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

Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
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
  • Get to the point
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: Hotel Reception Manager

    £18750 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Hotel in Chadderton is a popular ch...

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence