Ghana, Togo and Benin – Spirits of West Africa
Ghana, Togo and Benin – Spirits of West Africa
Ghana, Togo and Benin are home to an amazing diversity of traditional cultures, from the once mighty kingdom of the Ashanti to smaller groups living in isolation in the bush. This tour explores all three, starting in Accra, one of West Africa’s liveliest cities before crossing into Togo to witness a traditional voodoo ceremony deep within the swamps. We explore stilt villages and ancient kingdoms, and visit the fiercely traditional Tamberma people, with extraordinary fortress style houses designed to protect them from invaders. In Ghana we look for sacred monkeys in the forest and travel through the lands of the Dagomba, as well as visiting the fishing village of Elmina, home to an imposing slave castle dating back more than five hundred years. You will have the opportunity to witness the Akwasidae festival of the Ashanti, a glittering showcase of traditional culture honouring the Ashanti king.
Fitness ●●●○○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●●○ | Culture ●●●●● | History ●●●○○ | Wildlife ●○○○○
- Amazing diversity of traditional cultures
- Witness a traditional voodoo ceremony
- Visit the fiercely traditional Tamberma with their extraordinary fortress style houses
- The fishing village of Elmina, home to an imposing slave castle
- Witness the Akwasidae festival of the Ashanti or the Egun Masks in Benin
Accommodation: Comfortable hotel accommodation
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary
Group Size: Maximum group size 16
Start Point: Accra
End Point: Accra
Countries: Ghana, Togo, Benin
Tour Itinerary Notes
While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.
Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip but on occasions it may be necessary to change the guide at one or more points during the tour.
Day 1 – Accra
Arrive in Accra and transfer to your hotel. For those arriving early in the day, the rest of the day is free to explore. Overnight Accra City Hotel or similar.
Ghana’s capital is one of Africa’s biggest cities, with the inevitable traffic, noise and mayhem. Despite being a fast growing, lively city, the people are friendly and welcoming and maintain many aspects of their tribal African roots. The National Museum houses one of West Africa’s best ethnographic, historical and art collections, which gives a good introduction to Ghana and surrounding areas. The old quarter of Jamestown is the heart of the old colonial town and is inhabited by the Ga people, who founded Accra in the 16th century. There are numerous bustling markets to explore where you can discover everything from food, clothing and household goods to traditional crafts. Most interesting is the area where coffins are made - here they make them with the most outlandish designs, in the shape of fish, aeroplanes, or just about anything else you can think of.
Day 2 – Accra – Sogakope (120km Approx. 3 hours driving)
Spend the morning exploring Accra, visiting the National Museum and the old quarter of Jamestown, as well as the quarter where craftsmen design flamboyant coffins for the deceased – a uniquely Ghanaian experience. From here we head to Sogakope, on the banks of the River Volta. Overnight Cisneros Hotel or similar. (BLD)
Day 3 – Sogakope – Lac Togo (110km approx. 3 hours driving)
We cross the border into Togo and head to Lome, the only African city to have been colonised by the French, British and Germans. Explore the city including its central markets and the fascinating – if rather gruesome - fetish market, where animal parts are sold for use in traditional medicines. We continue to a remote hidden village where we will join a Voodoo ceremony. The frenetic rhythm of the drums and the chants of the adepts help to call the voodoo spirits who take possession of the dancers who fall into a deep trance: eyes rolling back, grimaces, convulsions, insensitivity to fire or pain. An amazing experience and a highlight of this trip. Overnight Hotel Le Lac or similar. (BLD)
Togo’s capital is a vibrant city situated on the coast, sitting right on the international border with Ghana and with a population of just under a million. Slightly dishevelled, it is quite an atmospheric little city and is now recovering from the civil disturbances suffered by the country in the 1990s. Its origins date back to the 18th century, when it was settled by the Ewe people, one of Togo’s largest ethnic groups. Like many African cities it doesn’t have too much in the way of formal sightseeing but there are a few things worth exploring - the Grand Marche with its exuberant businesswomen known as ‘Nana Benz’ who monopolise the sale of cloth in Togo. Not be missed is the fetish market, where animal parts are sold for use in traditional medicines. This is not a great place for animal lovers, with heads and body parts of everything from sharks and crocodiles to gorillas on sale, but offers a fascinating insight into a belief system very different from our own. Lome has a number of buildings which date from the German occupation, most noticeable of which is a rather bizarre looking 19th century Gothic style cathedral which looks rather out of place in a West African city.
Voodoo, or Vodoun as it is known here, is one of the most important religions in this part of West Africa. Forget what you may have seen on TV about it being a form of black magic – here it has the same legitimacy as any other belief system and has been adopted as an official religion by Benin. Voodoo is a complex and intricate way of seeing of the world, with literally hundreds of different gods responsible for various areas of daily life – some are benevolent, some less so, and in order to communicate with them and ask for favours local people will seek the assistance of followers, or adepts. There are numerous voodoo temples scattered around the coastal regions of both Benin and Togo, each headed by a priest who for a suitable donation will intercede on your behalf. Voodoo is not limited to the temples though and travelling around the region it is not unlikely that you will see some ceremony being carried out. Also worth looking out for are the Egunguns – earthly manifestations of the dead who roam the streets in outlandish costumes, striking fear into the heart of local people. Sacrifice and blood are important within voodoo rituals, and any ceremony worth its salt is likely to involve a chicken being killed, its blood spilled onto a shrine in order to seal the pact. You’re also likely to see fetishes dotted around villages – these are inanimate objects such as rocks or trees in which a spirit is believed to reside, often covered in candle wax, feathers and blood where sacrifices have been made. Gaining some understanding of voodoo allows you a glimpse into a magical world where nothing is quite as it seems, and is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of travelling here.
Day 4 – Lac Togo – Ouidah (180km Approx. 5 hours driving)
Today we cross the border into Benin, crossing Lake Nokwe by boat to Ganvie and the Tofinou ethnic group, who build their huts on teak stilts, and cover the roofs with a thick layer of leaves. Fishing is their main activity and you will see the canoes that men, women and children lead with ease using brightly coloured poles. It is with these canoes that the men fish, women deliver goods to the market and children go to school and play. We then head to the coastal town of Ouidah, a stronghold of voodoo and once an important slave port. We visit the python temple, where snakes are venerated as representations of gods, the old Portuguese fort and finally head to the beach and the sombre ‘Gate of No Return’, the point from which slaves left Africa for the New World. Overnight Hotel Casa del Papa or similar. (BLD)
On Lake Nokwe lies the stilt village of Ganvie, a settlement of 25,000 people isolated from the land and only accessible by boat. Legend has it that the Tofinou people fled here in the 18th century to escape the depredation of the more powerful Dahomeyans on the lookout for slaves, and that they were transported to their new home by crocodiles. Whatever the truth behind it, Ganvie is an interesting place to drift through in a boat, watching how people go about their daily lives on the water, stopping at local markets watching the fishermen casting their nets, and is far removed from the busy towns making this a real delight to explore. The market on the mainland is also worth a look, if only for the rather gruesome section dedicated to voodoo.
Founded in the fifteenth century and made famous by Bruce Chatwin’s novel, ‘The Viceroy of Ouidah’, Ouidah was once a centre for the slave trade in this part of West Africa and many of its buildings bear witness to a strong European influence. As well as a rather imposing and out of place cathedral, Afro-Brazilian architecture and crumbling colonial buildings, the Portuguese fort holds an interesting history museum which gives an insight into the past life of the town. Of equal interest is the Python Temple, where a collection of snakes are venerated as earthly representations of voodoo gods. A thought provoking excursion is the 3km walk along the ‘Slave Route’, where those boarding the boats across the Atlantic were herded like cattle to the shore. At the end on the beach lies the modern ‘Gate of No Return’, built in memory of the thousands who never made it back.
Day 5 – Ouidah – Dassa (250km Approx. 5 hours driving)
Today we travel to Abomey where we visit the Royal Palace. The walls of the palace are decorated with bas-reliefs representing symbols of the ancient Dahomey kings. Now a museum listed on the World Heritage by the UNESCO, the palace displays the items belonging to the ancient kings: thrones, ancient cult alters, statues, costumes and weapons. Learn about this Kingdom whose economy was for a long time based on the slave trade. A permanent state of war made it possible for the Kings to capture thousands of prisoners that they then sold as slaves. In the middle of the royal courtyard is found a temple built with a mixture of clay and human blood. Overnight Hotel Jeko or similar (BLD)
Once the capital of the powerful kingdom of Dahomey, Abomey gained a notorious reputation as the centre of a fierce civilisation, whose rulers preyed mercilessly on the surrounding tribes as they conquered neighbouring lands and captured slaves. During the ‘Scramble for Africa’ Dahomey put up strong resistance against the French colonial armies but in the end were no match for modern weapons, and the kingdom fell in 1892, its king Gbehanzin setting fire to the city. Abomey had been renowned for its palaces, and although many were lost, two still remain which give the visitor a fascinating insight into this once mighty nation. Now museums, they contain a number of interesting exhibits from earlier times, the most impressive of which is a throne which sits on top of human skulls. Also worth a look is the nearby temple whose walls are said to have been made with the blood of enemies.
Egun Masks (subject to the relevant tour departure date)
The Egungun is a very powerful masks secret society. Egun masks are the reincarnation of the deceased and are known for their aggressive nature and their unpredictable way of moving around. Intensively coloured, masks are covered with a multitude of cloth of different shades of red. They emerge from the forest and form a spectacular procession through the streets of the village.
Day 6 – Dassa - Natitingou (350km Approx. 6 hours of driving)
Today we will stop at the Dankoli fetish, an important place of the Voodoo cult. Here, thousands of little sticks are pushed in to the fetish as witnesses of the countless prayers made to the local god. Once the prayers are answered, people return to sacrifice what they promised to the fetish, be that a goat, a chicken or a cow according to the nature of the prayer. Traces of blood, palm alcohol and palm oil on the fetish prove that a lot of pilgrims had their prayers answered. This afternoon we discover old Taneka villages and we will spend time wandering in amongst the villages. Overnight Hotel Tata Somba or similar (BLD)
Day 7 – Natitingou - Sokode (180km Approx. 4 hours of driving)
Today we enter the land of the Somba and Tamberma who live in fortified dwellings. Similar in form to medieval castles, they are truly one of the most beautiful examples of African architecture. We then cross the border into Togo and this evening get to witness a fire dance. In the centre of the village a large fire lights up the faces of the participants, who dance to the hypnotic beat of the drums eventually leaping into the glowing embers. They pick up burning coals and pass them over their bodies and even put them in their mouths without injuring themselves or showing any sign of pain. It’s difficult to explain such a performance. Maybe it really is the fetishes that protect them from the fire. Overnight Hotel Central or similar. (BLD)
The Tamberma people
The Tamberma are one of the region’s most intriguing and traditional groups. Straddling the border between Togo and Benin (where they are known as Somba), they live deep in the bush in fortress style houses which are utterly unlike anything else. Rather than settling in villages each family has its own compound, an arrow’s flight from anyone else, and the mud built dwellings, known as ‘tatas’ are built for defence, with strong walls and traditionally only accessed via a ladder which would be withdrawn in times of trouble. Inside the tatas are separate areas for people, livestock and grain, and some contain wells, meaning that the inhabitants could hole up for days when slave raiders came, making attacks on the Tamberma a far less attractive proposition than weaker, less defensive peoples.
Day 8 – Sokode – Kloto (290km Approx. 5 hours driving)
Today we head south stopping in the typical African town of Atakpame built in amongst picturesque hills. The town is synonymous with weaving and you will see brightly coloured fabric everywhere called Kente. From Atakpame we move to the tropical forests surrounding Kpalime, a town with a rich colonial past and now an important trading centre. This evening we shall enjoy a night walk in the forest to discover its mysterious nocturnal world and enjoy the sounds of nature. Under the guidance of a local entomologist we will learn about endemic butterflies and insects. Overnight Auberge JP Nectar or similar (BLD)
Day 9 – Kpalime to Akossombo (200km Approx. 5 hours driving)
Today we cross the border back into Ghana and continue to the Volta Region. We shall visit the sanctuary of Tafi Atome created in 1993 to protect a community of sacred monkeys. We shall take a lovely walk in the forest lead by a local guide to try and spot the Monas monkeys. We shall also visit the area of Krobo famous the world over for its beads. They are produced and used for cults and aesthetic purposes and we shall visit a factory and follow the process of production of the beads. Overnight Afrikiko Resort or similar (BLD)
Day 10 – Akossombo - Kumasi (250km Approx. 5 hours driving)
Continue to Kumasi, Ghana’s second city and home of the old Ashanti Kingdom. Explore the city including the Ashanti Cultural Centre, which gives a great insight into what once was one of the most powerful kingdoms in the region. If possible, we will be able to see a traditional Ashanti funeral, quite a spectacle at which visitors are welcome. Overnight Miklin Hotel or similar. (BLD)
Kumasi is the historical and spiritual capital of the Ashanti Kingdom. With its population of nearly one million, Kumasi is a sprawling city with a fantastic central market where traders from all over Africa come to sell their wares. Every kind of Ashanti craft (leather goods, pottery, kente cloth) is found here, along with just about every kind of tropical fruit, vegetable, and provision. We visit the Ashanti Cultural Centre, which has a rich collection of Ashanti artefacts, housed in a reproduction of a traditional Ashanti royal house.
The Ashanti people were one of the most powerful nations in Africa until the end of the 19th century, when the British annexed Ashanti country, bringing it into their Gold Coast colony. Originally from the northern savannah regions, the Ashanti people migrated south, carving farms out of the wild rainforest. The region was rich in gold, and trade in this precious metal developed quickly, with small tribal states developing and vying for control of resources. In the late 17th century the Ashanti ruler brought these states together in a loose confederation and the Ashanti Kingdom was born. Their social organisation is centred on the Ashantehene figure, the king of all the Ashanti. The Ashanti are the lords of the gold, so they dress themselves with it during ceremonies. The Ashanti Kingdom was famed for its gold, royalty, ceremony and the development of a bureaucratic judicial system.
Day 11 – Kumasi – Anomabu (250km Approx. 4 hours driving)
Continue our exploration of Kumasi by visiting the Royal Palace Museum, with its unique collection of golden jewellery. If the tour date coincides with the Akwasidae festival then we shall witness this flamboyant ceremony honouring the Ashantehene, the traditional ruler of the Ashanti people. From here we drive to Anomabu on the coast. Overnight Anomabu Beach Resort or similar. (BLD)
Akwasidae Festival (subject to the relevant departure date)
This special celebration takes place in the Royal Palace in Kumasi and is a traditional ceremony maintaining ancient rituals in one of the last remaining African Kingdoms. During the celebration the King is adorned is vivid clothing and centuries old jewellery and is surrounded by the Ashanti elders and advisors, all under the authority of the Royal Speaker. In front of the King a narrow passage of dignitaries is formed, representing all roles and positons of power within the kingdom, including sword and knife bearers, armed guards, carriers of beautiful ostrich feathers and more. The ceremony continues with a procession of royal court attendants bringing gifts, storytellers reciting the history of the Ashanti Kings, drummers and other musical instruments accompanied by dancers dressed in spectacular costumes. The mother queen also joins the ceremony accompanied by her attendants.
Day 12 – Elmina – Accra (180km Approx. 3 hours driving)
We visit the fishing town of Elmina, best known for St George’s Castle, the oldest European building in Africa and once used as holding centre for slaves. We explore the old quarter with its unique Posuban shrines, made by the traditional ‘asafo’ societies which were once responsible for local defence. From here we drive back to Accra, where day use rooms are available to freshen up before your flight. Transfer to the airport for your flight home. (BL)
Please note that this tour is operated and sold in conjunction with our local partner, and so you may be travelling with people of different nationalities and from companies other than Undiscovered Destinations. The maximum group size on this tour is 16.
Arrival and departure transfers
Services of English speaking guide / tour leader
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary
Bottled water in the vehicle
Visa support documentation if required
Any airport taxes
Items of a personal nature