Day 1: Ouagadougou.
Arrival in Ouaga, Overnight at your Hotel
Day 2: Drive to Bobo-Dioulasso.
Our destination today is the city of Bobo- Dioulasso, Burkina’s laid back second city and regarded by many as one of the most attractive in West Africa. Old colonial mansions line sweeping avenues, in part shaded by mango trees, and there is certainly a relaxed feel to the place that provides more than just a hint of its French colonial past. We will spend the afternoon enjoying a tour, taking in the highlights of its mosque, train station and Sudanese style colonial architecture.
Lying at the crossroads of the great caravan routes that once crisscrossed the country from north to south,the city has a long been at the centre of power struggles between local and colonial masters. For much of the 19th century the city was fought over by rival factions of the Kenedougou and Guiriko clans, wars that so depleted the strength and power of the Guiriko that they were eventually forced to hand the city over to the French in 1897. The city is an eclectic mixture of styles and influences.
Its train station is an extravagant edifice built by the French to mimic the architecture of the Sudanese buildings that litter the city, creating a rail terminus that probably says more about colonial excess than the city’s importance. The Grand Mosque on the other hand is pure Sudanese design, built to recall its more famous neighbour in Djenne and constructed in recognition of military aid afforded to the king of Sya by the Kenedougou. We also wander through part of the old city, taking in the unique architecture of the traditional Bobo houses that occupy the riverbanks. Overnight Auberge Included meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 3: Drive to Gaoua; visit Lobi villages.
Heading south to Gaoua we reach the land of the Lobi and spend the day with a local guide, making the most of the opportunity to learn a little something about these usually reclusive people. The Lobi make up less than 10% of Burkina’s population, comprising a collection of ethnic groups whose name translates as Children of the Forest. Naturally shy and mistrustful, for years the Lobi had to endure constant attacks from the Guiriko and Kenedougou, as well as the less than sympathetic attentions of the French.
Fiercely independent they still adhere to many of their traditional customs and animist practices, worshipping distinctive wooden fetishes and continuing to uphold their age-old beliefs in the spirit world. Residing in fortified mud brick compounds in family groups, much like their Dagarti neighbours, the men still carry bows much as their ancestors have for generations and the Lobi, even today, still have a fearsome reputation as hunters and warriors. Overnight Standard Hotel (H+) Included meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner.
Day 4: Drive to Ouagadougou.
This morning we return to Burkina’s capital to explore more of the city. Traditionally the centre of the Mossi empire, its streets are a hotch potch of cultures, sights and sounds; an eclectic fusion of the old and the new, where taxis and scooters vie for space next to braying donkeys, goats and chickens, and where local barbers shave clients beneath the welcoming shade of a mango tree. The city dates back to the 15th Century when the warring Yonyonse and the Niusi tribes inhabited the area.
Wubui, a Yonyonse hero led his tribe to victory and renamed the area Wogodogo meaning “where people get honour and respect”. Wogodogo was later changed to Ouagadougou by the French. We will have time to visit the national museum and an artisan centre on the outskirts of the city, dedicated to the skill and artistry of local craftsmen and presenting us with some of the best examples of traditional arts and crafts on the continent. Overnight Standard Hotel (H+) Included meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner.
Day 5: Drive to Togo via Moba villages.
Today we make a long drive to cross the border into Togo at Cinkasse. There will be time later this afternoon to visit some of the villages of the local Moba tribe before we setup our bush camp for the next two nights, our base from which to explore the Atakora region.
Overnight Basic Camping (C) Included meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 6: Full day trekking in Atakora;visit Tamberma communities.
The Atakora, chain of mountains that starts in southeast Ghana and cuts through Togo and Benin, have offered a refuge for the Tambermas people for generations. Today these most traditional of peoples still hunt with bows and arrows and practice initiation rituals that include the use of mutilation to celebrate the important landmarks of childhood and puberty. We spend today walking in this remarkable region, discovering for ourselves some of the behaviour, traditions and villages of the Tamberma. This evening there will be the opportunity to see a traditional dance being performed in one of these isolated villages. Overnight Basic Camping (C) Included meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner.
Day 7: Drive to Kara via Kabye villages.
Today we continue into Tamberma territory, a region of fortified dwellings and a deep-rooted suspicion of outsiders. This stems from the days of old when the Tamberma were hunted as slaves and so developed a style of architecture that resembles something more akin to a medieval keep than a residential home. The towers were designed to store grain, whilst the large central entrances provided a shelter for their livestock in the event of an attack.
With phallic shaped fetishes adorning the entrance to the house and surrounding wall, representing the spirits of their ancestors, these isolated homesteads could feasibly hold out in a siege situation for some time and certainly represent some of the most beautiful examples of traditional African architecture left. Later we reach the region around the Massif Kabyé, a mountainous landscape that is the homeland of President Eyadéma.
En route we visit settlements belonging to the Homonym. The Homonym live is houses called Soukala, an enclave of individual huts joined together by a wall and within which live the members of one patriarchal family. Life continues here much as it has done for generations, where blacksmiths still use a stone instead of a hammer and women produce traditional pottery. Overnight Standard Hotel (H+) Included meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 8: Drive to Sokode via Bassari villages; Tem fire dance.
The Bassar people live in quite distinctive large clay houses with conical roofs. Believed to be the pioneers of the iron civilisation in this region of Africa they still jealously guard the secrets of its production, a mix of geological knowledge and alchemy. It is said that only old women are allowed to collect the coal from the surrounding mountains and that the men of the village are to abstain from all sexual activity whilst the smelting takes place!
We will meet with the local chiefs during our visit, learning something of their role in today’s society and may even be privileged enough to witness a judgement ceremony. Be warned though, the way that someone’s guilt is determined here is to have both the accuser and accused immerse their hands in boiling oil! Late this afternoon we arrive in Sokode, Togo’s second largest town and the most devout Muslim area in the country. The traditions of Islam are evident everywhere about the town, from the numerous mosques, to the boubous and skullcaps worn by the men.
After checking in to our hotel we will have some time before dinner to look around, after which we will travel to a small village on the outskirts of the city to witness the traditional fire dance of the Tem people. Accompanied by the hypnotic beat of drums the dancers get closer and closer to the fire, until they eventually end up dancing on the burning embers themselves, grasping the burning logs from within the flames and passing them over their bodies. You may be glad to learn that this evening’s entertainment does not involve any audience participation! Overnight Basic Hotel (H) Included meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner.
Day 9: Drive to Kpalime via Atakpame.
Heading south today we visit the town of Atakpame, in the heart of cotton growing country. Long known as a crossroads of ethnic cultures, Atakpame is also the home of the famous stilt dancers, who sometimes practice their art atop poles up to 5m in height. We visit the kente weavers, who produce a type of local cloth much valued by dignitaries for ceremonial occasions. The land here provides a rich source of income in the form of coffee, cocoa and cotton fields. Climbing from the town of Kpalime through the forests of Kloto we reach our campement. Overnight Basic Hotel Included meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner.
Day 10: Kloto forest walk.
From our campement at Kloto we take a guided walk through the tropical forests with a local guide, searching for some of the numerous butterflies, plants and insects that reside in the pristine wilderness. Overnight Basic Hotel (H) Included meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner.
Day 11: Drive to Bohicon; Gelede mask ceremony (Benin).
We head east through a lush, undulating, forested landscape punctuated by baobabs and termite mounds. We see small, traditional villages selling the abundant produce of the area, including bananas, pineapples, casava and nectarines. This is Togo’s plateau region, one of the most spectacular and fertile in the country, where tumbling streams and rivers meander through a rich panorama of magnificent jungle. After crossing the Monor River we cross into Benin and the town of Bohicon. This evening we may also have the opportunity to visit a Gelede mask ceremony today at Cove.
A cult to the great divinity Oudua, the earth mother, Gelede is a cult, a secret society and a type of mask all at the same time. The brightly coloured masks represent the bridge between the society and the ordinary villagers and are comprised of a head with large eyes and sensual lips over which are an animated collection of characters and objects that tell stories, to the accompaniment of a choir and an excited audience. Overnight Standard Hotel Included meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner.
Day 12: Visit Abomey Royal Palace and museum; drive Lake Nokwe and boat to Ganvie.
The town of Abomey was once the capital of one of West Africa’s pre-colonial kingdoms and a fabulously atmospheric collection of narrow alleys and fetish temples. Visiting the Royal Palace we discover the ornate majesty that was once the Dan-Homey dynasty. Once a complex of some 12 palaces, until its destruction by the French in 1892, the Palace today has been reduced to just two, but this UNESCO World Heritage site still invokes a feel for those halcyon days of precolonial glory.
Now a museum, the Palace walls are still decorated with bas-reliefs representing the symbols of the Dahomey kings and its halls and rooms hold the thrones and altars, statues and arms of a kingdom that lived in a perpetual state of war and built its greatness on the slavery of its neighbours. In the centre of the royal courtyard is the House of Pearls, a temple built by king Glele to honour his father’s spirit, the walls made from a mixture of clay and human blood! The Palace harem once held 4,000 women. Walking amongst these now derelict building evokes powerful feelings of a once mighty, but brutal regime, which challenged the might of Europe’s colonising nations.
We then drive south to the shores of Lake Nokwe, where we take a short pirogue ride out to the stilted village of Ganvie, reputed to be Africa’s largest lake village. Settled by the Tofinou people, fleeing the slave traders of the 16th century, the village today is an atmospheric setting of thatched huts, balanced on stilts of teak, where daily life is still very much conducted on the waters of the lake.
Fishing is still the principal activity for the inhabitants and every day the men go about their business, whilst women deliver their goods to the floating market and children go to school and play from the backs of open pirogues. But even amidst this tranquil aquatic idyll voodoo plays its part and this evening we will meet a local Bokono oracle, a village soothsayer who guides the lives of these traditional people through the drums and dancing of voodoos haunting rhythm. Overnight Stilt House (H) Included meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner.
Day 13: Visit Ouidah; drive to Grand Popo.
Returning to shore we make for the town of Ouidah, considered to be the spiritual home of voodoo. Once an infamous part of the old slave route, Ouidah was the site of one of the largest trading posts, supplying slaves to Europe and its outlying colonies. The echoes and ghosts of those infamous days still reverberate today, in its Afro-Portuguese architecture. We aim to spend some of our time here visiting the museum at the old Portuguese Fort and taking a walk along the slave route to the beach, where the unfortunate victims were loaded aboard the slave ships.
Bruce Chatwin’s book, The Viceroy of Ouidah, described something of life here back in those troubled times. We also aim to visit the remarkable Python Temple, where Ouidah’s ancient snake cult is still very much in evidence. Snakes are still an important feature of many voodoo rituals, believed to be able to imbue vitality and protection. Later we head east to the shores of the Gulf of Benin at Grand Popo. Overnight Standard Hotel (H+) Included meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner.
Day 14: Pirogue trip along Mono River.
Taking motorised pirogues up the Mono River we visit villages where salt is still extracted using traditional methods. The government of the region stipulates that during the packaging stage, iodine is added for its health benefits. The river takes us in a random and constantly changing route across a landscape of sand dunes, palm trees, patches of mangroves and little fishing villages constructed with the branches of palm trees. It brings us to the estuary where the Mono river meets the ocean. This afternoon is left free to relax. Overnight Standard Hotel (H+) Included meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner.
Day 15: Drive to Togo via voodoo villages; continue to Lome.
Heading west towards Lac Togo and the high grasses of the Savannah, we find hidden villages steeped in the ancient voodoo culture where we hope to witness something of this remarkable culture through meeting the locals and witnessing traditional ceremonies. Finally we reach Togo’s capital. This afternoon we have a chance to experience some of Lome’s fascinating mix of charm and cultures, with a tour of the city.
We explore its central market, the famed Grand Marché, the hub of the city and home to the renowned Nana Benz, the “Mercedes Mamas” who rank amongst some of the wealthiest and most able business people in all Africa. These women have cornered the market in cloth, travelling to Europe and the Middle East to ensure their prestigious supplies. We learn a little something of the city’s administrative and colonial past amongst the grandiose architecture built by the colonizing hand of German, French and British settlers.
We also visit the captivating Marché des Feticheurs (fetish market), which sells an eclectic mix of traditional medicines and charms, including bones, skulls and skins used by local witch doctors. The reputation of the markets draws clientele from all over West Africa and even Togo’s resident Christian and Muslim populations find themselves drawing on the ancient animistic traditions. Our tour ends this evening. Included meals: Breakfast, Lunch.
Also see tour packages in:
Africa Benin Burkina Faso Togo Local Culture Cultural Journey Ecotourism
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