Ghana, Togo and Benin - Ouidah Voodoo Festival
Ghana, Togo and Benin - Ouidah Voodoo Festival
A journey to the spiritual heart of West Africa, where myth, religion and reality intertwine to create an intoxicating blend of extraordinary experiences. Stretching from the dusty borderlands of the north to the tropical coast in the south, Ghana, Togo and Benin encapsulate all that is special about West Africa, with great scenery and wildlife complemented by a joyous and exuberant people who will make you feel welcome from the moment you arrive. Starting in Accra we cross first into Togo and the capital Lome where we visit its bizarre fetish market, and then head to Ouidah in Benin. Here we witness one of the region’s most incredible cultural experiences, the annual festival of voodoo, where people perform unique rituals and ceremonies in devotion to ancient gods, and where you can expect to bump into the earthly manifestations of voodoo spirits. We learn about the history of the region in the once powerful kingdom of Abomey, discover the fortified houses of the Tamberma people, and travel to the heart of the Ashanti kingdom in Kumasi. Finally we end up back at Ghana’s coast, where we visit the castles of the first Europeans to reach these shores and relax on the beach. Discover the soul of West Africa.
Fitness ●●●○○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●●○ | Culture ●●●●● | History ●●●○○ | Wildlife ●○○○○
- Delve into the mysteries of the Voodoo festival in Ouidah
- Witness an incredible fire dance in Sokode
- See the Tamberma’s adobe castles
- Experience the Ashanti culture and memorials
- Wander the old town of Elmina and visit the castle of St George, once used for holding slaves
Accommodation: Comfortable standard 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
Transport: Minibus or microbus
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, capital of Ghana, and transfer to hotel. 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 (British protected area) and was 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. There is even an area for the fabrication of special coffins that take the forms of fish, fruit, animals, or your favourite car, traditionally based on the occupation of the deceased, but customisable upon prior request.
Day 2 – Accra – Lome
Explore Accra, taking in its main sights including the atmospheric old quarter of Jamestown, the National Museum and something unique to Ghana – the coffin makers. These craftsmen build elaborate coffins in many weird and wonderful shapes including fish, cars, animals and aeroplanes! From Accra we cross the border into Togo and head to the capital, Lome. Overnight Ibis Hotel or similar. (BLD)
Day 3 – Lome – Ouidah
Take a tour of the city, including its lively and colourful market, before heading to the fetish market, where all manner of animal parts are on sale for spells and potions – a truly West African sight! From here we cross in to Benin and head to Ouidah for the night. Overnight Hotel Casa Del Papa. (BLD)
Lome is a lively city situated on the coast, virtually on the border with Ghana and with a population of just under a million. It retains a slightly shabby, but in the right light decidedly enchanting, feel and was sorely affected by the civil disturbances in the 1990’s that rocked Togo. Founded by the Ewe people in the eighteenth century, it became the capital of German Togoland under colonial occupation. Lome’s formal attractions are relatively sparse but include its Grand Marche, celebrated for its rich textile businesswomen known as ‘Nana Benz’ who monopolise the sale of cloth in the country. Lome has several buildings dating back to the colonial period including a 19th century Gothic style cathedral which looks rather out of place in a West African city.
Day 4 – Voodoo Festival
Spend today delving into the mysteries of voodoo at Ouidah’s annual voodoo festival. Although there are many festivals around the country, this is the largest. You can expect to see followers and adepts of the various voodoo gods, from the elaborately costumed Zangbetos, to the followers of Kokou, renowned for injuring themselves as a way to reach the divine. Around the edges of the main performance area you can find groups from various voodoo temples performing their own rites and rituals. This is a fascinating insight into a much maligned religion, and unlike anything you may have seen before. Overnight Hotel Casa del Papa. (BLD)
Mythologised by bloodthirsty Hollywood films, voodoo originates from this region of West Africa, having been carried to New World countries like Haiti by slaves centuries ago. Voodoo is one of the most important religious systems in this region, an animistic religion comprising of many hundreds of different gods, although there is belief in one supreme being. Togo and Benin are dotted with voodoo temples, manned by priests, but voodoo ceremonies can take place anywhere and it is quite possible to stumble upon them throughout the region. Ceremonies can take many forms but often involve followers falling into trances, accompanied by the beat of pounding drums and dancing. Often adepts will become insensitive to pain, slashing themselves with sharp objects or breaking bottles over their heads. Sacrifice also plays an important part of the religion, and although it is most common to sacrifice chickens, many other creatures are also offered up to the gods such as goats, dogs and cats. Great significance is placed on fetishes, inanimate objects where the spirits are said to reside and which can become focal points for worship.
Day 5 – Ganvie – Abomey
The stilt village of Ganvie, in the centre of Lake Nokwe is our goal this morning. We take a boat onto the lake and explore the village, hopefully seeing a local market where all the trade is conducted on small boats. From here we continue to Abomey. Abomey was the centre of the notorious kingdom of Dahomey, a fiercesome people who struck terror into the hearts of the surrounding tribes. We visit the Royal Palace, its walls reputed to be forged from the blood and bones of captives, to gain an insight into this once great African power. Overnight Hotel Dako or similar. (BLD)
Abomey was once the capital of one of Africa’s greatest nations, Dahomey, whose rulers struck terror into the heart of surrounding tribes as they made war, conquered land and captured slaves. Its kings built numerous palaces, only two of which remain, the rest having been burned to the ground when the French attacked. Dahomey was a powerful kingdom, and put up fierce resistance to French occupation but in the end was defeated. The kingdom employed a large army, including regiments of female ‘Amazons’. The remaining palaces have been turned into a museum which contains artefacts from Dahomey including a throne which sits on top of human skulls.
Day 6 - Sokode
We leave the lush coastal belt of Benin behind and head north into a different landscape, where Islam replaces Voodoo as the dominant religion. We stop en route at the Dankoli fetish, the most powerful fetish in Benin, where we may see sacrifices being performed to ask for the favour of the gods. We then cross back into Togo and drive to Sokode, and this evening we witness a traditional fire dance. Overnight Hotel Central or similar. (BLD)
Sokode is Togo’s second largest town, and an important trading centre in the north of the country due to its strategic location. It has a couple of very good markets, selling all manner of goods.
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. Is it matter of courage? Magic? Maybe it really is the fetishes that protect them from the fire.
Day 7 – Tamberma Villages - Kara
The villages of the Tamberma people, straddling the border between Togo and Benin, are one of the undoubted highlights of the region. Each house is built out of earth as a fortress, able to be defended against the slaving raids of old and capable of shielding an entire family and their livestock from invaders. We spend today visiting several of these magical and enchanting structures, and meeting the Tamberma people, some of whom still wear headgear made from the horns of gazelles and sport bones through their lips. This evening we witness a fire dance. Overnight Hotel Kara or similar. (BLD)
The Tamberma people
The Tamberma live in the far north of Benin and Togo. Once famous for their nudity, increasing outside influences mean that they now wear clothes, although many people will still sport traditional adornments. The Tamberma are both hunters and farmers and it is not uncommon to see groups of Tamberma men returning from a hunt with their bows and arrows. The big draw however is the fantastic architecture found in this region. Tamberma houses, called ‘tatas’ are robust fortress type dwellings, with separate enclosures for humans, livestock and grain, and were easily defended in case of slave raids. Some houses also contain wells, meaning that a family could remain there for some time, prompting raiders to give up and look for easier prey.
Day 8 – Dagomba villages
We cross back into Ghana. Travel to a little visited region to discover the villages of the Dagomba, characterised by round clay huts with thatched roofs. In one village we meet a large settlement of witches, exiled from their villages, and find out about their lives. Overnight Modern City Hotel or similar. (BLD)
Day 9 – Boabeng Fiema Monkey Sanctuary – Techiman
Visit the impressive Kintampo Waterfalls before we continue on to the Boabeng Fiema Monkey Sanctuary, an area of forest home to mona and colobus monkeys which are considered sacred by the local population, and can be found here in good numbers. From here we drive to Techiman. Overnight Encom Hotel or similar. (BLD)
Day 10 – Kumasi
We travel to the centre of the Ashanti kingdom, Kumasi. We visit the Ashanti Cultural Centre with its rich collection of Ashanti artefacts. Kumasi is also home to a bustling market selling all manner of goods from crafts to everyday items. We may be lucky enough to witness an Ashanti funeral – a colourful and exuberant affair which gives a great insight into the complex culture of this once powerful kingdom. Overnight Hotel Miklin 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 Ghana National 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 - Elmina
We spend today exploring Kumasi further, and also meet a traditional Ashanti chief. There may be time to visit some nearby villages as well. We then head back to the coast and the fishing town of Elmina. Overnight Anomabu Beach Resort or similar. (BLD)
Day 12 – Elmina - Accra
Explore the old quarter of Elmina as well as the Castle of St George, the oldest European constructed building in Africa once used for holding slaves. We also see the unique Posuban shrines, built by traditional local societies that were once responsible for the defence of towns along Ghana’s coast. Return to Accra where day use rooms are available until 1800 and your onward flight. (B)
Elmina is best known for its Castle of St George, built in 1482 by the Portuguese and occupied by the Dutch and British in the following centuries. The Castle and its museum are of considerable interest and the town is now a colourful thriving fishing port where hundreds of colourfully painted wooden fishing canoes are anchored. The best time to see the port is in the morning when fishermen arrive back with their catches, and traders crowd the area. In addition to the Castle of St George Elmina boasts another – the smaller Fort St Jago, situated on top of a hill as a protective measure against the castle being bombarded from above. There are also numerous animistic shrines throughout the town built by Posuban societies to protect the fishermen.
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
Visa support documentation if required
Any airport taxes
Items of a personal nature