OUT OF GHANA TRIPS
Looking for a getaway outside of Ghana but don’t want to spend too much time traveling to get there? You might have a couple of days vacation thanks to a few public holidays falling on either side of a weekend, and you feel like a change of scenery. We’ve got some perfect options for you, all under 2.5 hours drive or flight time from Ghana!
Neighbouring Togo might be right next door but it really feels like a world away from Ghana due to its Francophone cultural influences. The differences become apparent literally as soon as you cross the border. With a travel time of around 2 hours 45 minutes by car (or 45 minutes by air), Togo makes for a convenient getaway.
Getting across the often busy border can take some time so be sure to get your visa before you travel from the Togolese embassy in Cantonments and if you’re using your own car, ensure all your vehicle paperwork is in order to make the logistics easier. While crossing the border and arriving in Lomé, you’ll immediately notice the prominence of motorcycles everywhere. You will also be greeted with a lovely view of the ocean and a long stretch of palm-fringed beachfront, visible all along the right hand side as you drive into the city.
The capital Lomé is definitely the heartbeat of Togo, with some great restaurants, quaint cafes and quirky shops to discover. Accommodation ranges from intimate boutique hotels such as Le Patio to mainstream chain options in the CBD. The beachside bars under the palm trees along the main road are the perfect spot to experience the local vibe, and enjoy a cold beer overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The beaches of Togo are beautiful and a number of beachside resorts dot the coastline including the very lovely Pure Plage, not too far from the city centre.
While it may not be for everyone, the local fetish market in town, Akodessewa Marche des Feticheurs, is the worlds largest voodoo market and makes for a very interesting visit and a glimpse into the mysterious world of West African voodoo. The market attracts locals who travel from far and wide to buy ingredients for their traditional medicines. It’s essentially a large open-air supply store selling various animal parts, skins, charms, talismans, and other items used in rituals or for curing an ailment. It can be a bit overwhelming if you have a queasy stomach but it is without a doubt a once-in-a-lifetime eye-opening experience for the more adventurous and open-minded traveller. If this does not sound like your thing, and you’d prefer to give it a miss, then continue your journey an hour inland to the shores of Lac du Togo for a more relaxing option. Here you will find many scenic spots to choose from where you can enjoy lunch on the waters edge overlooking the lake.
If you like hiking or simply enjoy spending time in nature, head 2 hours north of Lomé, to the cooler climes of Kpalimé where the tranquillity of the countryside awaits. This region of Togo was once under German colonial control (then referred to as German Togoland), thereafter it fell to the British, and then the French. Today Kpalimé is a popular tourist destination for city dwellers due to its natural beauty, cascading waterfalls and tropical greenery and is the perfect place for hiking the numerous forest trails on offer. It is also a good spot for exploring nearby Mount Agou, the highest point in Togo, as well as Mount Kloto, from which you have distant views of Lake Volta on a clear day. This fertile region is home to coffee and cocoa plantations, and provides nature lovers with plenty of bird and butterfly watching opportunities. It is also home to the Kpalimé market, known for being Togo’s main hub for local crafts such as wood sculptures, weaving, wickerwork, batiks, painting, pottery, ceramics and mounted butterflies. There are 36 artisanal workshops and retail outlets in the town as well as an artisanal training college. The creativity on display is really impressive and you can pick up some really nice curios and souvenirs typical of the region.
If you’re feeling adventurous and up for the long drive, you can travel further north to visit the fortress-like Taberma homes of the Batammariba people. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a unique architectural wonder of this part of the country with its unique style of building, which is unfortunately slowly dying out due to a growing preference for more contemporary buildings.
At around 6 hours drive from Accra (give or take); Benin is the spiritual birthplace and home of Voudon – or Voodoo to you and me – one of the oldest religions in the world. It is recognised as an official religion in Benin, alongside Christianity and Islam. For centuries, Voodoo has been misunderstood and misrepresented, and given some what of a bad rap, owing to Hollywood horror movies featuring sensationalized scenes of zombies and portraying dolls pierced with pins (neither of which are factually correct or even remotely related to the religion of Voudon). It doesn’t help that Voodoo was regarded with suspicion, and feared by European slave traders who associated it with the occult and black magic. All these negative connotations couldn’t be further from the truth, as the premise of voodoo is in fact quite the opposite – it is a religion and set of beliefs that promotes peace, tolerance, and harmony with nature, through the worship and veneration of numerous deities, while recognizing one ultimate creator. But there is more to Benin than Voodoo, and there are plenty of other reasons to visit this small but interesting corner of West Africa. From beaches and national parks to UNESCO World Heritage Sites and ancient palaces, Benin will leave you mesmerized.
Ganvie stilt village, known as Africa’s Venice on stilts, is an entire community built in the lagoon of Lake Nokoue. It came into being when the Tofinu people of the region needed a safe place to escape to in order to evade being captured by slave hunters during the times of the slave trade. Knowing that religious beliefs forbid Fon warriors to fight on the sacred lake, the lagoon became a haven for the Tofinu and they would be safe here just so long as they never returned to dry land. So they created a new home for themselves here on the water where they have thrived ever since. Teetering structures comprising of houses, schools and churches combine to form a ramshackle village on water. The villagers make a living almost exclusively from fishing and daily life plays out on the river complete with floating markets. With over 30 000 residents living here, it is the largest lake village in Africa.
The quaint coastal town of Ouidah has a dark past, as the one-time commercial centre and most active slave trading port during the time of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. Ouidah’s Door of no Return is a monument that stands in memory of honouring Africans who were captured and sold into slavery. It marks their final moments on African soil, as they were led onto ships bound for the new world. Also located in Ouidah, is the revered Python temple and the sacred forest. Definitely worth a visit during your stay in Ouidah are Fondation Zinsou, an art gallery and cultural space housed within a beautifully restored villa of the Afro-Brazilian style of architecture as well as the Ouidah Museum of History, a historical museum and monument housing various objects and illustrations of historic and cultural significance. The museum is located within the compound of the Portuguese Fort in Ouidah.
To learn more about the once powerful and mighty Dahomey Empire, feared throughout all of West Africa for its bloody pursuit in expanding its kingdom by capturing neighbouring tribes and prisoners of war and selling them to Portuguese slave traders, make the 2-hour drive north to Abomey. Here you can visit the Royal Palaces of Abomey, formerly the capital of the West African Kingdom of Dahomey. The palace grounds and their surrounding compounds are UNESCO World Heritage sites, where you will discover the chilling history of a blood-thirsty monarchy, whose reputation instilled terror in neighbouring nations with tales of buildings made using the blood of human beings and thrones created with the remains of human skulls.
For a more serene experience and an opportunity to take in local village life along the shores of one of Benin’s most sacred lakes, a visit to Lake Aheme, with its tranquil lakeside setting, is highly recommended.
Porto Novo is another interesting town to visit, not far from the capital of Cotonou, especially if you’re a fan of Afro-Brazilian architecture. The great mosque is a good example of this style of building. Grand Popo is known for its relaxed beach vibes and chilled out ambience.
Further north, other tourist attractions of interest include the fortress-like homes of the Somba, (similar to the ones you can see in neighbouring Togo). These fortified houses look like miniature medieval castles, with thick walls built using branches and earth, featuring cylindrical turrets and sloping roofs made of straw, built over two floors.
The West African nation of Cote d’Ivoire, otherwise known as the Ivory Coast, is rich in diverse cultures and beautiful landscapes. Ivory Coast is home to more than 60 different ethnic groups, each one unique in their traditions, celebrations, and culture.
The capital, Abidjan, is without a doubt one of the most vibrant and exciting cities in West Africa, with trendy cafes, quirky shops, art galleries and boutique hotels such as the gorgeous L’epic Villa. Enjoy lunch overlooking the river at Restaurant Le Débarcadère and be sure to visit the funky and inspiring Bushman Café – a coffee shop, bar, restaurant, shop, venue and event space all in one. Enjoy 5 star luxury at the magnificent Sofitel and browse the cultural and artisanal market, CAVA for treasures and souvenirs. Galleries and museums are plentiful in Abidjan, and the Galerie Cecile Fakhoury is highly recommended for a visit.
Start your morning with a café and a croissant – this is Francophone West Africa after all! The influence of French cuisine can be seen everywhere from fine dining restaurants to the sheer number of little patisseries dotted all over the city. But don’t forget to try the local food! Our personal favourite Ivorian dish is Attiéké, a side dish made from cassava that has been grated or granulated. Dried attiéké is also popular, which is similar in texture to couscous.
Venture out of Abidjan to experience the beauty of the countryside. The mountainous region of Man is not to be missed. Man is a quaint market town in the Montagnes District at the foot of picturesque rolling green hills and mountains in the western part of the country. This region is known for its scenic hiking trails and numerous waterfalls – the most famous being Les Cascades de Man. The lush and fertile landscape is home to numerous cocoa and coffee plantations. The National Coffee Manufacturer of Côte d’Ivoire is in fact based here.
But perhaps what Ivory Coast is most renowned for are its beautiful palm-fringed beaches. Assinie is a coastal area in the south-eastern part of the country, and is a favourite destination for wealthy inhabitants of Abidjan, looking for a weekend away from the city. This little piece of paradise is just an hour and thirty minutes drive from the capital, but feels like a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
A trip to the Ivory Coast would not be complete without a visit to Grand Bassam, a coastal town just 45 minutes outside of Abidjan, with a very rich history and a collection of old colonial buildings. These architectural gems are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites and although most of them have fallen into disrepair and are crumbling into ruins, some have been restored to their former glory. This once thriving settlement was abandoned and left to become a ghost town when an outbreak of yellow fever wiped out nearly all of its inhabitants. There is also an interesting museum you can visit (National Museum of Costume) and a nice stretch of beach dotted with restaurants and bars where you can sit and take in the ocean breeze.
Travel to Yamoussoukro to see the largest Christian church in the world, The Basilica of our Lady of Peace. With its wide boulevards, Ivory Coasts’ administrative capital will have you thinking you’re somewhere in France. There is something quite surreal about seeing the reflection of the basilica spire in the Bandama River right next to basking crocodiles! While you are in the area, be sure to check out the beautiful locally woven Baoulé fabric, Ivory Coast’s version of Kente.
Nature lovers will be happy to know that are national parks, game reserves and protected areas galore scattered throughout the country so you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to enjoying sightings of elephant, antelope, various bird species, and chimpanzees.
São Tomé and Príncipe
Imagine an unspoilt utopia; home to rare orchids, cascading waterfalls, volcanic landscapes, palm-fringed beaches with azure waters and lush jungle vegetation where exotic and brightly coloured birds adorn the canopy treetops. Now imagine this corner of tropical paradise is under 2 hours flight from Accra!
The tiny West African island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe lies in the Gulf of Guinea, off the coast of Gabon, just straddling the equator. A short direct flight with TAP Air Portugal from Kotoka International will transport you to a place so out of this world it could be a film set for the latest Jurassic Park movie. São Tomé and its smaller sister island, Príncipe, are the perfect destination for travelers wishing to venture off the beaten track as well as families in search of a relaxing getaway from busy Accra life.
This virtually undiscovered part of the world is blessed with dramatic scenery owing to volcanic activity from millions of years ago that created needle-shaped volcanic plugs or Picos as they are locally known, giving the landscape of these islands an almost surreal appearance. These towering columns of magma rise up out of dense jungle, with the Pico Grande standing at 663 meters being the major landmark of the main island, located within the Obo National Park. Exploring the fascinating landscape of São Tomé is best done by car, as it’s a great way to take in the surrounding nature consisting of tropical rainforest. The islands, and their surrounding waters, have been declared a UNESCO designated biosphere reserve and conservation, along with eco-conscious tourism is a top priority here.
Once known as the chocolate islands, due to being the largest producer of cocoa in the world around the late 1800’s, the breath-taking beauty of São Tomé and Príncipe contrasts starkly with its horrific history. The Portuguese discovered these then-uninhabited islands in the 1490’s and due to their strategic location, used them as a key transit and trading post during the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. Soon after, when it was established that the fertile volcanic soil was perfect for growing crops such as sugar cane, coffee and cocoa, an extensive plantation society was created, using the labour of captured and enslaved Africans imported from mainland Africa. A visit to one of the approximately 800 plantations (referred to as Rocas) is a sobering reminder of the legacy of slavery and colonialism in the region. Some of the Roca buildings have been restored and converted into working plantations or hotels, while others remain in ruin and are slowly being reclaimed by the surrounding nature.
From hiking, snorkelling, turtle spotting, bird watching and chocolate tasting to lazing on idyllic beaches and discovering the islands rich culture and history, there is something for everyone. Diving enthusiasts will be thrilled to know that the waters off these islands are some of the best in the world. Natural wonders include numerous waterfalls as well as the famous Boca de Inferno blowhole.
At 140 kilometres apart, both islands boast spectacular beaches, though the untouched stretches of those found on Príncipe are without a doubt the ultimate winners in the category, and you only have to see the famous Banana Beach to see why.
When to go depends very much on what you want to see and do: it’s important to know that there are two rainy seasons: a short one during October and November and a longer one lasting from February to May. The weather in general is always hot and humid and sea temperatures remain relatively constant throughout the year. For whale spotting, it’s best to visit between July and October when Humpback whales arrive for mating and calving. For turtle nesting and egg hatching season, time your trip for mid November to early February (eggs hatch around 45 days after nesting).
For those who enjoy all things cultural, it’s worth noting that museums, monuments and galleries are more plentiful on São Tomé, as the bigger and more developed of the two islands. Fort São Sebastião was built in 1575 to serve as a colonial fort and is now a museum you can visit. You can also head into town to experience the Mercado Grande or explore crumbling colonial buildings of Portuguese architecture. The old hospital on Roca Agua Ize on the south coast was once one of the biggest cocoa plantations at the height of its cocoa producing days is now an open-air museum well worth visiting. Make a stop by Monte café Coffee Museum, one of the oldest plantations/Rocas on the island. You can also visit a working plantation such as Roca Sao Joao, and see how the local produce is used to create various gastronomic delights. Roca Sundy on Príncipe island used to be the biggest coffee plantation at one point in history and is now a luxury boutique hotel.
A range of accommodation options are available on São Tomé and Príncipe to cater for every taste and budget from basic to luxury; from family resorts to intimate boutique hotels. If you’re not a fan of resorts or wish to avoid pricey boutique hotels, then Airbnb, or family-run private home stays and guesthouses are the way to go. Accommodation options on Príncipe Island are generally more on the expensive side and include luxury eco lodges and boutique hotels located on restored plantations. The fact that getting to Príncipe involves an additional flight is also something to take into consideration.
While there is no denying that a visit to this part of the world can work out to be an expensive trip, it truly is one of the most beautiful island nations out there and you will definitely not be disappointed. Visit now before this destination becomes too commercial and touristy!
Malaria is prevalent on both islands so be sure to take necessary precautions.