Trip to southern Angola, ethnicities and landscapes

We managed to leave Oncocua along the same forest track we had arrived, and we turned off a little to the south to visit the Humbe area, where there is a thousand-year-old baobab tree, some say the oldest in Africa. We continued on our way through southern Angola after meeting several tribes.

Near Humbe, in the middle of nowhere, there are some abandoned tanks from the civil war that ravaged the country from 1975 to 2002. It was the longest conflict in Africa. It followed immediately after decolonisation and pitted various political parties such as the MPLA and FLNA against each other.

Angola is already a safe country to travel in, and the people have a very calm and friendly character.

southern angola
This man in an MPLA T-shirt was showing us some of these abandoned remnants of the war that day – Journey to southern Angola

Tunda Vala Gorge in Lubango

We returned to Lubango, the capital of the region, and went to visit the famous Tunda Vala Gorge, an iconic image of the country. This impressive chasm, at an altitude of over 2,200 metres, is a natural window overlooking the Lubango highlands. The beauty of the landscape is breathtaking.

southern angola

Native communities consider it “the place where the spirits of their ancestors take refuge”, and it gives its name to the Tundavala National Stadium, where the 2010 African Nations Championship was played.

We then return to Lubango to head east to Namibe, along a spectacular road that runs through the highlands, across several mountain ranges, down to sea level where Namibe and the desert meet.

Leba Mountains

The first to cross is the Leba Mountains, with its famous curves descending from the Lubango plateau to lower altitudes, another of the most famous images of southern Angola.

Leba Mountains
Leba Mountains – Journey to southern Angola

Granite mountain range in the Garganta area

Next is the granite mountain range in the Garganta area. A very interesting region in terms of landscape and home to the Nguendelengo tribe, where the women wear one of the most curious hairstyles in the country.

Nguendelengo women with their curious hairstyles – Travel to southern Angola

We were lucky enough to see how they made these hairstyles for the girls, using tree bark to fill in the shapes they create with their hair.

It is very interesting to do some trekking in the area to see the landscape and, at the same time, to get in touch with the tribes of this part of the country.

Namib Desert, southern Angola

If you continue east along this scenic road, you’ll reach Namibe, the former Portuguese colonial town of Moçamedes. Situated by the coast, it is a pleasant place to stroll around and eat good Angolan-style clams at a beach bar.

From Namibe we head towards the Iona National Park and enter the Namib Desert, where we are greeted by the world’s largest field of the rare welwitschia mirabilis plant.

This plant is endemic to the Namib Desert, has the longest leaves in the world, which it uses to protect itself from the sun and high temperatures, and grows 1 mm per year.

In Angola we can find plants up to 1500 years old.

Specimen of the plant Welwitschia Mirabilis from the Namib Desert
Specimen of the plant Welwitschia Mirabilis from the Namib Desert – Journey to southern Angola

On the other hand, this beautiful desert has giant dunes of almost 100 metres that, in some areas, drop directly into the sea – if you’re lucky you can see sea lions and oryx!

It is worth a night or two in the desert, and, if the road and conditions permit, try to pass along the strip of road next to the sea, in a spectacular landscape where the huge dunes are on one side and the beach is on the other side of the road.

trips to angola
The Namib Desert and the sea – Journey to southern Angola

The nights in the desert were unforgettable and the fact that the dunes are so close to the sea makes this place unique.

Tombua Cemetery

On the way back from the desert you can stop in Tombua and visit the characteristic animist cemetery, where the tombstones are sculpturally placed cow skulls. The wealth of the deceased is shown by the number of heads on the grave, which in turn has to do with life, as wealth is not measured in money but in cattle.

tombs in the tombua cemetery
Tombua Cemetery – Travel to Southern Angola

Although the main religion in Angola is Catholic (90% of the population), animist beliefs are still dominant in isolated areas. Even a large part of the Christian population retains some of these beliefs.

Another curiosity of the route was a desert area with spectacular rock formations.

sandstone rock formations in southern angola
Rock formations in southern Angola

Mucubal ethnic group in southern Angola

This area of southern Angola is home to another of the country’s most numerous tribes, the Mucubal, where the men are cattle herders and the women gatherers.

As this trip took place during the rainy season, the men were with the cattle near the village and we were lucky enough to spend time with them.

mucubal men from southern angola
Mucubal men from southern Angola

They were very kind and let us set up the tent wherever we wanted. For example, I chose the garage of the rich man’s motorbike. The rest of the villagers always ask him to give them a lift when they need it.

The mucubal bring the cattle to the village at night and stay in the village itself. They sleep in adobe “tents”.

mucubal ethnic house in southern angola
House of the Mucubal ethnic group in southern Angola

With these great memories of southern Angola, we flew back to Luanda, although our journey through the country was not yet over.

Kalandula Waterfalls

From Luanda we managed to get to the Kalandula Falls, the second largest waterfalls in Africa after the Victoria Falls, but with a very big difference: the infrastructure.

In these waterfalls you feel you are in front of something grandiose, and as there is no tourism or infrastructure for the visit, it is even more impressive.

Cascadas de Kalandula en Angola
Kalandula Waterfalls

I hope you have enjoyed this new instalment of our trip to the southern Angola and that it has awakened in you the desire to get to know this beautiful country. Don’t forget to find out more about our trips in the corresponding section of this website. You can also read the previous article dedicated to the tribes of southern Angola.

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