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Conditions are improving for tourists in Angola, a country recovering from decades of civil war. Wildlife viewing, beautiful beaches and a variety of handcrafted souvenirs are some of the attractions you can expect.

After gaining independence from Portugal in 1975, a guerilla war continued. Battle for control of Angola's resources attracted the interest of Cold War powers, with Cuba and the Soviet Union supporting government forces, and apartheid South Africa and the United States supporting Jonas Savimbi's rebel group, Unita. Angola finally reached relative peace and stability after Savimbi's death in 2002. Now the international community has turned its attention to monitor the trade in unregulated conflict or ?blood? diamonds and the criminal activity associated with it. The civil war claimed up to 1.5 million lives and many landmines remain buried beneath Angola's soil.

Angola today is home to about 12.3 million people, many of whom live in the seaside capital, Luanda. The dominant religion is Christianity and the official language is Portuguese. There are numerous ethnic groups and at least six indigenous languages that are spoken. These include Ovimbundu, Kimbundu, Kikongo, Kichokwe, Kwanyama, Nganguela and Luvale.

Luanda is slowly recovering some of the charm of its pre-war days. The Ilha, the peninsula in the bay of the city, is a good spot for lunch, sunbathing or a night on the town. Angolan musicians travel the world and have built large followings in Portugal and other Portuguese-speaking countries such as Brazil. For purchasing handicrafts, the Benfica market just south of Luanda offers some of the best deals and variety. Batik cloth, jewelry, paintings and other items are available.

Among the sights to see in Angola is Quiçama National Park, 70 km from of Luanda. Although poaching during the civil war diminished the park's wildlife, it is still possible to spot dwarf forest buffalo, antelope, birds and elephants. Through ?Operation Noah's Arc? elephants have been brought in from Namibia and Botswana as efforts continue to rehabilitate the park. Accommodation is available. Iona National park, in the south, borders Namibia's Skeleton Coast. Along Angola's own coast, the town of Benguela has some lovely beaches.

Getting around Angola is difficult because of the lingering economic impact of the civil war. There are few taxis and the railways are not very reliable, but cars and drivers can be hired at Luanda's international airport. Roads tend to be poor and it is difficult to connect with the rest of the southern African region by vehicle.

Among the best known hotels in Luanda is Le Presidente Meridien, which overlooks colonial buildings and the shore. Opportunities to fish and windsurf are available along Angola's coastline and inland. The country also offers a growing number of resorts. One option for tourists is the Pousada Caua and its fine view of the floodplains. More resorts are planned and aim to offer fishing, bird watching and beaches.