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Abidjan: Where Africa meets the West

By Shamlal Puri | Jul 3rd 2016 | 5 min read

Abidjan is a chic metropolis with a magical mix of Africa and a sprinkle of American and French lifestyles.

I arrive in Abidjan, the economic capital of Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa just as the sun is setting. The thriving port city is bathed in lights as my taxi drove across the bridge over Ebrie Lagoon linking two parts of this beautiful metropolis fondly referred to as the Manhattan of Africa because of its skyscrapers and beautiful buildings.

Ask a Frenchman living in this country what he thinks of Abidjan and his reply will be “it’s the Paris of West Africa.”

Cote d’Ivoire is a country bounded by Mali and Burkina Faso in the north; Guinea and Liberia in the west, Ghana in the east, and the Atlantic Ocean in the south.

For many years, its overall capital and the main city was Abidjan but in 1983, the country’s first president the late Felix Houphuet Boigny moved the political capital to Yamoussoukro, his birth place. However, the business and diplomatic hubs still remain in Abidjan where a majority of affluent people reside.

With a population of some five million, Abidjan is the second most-populated African city, surpassed only by the Nigerian city of Lagos. Abidjan is located on the Ebrie Lagoon on the Gulf of Guinea in the south-east coast of Cote d’Ivoire. The city is divided into two halves linked by the 592-metre long Boulevard de Gaulle box girder bridge.

The beautiful city of Abidjan spread out across the Ebrie Lagoon. (PHOTO: SHAMLAI PURI/ STANDARD)

This one-time tiny fishing village has come a long way from 1898, when it was founded, to see a high level of urbanisation and economic development, and offers an interesting cultural mix — African and the Western.

After many years of political instability after the death of President Boigny, peace is slowly returning to Cote d’Ivoire.

The country has spent a lot of money on developing its infrastructure and is ranked among the top holiday destinations in Africa. Last year it received record total of 1.572 million visitors.

The city has some plush and run-down parts. The city’s business hub is in the La Plateau and Cocody neighbourhoods while wealthy Lebanese, French and the diplomatic community live in Deux Plateau — the wealthiest neighbourhood.

Other areas worthy of interest include Treichville and Marcory. There is also the other side of Abidjan — the slums of Adjame on the north shore of Ebrie Lagoon.

Among the city’s attractions are St Paul Cathedral, an impressive looking white building with gorgeous stained glass that lights up the interior.

St Paul’s Cathedral is a well-known landmark. (PHOTO: SHAMLAI PURI/ STANDARD)

The cathedral which looks like a cross and the bow of a ship pointing upwards is clearly seen as you drive on the three-lane motorway to Le Plateau business district. This place is busy with worshippers.

World's largest cathedral

Upon payment of a small fee, you can go up on the tower near the Cross and enjoy a wonderful panoramic view of Abidjan and the Lagoon. I have always been fascinated with the magnificent structures of churches in Cote d’Ivoire during my numerous visits there over the years.

Even bigger than St Paul’s Church is the $200 million Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, which easily ranks as among the largest in the world with an area of 320,000 square feet and height of 518 feet. It was built by President Boigny at an estimated cost of $200 million.

Service in progress at the Basilica of Our Lady of peace in Yamoussoukro. (PHOTO: SHAMLAI PURI/ STANDARD)

A visit to La Plateau is also worthwhile even if you are not on business. Its eye-catching high rise buildings cannot escape attention as you walk along the tree-lined boulevards dotted with banks, offices and shops.

The Pyramid office building always grabs attention. It is currently abandoned due to a fire. La Plateau has several international hotels and restaurants serving African and international cuisine.

The Grande Mosque du Plateau is an impressive building with a beautiful blue dome and a tall minaret overlooking the Lagoon.

The best time to visit Le Plateau is on Sundays when the streets are quiet. It adds colour to the modern high rise buildings that surround it.

The colourful blue dome of La Plateau Mosque and its tall minaret. (PHOTO: SHAMLAI PURI/ STANDARD)

Enjoy the explosion of colours at the Fabric District with eye-catching textiles on display. This is a scene that you can only see in Africa!

The Playce Marcory is a commercial centre with a difference. Enjoy visiting the numerous shops, restaurants there including the French hypermarket Carrefour stacked with imported groceries and locally-grown fruits.

Located in the Treichville district between the giant Solibra Brewery and the huge Nescafe factory is the Centre Artisanal de la Ville, an interesting market.

It has many stalls selling gifts, locally made souvenirs including textiles, drums, colourfully painted glass, masks and woodcraft made by the artisans near the stalls.

You will be so tempted by these beautiful items that you would buy an extra suitcase to take your treasures home! The prices are quite high but with foxy negotiations you can bring them down by half.

The tranquillity of the forests of the 30 square kilometres Banco Natural Reserve in the Attecoube district, a mere three kilometres from the city, offers a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of Abidjan. Here you enjoy bird song and noises from monkeys and primates.

A parrot at the Banco Natural Reserve. (PHOTO: SHAMLAI PURI/ STANDARD)

Colourful nightlife

Abidjan is also reputed for its colourful nightlife. There is no shortage of nightspots including the Blue Rock Complex, Parker Place known for its cool reggae nights, Life Star and the various night clubs in the five star hotels.

The city is also known for its swanky restaurants as Ivorians love their food and beer. There are some 200 restaurants in Abidjan alone serving French, Italian, American and Asian cuisines, seafood and of course local Ivorian and regional African cuisines.

Cote d’Ivoire has beautiful beaches. (PHOTO: SHAMLAI PURI/ STANDARD)

Beaches can be found in places like Grand Bassam, Assinie and Assounde.

Take a boat ride across the Ebrie Lagoon and enjoy the beautiful Abidjan skyline from the water during sunset.

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