands out from afar, and is really unlike any building I’ve seen before. As I advanced toward to entrance, I was greeted by a man who offers tours of the cathedral in exchange for a small donation to the church. Perfect! The cathedral inside is, for me, more impressive than the outside. It is modern, it can hold up to 5,000 people, but what is most impressive are the stain glass windows, reproducing scenes from the bible, but also aspects of Africa’s culture and history, such as the arrival of Europeans on the coast (though the representation seems dubious as the settlers are welcomed with smiles and gifts).
Following a friendly and descriptive tour we were offered the option to climb the 250 steps up the big “cross” of the cathedral which leads to an impressive view over Plateau’s lagoon. Second tourist attempt: a success!
Attempt #3: Art Galleries
Price: generally free
I wouldn’t say that I’m a big art fanatic, but I find art to be a good way to appreciate a new country’s culture. After a couple of weeks in Abidjan, I also stated to notice the odd art exhibition being advertised, so in my search for “somewhat touristy things I can visit” I promptly took myself along.
The primary art venue in Abidjan is “La Rotonde” in Plateau. The square in which the gallery is itself decorated with many interesting sculptures and a couple of crocodile statuettes on the ground near the entrance. It is free to enter the semi-permanent displays on the ground floor of the museum, with temporary paying exhibitions featured on the first floor. The art gallery is small, but I really enjoyed the variety in the art on display. I also met one of the painters who took great pride in showing me his work.
The following week I frequented the “Galerie Cecile Fakhoury” and the “Fondation Donwahi” (both located near Carrefour La Vie in Cocody) who both house temporary exhibitions. The two I saw in October 2016 were completely contrasting. The first was by an Ivorian artist called Aboulia, whose exhibition “Môgô Dynasty” was lathered in colour and texture, depicting the energy of youth and the commotion of west african society today. The second, by Cameroonian painter Bili Bidjocka used dull colours, dirt, sand and empty spaces in his installation “Where is Bili?”: a question which is simply answered: he is lost in his art.
What I noticed about all these art galleries is that they were all empty. On every occasion I was the only visitor, and as they are all free to enter, there wasn’t even a receptionist to greet me on arrival, or someone to explain to me the ideas behind the art work.
Attempt #4: Bingerville Botanical Gardens
Opening times: 7:30am-5pm daily
Price for entry: 500 CFA
Price to use your camera: 5,000 CFA (!) (if you want to avoid this, stick to phone pictures)
About a month into my time in Abidjan, and I’ve started to make myself a few friends. One particular group suggested we spend a Sunday visiting Bingerville Botanical Gardens (yay I don’t have to go alone!). Apparently a friend of a friend had been here on a date and recommended it as “beautiful, romantic, you have to go”. So off we went.
It was so nice to discover a big green space in Abidjan, and I think that is the Bingerville garden’s main draw for me. As the garden is “botanical”, I was slightly disappointed there wasn’t a larger variety of plants and flowers, although we did come across a few big caterpillars! A nice day out, and a nice place for a short walk or a picnic, but I wasn’t blown away.
Attempt #5: Abidjan Zoo
Opening Times: 8am-5:30pm daily
Price for entry: 300 CFA
Price to use your camera: 3,000 CFA
I am not a big fan of zoos, I love seeing animals in the wild not in captivity, but again my desire to see what Ivory Coast tourism had to offer won and I took myself on an outing. However what I saw made me more sad than I was anticipating. The range of animals is quite impressive: lions, elephants, hippos, crocodiles and a huge range of monkeys to name a few. Unfortunately though the zoo is badly maintained but worse that that the animals look malnourished (not surprising when the zoo appears to have limited footfall, and with the tiny price of 300 CFA, and just 100 CFA for children!). I think the zoo has a lot of potential, so now that the country’s crises are over, I hope that over time it will be able to develop and increase its revenue for the care of these poor animals.
Attempt #6: Hotel Ivoire
Price: Free to have a look around, 10,000 CFA to swim, 5,000 CFA for the cinema, and a variety of prices if you want to eat and drink.
You can also ask reception for a FREE WIFI password. I probably shouldn’t be so enthusiastic about this, but the wifi is high speed (a rare find in Abidjan!), and has been greatly appreciated by myself on a few occasions (I may or may not be writing this blog post from a comfy sofa in the hotel).
Hotels aren’t normally considered tourist attractions, but I’d say that this Sofitel Hotel is worth visiting. You can simply walk through and have a peak or you can spend an afternoon there enjoying the facilities. Hotel Ivoire was built by President Félix Houphouët-Boigny to show off Côte d’Ivoire’s steady progress to the world, and has become a symbol of prosperity for Abidjan. Fancy dining, spectacular views, a huge swimming pool, a cinema and a casino; a room here will break your bank, but a cheeky visit can still be just as fun. The hotel also houses an auditorium which regularly hosts large events and shows, and many smaller rooms for corporate meetings and conferences.
Hotel Ivoire also showcases West African art, with a corridor dedicated specifically to this. In the big square outside the hotel and its auditorium, there are also some original installations you should check out, particularly the tall totem pole.
Attempt #7: Île Boulay
Price: Hugely variable
Île Boulay is a group of islands located in the middle of Abidjan lagoon, south of Youpougan. I have been wanting to visit the main island (the big one) for a while now, but after hearing mentions that a day trip would cost around 50,000 CFA I was put off. However, this weekend I finally made the trip with a group of friends who are all students here, and I am pleased to report that the boat cost 400 CFA return, and I spent 5,000 CFA on food and drink whilst relaxing by the water. Much better!
The island is heaving with nice resorts, restaurants, hotels and options to rent rowing boats and jet-skis, so I have no doubt that the 50,000 CFA was an accurate quote, but not a necessary one. A day on Île Boulay is the perfect way to escape the city hustle without actually leaving Abidjan. Though it took me several months to figure out how best to see the island, I can conclude that Île Boulay was another success for the little explorer in me!
Places I have yet to visit:
Park National de Banco
Banco National Park is located on the western outskirts of the city, another perfect little outing opportunity nearby. Despite planning a trip a few weeks ago, the administration of the National Park is currently on strike, so we are now waiting for the park to open again…
I have frequented many markets since being here, each with their own atmosphere and specialities. I’ve been informed that Cocody Market has a lot of crafts, and african gift-type items on sale that would please “tourists” and well, me. Again I have not been able to find much information on where exactly this is located (except for in Cocody district, obviously) but I’m sure that I’ll figure it out in the next month or two, just in time to buy a few gifts before I go home!
Palais de la Culture
Easily spotted when crossing the bridge to Macory, the Palais de la Culture sits on the border of the lagoon and plays hosts to all sorts of events throughout the year: music, comedy, food festivals, fashion shows… but somehow I still haven’t made it there. About time I checked it out!
From my adventures around the city I would conclude that discovering Abidjan is far more about getting to know the people, their traditions and their way of life (and the food!), and far less about “ticking off” a list of attractions. Nevertheless, it has been fun!
Is there anything I have missed on my list of things to see in Abidjan? Have you had similar experiences exploring Abidjan or other cities? Let me know!