From the soaring grass-clad mountains of Mount Nimba in the north to the lagoons and roaring Atlantic waves of the south, the mist-topped rainforests where chimps live in the west to the sweeping plantations of cocoa and plantains in the east, the Ivory Coast represents one seriously huge slab of West Africa.
Yes, the nation’s certainly had its fair share of troubles, with coups and military juntas and Ebola to name just three, but travelers do still come.
The come to hike the empty paths of Taï and Comoe, to sample spicy cassava and cashew curries between the mud-caked streets of Korhogo, to witness curious primates swinging in the trees, and experience the energy of Abidjan – the country’s great metropolis of more than four million.
And then there are the beaches, fringed with age-stained French towns and colonial relics, sloping down to the sea in colours of yellow, white and, well, ivory!
Proudly touting its UNESCO World Heritage tag, Grand-Bassam bursts forth from the Ivorian coast with the medley of elegant Parisian mansions and crafted colonial municipal buildings that is the Ancien Bassam district.
Now crumbling and creaking with age, this area once reigned as the capital of French Ivory Coast.
Some of the buildings have been returned to their former glory, and visitors can still spy out the great Cathédrale Sacré Cœur and the enthralling Museum of Costume.
New Grand-Bassam is where most of the action takes place today, while the beaches to the west and east are where the resort hotels reside.
The sprawling, beating heart of the nation makes its home on the south coast, along the wide coastal reaches of the Ebrié Lagoon.
With more than four million people calling it home, it hails in as the second-largest metropolis in all of West Africa.
And although not officially the capital of Ivory Coast (that honour goes to Yamoussoukro), it’s perhaps the better city to go for an introduction to the nation.
Visitors can wander the frenetic streets of the buzzing central Plateau district, see the looming Francophone spires of St.
Paul’s Cathedral, hit the National Museum, party down heady Princess Road, eat local cassava curries on the street corners – the list goes on!.
Springing up from the rain-doused, rugged edges of the soaring Toura Mountains, deep in the heartlands of the country, the rustic town of Man comes surrounded by seemingly endless swathes of verdant plantain farms and cocoa plantations.
The peaks of Tonkoui and Toura – the two highest in Ivory Coast – dominate the horizon, while it’s the crashing courses of the Cascades waterfall that really draws the crowds.
Others will come to delve into the famous bamboo forests that filter out from the center, where multi-coloured butterflies flutter by and rare insects inhabit the undergrowth.
A colossal slab of over 3,000 square kilometers is taken up by the vast reserves of the Taï National Park, making it one of the greatest protected areas of what remains of the Upper Guinean rainforests – once the dominant habitat in all of West Africa, ranging from Gabon all the way to Senegal.
A feral land, it’s carved with colossal river valleys and dressed in moist woods, spiked with otherworldly inselberg mountains and fringed by rolling savannah.
And then there’s the fauna, which includes the endangered pygmy hippopotamus, swinging olive colobus monkeys, duikers and chimpanzees.
Fringed by a stretch of typically Ivorian ivory sands, little Jacqueville spills down into the sea from the far side of the Ebrié Lagoon, it’s sun-kissed beaches emerging from the swathes of pineapple groves to meet the frothy rollers of the Atlantic Ocean.
Clusters of old Parisian arcades and colonial builds stand decaying under the shade of the palm trees, while thatched beach huts meet painted timber longboats along the shore.
It’s a great place to come and get a feel for the pretty seaside character of this country, and all just a stone’s throw to the west of the capital at Abidjan to boot!