IVORY COAST, GHANA, TOGO AND BENIN
Starting from Abidjan the economical capital of Ivory Coast discovering Grand Bassam and his unique colonial architecture, witness the highest concentration of ancient trade and slave castles, with Elmina the oldest castle of Gold Coast. Arrive in the day of Ashanti ceremonies in Kumasi, capital of the Ashanti people. Visit 15th century slave trade castles and fisherman villages located side to side on the shores of Guinea Gulf. Accra with its restaurants and nightlife is considered the most vibrant capitals of the continent. Discover the African origins of Voodoo: secrete initiations, drums and trance rituals still practiced in the largest stilt village of the continent.
Day 1 ABIDJAN – Ivory Coast
Arrival and transfer to the hotel.
Day 2 ABIDJAN, SKYSCRAPERS AND LAGOONS – Ivory Coast
Late morning join the group and visit of Abidjan, 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 3: 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 4: 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 5: 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 6: 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 7: 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 neighbourhoods, 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! Optional, Accra vibes: evening at one of the typical music bars in town.
Day 8: 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 9: 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 10: 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 11: 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 is 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 a deep experience of West Africa, and knowledge of the regions and local cultures, assisted where necessary, by local guides.
EXPLORATORY ITINERARY: This itinerary is part of Marrakech to Cotonou Grand Expedition; 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: Air-conditioned minibus and or 4×4 vehicles.
VACCINATIONS: Yellow fever: mandatory
Cholera: not required at the time of editing the program, please check before departure.
Malaria prophylaxis: absolutely recommended.
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/
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. 4 stars Four star hotels in the capitals and comfortable 3 stars hotels with air-conditioned self-contained rooms inland.
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:
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.