A comprehensive and spectacular round trip in West Africa. A journey through the most remote regions of Ghana, Togo and Benin to discover lost tribal worlds ruled by traditional chiefs and ancient spirits. Along the coast, in the heart of the original voodoo areas, you will meet practitioners, see trance dances and experience the great influence the voodoo spirits still have on people. For all travelers who want to get to know this unique region. Check Countryaah.com for a full list of countries in west Africa.
This is a group tour operated by TransAfrica. Of course, this round trip can also be carried out as an individual trip. We would be happy to work out a round trip for you that is tailored to your interests and budget.
Best travel time: November to April
Travel time: 13 days
Tip: Would you like to spend a few more relaxing days on the beach afterwards? The West African coast offers some dream beaches.
Day 1: Arrival in Lomé (Togo)
In the afternoon, arrival at Lomé airport. You will be picked up and taken to your hotel.
Lomé, the vibrant capital of Togo, is the only African city that was a colony of the Germans, British and French. It is also one of the few capitals in the world that borders another nation. These elements have led to the development of a unique identity, which is reflected in the lifestyle of the inhabitants and in the architecture of the city: Lomé is indeed a crossroads for people, trade and cultures, a cosmopolitan city in a small space.
Day 2: Voodoo (Togo)
Start of your exciting tour through Togo, Benin and Ghana. Today you will visit the central market with its famous “Nana Benz” women who control the market for the expensive “pagne” (= cloths) that come from Europe and are sold throughout West Africa. You will also visit the colonial buildings of the administrative district, in which the memory of the colonial era is still very much present. They also stop at the fetish market, where an eclectic assortment of all the necessary ingredients for love potions and magical mixtures can be found.
In a remote village you will take part in a voodoo ceremony: the frenetic rhythm of the drums and the chants of the adepts summon the voodoo spirits, who then take possession of some of the dancers. You fall into a deep trance: rolled back eyes, grimaces, twitching, insensitivity to fire or pain. Sakpata, Heviesso, Mami Water are just some of the voodoo deities that can manifest. In this narrow village, surrounded by the magical atmosphere of the ceremony, you will finally understand what people mean when they say: “In your churches you pray to God; in our voodoo shrines we become gods! ”
Day 3: “Brazilian” Town (Togo / Benin)
Onward journey to Ouidah in Benin. Ouidah was conquered by the Dahomey Kingdom in the 18th century and became one of the most important slave ports. Today, Ouidah enjoys Afro-Brazilian architecture with the Python Temple opposite the Catholic Cathedral. The relaxed attitude of the locals blends in harmoniously with the thunder of the distant waves and the rhythm of the drums – a timeless atmosphere that Bruce Chatwin described well in his book “The Vice-Roy of Ouidah”. On foot you will visit the Python Temple and the Portuguese Fort, which today houses a small but interesting museum about the history of Ouidah and the transatlantic slave trade. You end the visit by following the “slave road” to the beach, the point of no return where the slaves were shipped to the “New World”.
Day 4: Royal Palace (Benin)
Today you will visit the Celestial Church: an interesting example of religious syncretism that mixes voodoo and Christianity. You meet the people, the priests, attend exorcism, prophecy and trance.
With a motorized boat you cross Lake Nokwe and reach Ganvié, the largest and most beautiful African village on stilts. The approximately 25,000 inhabitants of the Tofinou ethnic group build their wooden huts on teak stilts. Their main occupation is fishing. Ganvié has managed to preserve its traditions and its environment in a closed environment despite the long-lasting human presence. Daily life takes place in the dugout canoes. The men fish on board these dugouts, the women offer their goods on the “floating market”, the children go to school and play.
Back on the mainland, drive to Abomey, where you will visit the Royal Palace. The walls of the palace are decorated with bas-reliefs depicting symbols of the ancient Dahomey kings. At the height of his power, the king had up to 4,000 wives who lived in the harem. Today the Royal Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site museum that exhibits items from ancient kings: thrones, cult altars, statues, costumes and weapons. A kingdom whose economy was long based on the slave trade: a permanent state of war enabled the kings to capture thousands who they then sold as slaves. The royal army also included a women’s battalion, which was feared for its boldness and cruel wartime behavior. In the middle of the royal court you will discover a temple.
Day 5: Fetish Hill (Benin)
Today is a long and intense day. First stop is at the Dankoli Fetish, a unique shrine to ancient animistic cults that are still practiced. Thousands of short sticks are put in and around the fetish as a testimony to the innumerable prayers for a good harvest, a happy wedding, an easy birth, success in school, etc. As soon as the prayers are answered, people come back to sacrifice what they promised. Fresh traces of sacrifice, palm alcohol and oil on the fetish are witnesses to the many prayers and requests that have been fulfilled.
In the afternoon you will discover some old Taneka villages, which are located on a mountain of the same name. The villages consist of round mud huts covered with a conical roof protected by a terracotta pot at the top. The upper part of the village is inhabited by the young initiates and by the fetish priests, who only cover themselves with goatskin and always carry a long pipe with them. This ethnic group has lived on the archaeological site for centuries and it looks like the first inhabitants (who are descended from the Kabye tribe) were in the IX century. Century moved up the mountain. Since then, other ethnic groups have joined in, creating a melting pot in which, despite the fact that each group retained its own cults and initiation rites, common religious and political institutions were defined. As you wander through the villages, along alleys lined with rocks with ancient and mysterious carved signs, you can see witnesses of peoples who lived in these places in the past. You meet young initiates or older fetishes priests. The Taneka believe that it takes time, patience and a lot of sacrifice to “become” a man. Initiation is a lifelong process until life itself becomes a rite of passage, therefore life should not be determined by a “before” and an “after”, but viewed as a continuous path.
Day 6: Adobe castles (Benin / Togo)
We enter the land of the Somba & Tamberma, who live in fortified houses made of clay. The shape is reminiscent of small medieval castles. They are one of the finest examples of traditional African architecture. Their style impressed the avant-garde architect Le Corbusier, who called it “sculptural architecture”. In fact, the houses are built by hand, layer by layer of clay, adding round balls of clay and shaping them according to the plan of the house. A kind of sensual gesture that mixes strength, care and beauty. Large shrines – in phallic form – at the entrance of their houses show their animistic beliefs. With the permission of the elders, you enter their homes to better understand their way of life. In fact, their houses are projections of their cosmology: the ground floor with its darkness represents death and is the place of the ancestors; the second floor, which is open to the sky, represents life and is the place where the grandmothers look after the babies until they find out which ancestor has come back as new life. Only then is the baby allowed to leave the second floor. All family members, food, and supplies are kept inside the fortified house for security in case of enemy attack. For centuries these people have sought refuge in the Atakora Mountains to escape Muslim slave traders from the north. Then on to Togo.
Day 7: Fire dance (Togo)
Hike to discover the Kabye and Moba villages, which are located on the Defale Mountains. On the journey to the mountains you will meet the ethnic group of the Kabye. The kabye dwellings, called “soukala”, consist of several mud huts connected by a wall. Every dwelling is the abode of a patriarchal family. In the villages on the mountain tops, women are potters who use an ancient technique without a turntable. The men are blacksmiths who still work the iron with heavy stones instead of hammers and anvils, as in the early Iron Age. Observe the process of tool formation.
In the evening you will reach the villages of the Tem tribe to witness the fire dance. In the middle of the village, a large fire illuminates the silhouette of the participants. They dance to the hypnotic beat of the drums and finally jump into the embers, pick up burning coals, slide them over their bodies and even put them in their mouths and swallow them – all without injuring themselves or showing any sign of pain . It is difficult to explain such an achievement. Is it a matter of courage? Self-suggestion? Magic? Maybe it’s really the fetishes that keep them safe from the fire.
Day 8: Rainforest (Togo)
You travel south with a stop in Atakpame, a typical African small town built on hills and where all products are made from the nearby forests. Through their skillful work on small looms, the men of the region produce the large, colorful fabric called “Kente”. From Atakpame, head to the tropical forests around Kpalime, a city with a rich colonial past that is now an important trading post for cocoa and coffee. During a walk through the forest you will discover the mysterious world of the tropical forest and get to know the majestic profile of the tropical trees and the sounds of the tam. With the guidance of a local entomologist, learn about butterflies and colorful insects.
Day 9: Glass pearls (Togo / Ghana)
Border crossing to Ghana and onward journey to the Volta region.
The Krobo tribe is known for its glass beads. The Krobo produce and wear glass beads for ceremonies and aesthetic purposes. You will visit a community of artisans who make glass beads and experience the process of making your own bead. The artisans have been making pearls using the same long-standing traditional technique for centuries. They use waste glass that is ground into a fine powder. The glass powder is then meticulously shaped into patterns and placed in handmade clay molds coated with kaolin. The pearls are boiled, then decorated, washed and finally lined up.
Day 10: Ashanti (Ghana)
Kumasi is the historical and spiritual capital of the ancient Ashanti kingdom. The Ashanti were one of the most powerful kingdoms in Africa until the late 19th century when the British incorporated the Ashanti land into their gold coast colony. The tribute paid today to the Asantehene (= king) is the best evidence of their past splendor and strength. With almost a million inhabitants, Kumasi is a sprawling city with a unique central market, one of the largest in Africa. Every type of Ashanti handicraft (leather goods, pottery, kente fabrics) can be found here, along with pretty much every type of tropical fruit and vegetable.
The program includes a visit to the Ashanti Cultural Center: a rich collection of Ashanti artefacts housed in a beautiful replica of an Ashanti house. In the afternoon, if possible, attend a traditional Ashanti funeral, where the mourners wear beautiful red or black togas. We say “funeral”, but it is actually a joyful celebration: thanks to this ceremony, the deceased returns as an ancestor and will protect his family. Relatives and friends gather, socialize and celebrate their memory. The chief arrives surrounded by his court under the shade of large umbrellas, while drums set the rhythm for the dancers, whose complicated movements have a high level of warlike and erotic symbolism.
Day 11: Golden Kingdoms (Ghana)
In the morning continuation of the tour through Kumasi, with a visit to the Royal Palace Museum, which houses a unique collection of gold jewelry from the Ashanti court. In the afternoon visit to some Ashanti villages with traditional clothing and carving. If the travel date is right, take part in a big event – the Akwasidae Festival.
Day 13: slave castle (Ghana)
Today you travel back to the coast. Visit to Elmina Castle, the oldest European building in Africa, built by the Portuguese in the 15th century. At various times the fort was used as a warehouse for trading gold, ivory and eventually slaves. The fort we are visiting today is the result of successive expansion work and has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The old Dutch cemetery in Elmina dates back to 1806. Outside the fort there is a spectacular fishing village with many large, colorful fishing boats. Every day these large wooden pirogues are led by skilled fishermen over the strong waves and currents of the ocean in order to earn a living. In the old town you will visit the Posuban, the shrines of the old “Asafo societies”, the warriors who placed their offerings on the large colorful statues. The alleys of the old town have a very lively atmosphere that transports you back to a time when Elmina was a bustling colonial town.
Day 14: Metropolis (Ghana)
Onward journey to Accra. Accra, the capital of Ghana, has retained its unique identity despite the rapid development that is underway in this fascinating African city. You will explore the old quarter of James Town, which is inhabited by the local population, the Ga. Your tour ends with a visit to a workshop that specializes in making fantasy coffins. These special handmade coffins can reflect any shape: fruits, animals, fish, cars, planes … the only limit is the imagination! Starting in Africa, these extravagant coffin designs are now collected around the world and exhibited in museums.
Even the best vacation comes to an end. Today it is time to say goodbye to West Africa. In the evening transfer to the airport and return flight.