Expert-Led Group Tour

Angola Pioneering Group Tour - Desert Tribes and Hidden Landscapes

Explore Southern Angola

10 days

from $6,295pp
  • Explore Angola's remote southern deserts, home to numerous tribes
  • Meet isolated communities, whose customs and lives remain largely unchanged
  • Admire Portuguese colonial architecture, as well as dramatic desert scenery
  • Travel in the company of anthropologist Joan Riera

Set out on this overland journey to explore a remote region of one of Africa’s least visited countries. Deep within Angola’s southern deserts, meet tribal communities whose traditions remain remarkably intact, discover crumbling Portuguese colonial relics and explore the dramatic desert landscapes.

Begin in Luanda, Angola’s oil-rich capital, before flying south to the city of Lubango. This nondescript city – remarkable for the dramatic Serra da Leba escarpment that overlooks it – is ideally located for exploring the remote tribal lands to the south.

The Tribes

This sparsely populated area is home to a mixture of Khoisan nomadic hunter-gatherers, Bantu nomadic shepherds and Bantu sedentary agriculturalists. Within these main groups, a number of different tribes exist. And although Christian missionaries have brought European religion to region, little else has changed in thousands of years for many people, with inherited traditions playing a large part in everyday life.

Explore the Desert

Start by visiting the colourful Mumuila people – with their mud-decorated hairstyles – close to the market town of Chibia. Then take the dramatic Serra da Leba mountain road out of Lubango and towards the ocean, passing over the escarpment. Encounter the dominant, cattle-rearing Mucubal people and the isolated, mountain-dwelling Nguendelengo.

Continue down Angola’s Atlantic coast, past the ornate colonial tombs and unearthly looking welwitschia plants of Namibe, and into Mucubal territory. Here, admire the rock engravings and cave paintings of Tchitundo Hulo. Meet the nomadic Mucuis people, who number less than 500 and rely heavily on their Mucuroca neighbours to trade. The Mucuroca are renowned for the beautiful hairstyles that young men gain during their initiation rites.

Visit the dramatic Red Rocks, before exploring the sleepy port town of Tomboua and then the oasis of Arco – home to the descendants of escape Umbundu slaves. Afterwards, leave the coast and head to the old Portugues settlement of Garganta, at the heart of Nguendelengo territory. Meet the local chief and locals, visiting their fascinating homes, then explore the colonial desert enclave of Bibala, nearby.

Eventually return to Lubango, visiting the spectacular Tundavala Gap, with its astonishing views. Also meet the colourful Handa people, with their intricate hairstyles and heavy pearl necklaces, before flying back to Luanda. Spend a final day exploring the beautiful Santiago Beach, north of Luanda and one of Africa’s largest ship cemeteries.

The Guide

The trip will be led by Joan Riera, a Catalan anthropologist with an interest in West and Central African tribes. Joan has visited Angola numerous times before and has met many of the tribes visited on the trip, forging a connection with them. Passionate about his work, he is committed to learning about isolated and unusual cultures in a way that is fair and nonexploitative.

Accompanied by One of Our Team

As with our other Pioneering Group Tours, this trip will be accompanied by one of the Steppes’ team. This not only means that a friendly face will be there at all times – willing to help out and deal with any issues that might arise – but it also gives us the chance to explore a destination that is just as new for us as it is for you.

This trip will be joined by Bridget Cohen, one of Steppes’ Africa Travel Experts. Although she has stuck a toe across the Angolan border with Namibia, this will be her first official visit to the country.

Departing on:
  • 22nd June 2020

For a detailed itinerary or to book your place on this tour, please contact us.

STARTFINISHPrice Excluding Flights $Flight cost fromSingle SupplementTour ExpertStatus 
22nd Jun 2020 1st Jul 2020 $ 8,498.25 $ 1,012.50 $ 877.50 Joan Riera Available
  Click here to see what is included/excluded

what is included

  • Accommodation in hotels and tents (mattresses and sleeping bag provided)
  • Accompanied by an English-speaking guide
  • Daily excursions and site visits
  • Full board
  • Internal flight Luanda – Lubango – Luanda
  • Mineral water
  • Transport (minibus in Luanda and 4x4 vehicle in the south)

what is excluded

  • Drinks
  • Gratuities
  • International Flights
  • Tourist Visa (Letter of invitation and assessment will be provided)
  • Travel Insurance


Itinerary at a glance

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Day 1

Suggested Outbound Flights

The suggested group flight for this tour is: 

Emirates EK6, scheduled to depart London Heathrow at 22:15 on Sunday 21st June, arriving into Dubai at 08:05 the next day. This connects with EK793, which departs at 09:45 and arrives into Luanda at 14:30.

An arrival transfer will be provided to connect with this flight. You will then be met and transferred to the Ilha Mar Hotel. 

For those making their own way to Luanda and not taking the suggested group flight, the starting point for the group is the Ilha Mar Hotel. Please speak to one of our team regarding organising an arrival transfer for you.

Often referred to as the world's most expensive capital city, Luanda has benefited from the country's oil and mineral wealth. But whilst modernity has certainly arrived - accompanied by huge amounts of redevelopment - the vast majority of residents live a life apart from the glitz and glamour of the new skyscrapers.

This growth, combined with years of war, has seen the city become a sprawling mass of buildings and people, meaning few choose to spend time sightseeing. However, with almost a third of Angola's population living within Luanda, there is no denying its role as an important cultural and economic hub for this vast country.

You will be staying at Ilha Mar Hotel, full board

Day 2

Fly Luanda to Lubango

Explore Lubango
In the afternoon, take a sightseeing tour of Lubango. Visit the city's elegant colonial centre, which is dominated by the imposing Cathedral of St. Joseph. This colonial construction is built in an Art Deco style and presides over the main square.

Overlooked by the Chela Hills, Lubango is one of southern Angola's largest cities - a perfect access point for this sparsely populated region. The city is relatively relaxed and spread out, with colonial-era buildings dominating its centre. It is also close to the magnificent Serra da Leba Escarpment, which can be ascended via a wonderful asphalted road that rises 1,000 metres vertically.

You will be staying at Pululukwa Lodge, full board

Day 3

Visit the Mumuila of Chibia
Take a day trip to meet the Mumuila tribe, arguably the most colourful ethnic group in Angola, with their beaded necklaces and mud-sculpted hairstyles. The Mumuila are subsistence farmers and rear some cattle in the mountains around the nearby town of Chibia.

Drive to Chibia and from there visit the main tribal market in the region. Set out on foot, walking for around two hours to visit a small Mumuila village to see how they live. Rather than being nomadic, the Mumila live in permanent villages and despite being heavily influenced by Catholic missionaries, they remain connected with their traditional animistic religion.

Have a picnic in the village, before returning to Lubango.

You will be staying at Pululukwa Lodge, full board

Day 4

Drive from Lubango to Namibe via Cangolo

Leave the city of Lubango and drive west, climbing up onto the Serra da Leba Escarpment. This journey takes the famous and beautiful Serra de Leba Road, which winds its way up from the valley floor to the top of the Serra da Leba, ascending 1,000 metres in the process.

En route to Namibe turn off the main road and stop at the settlement of Cangolo. Here, meet the friendly but deeply traditional Mucubal and Nguendelengo peoples.

The Mucubal are the dominant tribe in southern Angola and are Bantu nomadic shepherds that have the proud claim of being the last tribe conquered by the Portuguese. The Nguendelengo remain relatively isolated culturally, due to the remote and mountainous areas they inhabit, and are largely focussed on goat rearing, as well as gathering from the local environment.

On arrival in Namibe, have some time to explore the town. Driving distance for the day will be around 200 kilometres.

This quiet fishing town is found on Angola's Atlantic coast and is the capital of the remote Namibe Province. Originally called Mocamedes and founded by the Portuguese in 1840, Namibe is still dotted with colonial relics. Painted pre-war buildings line the streets and the colonial cemetery is home to an unusual collection of ornamental tombs that are unique to the area.

You will be staying at Hotel Infotur Namibe, full board

Day 5

Morning Visit to Cemetery
After breakfast at around 07:00, visit the town's cemetery. As well as old Portuguese colonial tombs, there is a curious colourful section, where the tomb stones are all decorated in a unique ornamentl style. Locally, this is known as 'Namibe style' and combines Portuguese and African symbolism.

Drive from Namibe to Tchitundo Hulo via Virei

Leave Namibe and drive through the beautiful desert landscape towards the small town of Virei. En route, stop to admire the bizarre looking welwitschia plants that survive in this desert. Endemic to this region, they can survive with almost no water and live for an extraordinarily long time, with some plants estimated to be more than 1,000 years old.

Arrive in Virei and register with the local authorities and police (few foreign visitors reach this remote mining town). Have a picnic lunch close to the local market, before meeting the nomadic Mucubal men and women that congregate here. Tall, stubborn and conservative, the Mucubal were the last tribe to be conquered by the Portuguese army in 1936. Today, they combine goat rearing with some agriculture and charcoal production. Like the Muhimba, the Mucubal are Herero speakers.

Afterwards, continue towards Tchitundo Hulo, which is around two hours away (the aim is to arrive before 16:30, to get the best light for the rock art). On the way, stop at some of the Mucubal nomadic camps that dot the landscape, and learn more about this amazing desert culture. Driving distance for the day will be around 170 kilometres.

Located around 140 kilometres west of Namibe, Tchitundo Hulo is renowned for its spectacular collection of prehistoric rock paintings. Rarely visited due to their inaccessibility, the paintings are spread across a steeply inclined granite rock face. They are sacred to the local Mucuis people and are believed to possibly date back as far as 20,000 years old.

Visit Rock Art
After reaching the foot of Tchitundo Hulo, climb to the hill's summit, which will take around 30 minutes. Observe the rock engravings and cave paintings, and also admire the stunning views from the top. Most of the engravings have disappeared due to climatic erosion, but the remaining fragments give a fascinating insight into the symbolic world of Angola's first inhabitants. Their descendants are the Mucuis, who you will visit the following morning. Spend the night camped close to the rocks.

You will be staying at Tents, full board

Day 6

Drive from Tchitundo Hulo to Namibe via Curoca, Tomboua and Arco

Get up early, around 06:00, and drive to a nearby cluster of rocks, where Mucuis people congregate. Considered the original inhabitants of this dry region, the Mucuis number just 500 people in the Iona area. They usually live close to Mucuroca tribal camps, as they rely upon trade with their neighbours, exchanging honey, medicinal herbs, wild rabbits and antelopes for milk, butter, sorghum and imported blankets.

Both the Mucubal and Mucuroca (a subgroup of the Mucubal) trade with the Mucuis, but consider them an inferior cast. Joan will attempt to explain the complex relationship between the tribes.

After meeting the Mucuis, stop at a nearby Mucuroca cattle camp. During initiation rites, young Mucuroca men sculpt their hair into different beautiful styles. Have a chance to capture some photos of this as they go about their daily activities. Afterwards, drive through the desert, where the desolate landscape offers stunning panoramic views, to the Curoca Oasis. There is a small town here that was created by the Angolan government. Stop for a picnic beside the oasis, before continuing.

In the afternoon, visit the nearby Red Rocks, beautiful rock formations that are reminiscent of some of the canyon landscapes in the southern states of America. Drive on to the coast and visit the small port of Tomboua. Here, visit the local cemetery and take a walk through the sleepy streets and shipyards.

Afterwards, drive to the oasis of Arco, with its beautiful natural arch formation. This freshwater oasis is now almost dry, but the inhabitants in the area are descendants of escaped Umbundu slaves, brought here by the Portuguese to work on the railway and port in the 19th century.

Finally, drive on to Namibe. Driving distance for the day will be more than 200 kilometres.

You will be staying at Hotel Infotur Namibe, full board

Day 7

Drive from Namibe to Lubango via Bibala

Leave the coast and drive to Garganta, an old Portuguese settlement that is located near the railway. This forgotten colonial outpost and the desert landscape reminds many of the USA's old frontier towns.

The area around Garganta is the heart of Nguendelengo territory. Take a short walk to visit some of the interesting dwellings of the Nguendelengo tribe. Meet the soba (local chief) and chat with the locals. After taking some pictures around the villages and admiring the magnificent scenery, leave this remote tribal land.

Drive on to the town Bibala, formerly known as Vila Arriaga. This is another colonial enclave in the middle of the African wilderness. Visit the railway station and stop for lunch, before driving on to Lubango.

Driving distance for the day will be around 220 kilometres.

You will be staying at Pululukwa Lodge, full board

Day 8

Visit Tunda Vala and Hoque
Head up onto the Serra da Leba Escarpment and towards the Tunda Vala Gap. This dramatic viewpoint affords panoramic views of the territory explored during the previous few days, as well as the city of Lubango on the other side.

Afterwards, continue to the village of Hoque, which hosts a daily market where Handa tribal women (the last tribe that you will encounter in this region) gather to sell their products and consume the local brew. The Handa, together with Mumuila, are the amongst the most colourful people in southern Angola. They wear heavy white pearl necklaces and model amazing beaded hairstyles.

Following the visit to the market, explore the countryside and visit a Handa village, before returning to Lubango for the night

You will be staying at Pululukwa Lodge, full board

Day 9

Fly Lubango to Luanda

You will be staying at Ilha Mar Hotel, full board

Day 10

Trip to Santiago Beach
Leave around 07:30 and drive 40 kilometres north, along the coast, to Santiago Beach. En route, pass the port, with all its activity, cross the Bengo River and drive through bustling Panguila. Santiago Beach is one of Africa's biggest ship cemetery. Here, the rusting hulks of abandoned ships lie in front of small fishing villages - like giant monuments to the past.

Have time to take some photos, before returning to Panguila area for lunch. Afterwards, drive back to Luanda and have some time to see a few sights and do some shopping.

Breakfast and lunch included.

Suggested Inbound Flights

The suggested group flight for this tour is: 

Emirates EK794, scheduled to depart Luanda at 18:15 on Wednesday 1st July, arriving into Dubai at 05:00 the following day. This connects with EK1, which departs at 07:45 and arrives into London Heathrow at 12:25.

A departure transfer will be provided to connect with this flight.

For those not taking the suggested group flight, please speak to one of our team regarding organising a departure transfer for you.

Destination Experts

Our experts have unrivalled firsthand knowledge of Angola

Bridget Cohen, Travel Expert

"Bridget had a great knowledge of the areas being looked at and given I have spent time in both countries, it required someone who completely understood the type of camps preferred."

"Bridget's service was very personal and friendly whilst maintaining a professional manner. All my questions were dealt with promptly and efficiently."

Read More

For a more detailed itinerary with great ideas on what to do and where to stay, please get in touch with our experts.

Tour Leader

Joan Riera

Joan Riera
An anthropologist specialising in African cultures, Joan Riera splits his time between West Africa and Europe. His travels have taken him across the continent, from Benin and Cameroon to Angola and South Sudan. A Catalan who grew up in Africa, he has spent much of his life studying various African cultures. He is fluent in several languages, having written several travel guides in Spanish whilst also studying anthropology and sociology in London for several years.
Enquire about this Expert Led tour:
Speak to an Angola holiday expert:

Group Size:

Min 3 / Max 8

Tour Expert:

Joan Riera

Departure Date (S):

  • 22nd June 2020

  • Active - The tour may involve daily walks and will have a faster pace in certain areas. Walks will be no longer than 6 hours. The pace of this tour will be quite busy, expect long travel days and very little time at leisure.

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