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

Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
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

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor