Day 01: BISSAU – Guinea Bissau
Arrival and transfer to the hotel.
Day 02: GRIOT: THE AFRICAN TROBADORS – Guinea Bissau
Early morning departure. After lunch, we leave the main road for a small village in the Malinké region.
The Malinké are the descendants of the ancient Mali Empire and are spread on the current territory of Mali, Guinea Conakry, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Guinea Bissau. Griots are musicians and story tellers lineages dating back to the 13th century. The village we visit is known for the Griot families that have maintained these traditions from the time of the Empire. Well-known also for their skills in producing musical instruments, they will perform a concert. Arrival at Gabu.
Day 03: THE LARGEST MOUNTAIN MASSIF – Guinea Bissau – Guinea Conakry
An old and manually pulled barge will allow us to cross Rio Corubal, the natural border between the two Guineas to join the small border posts of Guinea Conakry in a region inhabited by the Malinké and the Fulla (also called Peul) tribes. Stopover in small villages where the arrival of foreigners is a rare event.
A small, bumpy track between the savannah and the forest will lead us to a larger road, the starting point of exploration of the Fouta Djalon massif; its fresh and salubrious climate made it the preferred holiday-place by the French during the colonial era. Coniferous forests remain as evidence of that time.
Considered the most spectacular area of Guinea, thanks to the mountains, plateau, savannah and deep valleys, the Fouta Djalon is considered the “water reservoir” of West Africa. As a matter of fact, 3 rivers that give name to four nations: Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Gambia, have their offspring in Guinea.
This territory is inhabited by the Fulla (also called Peul), famous for their beauty and their skills as the main stockbreeders of Zebu cows in West Africa. We will visit isolated villages, with large clay houses decorated with bas relief, high conical roofs with several layers of straw. Evening arrival to Labe
Day 04: FOUTA DJALON – Guinea Conakry
Full day dedicated discovering the Fouta Djalon. In the morning we will visit Labe market, the busiest market in the region. Leaving Labe and the main road, we will discover a fantastic natural environment where mountains meet savannah and deep valley with forest. The highest waterfalls in West Africa are framed by the forest, in a pristine landscape.
After having been introduced by our connections to the elders, presenting traditional gifts as cola nuts, we will have the honour to be received by chiefs and dignitaries siting in council. In a very large clay round hut with a decorated grass roof, dressed in traditional costumes the descendant of one of the oldest Fulla Kingdom will tell us the history of their people and accept to answer our questions about the origins of their tribe and the traditional rules still practiced.
Arrival at Dalaba at 3,900 Ft. (1200 m.) altitude.
Day 05: AFRICAN BAS-RELIEF – Guinea Conakry
Visit Dalaba, a small and pleasant town. The “casa a palabra” (the house of word) with fine adobe bas-relief is in a pure Fulla (also called Peul) architectonical style. Here the chiefs used to gather to meet the colonial administrators.
Visit to the villa built by the colonial governor and later used by the first president of independent Guinea. The leader of the independence was Sekou Touré, one of the most radical anti-colonialists African politician; he refused any cooperation with the French and created strong ties with the Soviet Union and a personal friendship with Ceausescu. Some villas used by the ministers and by the guests of Sekou Touré are reminiscences of that time. In a today ruined villa, Miriam Makeba met and married Stokley Carmichael, an exile from the US who was among the inspirators of Black Panthers armed wing.
We will leave Dalaba following the southern slope of the massif to reach Mamou, a trading town, visit to the market.
Days 06 and 07: MASKS IN THE FOREST – Guinea – Sierra Leone
A tiny track joins a border with a remote area of Sierra Leone, crossing rivers in the forest, using old manually pulled barges. Arrival at the village of Kamakwie. In a region, where foreigners are rare, if lucky, we will assist to traditional sacred masks dances. Evening of day 7 arrival at Free Town.
Next day drive heading to Freetown peninsula.
DAY 08: FREETOWN PENINISULA, A LONG HISTORY – Sierra Leone
Freetown origins: in 1786 the first three hundred and eighty freed African slaves arrived in Sierra Leone from America where they have fought in the independence war on the side of the British. After having lost the war the British sent them to Sierra Leone and created the first freed slave settlements. Few months after their arrival, the newcomers were starving, got new and unknown diseases and fight with the locals, who could hardly stand them. A few years after the Napoleonic war, Freetown was displaying the British flag and had been attacked by seven vessels of the French navy and destroyed. Few survivors escaped on the pirogues sent by the slave’s traders.
In 1808 Freetown became the capital of the first British colony in tropical Africa. At that time the Krio peoples, or ex slaves, were more than 50.000, creating an elite class who put pressure on the administration for a better education. In 1845 Fourah Bay the first University in West Africa was built. During Colonial time Freetown was known as the “Athens of West Africa”.
Afternoon drive along the coast at the slopes of the Freetown peninsula mountains, only the yellow of the beaches divide the green of the forest from the blue of the ocean. The country has been named after these mountains, the Sierra (mountains) of lion.
A local boat will bring us to Banana Island.
Day 09: BANANA ISLAND – Sierra Leone
Full day circumnavigating, exploring and walking to discover a pristine paradise such as mountains, large primary forests, villages and remote beaches. For the more active travellers a half day hike in the forest or continue the circumnavigation of the island. Lunch picnic.
Day 10: BUNDO: FEMALE MASKS – Sierra Leone
Brief navigation, to join our 4WD vehicles and departure in the north east direction.
In most parts of Africa, the masks are male’s prerogative, however among the Mende people and neighboring populations the masks Bundo are a female’s domain and they have a crucial role in girls puberty rites.
In a tiny village we will experience the exit of these masks, an event that calls for the participation of a colorful crowd.
Day 11: RAW DIAMONDS – Sierra Leone – Liberia
We will leave in the morning for a full day dedicated to diamonds.
Diamond seeking is as addictive as gambling and the possibility of finding a “fortune” becomes true just for the few most lucky. Diamonds have played an important role in the past civil war. The quantity and quality of “stones” still to find is important. We will follow a track to reach a village with huts made by clay and straw. After greeting the chief, some villagers will take us to the site where we can meet the diamonds’ seekers in action. A villager will explain us the technics of artisanal mining and “sand washing”. A spectacular road in the forest will bring us to the Mano River and to the border with Liberia. After the formalities, we will continue to reach Monrovia in the evening.
Day 12: “LIBERIA”: THE LAND OF FREEMEN – Liberia
Liberia is the only African country which has never been either a colony or a protectorate; Liberia was founded by Krio, freed slaves who came back to Africa from the USA and for this reason was named “Liberia”. Krio are 5% of the population and they are the main actors of the economy and politics, they are considered the creator of the Nation and of the modern economy. 80% of the population speaks the local Krio language, a sort of American-English “Pidgin”. Our ocean-view hotel is the right starting point to have an interesting walking-visit of the town. Freemasonry had a great impact on the history of Liberia and Krio culture, visit of the Grand Masonic Temple imposing building, and if we’re lucky, meeting with the Grand Master. A symbol of Monrovia is what left of the Ducor Palace Hotel, inaugurated in 1960 was one of the first five stars in Africa. Located on a rocky hill in the highest point of Monrovia, dominate the whole town and the gulf. The hotel hosted social events and parties of the African elites at the effervescent time of independence. In the large swimming pool facing the ocean Idi Amin used to swim caring his gun at the belt while his friend Miriam Makeba was singing. After the civil war the building was looted several times, the hotel is now abandoned and closed, but seeking the right permission, we may be able to visit it. In 2008 the government made a deal with Ghaddafi to rebuild it, however the project, as many other Libyan development projects in Africa, never came to conclusion thanks to the regime change war that Europe and America started to overthrow Ghaddafi. The building of the National Museum is itself a display of Krio traditional architecture, within we discover a large collection of ancient masks and ritual objects. The visit includes a photographic show about the civil war which took place between 1989 and 2003. Old colonial buildings, stone Krio churches will be also part of this intriguing town visit.
Lunch and departure for Gbarnga.
Day 13: AFRICAN WILD FORESTS – Liberia – Guinea Conakry
Early morning departure for a day of driving to the northern part of Liberia and to the greatest forest region of Guinea Conakry. Crossed the border, we will continue through large rubber plantation (hevea) to reach Nzerekore and Macenta in a hilly and luxuriant landscape. After dinner we leave the hotel to join a village and participate in a spectacular event: the masks will leave the forest and dance at the light of a large fire….
Day 14: BIRD MEN, TOMA MASKS & LIANA BRIDGE – Guinea Conakry
A small track in the lush vegetation will bring us to a remote village to assist at one of the most spectacular and less known sacred dances of West African forests: the dance of the Bird Men. We are proud to be the discoverers of Bird Men. The Bird Men have their face painted in Kaolin and are totally dressed in feathers, they belong to a special initiatory community, that has secretly passed from father to son over the centuries. The Bird Men are believed to hold magical powers that can make them invisible, they were the best messengers during tribal wars, able to cross the enemy lines. Tom-tom drummers and all the village will participate to the event.
This region hides many secrets. The liana bridges are masterpieces of a unique “tribal technology” and can measure up to 70 m. They are built exclusively with vegetal materials, as wood and lianas, without the use of nails or rope nor other materials external to the forest. Only the initiated can harvest the lianas and woods and they leave them in the forest, it is believed that a powerful spirit will build the bridge overnight. To guarantee the secrecy of this “magical technology”, during the preparation of a new bridge, neither women nor not initiated are allowed in the forest.
Arrival to Nzerekore after an intense day.
Days 15 and 16: REMOTE BORDERS & DAN MASKS – Ivory Coast
We will leave in the morning Nzérékoré. We will continue through a track to a remote border with Ivory Coast. When mountain Tonkpi, with its peak comes into view we will be close to our destination.
The small town of Man, surrounded by 18 green mountains is the capital of the We, Dan and Guéré ethnic groups, known for their masks, considered among the masterpieces of African art.
Full day discovering the Man region. In a nearby village, encouraged by the incessant rhythm of tam-tams, masks will emerge from the forest. According to the cosmogony of Dan people, there is a supreme god that creates the world and communicates with humans only through its intermediaries, the masks. During the masks’ dance, the distance between the humans and the spirits disappears, the cosmic and the social orders are restored, and gratitude is expressed to the gods and the ancestors. Dan Masks are one of the finest African masks known for the balance of its shapes. Man’s market is an important market where villagers come from the region and from the neighbouring countries. It will be possible to find a large choice of handicraft and, with a bit of luck, authentic masks and traditional objects.
Day 17: MAGICAL TRADITIONS – Ivory Coast
Full day dedicated to experience vibrant tribal culture and magic traditions.
4X4 vehicles will be needed to reach a remote region where the arrival of foreigners is still a rare event. The track across rudimentary bridges made of logs will lead us to an isolated settlement inhabited by the Gueré whose masks are recognized and collected for their powerful expressive power. The masks will dance through the village.
If lucky we will witness the rare “Jugglers” performances. Girls initiatory juggling is an ancient tradition, now vanishing, we have discovered one of the last villages where it is still practiced. The initiated girls, their faces painted with white kaolin, will perform a spectacular acrobatic dance, “flying” from one dancer to another…
Return to the main road and reach the town of Daloa in the evening.
Day 18: CATHEDRAL IN THE SAVANNAH – Ivory Coast
Day of driving south-est. We continue our journey across coffee and cocoa plantations, dotted only by small villages. Ivory Coast is the world’s main cocoa producer, the second is Ghana and together they represent more than half of the world’s cocoa production.
In a village of the Guro tribe, we attend the Zaouli dancing masks. The Zaouli mask, was probably inspired by a girl named “Djela Lou Zaouli”, however, the stories on the origins of the mask are varied and each mask can have its own symbolic history. The uniqueness of Zaouli dance is the fine and sophisticated movement of the legs and the fits.
In the afternoon, arrival to Yamoussoukro, the country’s formal capital since 1983 and the native village of Houphouët-Boigny, the first President of the Ivory Coast. Here the Ivorian dream of the 1970s and 1980s has come true, the dream of a country that, despite its shortage of major natural resources, has built up the most flourishing economy of French speaking West Africa, to the point to rival in architectural style and size the European capitals.
We visit the Basilica of the Virgin of Peace, inspired by St Peter’s in Rome is the largest Christian building on earth, the high colourful glass windows are unique. In the city, we see wide boulevards where the few cars try to avoid big potholes, Zebus and chickens, huge government buildings, the lofty hotels up to 14 floors high and even an artificial lake inhabited by crocodiles, everything has an abandoned look. What is most striking is the feeling of emptiness because of the nothingness surrounding this illusion… Despite the title of capital city, the ministries, embassies, and the presidency of the republic itself remain in Abidjan.
Day 19: ABIDJAN, SKYSCRAPERS AND LAGOONS – Ivory Coast
We drive on the only highway of the country to reach Abidjan in late morning, a modern and colourful African metropolis. Beyond the lagoon, the “plateau” (the City District) is growing very fast, while most of the African cities grow horizontally, Abidjan grows vertically. Not much land is available and the little available must be continually recovered from the waters of the Ebrié Lagoon. The modern City District is defined to the west by the harbour and its endless queues of people waiting for a public boat, and to the east by the silhouette of Saints Peter & Paul Cathedral, built in a futuristic spirit by Italian architect Aldo Spirito in 1980.
In the Youpugon district we will meet the Fanico people who wash clothes in the river and dry them on the surrounding lawns. Hundreds of colourful fabrics spread out on the grass create a giant patchwork. The chaotic traffic is a negative result of the fast-economic development of this country, that after the civil war has, some years, reached a 6% growth of the GDP.
Day 20: GRAND BASSAM – Ivory Coast
Short drive to Grand Bassam, an old town built on a sand bank between the lagoon and the ocean. It was the first capital of the French Ivory Coast colony and now a maritime leisure resort for the Abidjanese. Thanks to its calm avenues shaded by tall trees, large bougainvillea and well-preserved colonial buildings, Grand Bassam has a magical atmosphere. The old post office is a jewel of colonial architecture. The Costume Museum, in the former governor’s palace, with its large outer staircase is a true architectural gem and its unique collection of tribal costumes, masks, ornaments and ethnographic photographs gives an interesting perception of the country’s history and culture. In late afternoon we will reach the small town of Aboisso.
Day 21: FROM IVORY COAST TO GOLD COAST – Ivory Coast – Ghana
Early departure for the border with Ghana. Once in Axim, we will visit St Antonio fort, built by the Portuguese in 1515 on a bay near the estuary of Ankobra River, in a region rich in gold. The coast of Ghana is unique in the whole Africa for the concentration of ancient castles and forts. Over three centuries, more than 80 fortifications were built by the Europeans, to trade mainly gold, ivory and slaves. The abundance of gold led the first Portuguese navigators, who discovered this region in the 15th century, to name it Gold Coast, this name was changed to Ghana at the independence in 1957.
Day 22: ELMINA’S UNIQUE ATMOSPHERE – Ghana
Full day dedicated to discover ancient slave trade castles and animistic shrines.
After a stop at Cape Coast, we will visit Elmina Castle, the oldest and largest European building in sub-Saharan Africa Elmina: a name linked to the history of Africa, but also to the history of all humanity. In 1482 Christopher Columbus and Bartholomew Diaz landed here with twelve caravels to build a castle under Portuguese authority. The site was chosen also taking into consideration the possibility of acquiring gold dust. Thus began the history of Elmina: a castle, a port, a village, which today celebrate the record of more than five centuries of continuous contact and trade between Africans and Europeans. The castle you visit today is the result of work carried out over the centuries by Portuguese, Dutch, English and local authorities. Throughout its history it was initially used as a fortified farm to supply vegetables, fruits, and fresh food to ships en route along the Indies route, but at the same time as a base for the purchase of gold dust, ivory, and valuable timbers. In the 18th century the castle reached its present extent when it became one of the main centers for collecting slaves to be sent to the Americas.
Nowadays the castle is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The fishing harbour facing the castle, hosts hundreds of colourful wooden pirogues.
The alleys of this ancient fishing village will give us a lively and unique atmosphere. Ancient Portuguese, Dutch, and English buildings, now inhabited by locals, stand alongside the temples of the Asafo Companies, called Posuban, where the Asafo “warriors” still pour libations.
Old town alleys have a unique atmosphere, bringing us back to a time before the colonial era, when Elmina was the main place of exchanges between Europe and sub-Sahara Africa.
Day 23: ASHANTI – Ghana
Late morning arrival in Kumasi, the historical and spiritual capital of the old Ashanti Kingdom. The Ashanti were one of the most powerful nations in Africa until the end of 19th century, when the British annexed Ashanti Kingdom to the Gold Coast colony. The honors still paid to the Asantehene (the King) testify to past Ashanti splendor and power. With more than three million inhabitants, Kumasi is a sprawling city with a fantastic central market, one of the largest in Africa. Every type of Ashanti craft (leather goods, pottery, Kente cloths are found here, along with just about every kind of tropical fruits and vegetables.
The visit includes the Ashanti Cultural Centre, a rich collection of Ashanti artifacts housed in an interesting reproduction of an Ashanti ancient house. In the afternoon we will participate – if available – to a traditional Ashanti funeral, attended by mourners wearing bright red or black togas. We say “funerals” but it means a “festive” celebration, the deceased spirit is believed to return to his family and through this ceremony becomes an ancestor spirit that protects its peoples. Relatives and friends gather and celebrate its return.
Day 24: ACCRA “THE CAPITAL” – Ghana
Arrive in Accra early afternoon. The capital of Ghana has maintained its special identity despite the fast-paced development currently underway in this African large metropolis. We explore James Town neighborhoods, inhabited by the autochthonous population known as the Ga. We will enjoy the atmosphere and visit evidence of the slave period. Our tour ends with the visit to a workshop specialized in carving “fantasy coffins”. These special handcrafted coffins can take on any shape: fruits, animals, fishes, cars, and airplanes, the only limit being the imagination!
Day 25: LOME: COSMOPOLITAN AND STYLISH HUMAN SIZE CAPITAL – Ghana – Togo
Morning departure to the Togo border. Lome is one of the rare capitals situated at the border of the country, the only African town which has been ruled successively by Germans, British and French and has attracted an important community of traders from different African countries and as far as from Brazil. These elements and influences have developed a unique lifestyle, cuisine and architecture. Lome is still a meeting point for people, trade and cultures. We will visit the central market with the “Nana Benz”, women who control the market of the expensive “pagne” (colourful cloths) sold all over West Africa, the colonial buildings and the largest “fetish market” in the whole African continent, where we can find an eclectic assortment of all the necessary ingredients for love potions, magical concoctions and Voodoo incantation. Lomé is also an important trading center for tribal crafts and art.
Evening, optional, music bars in town.
Day 26: VOODOO – Togo -Benin
Voodoo is the main religion in the coastal areas of Togo and Benin, authentic ceremonies are practiced by the numerous adepts. The frenetic rhythm of drums and the chants of the initiates “call” the spirits which will manifest by possessing some participants that falls into a deep trance, the eyes roll back, grimaces, convulsions, insensitivity to fire or pain. Sakpata, Heviosso, Mami Water are just some of the Voodoo divinities who can manifest. Surrounded by the magic atmosphere of the ceremony, we will understand what local people mean when they say: “In your Churches you pray God; in our Voodoo shrine we become Gods!”.
Border with Benin and arrival to the small town of Grand Popo.
Day 27: OUIDAH, AFRO-BRASILIAN CULTURE – Benin
Between lagoons and ocean, we will discover the Zangbeto cult. The Zangbeto mask is very tall and covered in colourful straw.
It represents wild, non-human spirits (the forces of nature that inhabited the Earth before human). The mask wearers belong to a secret society and keep their identity hidden. When the Zangbeto dance it is an event for the entire village. Its performance guarantees protection against bad spirits and witchcraft. The spinning movement of the mask symbolizes the spiritual purification of the village and Zangbeto also performs «miracles» to prove its powers.
Drive to Ouidah, this small town was conquered by the Dahomey Kingdom during the 18th century and became a main slave shipping port. We start the visit following the “slave road” to the shore, “the door of no return” where slaves were shipped to the Americas. Ouidah enjoys a rare Afro-Brazilian architecture, as a unique mix of cultures where the python temple faces the Catholic Cathedral. The laid-back attitude of the locals blends with the thunder of the distant waves and the rhythm of the drums seem to bring back the murmuring echo of the columns of slaves embarked from these beaches – a timeless atmosphere described by Bruce Chatwin in his novel “The Vice-Roy of Ouidah”. On foot we visit the Python Temple and the Portuguese Fort (currently under renovation), now a small but interesting museum on the history of Ouidah, the transatlantic slave trade and the links that the trade has created between West African costal countries and the Caribbean Voodoo culture.
Day 28: THE STILTS VILLAGE – Benin
Drive for miles on the fisherman track between endless beaches, tall palm trees, grass-huts and colourful pirogues. We will leave our vehicles and cross Lake Nokwe on a motorized boat to reach Ganvié, the largest and most beautiful African village on stilts. The approximately 25,000 inhabitants are part of the Tofinou ethnic group and build their wooden houses on teak stilts. Breeding fish with an ancient tribal technology is their main activity. Ganvié has managed to preserve its traditions and environment despite the long-lasting human presence in a closed setting; and the lake is not over-fished. Daily life unfolds in the dugout canoes that adults and children row with ease using brightly coloured paddles. From these canoes men fishing, women expose goods at the “floating market”, children go to school and play, in Ganvie children are said to learn to swim first than to walk.
Day room available in Cotonou and transfer to the airport. End of our services.
To complete the expedition we can arrange, on request, an extension to the Nigerian capital: speed boat navigation to join Lagos via the lagoon. With its 21 million inhabitants, Lagos is the largest sub-Saharan metropolis, a terrific melting-pot of contemporary Africa.
UNIQUE DEPARTURES: This departure is part of the Trans-Sahara and West Africa Grand Expedition from Marrakech to Dakar and Cotonou.
EXPEDITION LEADERS: with long experience of West Africa, and knowledge of the regions and traditional cultures, assisted by local guides.
EXPLORATORY ITINERARY: This journey is an expedition; participants must be flexible and ready to enjoy the unique encounters, but also some unexpected situations that are part of the “African Experience”.
TRANSPORTS: a great variety of landscapes, cultures and nature go hand in hand with the choice of the different transports, each one being the best to discover and enjoy each different environment.
On land: for most of the itinerary on forest roads and tracks, we will drive in 4WD air-conditioned vehicles, on some asphalt roads we will travel in air-conditioned minibus.
On water: fishermen’s boat to Banana Island. Barges to cross rivers in the forests.
Yellow fever: mandatory.
Cholera: not required at the time of editing the program, please check before departure.
Malaria prophylaxis: absolutely recommended.
Guinea Bissau: single-entry visa is required; we can obtain at the arrival in the airport, please inform us in advance.
Guinea Conakry: two entries needed.
Sierra Leone: visa available at the border (cost 100 USD).
Liberia, Ivory Coast: single entry visa is required. The Ivory Coast E-Visa is not valid for entering the country by land, a visa from the embassy is required.
Ghana: Single-entry visa required; the visa is issued only at the Ghana embassy competent with the country of residence
Togo: visa available at the border, please confirm with us in advance.
Benin: e-Visa: www.evisa.gouv.bj/en/
Note: Liberia and Ivory Coast have diplomatic representations in Dakar that can issue visas, contact us in advance if the visa must be obtained during the expedition.
Extension to Nigeria: Single-entry visa required. The visa is issued only at the Nigerian embassy competent for the country of residence.
Lunches: cold meals (picnics) or restaurants.
Dinners: in the hotels we enjoy a great variety of specialties. Vegetarian or specific meals are available on request, please contact us in advance.
HOTELS: carefully chosen, due to a possible lack of rooms’ availability in some hotels, the tour leader may have to replace hotels with others as similar as possible. Four star hotels in the capitals and more. Best available hotels inland, always with air-conditioned rooms. A camp on Banana Island in Sierra Leone.
LUGGAGE: due to the nature of the itinerary please limit your personal luggage to 45lb (20 kg), soft sacs are recommended.
INSURANCE: mandatory for medical assistance (health care), repatriation, physical and material damages.
TransAfrica will not be held responsible for any material and physical damages during or in consequence of the tour. Discover an insurance policy proposal: https://transafrica.biz/en/travel-insurance-en/;
NOTICE: The itinerary is designed to experience fascinating places where foreigners hardly arrive. We need to be tolerant and flexible to fully appreciate the unique nature and wildlife, the spontaneous hospitality of the local populations, the African magic and mystery, the metaphysics, ceremonies, life philosophies and religious beliefs that people are willing to share with us.
Itineraries, visits, overnights and accommodations are subject to changes, improve and adapt to: tides time, recent experiences and news from the fields, force majeure. The changes are decided by the organizer. We are not responsible for any delays and cancellation due to external conditions.