Luanda's beach front is filled with restaurants where diners think nothing of dropping a few hundred dollars on seafood
Naquele Lugur is a white-walled patio restaurant with an unmatched view of the city
Kookal imports its super-expensive seafood from Europe, despite proximity of Atlantic Ocean
Yachts fill the bay in front of sparkling new skyscrapers rising from the city beyond.
Cross the street to the other side, and sandy beaches are lined with restaurants and nightclubs.
Sunbathers lounge during the day, replaced in the evening by fine diners who think nothing of plopping down a couple hundred dollars for sushi or lobster.
After a pre-disco nap, the beautiful people emerge and the music cranks up from midnight until the sun comes up again.
It’s not Miami or Rio, but the Ilha de Luanda, a tropical beach playground in the African country of Angola for the wealthy and increasing number of expatriates who work there.
Sound like a party worth checking out?
There’s a catch.
Visas to Angola are notoriously difficult to get and those that do get the stamp must ready themselves to swallow some whopping prices.
Luanda is among the top 10 most expensive cities in the world for expats – behind Caracas and Oslo, and well above other famously expensive cities: Geneva is 5th, Tokyo 11th, Hong Kong 29th, New York 39th.
Unlike those cities, Luanda’s wealthy waterfront is surrounded by grinding poverty, visible to anyone landing at the airport.
That’s an image that the city is trying to change, transforming its Marginal bay-front walkway and the Ilha, the thin peninsula that stretches in front of the city.
For those that do make it here – and it’s worth trying, there’s nowhere else like it – here are the places to go.
Housed in a two-story house next to the Fortress of Sao Miguel, Naquele Lugar restaurant is located on the way to the Ilha.
The soldier at the entrance will let guests through to the white-walled patio if they explain they’re coming for dinner.
Even though seafood seems like the smart choice here, the steak with pepper sauce is better.
Honestly, there’s better food elsewhere, but it’s a unique location with an unmatched view of the city on the way out.
Naquele Lugar, Rua 17 de Setembro; +244 926 322 615
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Lookal is one of the most expensive places to eat in the city, which in Luanda is saying something.
Why so pricey?
Because even though guests are gazing over the Atlantic, and Angola has some of the world’s least-fished waters, the seafood here is flown in from Europe.
A decent meal for two costs $300, but the Portuguese lobster can cost nearly that much per kilo.
Still, many people swear by the place.
Those people all have expense accounts.
After dinner, Lookal turns into a high-powered nightclub with dancing until sunrise.
Lookal, No. 15 Rua Murtala Mohamed; +244 936 000 018
Few places embody the changes on the Ilha as much as Coconuts.
Fifteen years ago, this was a shell of a building, without a roof, windows or doors.
A series of renovations have turned it into a luxurious spot that takes full advantage of its place at the end of the peninsula.
Coconuts is now a great spot to enjoy a daytime drink or linger over an evening of seafood with friends.
The chef prepares a special menu every week.
It’s not as expensive as some restaurants, but budget a minimum of $100 a person.
Coconuts, Avenida Murtala Mohamed, Ilha do Cabo; +244 912 205 777
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Cais de Quatro
In many ways, Cais de Quatro represents Luanda’s cosmopolitan aspirations.
With one of the best views over the city, the international menu runs from pizza to sushi.
It’s a relative bargain: the pizza sets diners back just $25.
If at this point they’re feeling really pinched for cash, they can always have a drink and then wander to the Wimpy burger joint next door.
Cais de Quatro, Avenida Murtala Mohamed, Casa do Desportista; +244 222 309 430
Those who’d rather walk along Luanda’s newly renovated Marginal couldn’t ask for a better spot than Bahia.
The restaurant long predates the $350 million upgrade to the bayside boardwalk, which was once just another dusty, smelly street in a city where dusty and smelly are par for the course.
Now it’s got wide pedestrian trails, playgrounds and palm trees imported from Miami.
Yes, palm trees imported to tropical Angola.
Nonetheless, Bahia is a romantic spot to share a langoustine pizza by candlelight.
And eating here won’t break the bank.
Bahia, 183/184 Avenida 4 de Fevereiro; +244 222 370 610
For those who can find the place, the best thing to do on the Ilha is to hang with Luanda’s Cape Verdian community at George’s house.
That’s not the name of the venue.
It’s a house owned by a guy named George.
Friday nights and Sunday afternoons, music lovers gather on his terrace to hear him perform Latin American classics and songs from Cape Verde legend, the late Barefoot Diva, Cesaria Evora.
Friday nights and Sunday afternoons. Drive down the Ilha, exit the roundabout to the left. It’s the only house with lights on the street.
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Griffin Shea is a writer and traveler based in South Africa. His latest project is a travel app for African cities for iPhone and Android.