Ivory Coast - Visit the world's largest church

The biggest church in the world

Arrived yesterday evening in Abidjan, by plane, directly from Niger. It's the second country on this West Africa trip with a big contrast compared to Niger. My plan was to visit downtown Abidjan, the nice beaches, and also the biggest Basilica (Church), such an impressive building!

So the main "thing to do" in the Ivory Coast was to visit the biggest church in the world. The so-called "Basilica of Our Lady of Peace" is 160 meters high is in the Guinness World Records because of it's size.

The location of the church is in "Yamoussoukro", 3.5 hours by bus from Abidjan.
One of the main questions that bothered me before visiting this country, was the area where I should stay in Abidjan for the day trip to the Basilica, a place where its conveniently located to be in the center but also not too far from bus stations or the airport.

Where to stay in Abidjan?

I'm glad having done the effort on where to stay in Abidjan. Did much more research on this than I did for other places.

There are about three “city centers” in Abidjan and finding out which is the best area to stay as a tourist is not self-explanatory, especially as going from one city center to the other city center can be a daunting and time-consuming task during the day because of traffic.

Plateau Area...

When looking at google maps it seems that the "Plateau" district is the most convenient area to stay, but in reality, it's probably the worst and ugliest. It takes a lot of time to get in there because of the huge amount of traffic and also as soon the sun goes down there, it isn’t a friendly place to be, as next to this area are the slums.

Cocody Area?

The other city center district is “Cocody” with the area Deux Plateau. Its also further away from the airport and it is the area which is more residential.

Marcory Area!

Then there is “Marcory” which has an area called Zone 4, which is probably the better area to stay for a tourist for a few days. With only about 10 minutes to the airport its convenient to get in and out. Zone 4 is also the area with streets that have many restaurants, banks and has most expats living there. The standards are a way better then compared to the other two Cocody or Plateau.

Map of Abidjan:
A tourist map for the capital

Day 2 - Visiting Abidjan in 1 Day

Planned to start this early morning by walking towards the Plateau district with it's prominent St. Paul's Cathedral and the market areas further north, and simply just to see the most obvious things in the area. 

That way I will have enough time for later in the afternoon to have a look at the beach.

Marcory district

In Marcory the streets are long to walk and monotonous, as the area is huge and spread out. Here and there appears a bank and it seems most banks are all in and around Marcory and unlike in other African capitals, there seemed to be no dedicated exchange bureaus in Abidjan. Only banks.

Large streets in Abidjan
The rail leads from the Ivory Coast up until Burkina FasoAlready early in the morning with chickenThe African capital is the New York of Africa

Google Maps somehow doesn’t show the vast scope of how far the streets are in Abidjan and I ended up giving up my plan of walking all the way from Zone 4 to Plateau district and that it's better using the taxi.

Traffic in Abidjan is intense, even though there are sometimes 8 lane-streets in and 8-lane-streets out of Plateau, traffic is mostly stuck.

It's good that these days (or better said, years) the Japanese construction companies are doing an overhaul over many many parts in all over the Ivory Coast. The bus driver explained:

The Japanese people are doing good work, building fast track roads and bridges within Abidjan, and that should solve the traffic problem by 2020 – they say. 

The Plateau district is far away from all

So it took me about 45 minutes to get with the taxi from Zone 4 to Plateau district. Even tho the Plateau is the real business center, but definitely not wise for tourists to stay as it is far from everything.

The entrance to Plateau in Abidjan
Around MarcoryBig but quiet district in AbidjanYou need a pool, Abidjan streets has em!

There is this constant smoggy haze in the air

During my stay in the Ivory Coast, all over I only experienced very dense smoggy foggy weather – or – an ugly haze. It's not smoke but the sun is never bright and almost invisible and the sky is never blue even tho there is no cloud and no rain. They say:

We have this weather every year for some months and yes it looks ugly. But be aware that it doesn't protect you against sunburn!

Exited the bus at the entrance to the Plateau district on the very south. From there it's not so far to the Abidjan Mosque and the building called "the Pyramid".

Its located in Plateau
Precisly called: La mosquée du Plateau surWith a tall towerAbidjan Streets are full of traffic

The Pyramid has been abandoned because the Italian architect didn’t build it safe enough and after only 25 years it was too dangerous to live in there.

It was left because of construction failures
Its closes but is planned to be opened soon againHeavy traffic through all streetsOn Plateau are some strange towers

Plateau Area contains all over a lot of traffic and also walking all the way upwards is very time-consuming.

There is nowhere sun visible as there is this constant haze blocking it. Strange.

Biggest christmas tree in the Ivory Coast
Abidjan is not the cleanest city, but some green spots are niceAbidjan Twin towersMany people carrying goods on their heads

The St. Paul Cathedral Priest hates me

In the center of the Plateau Area is the St. Paul Cathedral.

I don’t know what happened but I guess the priest of the church had a bad day. I was only taking some photos of the church and a few minutes later someone yelled from inside the church all over the court.

But I didn’t see anybody in the shadow of the church doors, but I still heard someone yelling. Then I realized the priest was standing in the shadow yelling at me.

He came outside and I figured out he was angry because I didn't visit the church inside and only took photos from the outside. He argued with me in French although I don't understand exactly what the problem is.

Two old local women nearby shook their heads and laughed, they told the priest gently to go back inside the church. 

White man, you go and continue take your photos. Voilà! Don't listen to the priest this time!

The first stone of the cathedral was consecrated on May 11, 1980 by Pope John Paul II
dominantly located on a hillock providing commanding views of the city of Abidjan,The cathedral is unique and modern with good lookout to the cityWay to one of the largest cathedrals in the world

Adjame market area

The south of the Plateau is a typical capital business district but the further north, the more and more the skyscrapers disappear and the local market appears in front of rundown houses along the main streets.

This is the area of Adjame and I'm not sure what I should think of it. Summarized it's not a nice place.

Adjamé means "a junction" or "the centre"
Adjamé has the most important bus stationBuses serve all of Ivory CoastApartment block in the autonomous district of Abidjan

Different people told me in and around Adjame that I should be very careful or better not go there at all. I guess this area is covered with many ugly stories from the past.

Don’t go to Adjame by yourself, its not safe and you will get robbed as white person.

It’s a long walk to Adjame market. A huge market area over several hundred square meters spread over many streets and corners. And it's crowded, really crowded and dirty.

Don't want to get robbed here...

And probably not the best place to be as I got warned again along the streets by a friendly older local that I have to be careful.

Sir, be careful and watch your bag. Its not nice place for Whites.

Yes, thanks I heard it before.

However, now I heard it enough times and after a few hundred meters of walking along these Adjame streets, I had seen enough anyway. It was a bit too crowded for me for such a sunny hot Friday afternoon.

Adjame has lots of stuff
Colorful market with black peopleThe largest market in the Ivory CoastPure stress for people who are not used to itI passed hundreds of people during my walk through AdjameHave been warned several times from robberyPeople look sometimes the strange way in the Ivory Coast, but are friendly!

Finding the UTB Bus Station in Abidjan

The only reason why I still was around here, was to find the UTB bus station. Why?

Because I wanted to visit the UTB bus company for my trip tomorrow to Yamoussoukro. Thankfully at the end of this crowded road, there is the bus station I was looking for, to place my inquiry.

Although people in the queue explained to me, that to get to Yamoussoukro it's better to use another bus station, which is located in a place called Koumassi and very close to zone 4 where I was staying.

Well, that was convenient as I didn’t have to hassle around any longer, and also for tomorrow, I didn't have to come back here to this scary place and not catch the bus from here to the Basilica.

The most important junction and bus station all over the Ivory Coast

The "Grand Bassam" Beach

It was mid-afternoon and glad to be out of Adjame Downtown by now.

Went back to the apartment and then searched for the minibus that takes me to the Grand Bassam Beach.

Its the name of a town in the Ivory Coast - and they have beaches
Its lying east of AbidjanGrand Bassam is known for its busy, palm-backed beachHas a bit an aura of a ghost town

Found out there was a terrorist attack 2 years ago with a few Europeans killed.

That explains why there are no white people anymore. The beach is empty with a few locals and fishermen on it. But the beach is huge and stretches over many dozen miles.

I don't surf but it isn't difficult to see that for surfing here are great conditions along those big waves.

Some locals along the beach saw me taking photos, bonjour-ed and informed me while pointing towards the coast and the Atlantic Ocean:

Thiiiis! C'est la Ivory Coast! 

Hundres of miles
A terror attack happened here some years agoNot many people visiting the Bassam BeachLong stretch of nice sandy beach

Day 3 - Visiting the largest church in the world!

Before coming to the Ivory Coast, I read about the "Basilica of Our Lady of Peace" and I couldn’t believe that such an architectural masterpiece does exist in the Ivory Coast. 

According to the Guinness World Records, this is the world's largest church! Summarized it’s a basilica built after the original Basilica in the Vatican. So it's like a copy. But, this one is even bigger and does not have so many people visiting like the one in the Vatican.

It’s the only Basilica in Africa and also the largest church in the world. The pope also visited it some years ago in the 1990s.

The place where it is located is not very close to Abidjan but possible to visit it on a day trip from Abidjan.

Panorama photo of the Basilica in Ivory Coast

A good day trip in the Ivory Coast (and to the Basilica)

It will be a long trip for a day. I sat many hours only on the bus and passed out for several hours during the ride. But searching bus stations, finding the right buses and buying tickets can sometimes be a tiring process in Africa. 

I'm glad now being back in Abidjan but still astonished with that unrealistic Basilica that will make me keep the Ivory Coast in good memories.

My trip to the Basilica of Peace from Abidjan

It’s a long way from Abidjan to Yamoussoukro (the place where the Basilica is located), as the distance is 250km one way.

Yesterday I was asking around how I best get to Yamoussoukro and it turned out that there is a direct bus from the UTB bus station in Koumassi. So yes there are two UTB bus stations in Abidjan. One in Adjame in the uncomfortable and dirty Plateau district and one in Koumassi in the Marcory district. 

The UTB Koumassi bus station is much easier to find and accessible than the one in Adjame (and also safer).

Due to the fact of the long and time-consuming distance to Yamoussoukro, I wanted to catch one of the earliest buses available and so not be stuck in Abidjan's traffic. Was at the Koumassi bus station at 6am, where however already have been waiting hundreds of people in an area with a size of three tennis courts.

Well located bus station that brings me to the Basilica

Although thankfully not all want to go to Yamoussoukro.

But still, that made it a bit confusing how to quickly get a ticket among these long queues. A ticket costs 4000CFA to Yamoussoukro and 4000CFA back to Abidjan.

After having that ticked I planned and hoped to be on the first bus at around 6.30am but because of some reasons, it was heavily delayed and departed after 8am - which means I will arrive in there around lunchtime.

The comfortable Bus Ride

The UTB coaches are big buses with air-conditioning and are quite comfortable for Ivorian Coast standards.

The ride takes approximately 3.5 hours to Yamoussoukro, depending on traffic. There are is only one small break. The ride is comfortable and the streets are fine with modern highways.

The bus stops in the city of Toumoudi for dropping people there and then continues and ends in the Yamoussoukro UTB station.

From there it's possible to walk to the Basilica when having enough time.

Its 250km to the city
Its comfortable and has airconditionSome stops along the wayFinal destination with UTB. Next stop is the Basilica

As I didn’t have enough time I took a taxi which cost 500 CFA to the basilica. The cab drives along the road where it's possible to see the president's palace and a cool mosque.

The president's palace is worth a visit when having enough time because around his palace, there is a trench filled with living crocodiles.

Already a few hundred of meters away from the Basilica it's possible to see it appearing out of nothing in the horizon of the haze. It looks like a ghost building appearing out of nowhere.

Almost unrealistic how it stands there in the middle of nowhere.

Appears slowly out of the haze
Visible from half kilometer awayMaintenance Cost are 1.5million dollars annuallyThe basilica rarely sees a few hundred worshipers and tourists who visit a few times yearly.

Finally at the Basilica.

The cab stops right at the entrance gate where it's necessary to register with passport and to pay the fee of 2000CFA as a tourist.

Also known as Basilique Notre-Dame de la Paix
The Pope traveled to Yamoussoukro to accept the basilica as a giftMe infront of the Basilica

There are guides offering their services and of course, they expect to be paid a few thousand CFA. 

Surely they have a lot to explain, but also they are required if the visitor wants to go to the roof-top of the Basilica:

“Unfortunately, if you want to go to the roof of the Basilica, you need a guide. No view from top without a guide.”

It's a very unrealistic building. Compared to the Basilica in the Vatican this Basilica looks much more impressive.

It has a total area of almost 330,000 square meters
It is bigger than its European counterpartBasilica of Our Lady of Peace can accommodate 18,000 worshippersMe in front of the Basilica

But that all comes with a price to pay for the people of the Ivory Coast. It's not cheap to maintain this structure as it costs annually USD 1.3 million to keep it up.

Walking around the basilica is no problem to walk freely, but inside the basilica, the security is always having an eye on the visitors.

Total cost of around $300 million
Can accomodate about 18000 peoplethe architect deliberately made the dome of the basilica lower than that of the originalNatural light through colored windows

I thought it will be very hot around the Basilica but it's not too hot. Probably because of the haze in the air that blocks the sun a bit.

The only time the Basilica was full was in February 1994
The basilica's begin of construction was done in 1985Singing echoes all around the churchHopefully many to come for the Basilica

Back to Abidjan.

Have been at the basilica for about 1.5 hours and then headed back to the UTB station. Still had enough time to catch one of the next buses and walked around to see a bit of Yamoussoukro town.

Between UTB bus station and the Basilica
Visible while driving with taxi to the BasilicaSelling coconutsAbout 10 minutes by taxi to the Basilica

Didn't want to miss one of the last buses back to Abidjan, especially as I've been told that the last bus is departing at 6pm. 

From the basilica, there are frequent cabs bringing new visitors and taking old visitors back to the center and the UTB for CFA500.

Should not be a problem to get back from Yamassoukro to Abidjan

In the UTB bus station are several buses heading back to Abidjan, so it's not a big problem finding one without waiting too long.

I didn't expect an ordinary schedule, as there is no schedule and buses leave whenever they like. Sometimes when they're full and sometimes when not full. And sometimes they announce which bus is the right bus like two minutes before departure.

Arrived in Abidjan at 6pm.

Today the haze was even worse than yesterday and I first thought the moon is already up at 6pm but then realized it was the sun behind the haze.

The haze blocks the sun and looks like moon

Day 4 - Departure to Burkina Faso

Day of departure towards Burkina Faso.

Originally, I had another day in the Ivory Coast as the flight was supposed to depart at 10 in the evening, but Burkina Air changed the schedule for "only" 12 hours and so the departure is new at 10 in the morning.

It's wise to visit Abidjan while staying in the Marcory district, probably best in the "Zone 4" area. Because from there are plenty of taxis to the airport and in only 10 minutes it's possible to reach the airport.

Aéroport Félix Houphouët Boigny Airport

The airport with the short name "Aéroport Félix Houphouët Boigny Airport" in Abidjan is nice. 

A modern air-conditioned airport with ordinary facilities and no drama and chaos. Even with clean toilets, free WIFI and real cappuccino. Great, not sure if I can expect that in Burkina Faso.

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