Trip to West Africa
Ghana, Togo and Benin

November 29th - December 14th, 2017

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GHANA TOGO BENIN TRAVEL ITINERARY

Suggested tour itinerary in Ghana, Togo and Benin

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WEST AFRICA TRAVEL GUIDE: ABOUT GHANA, TOGO AND BENIN

WHY GO TO WEST AFRICA? WHAT TO DO AND WHAT TO SEE IN GHANA, TOGO AND BENIN?

A trip to West Africa, and in particular to Ghana, Togo and Benin, offers the opportunity to get in touch with remote ethnic populations and minorities, learning more about their culture and ancestral traditions. A trip to Ghana, Togo and Benin is therefore recommended to who is looking for ethnic-cultural tours, although occasionally, especially in Ghana, it is also possible to travel among luxuriant nature and beautiful landscapes. Since the population of West Africa is still particularly linked to traditions, there are a number of festivals and ceremonies of various kinds throughout the year, for which it would be worthwhile to plan the departure date and the itinerary to meet such events, which often see spectacular masked dances in colorful costumes and mysterious voodoo rituals. Visitors traveling to West Africa will also have many opportunities to visit remote villages showing an interesting and unique architecture where farmers and craftsmen still work with traditional methods, while museums and places of historical interest tell more about sad chapter of the slave trade. But let's see in more detail what are the main attractions in Ghana, Togo and Benin:

  • Accra, Elmina and Kakum (Ghana): Accra, a large and constantly growing metropolis, offers a mix of tradition and modernity with craftsmen engaged in the most varied works, while the 15th century castle of Elmina tells more about the slave trade. The Kakum National Park is home to large trees that can be seen from the top thanks to a long suspended bridge, among the largest in the world.

  • Kumasi (Ghana): capital of the Ashanti kingdom, Kumasi hosts the Akwasidae festival every month (for the Ashantis, a month is 40 days long), carried out to honor the ancestors and to pay homage to the king. With a little luck, visitors can come across a traditional funeral, a ceremony very different from western countries, while the local market offers the opportunity to see hundreds of stalls selling everything.

  • Sacred Forest of Boabeng (Ghana): a vast rain forest is home to huge trees and strangler figs, while the wildlife is represented by monas and colobus monkeys, venerated by the local population as they are believed to be the reincarnation of their ancestors.

  • Rural villages and ethnic minorities (Ghana): the savannah is home to rural villages showing an interesting architecture, like round shaped clay houses. One village in particular, is home to women accused of being witches, here exiled for life to escape lynching.

  • Dance of fire in Sokode (Togo): in a remote corner of the world subject to lot of fires, where there are no firefighters or hydrants, some people have developed an amazing resistance to fire, demonstrated with rituals during which the burning embers are handled with incredible skills and even put into the mouth. Is it just magic, self-suggestion, illusion or raw resistance?

  • The Kabye people (Togo): isolated from the rest of the world, the Kabye people of northern Togo had to learn to be self-sufficient, so among the clay houses of mountain villages, it is not uncommon to find craftsmen working iron or modeling pottery, while farmers are busy in growing millet, sorghum and other cereals.

  • The fortified houses and the miniature castles (Togo and Benin): one of the most beautiful examples of traditional architecture of the entire African continent, the fortified houses, seem to be real miniature clay castles. They were once used to hide and defend from attacks of soldiers looking to grab men and women to be sold as slaves, but they are today used as just normal houses and depots. In the period following the harvest of cereals, the roofs of the fortified houses are full of seeds left there to dry, in a surreal landscape with an atmosphere of other times.

  • Taneka villages (Benin): well hidden in the mountains of northern Benin, the Taneka villages are home to a population belonging to various ethnic groups distinguishable through the scarification practiced on various parts of the body, while the spiritual dignitary can be recognized because he wears only a small piece of goat skin.

  • Egun masks (Benin): seen as spirits of dead people returned to Earth to solve the problems of the community, the Egun masks are probably the most beautiful, colorful and decorated costumes of all Benin. Periodically there are festivals dedicated to these masks, but with a bit of luck, visitors may meet them randomly even at other times of the year.

  • Gelede masks (Benin): these masks celebrate the spirits of the Mother Earth and the related rituals are dedicated to the fertility of the soil and of the people. The Gelede masks have no holes for eyes and the costume covers completely the body of the wearer. As for the Egun masks, there are specific periods of the year to attend real festivals.

  • Ganvie (Benin): considered one of the largest city in the world based on stilt houses, Gavin offers a glimpse of this curious lifestyle, which takes place entirely on the water among boats, and floating markets.

  • Ouidah (Benin): considered the Voodoo capital of the world, Ouidah offers the opportunity to visit temples dedicated to this religion. The city is also known as one of the major hubs for slave trade and its history is illustrated by a museum and a series of landmarks documenting these sad past times.

  • Voodoo rituals (Togo and Benin): often mistakenly associated with black magic, voodoo rituals are ceremonies held at various stages of life, or prayers to make requests to spirits, as happens with any other religion. In some villages of Benin and Togo, sometimes not even marked on road maps, it is possible, with the mediation of a local, to attend some voodoo ritual to try to understand something more about these mysterious ceremonies. An encounter with the priest and healer of the village can explain how fetishes and amulets are made, used in traditional medicine and voodoo rituals aswell.

IS WEST AFRICA SUITABLE FOR INDEPENDENT TRAVEL OR IS IT BEST TO GO WITH A TOUR OPERATOR?

We advise against independent travel in West Africa and Ghana, Togo and Benin is not an exception. This is because without a professional guide who well know where to go and how to get permits to visit remote villages and communities, visitors will not see and will not learn anything. It is also very important to know the calendar for festivals and other events, which typically change every year, reason for which visitors should seek the advice of an expert guide even for just deciding the departure date and the itinerary to follow. If you are looking for a local tour operator in West Africa, specialized in Ghana, Togo, Benin and other countries, we suggest Afrikavera company.

WHAT IS THE BEST TIME TO GO TO GHANA, TOGO AND BENIN?

As we have already said, a trip to Ghana, Togo and Benin, is generally done to learn more about the people and the ethnic minorities, trying to understand more about their culture and their traditions. As there aren't locations particularly important for the nature and for the landscape (except for a couple of spots in Ghana), having the sky always clear is not a decisive aspect for the success of the expedition. However, as lot of time will spend outdoors, visitors will want to avoid the worst rainy season, not underestimating also the possible closure of some roads as a result of flooding. In consideration of these aspects, the best season to visit Ghana, Togo and Benin corresponds to the drier period from late October to early April, when there is much less rain, although from December to February the Harmattan wind brings sand from Sahara desert, limiting the visibility and producing a gray sky (but still with very little or no rain). The wettest period runs from late April to late July, while August is known to be the "short dry season" before some rains resume in September lasting some weeks. The maximum and minimum temperature is for the whole year above respectively 30 and 20 degrees Celsius, with particularly high humidity along the coastal areas even during the dry season. In any case, don't forget that the best time to go to West Africa is actually when there are more festivals and ceremonies among the various communities, with a calendar that changes from year to year (you will have to check for best departure date with the local tour operator, based on what you like to see more).

MORE WEST AFRICA TRAVEL TIPS - WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE GOING TO BENIN, TOGO AND GHANA

The travel tips below apply for Togo, Ghana and Benin, but are also valid for most West Africa countries

  • Mosquitos: the malaria is endemic to most of West Africa countries and mosquitoes are also present during the dry season, although in this period they are much less numerous and less aggressive. We recommend using long clothes from before sunset to after sunrise and always protect yourself with repellents having at least 25% of DEET. It is also important to consider antimalarial prophylaxis, although this will not give 100% protection.

  • How to dress: in Ghana, Togo and Benin it is hot all year round and the humidity can be high even during the dry season, especially along the coastal areas. It is good to use light and loose clothes, bringing enough changes. It is in any case useful to carry a sweater or a light pile, if your travel companions will want extra cold air condition in the car, or for restaurants and hotels. A pair of sandals will be useful for long transfers in the car, while outside it's best to wear closed shoes at all times. A rain poncho will be useful as well.

  • What to pack: during a trip to Ghana, Togo and Benin you will hardly spend more than one night in the same hotel and you will be continuously on the move. It is therefore essential to travel light, if possible with only an hand luggage of 7 kilos throughout the trip and a small day pack for the excursions. You will certainly sweat a lot, but clothes can be easily washed every day in the hotel, as most of them provide a laundry service. Things that shouldn't be forget at home are a pair of light sandals, an hat, rain gear, sunscreen, insect repellent, sunglasses and medications you usually need.

  • Taking pictures: in all the museums that I had the opportunity to visit in Ghana, Togo and Benin, it was always forbidden to take photos, sometimes with the obligation to leave the camera in a safe at the ticket office. A pity, because those museums explain stories that the whole world should know. Before photographing people it is always important to ask permission, which is generally granted in most cases, by the contrary, the reaction to an unauthorized picture can be (rightly) very rude. So just ask, be polite, smile and you will be fine (do not try to take photos of people hoping that they will not see you). For pictures at festivals and ceremonies, your guide will take care to agree the permission to take photos during the entire event and for all the people in the group, so it's generally not necessary to worry in such case. Instead, never take pictures of border areas, police or military personnel, barracks and any "sensitive" building, as this may result in lot of troubles.

  • Food and drinks: In Ghana, Togo and Benin there is a bit of everything. One of the most common foods is the yam, a large tuber used for many dishes (it can be fried or boiled like potatoes, or it can be mashed). Visitors will typically eat chicken (usually very tasty but sometimes not very tender), fish from salt and fresh waters, rice, cassava and excellent tropical fruits with an unforgettable taste, such as mango, pineapple and papaya. Vegetables are easy to find, just take care to wash everything thoroughly. In major supermarkets, there is also canned food. Street food is generally not recommended, as they may be produced with untreated water and with poor hygiene standards that we are not used to. Consume only bottled water, even in the hotel, always checking the integrity of the cap seal. Many hotels provide at least one bottle of water for free in the room.

  • Hotels: In Ghana, Togo and Benin there are hotels of good quality, even if the number of stars indicated does not always correspond to the actual service received. Most of the facilities have air conditioning and a small electric water heater that you should remember to turn on if you need hot water. Obviously the facilities are of lower quality among rural areas, but still good, especially considering where we are.

  • Phone and wifi: the majority of overseas mobile phone operators have roaming agreements with local companies in Ghana, Togo and Benin, but the costs for making or receiving calls may be very high. The mobile network coverage is good and reaches also the most remote villages. The wifi is available in almost all hotels (almost never in restaurants), although the connection is often slow or very unreliable. In most cases, the wifi in the hotels is offered for free, but only to guests.

  • Crime and safety: the people of Ghana, Togo and Benin are very welcoming and following the rules of common sense, there are no great dangers of going back to hotel with something less in the pockets or in the backpack. In particularly crowded places, such as markets, it is best to carry your backpack in front, avoiding keeping money or valuables in open pockets. When traveling in groups with a guide and driver, it is safe to leave the backpack in the car, as the driver will wait for the group not far from the vehicle (differently, never leave things unattended around). Just in case, it is advisable to bring photocopies of the passport, visas and yellow fever certificate, to be kept in a place separated from the originals.

  • Traffic and road conditions: in the most populous cities, particularly in Accra, it is necessary to take the traffic into account, which can be very intense and which can force to alter the travel plans, since hours may be needed to cover just a few kilometers. Outside the cities, the situation is instead much better. The road network in Ghana, Togo and Benin is well developed and the main roads are all asphalted, although night lighting is almost always missing. Sometimes the holes could be numerous and deep, requiring to slow down a lot and take great care.

  • Power plugs and electricity: the power plugs in Benin and Togo are usually of type E or C (two rounded pins similar to that in central Europe, like France and Italy) while in Ghana are usually of type G (like in the UK). The voltage is 220-230V, although in some area it can be 125V (most power adapters used to recharge phones, camera and computer accept any voltage, so it's generally not necessary to worry about this).

  • Currency and credit cards: in Ghana, Togo and Benin the credit cards are accepted only by major hotels and very few stores. For small everyday expenses, it is necessary to bring cash (Togo and Benin use the same currency, while Ghana has another one), that can be changed at the airport upon arrival, or when crossing of the borders along the main roads (at the borders along tracks in remote areas, there are no currency exchange offices). To change back to your currency the money not spent, it is best to keep the receipt of the first change. The cost of living in Ghana, Togo and Benin is much lower than western countries, a parameter to consider when calculating the amount of money to be changed.


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PICTURES OF GHANA TOGO AND BENIN | TRAVELOGUE AND DAY BY DAY ITINERARY

Accra Ghana: the capital Accra <<-- GO
Accra is a large African metropolis that has experienced exponential growth in recent decades. Starting or end point for many tours in West Africa, the city offers an interesting mix of modernity and traditions, with craftsmen and traders busy in their everyday life.
Kakum suspended bridge Ghana: Elmina castle and Kakum national park <<-- GO
Elmina, not far from Accra, is home to an ancient castle from colonial times, which in recent history has been known for the sad chapter on the slave trade, while Kakum National Park was established to protect a forest with huge secular trees, which can be seen from the top thanks to one of the longest suspended rope bridges in the world.
Kumasi Ghana: Kumasi and a traditional Ashanti funeral <<-- GO
Capital of the Ashanti kingdom, Kumasi, in the heart of central Ghana, offers a glimpse into the culture of this interesting people, among large open-air markets, luxury royal palaces, festivals and funeral ceremonies rather unusual for visitors coming from western countries.
Akwasidae ceremony Ghana: the Akwasidae festival <<-- GO
The Akwasidae festival takes place at the beginning of each Ashanti month, which lasts approximately 6 weeks, to honor their ancestors and the king. The Akwasidae ceremony which took place on December 3rd, 2017 (the day of my visit) was combined with the commemoration of the queen passed away a year before and was a very special event.
Mona monkey Ghana: forests and sacred monkeys <<-- GO
Excursion in the sacred forest populated by Mona and Colobus monkeys, venerated by the local population as they believe the monkeys are a reincarnation of their ancestors. The trip continues along the dusty roads in central Ghana, finally crossing the Volta river aboard a barge.
Rural village in Ghana Ghana: rural villages and ethnic minorities <<-- GO
The Dagomba and Konkoba people are known for the particular architecture of their villages, made of round-shaped clay houses if they are inhabited by a woman. We will visit a village where women accused of being witches are forced into an exile for life, to avoid being killed.
Fire dance Togo: Sokode dance of fire <<-- GO
Sokode is a city in Togo known for the particular confidence that some people have with fire. Will it be magic or resistance to pain? The fact is that the fire is handled, rubbed on the body and even put in the mouth with an incredible naturalness, a tradition that comes from the need to be able to provide assistance during fires, in a place where there are no firefighters and very little water.
Kabye village Togo: rural villages and remote ethnic groups <<-- GO
Because of the isolation, the Kabye people of northern Togo had to organize themselves to be totally self-sufficient, so, in small villages made of clay houses, it is not uncommon to find craftsmen producing iron tools, pottery, beer and anything else necessary for the community.
Miniature castle Togo: the fortified houses and the miniature castles <<-- GO
The fortified houses were built during the slave trade, to hide and defend people from soldiers looking for men and women to be captured and sold on behalf of powerful royal families who reigned in West Africa. A fortified house looks like a miniature castle and functioned as an hut, a warehouse, and a fortress.
Scarnification on a face Benin: clay castles and the rituals of scarification <<-- GO
Similarly to Togo, also in Benin there are clay castles, real miniature fortresses used as homes and warehouses. However, the Somba people of Benin who still live in these structures, are particularly known for the scarification of several parts of the body, an initiatory practice that allows them to show courage, as well as the tribe to which they belong.
Taneka village Benin: Taneka villages and ethnic minorities<<-- GO
The remote villages of Taneka, in northern Benin, are an opportunity to discover more about the culture and traditions of this interesting people, composed of a mix of ethnic groups living peacefully together and recognizable on the basis of body scarification.
Egun mask Benin: Egun masks and the sacred hill of Dassa <<-- GO
In Dassa visitors cannot miss the Hill of the Princes with its voodoo altars, a place where the funeral of the members of the royal families are carried out. With a little luck, or by programming the trip accordingly to precise dates, tourists can come across the Egun masks, spirits of dead people who have returned to Earth to solve the problems of the community.
Gelede ceremony Benin: Gelede mask festival<<-- GO
The Gelede mask festival in Benin celebrates the spirits of Mother Earth and wish good fertility of fields and people. The ceremony takes place in a riot of sounds and colors, with costumes that cover completely who wear them.
Ganvie stilt houses Benin: Ganvie stilt houses and the slave trade in Ouidah <<-- GO
Ganvie is one of the largest and most populous cities on stilts in the world, where life takes place entirely on the water and where people moves around only by boat. Not far away, Ouidah is the world capital of the voodoo religion, but also offers a sad glimpse on the slave trade of past times.
Voodoo ceremony Benin: voodoo rituals <<-- GO
How does a voodoo ritual take place? This is what we will try to understand by visiting a remote village in Benin, attending a voodoo ceremony combined with a funeral. The sacrifice of a chicken, the preparation of the offer to the divinity, the dances and the subsequent rituals, trying to understand more about these mysterious ceremonies.
Voodoo festival Togo: voodoo ceremony among remote villages<<-- GO
In a village of Togo not far from the capital Lome, but not marked on maps, we will witness a voodoo ritual where people fall into trance possessed by spirits. We will also meet the village healer who bases his therapies on the care of the spirit first, making amulets and fetishes consecrated through specific voodoo rituals.
Lome fetich market Togo: the capital Lome and the fetish market <<-- GO
Lome, the populous capital of Togo, offers a mix of tradition and modernity, where the recent Independence Square contrasts with the fetish market where the faithful can purchase all that is needed to prepare voodoo rituals and to make amulets.

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