Cote d'Ivoire

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Introduction to Cote d'Ivoire

The most powerful attraction the Côte d'Ivoire (also known as the 'Ivory Coast') is its people, so if you're interested in African history, art or music, this is the place to be. There's also a whole lot of physical beauty, from towering mountains to fishing villages, easily reached on some of the best roads in Africa.

For many years Côte d'Ivoire was the jewel of West Africa. Its strong economy attracted thousands of workers from neighbouring countries, and sizable French and Lebanese communities established themsleves in Abidjan. In recent times, the country has been rocked by huge debts and a military coup.

The country has always had enviable exports but thanks to spendthrift bureaucrats, collapsing crop prices and rebel conflicts, it is now massively in debt. While Côte d'Ivoire was figuring out how to recapture its former days of gloire, the military got jittery and chucked the government out in late 1999. Since then, civilian rule has returned, but there is little stability, and even less confidence about the future, with Christians and Muslims battling (literally) for political supremacy, and parts of the army threatening the government's control.

Caution

Most of the country is not in government control and is effectively in rebel hands. The political situation is tense, conflict is likely to continue for some time, crime is on the rise and public health is deteriorating. In November 2004 the government was reported to have launched military operations against the rebels, and demonstrators in the streets of Abidjan clashed with police. Travel to this destination is not advised due to the tense and volatile situation.

Full country name: Republic of Côte d'Ivoire

Area: 322,000 sq km

Population: 16.8 million

Capital City: Yamoussoukro

People: Akan (including Baoulé and Agni), Kru (Yacouba, or Dan, primarily), Senoufo, Mandé, Lebanese and French.

Language: French,

Religion: Traditional religions (65%), Muslim (23%), Christian, mostly Protestant (12%)

Government: republic

Head of State: President Laurent Gbagbo

Head of Government: Prime Minister Seydou Diarra

GDP: US$24.2 billion

GDP per capita: US$1,640

Annual Growth: 6%

Inflation: 3%

Major Industries: Cocoa, coffee, timber, petroleum, palm oil, fish, cotton

Major Trading Partners: France, Germany, Netherlands, Burkina Faso

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Traveler Facts

Visas: All visitors need a visa except for nationals of the US and nationals of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) countries.

Health risks: yellow fever, cholera

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +0

Dialling Code: 225

Electricity: 220V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

One of Côte d'Ivoire's most famous festivals is the Fêtes des Masques (Festival of Masks), which takes place in villages in the Man region each February. Another important event is carnival in Bouaké each March. If you're here in April, don't miss the Fête du Dipri in Gomon. This festival starts around midnight, when women and children sneak out of their huts and, naked, carry out nocturnal rites to exorcise the village of evil spells. Before sunrise the chief appears, drums pound and villagers go into trances. The frenzy continues until late afternoon of the next day. The major Muslim holiday is Ramadan, a month (around December) when everyone fasts between sunup and sunset in accordance with the fourth pillar of Islam. Ramadan ends with a huge feast, Eid al-Fitr, where everyone prays together, visits friends, gives presents and stuffs themselves. National Day is 7 December.

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Best time to Visit

A peaceful time to go is the cool, dry period from November to February, though shutterbugs will get much better photos in the rainy season from May to October. The tourist season tends to be from December to March and, to a lesser extent, the months of November and April.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: West African CFA franc

Meals

Budget: US$1-5

Mid-range: US$5-15

High: US$15+

Deluxe: US$20+

Lodging

Budget: US$6-12

Mid-range: US$12-30

High: US$30-50

Deluxe: US$50+

The CFA franc is fixed against the French franc and is the principal currency for all of French-speaking West Africa. A bare minimum budget for travellers is US$10 a day for clean but simple accommodation and excellent street-stall food. Finding cheap restaurants isn't always easy, and if you insist on eating Western food and staying in fancier accommodation, you'll need closer to US$30-40 a day. For top hotel accommodation and nights out on the town, budget about US$100 a day. Renting a car requires another US$100 a day.

The airport bank offers decent rates, so change money there if you arrive by plane. Otherwise, before changing money, it definitely pays to shop around for the best rates, as some banks offer excellent rates but also charge high commissions, while others charge no commissions but offer significantly lower rates. The French usually have no trouble obtaining cash with credit cards, as the cards are issued by French banks affiliated with those in Côte d'Ivoire; travellers from other countries may find this more difficult. The only bank which gives cash advances on a credit card is the COBACI bank in Plateau, Abidjan.

There are few clear rules about tipping. Tip about 10% at upmarket restaurants, but check the bill closely first to see if service is included. Travellers are expected to tip taxi drivers about 10%, except for rides in shared cabs.

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Attractions

Yamoussoukro

Yamoussoukro is a bizarre, lively city where deserted eight lane highways lined with over 10,000 lights have avenues that end in the jungle and a full scale replica of St Peter's in Rome stands surrounded by lush jungle. There is no other city like it in Africa.

Yamoussoukro became the capital in 1983, but in name only. During the 1960s, President Houphouët-Boigny began spending lavishly on his native village. The result is a wasteful, bizarre example of what not to do with a lot of money, the centrepiece of which is the Basilique de Notre Dame de la Paix.

Abidjan

Known as the 'Paris of West Africa', Abidjan has a lot of French people but also attracts Africans from neighbouring countries, making it the region's most cosmopolitan city. Many travellers see only the wealthy side, but the sections where ordinary people live remain pure Africa - poor but vital.

Abidjan's daring high-rises and lagoon setting make it one of Africa's most striking cities. There are a couple of good museums, but most sightseers prefer to stay outdoors, absorbing the bustle of the streets and walking the shady paths of the nearby rainforest reserve.

Man

The Man region in the central-western section of Côte d'Ivoire is a sweeping vista of lush green hills, known for its first rate market (in the town of Man), distinct village masks and the Yacouba stilt dancers who perform during the annual Fêtes des Masques (Festival of Masks).

The town of Man is nothing special outside of its market, but it makes a good base for exploring the region, especially the impressive La Cascade, a waterfall in a bamboo forest west of town. The base of Mt Tonkoui, the second highest peak in Côte d'Ivoire, is 15km (9mi) north of La Cascade.

Parc National de Taï

Taï National Park is one of the last remaining areas of virgin rainforest in West Africa. Trees grow over 50m (165ft) high, with massive trunks and huge supporting roots. The towering trees, hanging lianas, swift streams and resident wildlife combine to create a peaceful and enchanting environment.

The park is in a very rainy and humid area, so the best time to visit is during the dry spell from December to February. A permit from the Ministère des Eaux et Forêts in Abidjan is required and strictly enforced. This however is just the first obstacle as getting to the park isn't exactly easy.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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