Malanje is a province in Center North of Angola. Its capital also named Malanje is 421 Km from Luanda. The most famous landmarks are the Kalandula waterfalls, the black stones of Pungo Andongo and the rapids of Kwanza. The Giant Black Sable (Palancas) national park is also in the province, just 30km from Malanje city and the little-known Musseleje falls are also some of the best things to do in Malanje, therefore, we had to include them in our plans.
How to go to Malanje
Although only 421 Km the journey from Luanda is long. Hence, we started at 6 a.m. and arrived at Malanje at 13h00, with two quick stops. That’s an unbeatable average… of 60k/h…! We went through the Golongo Alto road and some sectors of the road are in really bad shape, although it’s still doable in a small car. Please be aware that we heard that the Dondo road is even worse.
Where to sleep in Malanje
We stayed in Hotel Regina II for the two nights. Although on the expensive side we were very pleased with the Hotel. We believe that it’s better than the reviews say, doing the job perfectly. The room is big, clean and comfortable. The breakfast was a buffet with usual options. On the downside, the room’s AC wasn’t working. Anyway, we definitely recommend you to stay in it.
Best things to do in Malanje
Rapids of River Kwanza
Coming from Malanje, the rapids are a few Km from the town of Cangandala. To get closer to the rapids, you have to turn left into a dirt road just before the bridge over the River Kwanza. From the bridge, you have a nice view of the rapids. The dirt road goes right through a village for 2 km ending in the river Kwanza.
When we got there we were saluted by a dozen kids wanting to be our guides and asking if we wanted to be their friends. Although slightly overwhelming the kids were friendly, careful and even organized with the older ones taking charge, guiding us to the top of the waterfall and then into the water showing us the right path. They showed us how they fish in the small river dam and told us that when the flow is lower there are crocodiles and hippos in the river.
We noticed the cassava drying in the river banks, and even if we didn’t, we couldn’t miss its strong scent. Tip: If you decide on going to the rapids take cookies and sodas to give away to those kids. You will make their day and see some simple, true and honest happiness.
The Kwanza is a big river, with a huge flow, thus the final drop of 5 or 6 meters of the rapids make a powerful waterfall. It’s an impressive image that will stay with you for a long time. You can swim in the flat water above and below the fall.
For adventure seekers we found this unbelievable kayaking video in the upper Kwanza river:
One can only wonder, what other unreal places Angola have to offer?
Kalandula Falls are usually dubbed as the 2nd most impressive of Africa (after Victoria Falls). Kalandula falls are still 2 or 3 hours away from Malanje, and the road is again full of potholes, so we hit the road!
I knew how big the falls were, but when I first went there it was in the dry season (August) so there was very little water. This time we went on rainy season and we wanted to go to the base of the waterfall. On the arrival, we got the usual dozen or more kids wanting to be our guides, but unlike the ones in the rapids these were very aggressive and it even became scary as they almost got into a fight with each other over it. Eventually, they calmed down and we chose two of them to go with us. Tip: Chose the guides quickly and avoid the heated discussion between them.
How to descend to Kalandula Falls
The first 10 minutes of the way down is easy-peasy, but then things start to get serious. First, you get deep into the trees and then you descend very abruptly. We need to descend roughly 100 meters, almost vertically so it gets very physically. Without the guides, we would get lost very quickly in the middle of the dense forest. When we got to the river bank we had to go upstream, but there was no trail. Just a small beaten path in the river bank, which quickly merged into the river itself and we had to walk right through it. Remember, this is the rainy season so the river is quite high. It quickly became the muddiest place we have ever been. 🙂 We had to walk over mud, climb rocks, go over and under (yes under!) huge tree roots… and in a hindsight, it was so much FUN!
After one hour of an Indiana Jones-like adventure, we finally arrived close to the waterfall, and it was… this:
Being so close to Kalandula waterfall, experience the raw power of Nature and feeling the water spray all around us was something to remember and share! We took our time enjoying it. Eventually, we had to return and climb back to the top of Kalandula waterfall. We have to admit it wasn’t easy, it’s one hell of a steep climb! Anyway, this is one of those: the journey is a big part of the fun!
Musseleje falls aren’t even close to the Kalandula falls. They are much smaller, almost unknown to most people (particularly to foreigners). While Kalandula falls are all about raw power and size, Musseleje are smaller, cute even bucolic! Moreover, you can dive and swim in it!
How to go to Musseleje waterfalls
As it is fairly difficult to get there, we will try to help you with directions: From Kalandula falls to Musseleje falls it will take at least one hour. You have to return to Kalandula (town) and turn north at the roundabout. Then you have a tarmac road for 5 km and next turn left into a dirt road. It’s something between 15 and 20 km on a dirt road, and you will pass through 3 small Angolan Villages. Note: After raining the road can be very difficult or even impossible for normal cars. We strongly recommend using an SUV.
Black Stones of Pungo Andongo
Pungo Andongo is a series of rock formations standing high above the African Savanna. Some say the rocks look like different animals, but we couldn’t really see much of resemblance. Either way, the rocks are impressive and mysterious. It is possible to climb to the top of one of the highest rocks, the one called Pedra Homem / Male Stone. From up there, we get a beautiful and soothing view of the other rocks, the savanna and Kwanza river on the horizon.
On one of the other rocks, there’s an old footprint carved on the rock. The Legend says it’s the footprint of Queen Ginga – a legendary & historic figure of Angola.
Looking for the Giant Black Sable National Park
As said above we wanted to see the Black sables and we knew the park was in Cangandala, but we couldn’t find any indication of it… So we asked in the hotel and in a restaurant, they both told us the park was closed to the public.
We asked some random people in the street and some of them suggested we go and talk to the Soba of Cangandala. Maybe he could organize a visit for us or even go with us. But, how would we find him…? Well, we went to Cangandala and looked for him… we went into the village and asked someone if they knew where Soba’s house was? He was very friendly and suggested to take us there. We took the opportunity and invited him to our car and he took us right into Soba’s house and informed that we wanted a hearing with him.
As we were being introduced, people gathered around us, laid chairs for us to sit in the hearing and waited with curiosity. The Soba then invited us to sit and tell what brought us there. We explained the purpose of our visit, asked if there were really black sables and if there was a way of him helping us see them. He kindly explained that he couldn’t grant an entry to the park, only the administrator could grant that. However, if we wanted he would take us to her. We gladly accepted his gentle offer and went to find the administrator.
The Soba came with us to the public administrator’s house, but when we got there she was gone. She had gone to the church… Luckily, while we were still trying to figure out what we were going to do, the administrator arrived. We, again, explained we would love to go to the sables park and the way we made to get to her. The administrator politely explained that the park was too big and the number of black sables was still too small for her to guarantee any sightings. To make it worse, the grass was way too high (2 meters) for us to see anything.
Unfortunately, and after all this, it was obvious that we weren’t going to see Angola’s national symbol this day. She suggested that we could schedule a visit to August when the grass is shorter and most importantly by that time there would be a way of GPS tracking the Sables, which would help the sightings. We took her contacts and thanked her very much.
Although ultimately we failed our goal, we weren’t able to see the sables neither enter the park. it was quite an unusual cultural experience: going to a traditional village, having a hearing with the Soba and so on. The warm, kind and helpful way we were received was the closest we ever experienced to the famous cliché of the kindness and hospitality of the African people with smiling and welcoming faces.