Step into the dazzling tribal world of Ghana, Togo, and Benin, with the most experienced trip leaders in the region!
The allure of West Africa is its mosaic of people, with their multiplicity of traditional cultures and flamboyantly colorful festivals—yet very few travelers experience it for themselves. Our trip leaders are pioneers in this part of Africa, and among the few who have the expertise to provide in-depth, genuine encounters with more than 10 fascinating cultural groups. From the great Ashanti Empire to the isolated Tamberma and Somba peoples, the region’s cultural vitality is on display in Yoruba mask ceremonies, vividly drawn Fulani face tattoos, and crimson togas at Ashanti funeral dances. We'll see it all as we traverse the region’s vast spectrum—from the colonial Portuguese city of Ouidah, to Ganvie, Africa's largest stilted village. We'll sleep in beach-front resorts and traditional tata desert huts, and savor the bright, strong flavors of the best local fare. Choose as your highlight the secret-society Gelede mask festival honoring the “Mother Spirit of the Earth,” or Ghana's Akwasidae festival, in the royal court of the Ashanti king. In true MTS fashion, we won’t stand on the sidelines—we’ll jump right in as participants in these joyful celebrations!
13 days of easy to moderate cultural touring, walking
- Meet more than ten fascinating cultural groups on this in-depth, genuine cultural experience!
- Enjoy the insights and expertise of MTS’ trip leaders, among the few who have the knowledge and connections to lead trips in this area
- Witness and participate in a different, vibrant festival or ceremony on every departure, in addition to many other spontaneous events
- Follow the colonial trade routes as you visit tribal villages, colonial outposts, palaces, and coastal castles
- Spot wildlife in the virgin rainforest of Kakum National Park via a canopy walk, the longest and highest hanging rope bridge in the world!
Duration: 13 days Start Location: Accra End Location: AccraDownload Detailed Itinerary
Day 1 : Arrive in Accra
You may arrive into Accra, the capital of Ghana, at anytime today. Your trip leader or a Mountain Travel Sobek representative will meet you outside the customs and immigration area at the airport and transfer you to the hotel, where we'll have dinner and an orientation meeting.
Day 2 : Lome and Lake Togo
Today we drive across the border to Lome, the vibrant capital of Togo, founded by the Ewe tribe in the 18th century. It is the only African city that was colonized by the German, the British, and the French. Some of Lome's colonial buildings, such as the neo-gothic cathedral and old wharf, still remain. We'll visit Lome's Grand Marche (Great Market) where the famous Nana Benz women sell their textiles. Named after the cars they were among the first in Togo to afford, these women are some of the most astute and successful businesswomen on the African continent. We'll also check out the ever-fascinating fetish market. Here traditional medicines that include bats' wings, snake potions and other ingredients necessary for preparing magic potions are sold. Lome is also a center for high quality tribal masks and crafts.
After our tour of Lome, we drive the short distance to Lake Togo and spend the night in a lovely lakeside hotel.
Day 3 : Voodoo and Ouidah
Today we'll have the chance to witness an authentic voodoo ceremony. All along the coast of Benin and Togo, voodoo, an animist religion, gathers many followers together. The religious experience is much richer and more complex than most Westerners realize. These voodoo practices are not a form of black magic. To millions in Africa, voodoo represents a religion that gives meaning and order to their lives. We will visit a traditional village healer who combines traditional herbal medicine and voodoo in his treatment of clients. The believers (often more than a hundred of them) meet in a courtyard, and after praying and making sacrifices to the fetish altar the dances begin. In voodoo dancing, certain dancers fall into trance-like states, complete with grimaces and convulsions, insensibility to pain and fire. This is a demonstration of the profound African religious experience known as "possession by the spirits." Past travelers have described this visit as mind-boggling, incredible, and totally spiritual!
We then cross the border into Benin and make our way to Ouidah. Ouidah was conquered by the Dahomey army in the 18th century and then changed into a slave boarding point. Today Ouidah has kept its Afro-Portuguese architecture and we find the python temple and the Catholic Cathedral sitting face-to-face. The laidback attitude of the locals blends with the thunder of the distant waves on the beach and the rhythm of the drums, creating a timeless atmosphere, very accurately described by Bruce Chatwin in his book, The Vice-Roi of Ouidah. We walk the streets and visit the Portuguese fort that is now a history museum. We finish our tour of the city by following the "slave road" to the beach where the slaves were taken by ship to the New World.
Day 4 : Ganvie (Gelede Festival on October trip)
Today we'll cross Lake Nokoue by boat to reach Ganvie, the largest and most beautiful African stilt village. Its approximately 25,000 inhabitants, all of the Tofinu ethnic group, built their huts on teak stilts and covered the roofs with a thick layer of leaves. The ancestors of the Tofinu people founded the village in the 16th century. At that time, the armies of the Dahomey king were sweeping the countryside capturing people to sell in the Portuguese slave trade, but Dahomey religious traditions prevented them from attacking communities on the water. The name Ganvie probably comes from the Tofinu word gan, or "saved." The people of this unique fishing village ply the lake in graceful pirogues (canoes) and have devised a system of underwater plantings that form fences to trap fish. There is a colorful market held on the water in which women sell wares from their canoes.
On the March trip, we plan to attend the Gelede festival, a traditional festival of the Yoruba people in southern Benin. Gelede is a cult dedicated to Mother Earth. It is celebrated by the whole community to promote fertility of both the people and the soil. Elaborate masks represent specific characters (mythical, historic, and current). The masks are brightly painted and move like puppets linking myths and moral stories through mime. It is both educational and quite hilarious. The delighted crowd laugh and clap their hands as they watch in appreciation. It is a fascinating mix of street theatre and magical theatre.
On the March trip, there is no festival today, so we plan on moving ahead to visit the Abomey Royal Palace as described on Day 5.
Day 5 : Abomey Royal Palace
The fascinating town of Abomey is one of Benin's greatest attractions, with its painted voodoo fetish temples and the vestiges of former royal palaces. During the 300 years of their empire, the Dan-Homey kings built magnificent palaces in Abomey, one of which is now a museum where we'll see the ritual objects of the court, including the treasures the kings were given by European royalty and merchants. The palace also contains the kings' grand tombs. There were originally 12 adjoining palaces; all but two were sestroyed by the invading French army in 1892. The two remaining palaces are now being restored with the help of UNESCO. The Dan-Homey kingdom established its power by being in a constant state of war that allowed for the capture of prisoners to be used for the kingdom's slave trade. The royal armies of the Abomey kingdom also included warrior women, who went into battles at crucial moments to influence the will of the war god.
After visiting Abomey, we head north to a very important voodoo sanctuary where local people come to sacrifice animals to voodoo fetishes, then continue to the land of the Taneka, who live among the rocky cliffs of central Benin.
Day 6 : Taneka villages
In the morning we'll take an optional hiking excursion to visit a clifftop Taneka community with unusual round, conical-roofed dwellings. The highest part of the village is inhabited by the chief fetish priests who dress in goatskins, and their young initiates, who are naked except for a band of goatskin around their neck that holds numerous amulets. This group of people may be descendants of a tribe that is thought to have disappeared about 400 years ago.
After the hike, we visit a Fulani encampment. The Fulani were the first group of people in West Africa to convert to Islam through jihads, or holy wars, and were able to take over much of West Africa and establish themselves not only as a religious group but also as a political and economical force. The Fulani are primarily nomadic herders and traders. The Fulani have a huge respect for beauty. Beauty is considered very important and one of the ways this is shown is through tattoos that are put all over the body. A distinguishing feature of a Fulani woman is her lips, which are many times a blackish color from the use of henna or tattooing done on the mouth.
Tonight we return to Natitingou and the Hotel Tata Somba for dinner and overnight.
Day 7 : Somba & Tamberma villages
Today we enter the lands of the Somba and Tamberma people. Due to their geographic isolation in the Atakora mountains, the Somba still live in their traditional ways. In the local language, Somba means "naked", and in certain Tayaba-Somba tribes, the fetish priests still dress in a simple loincloth and the women wear only sarongs. Somba architecture is characterized by castle-like, adobe dwellings that are one of the more astonishing examples of African architecture. Shrines with a phallic shape spiritually protect the triangular entrance of each home. The Somba began to build these fortress-like houses in the 18th century to protect themselves from the slave raids of the marauding Dahomey warriors.
We then cross the border into Togo and spend the night in Kara.
Day 8 : Bassar, Dagomba, and Konkomba villages
First we'll visit the Bassar villages where the people live in large clay houses with conical roofs and follow a very traditional process for iron production. Only elderly women are allowed to fetch the coal from the surrounding mountains and men are not allowed to have any sexual activity during the process of melting down the coal into iron.
We'll then carry on into the Yendi region of Ghana. The Dagomba people live in this area of the savannah. They build round clay huts with thatched roofs and the chief's hut is the largest. The elder council meets here and the entrance door is decorated with ornaments made of colorful pieces of quarry tile. In one of these villages we meet a very large settlement of "witches," exiled from their villages. We will discuss with them about their life in the village and how they are protected by a special shrine, entrusted with "cleaning" their spirits from bad wills.
Day 9 : Gondja villages and Kintampo waterfalls
Today we drive on a fairly good road about 200 miles from Tamale to Kumasi. Along the way, we'll stop in some tiny Gondja villages to appreciate their great sense of African hospitality. The Gondja tribe are predominantly farmers and the villages are surrounded by plantations of millet, cotton and yams. At the edge of the Kumasi forest we find the Kintampo waterfalls, where we will stretch our legs and enjoy the cool, refreshing air before reaching the much drier and warmer Sahelian north. We will overnight in Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana with 1.5 million people.
Day 10 : Kumasi
Kumasi is the historical and spiritual capital of the old Ashanti Kingdom. The Ashanti people formed one of the most powerful nations in Africa until the end of the 19th century, when the British annexed the Ashanti country as part of their Gold Coast colony. The honor offered today to the Ashanti King is the best evidence of the past splendor and strength of the Ashanti empire. Today, Kumasi is a sprawling city with a fantastic central market, one of the biggest in West Africa. Every kind of Ashanti craft (leather goods, pottery, kente cloth) is found here, along with just about every kind of tropical fruit and vegetable. We also visit the Ashanti Cultural Center, which has a rich collection of Ashanti artifacts housed in a wonderful reproduction of a traditional Ashanti house.
In the afternoon, we will try to witness a traditional Ashanti funeral attended by mourners wearing beautiful red or black togas. Funerals are important to Ashanti culture and function more as festive, social events than solemn ones. Relatives and friends gather to socialize and celebrate the memory of the deceased. The chief arrives surrounded by his court in the shade of large umbrellas as the drums give rhythm to the dancing women whose intricate moves are rich in erotic symbols and gestures.
Day 11 : Kumasi - Akwasidae Festival (March trip)
On Sunday mornings Kumasi wakes up slowly. With less traffic, we'll have more time to explore this fascinating city. From the colonial buildings around the market, to the hand painted urban art signs and the devoted faithful on their way to church dressed up in their Sunday best. Our visit ends with a tour of the Royal Palace Museum, which houses a unique collection of gold jewels worn by the Ashanti court.
On the March departure, we'll have the opportunity to experience first-hand the Akwasidae Festival. There are certain days of the year on the Ashanti calendar set aside for a ceremony at the Royal Palace. During this ceremony, the King is seated under a spectacularly colorful umbrella and adorned in bright clothes and antique solid gold jewelry. In front of the King, a narrow path is formed, made of dignitaries fulfilling various functions: ritual sword bearers, guards armed with muskets, knife bearers in charge of carrying out executions, carriers of beautiful fans made of ostrich feathers. Seated next to the King are the Ashanti elders and advisors under the authority of the Royal Speaker. A procession of royal court attendants bring gifts to the king and traditional "griots" tell the story of the Ashanti kings accompanied by drummers and ivory horn players. Corpulent women dressed in bright red clothes perform an erotic dance and the queen mother then joins the ceremony along with her attendants.
We continue our tour with a drive along a mountain road that crosses numerous cocoa plantations. This is the region in which Ghana's abundant gold deposits are found, a resource that has had a profound effect on the entire region's history. In the late afternoon or evening we arrive in Elmina, a picturesque port connected to the sea by a narrow canal.
Day 12 : Elmina
In the morning we'll visit Kakum National Park, a protected virgin rain forest that harbors elusive monkeys, elephants, and other African fauna. It is noted for having one of the largest remaining rain forest canopies and has been recognized as a model for rain forest conservation by involving the local communities in its preservation. We'll have a chance to view the canopy via forest walkways perched more than a hundred feet above the ground. The Kakum canopy walk is the longest and highest hanging rope bridge in the world!
We'll return to Elmina in the afternoon and visit the Elmina Castle, the oldest and largest of the early European buildings in West Africa, built by yhe Portuguese in the 15th century. It is an imposing structure that was first used as a commercial base for the gold trade. The soldiers of the Dutch West Indies Company captured the fort in 1637 and turned the Portuguese church in the fort's interior into a slave market. The British bought out Dutch interests in the fort in 1872. Elmina is also the center of the Asafo fetish where heavily decorated sculptures and symbolism are reminscent of the artists Dali and de Chirico.
Day 13 : Depart Accra
We'll drive back to Accra in the morning and visit the district of carpenters who make elaborate, colorful caskets in the forms of airplanes, fruits, colonial buildings, and animals. Also on the agenda is a visit to the National Museum of Ghana, which houses interesting ethnographic, historical, and art collections. Ceremonial objects on display included gilded umbrellas, carved royal stools, metal swords, and intricately woven silk kente cloth. We'll end the day exploring the old quarter of Jamestown, a fishing community still inhabited primarily by the indigenous Ga people. The Ga tribe (for whom Ghana is named) founded the city of Accra around 1500 and began trading with the Portuguese. We'll explore on foot the hidden alleys, old stone houses, and fantastic cliff-top harbor vistas. Dinner and dayrooms available at a hotel before transfers to the airport for evening flights home.
DATES: Best time to go: February, October - November Departures: Oct 30, 2014 - Nov 11, 2014 This date features the Gelede Festival
Hotel KaraKara, Togo
Hotel Kara is on the outskirts of town and is quite modern and clean. There are some nice chalets dotted around the pool and the grounds, plus rooms in the main, large concrete building.
Coconut Grove ResortElmina, GhanaThis beachfront resort is located in Elmina, close to Fort St. Jago and Elmina Castle. In addition to a restaurant, Coconut Grove Beach Resort features a golf course, tennis courts and a swimming pool. Guest rooms feature air conditioning, wireless Internet access (surcharge), and satellite television.
Hotel Casa del PapaOuidah, Benin
Casa Del Papa is a beach resort in Ouidah. The resort faces the beach and has independent cottages with cute beach decor. There is a continental restaurant by the beach...and fish is the delicacy here.
Hotel MiklinKumasi, Ghana
The Miklin Hotel in Kumasi is a two-story property with white-washed walls and ornate exterior balconies. The interior design is classically elegant, with Victorian-style furnishings and regal fabrics. The hotel offers a total of 60 guest rooms and suites, all of which offer individual climate controls, satellite TV, minibars, private safes and Internet access. Facilities include an outdoor swimming pool surrounded by a furnished terrace, a unisex hair salon and a business center. On-site dining and entertainment options include a restaurant serving Ghanaian and European dishes, a poolside bar and an Internet cafe.
Hotel Tata SombaNatitingou, Benin
The Tata Somba Hotel is cozy and built in the traditional “tata” style of the area. The clean, spacious rooms are arranged around the swimming pool. Meals are mostly served poolside.
Novotel HotelAccra, Ghana
The Novotel Accra City Centre is a 4 star hotel in Accra. Just over 4 miles from the airport and close to the conference centre and major banks, the hotel provides WiFi internet access. Guests on holiday in the Ghanaian capital will find the Makola Market, museums, theatre, golf and the beach all nearby. The hotel features a bar, restaurant, outdoor swimming pool, fitness centre, business centre, onsite parking and a tennis court.
Gariba LodgeTamale, Ghana
A simple, 2-star hotel in northern Ghana, but the best available in the area.
Hotel DakoBohicon, Benin
A basic hotel with air conditioning located in the Bohicon (Abomey) area of Benin.
Hotel du Lac TogoLake Togo
This simple but pleasant hotel is located on the shores of Lake Togo, just a short drive from both Lome and the border with Benin.
Properties shown are representative of the accommodations we use on this trip, may not be inclusive of all accommodations we use, and are subject to change.
Expert leadership is the key to an exciting, unforgettable experience. Our trips feature gifted leaders for whom leading trips is a true vocation. Besides showing you wonders you’d never find on your own, they make sure everything runs smoothly and safely without a hitch. They are knowledgeable about all aspects of your trip, and take great pleasure in sharing their insights with you. More than just guides, they positively elevate your experience by being teachers, companions, and the best of friends. You’ll be in good hands with them every step of the way.