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Côte d’Ivoire, also known as Ivory Coast, despite its name has become somewhat synonymous with coffee and cacao – two products the country exports abroad in abundance. Côte d’Ivoire has held a longstanding reputation for being a land of rich goods. Since the Portuguese explorers stumbled upon the country in the 15th century, Côte d’Ivoire has been a source of riches for European countries, earning it the nicknames of “Gold Coast”, “Ivory Coast”, and “Grain Coast”. Today, Côte d’Ivoire is one of the more stable and relatively prosperous of the African nations. It is also a country in the midst of change; small villages are blossoming into towns, rock studded roads are being paved, and the slow pace that once characterize everyday life has become more hustle and bustle.

Geographically, Côte d’Ivoire is square-shaped and only 300 miles north of the equator. Its landscape consists of rolling savannas, dense rain forests, and tropical grasslands that together harbor typical African wildlife – hyenas, chimpanzees, leopards, jackals, etc. The rivers and streams are inhabited by crocodiles, hippopotamuses, and numerous snakes including the enormous python and the deadly mamba. Elephants also roam the savanna in herds that have mostly been designated game reserves. Four major rivers run through Côte d’Ivoire – the Bandama, Cavally, Comoe, and Sassandra, supplying abundant fish to the people living in villages along the waters.

The majority of people in Côte d’Ivoire live a traditional village life. Many are farmers cultivating coffee, cacao, grains, rice, corn, and sweet potatoes. But each year, the country becomes more industrialized and more people flock to the cities and towns. The major urban centers like Abidjan are much as any other big city in the world – modern buildings, modern transportation, and Western-style fashion, stores, and restaurants.

Côte d’Ivoire is more known for its outdoor pursuits than its historic or cultural attractions. There are sandy beaches in the south coast, for example, like Grand Bassam and the resort towns of Assouinde, Tiagba, and Bondoukou. Swimming, however, should be done with caution, as there are some dangerous deep currents further out from the shores.

The coast and the interior rivers also offer great fishing, featuring great catches like barracuda, red carp, sole, and mullet in the lagoons. Sea trips can also be arranged for a chance to reel in marlins, swordfish, sharks, and bonitos.

Visitors can also pursue other outdoor ventures like waterskiing at Abidjan, mountain climbing up Mount Tonkoui, hunting in Korhogo, and hiking through the forests, waterfalls, and plateaux near Man, which has been nicknamed the “city of 18 mountains”.

Best of all is the national parks and game preserves in Côte d’Ivoire, where African wildlife can be spotted. The parks, however, are largely accessibly only by vehicle. Jeeps can be rented and local guides hired. The largest and most popular of the parks is Comoë National Park in the northeast, which features hippopotamuses, lions, waterbucks, and other animals. Another notable wildlife habitat is the Abokouamekro Game Reserve one hour away from Yamoussoukro.

The climate in Côte d’Ivoire varies depending on the region. The rainforests in the south is hot and humid with significant annual rainfall. The north where grassy plains dominate is less precipitous and experiences more extreme weather depending on the season – it is hotter in the summer and colder in the winter.

Côte d’Ivoire was once run by several kingdoms. In the 11th century, the Senufo people, now living in the northern regions of the country, established Kong as a market center where people came to barter goods. The Portuguese arrived in the 16th century, but did not attempt to colonize or settle the land at first, choosing instead to trade for ivory and slaves. The Spanish, English, French, and Dutch soon followed suit, but it was the French who were the first to make Côte d’Ivoire a protectorate in 1887. Independence did not come until 1960. Felix Houphouet-Boigny was the first president and remained so until his death in 1993. Overall, Boigny did a good job while he was in office, transforming the country into one of the more prosperous, stable, and literate in Africa. Boigny’s departure, however, has left Côte d’Ivoire reeling in ethnic conflicts, armed rebellions, and military coups. A peace deal signed in March, 2007 between rebels and the government will hopefully bring back the stability and prosperity the country once enjoyed.