West Africa: everything under the sun, oh yes, and the voodoo

Ghana has much to offer, but if it's pygmies, lions, volcanoes or voodoo festivals you're after, then you should head for Togo, Benin or Cameroon.

Toga

Tiny Togo's landscape is incredibly varied and steeped in the culture of its many ethnic groups. Lome is the capital, although its narrow streets, crowded with people, chickens, goats and country produce, lend it a provincial feel. But don't miss the 56km of coastline, not just for the fine sandy beaches, but also for the tranquil palm villages nestling between peaceful lagoons and the serene Atlantic. Oh, yes, and the voodoo.

In Togoville, Aneho and Glidji, voodoo festivals, shrines and fetishes are intricately interwoven with Christianity to form a bizarre hybrid religion. Followers are relaxed, and often willing to talk about what goes on. It's here that'll you get closest in spirit to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

Togo has a reputation for some of the best cooking in West Africa, especially for its sublime sauces flavoured with an array of spices, including ginger, peppers, anis, garlic, basil and mustard. The variety is mouthwatering. The country has low rainfall, so a visit can be planned for any time of the year.

Benin

Benin is the Gulf of Guinea's least-known country. Its people - a mosaic of more than 60 ethnic groups - are disarmingly eager to discuss serious issues with outsiders. Thinly wooded savannah covers most of the country while a flat, sandy plain runs the length of the coast, broken only by a series of picturesque lakes and lagoons. The old towns, including Porto Novo, the crumbling official capital, and the old Brazilian quarters of Ouidah are well worth a visit. A gently sloping plateau spreads to the north, and it's here that you'll find one of West Africa's most diverse agricultural regions. Abomey, the capital of the old Dan-Homey empire, has royal palaces and museums.

In the north, the lush vegetation and sheer cliffs of the Atakora mountains form a ridge which rises impressively out of the plains. This region is home to the Somba, one of Benin's most intriguing groups. They live in relative isolation in fortress-like houses called Tatas-Somba, whose original purpose was to fend off slave raids. November to March is the best time to visit Benin, but when the Harmattan wind blows in December, nights can be quite cool.

Cameroon

Cameroon stretches from Lake Chad to the Atlantic, and because of its size, contains every kind of African vegetation, from virgin rain forest to towering, volcanic mountain ranges. Not only that, it has idyllic beaches, historic ruins and game parks too, providing something for everyone.

An hour's drive from the main city of Doula lie the black sand beaches of Limbe. But if the beach life is not for you, you could always tackle the still volcanically active Mount Cameroon for a challenging but feasible trek.

The West Province is relatively well equipped for visitors. Here you can visit traditional chiefdoms of the Bamoun Tikar, the beautiful grasslands and Foumban's craft market, with traders emanating from all over Africa. The vast eastern plateau is covered with huge tracts of hardwood forest that render some areas inpenetrable. A number of pygmy groups hunt and gather in the jungle, where armies of gorillas lurk.

Further north you come into grasslands and dusty bush country through which flows the upper tributaries of the Benoue river. Here, in the Benoue and Bouba Ndjida national parks, elephants, giraffes, lions, ostriches and rhinoes roam. Taking into account regional variations in climate, the ideal time to visit Cameroon is in December and January.

In all three countries, accommodation outside the capitals tends to be basic but bearable. You might find air-conditioning, television and phones hard to locate. Bush taxis (ranging from Peugeot 504s to mopeds) are the best way of getting around. You can also rent a car , but it's expensive.

Regional and domestic flights are reasonably priced, but surprisingly, not always the quickest and most reliable form of transport. The two largest airline companies are Air Afrique and Ghana Airways.

Numerous airlines fly to West Africa, including Air France, British Airways, Aeroflot and KLM. If you cannot get a discounted price direct, ask for the number of their consolidator agents.

Gareth Lloyd

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tvSPOILER ALERT: Like a mash-up of 28 Days Later, Braveheart, The Killing and Lord of the Rings, this GoT episode was a belter
Life and Style
Angel Di Maria is shown the red card
tech
Sport
Roger Federer after his win over Tomas Berdych
sport
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Bid Writer

    £25000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Day In a Page

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral