Enjoy a trip in two countries running alongside the Gulf of Guinea, both tiny and fascinating. From Lomé to the Atakora Mountains, discover the Pendjari National Park and ancestral ceremonies.
Depart from Washington Dulles (IAD) for your South African Airways flight to Accra.
On arrival at Kotoka International Airport you will be met and transferred to your hotel.
Overnight on a bed and breakfast basis at Accra City Hotel or similar
ACCRA - KPALIME
After breakfast, you will move from Accra to the tropical forests surrounding Kpalime. Togo border crossing.
Overnight on a full board basis at Hotel Parc Résidence or similar
Walk in the forest to meet with the majesty of tropical trees, the cheerful greetings of its human inhabitants, the sounds of tam-tams, the echoes of wild animals, the filtered green emerald light. Under the guidance of a local entomologist, you will learn about endemic butterflies and insects and you will be initiated to the art of painting with natural colours.
In the afternoon you will discover Kpalime, a town with a rich colonial past which is now an important trade center. Visit the market and the arts center.
Overnight on a full board basis at Hotel Parc Résidence or similar
KPALIME - SOKODE
After breakfast, head northwards and stop on the way in Atakpame, a typical African town built on hills and where you can find all the products originating in the nearby forests. Dating back to the XIX century, it lies along the main railroad connecting Lomé to Blitta and was initially settled by the Ewe and Yoruba. It is at the centre of an important cotton-growing area and it is here that men of the region, through their skilled work on small weaving looms, make the brightly coloured fabric called “Kente”.
You continue northwards, visiting some villages and possibly some markets on the way. These populations came originally from the north of the country and have maintained their traditions that keep them tied to the land of their ancestors.
You will arrive in Sokode late in the afternoon.
In the evening, fire dance. At the centre of the village a large fire lights up the faces of the participants, they dance to the hypnotic beat of the drums eventually leaping into the glowing embers, picking up burning coals, passing them over their bodies and even putting them in their mouths … all this without hurting themselves or showing any sign of pain. It’s difficult to explain such a performance. Is it matter of courage? Self-suggestion? Magic? Maybe it really is the fetishes that protect them from the fire.
Overnight on a full board basis at Hotel Central
SOKODE - NATITINGOU
After breakfast, you will meet with the Kabye people: in some villages located at the top of the hills, women make nice traditional clay pots while men are blacksmiths who still work with heavy stones instead of hammers.
When you reach Kante, a track across the Atakora Mountains takes you to the Tamberma people. For self-defence reasons, for centuries these people have taken refuge in the heart of the Atakoras, a land so difficult to access that they could flee from any attack, especially from slave traders from Muslim North Africa. According to anthropologists, their origins are close to the Dogon people of Mali with whom they share an absolute faithfulness to their animist traditions. Their strong traditional beliefs are confirmed by the presence of big shrines - of phallic form - at the entrance of their homes. Those fortified dwellings, similar in form to medieval castles, are one of the most beautiful examples of ancient African architecture. Their style impressed Le Corbusier so much that he spoke of «sculptural architecture». In fact the houses are built by hand, layer after layer, adding round mud balls and shaping them as per the plan of the house. A kind of sensual gesture mixing strength, care and beauty. With the permission granted to you by the inhabitants you will enter their homes to better understand their way of life.
A bit further to the east, after you have crossed the Benin border (Nadoba/Bokoumbe), you will meet with the Betammaribe (alias Somba) who live in the same natural environment of the Atakora Mountains just like the Tamberma. Similarly they also build nice clay castles however, unlike the Tamberma, they follow a series of very suggestive initiatory rites. Young men between 18 and 20 years of age have their bellies scarified with delicate and complex geometrical patterns, deeply convinced that those scars are the only way to become “real” men. You will meet some of those young men to hear from them what they recall of their initiation. Girls also go through a scarification rite but in their case scars are made on the belly and on the back at the age of 20-22. Should a child be conceived before this initiation, scarification is carried out at the beginning of the pregnancy because the lack of scars could become harmful in the delivery process. All these initiatory rites form a cycle that starts during the weaning period (when the child’s face gets scarified) and whose completion symbolises the official birth as a member of the group. It is the infinite number of the very thin scars on their faces that forever reminds people they are Betammaribe.
Overnight on a full board basis at Hotel Tata Somba or similar
NATITINGOU - PENDJARI - COPARGO
After breakfast, you will move North and enjoy safaris.
The Pendjari National Park is an area of 2755 square kilometers in the upper north-western part of Benin. The park is part of the WAP complex (W-Arli-Pendjari) which is a vast protected area in Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger. The hills and cliffs of the Atakora make the North-West area one of the most beautiful in Benin and provide a wonderful backdrop to the Pendjari National Park which, despite its remoteness, remains one of the most interesting in West Africa.
The national park is famous for the variety of its wildlife as it is home to some of the last populations of elephants, West African lions, hippopotamuses, buffalos and various types of West African antelopes. The Park is also known for being a paradise for bird watchers.
Day 7: Overnight on a full board basis at Campement de la Pendjari or similar
Day 8: Overnight on a full board basis at Hotel Taneka Koko or similar
COPARGO - DASSA
A nice walk to discover old Taneka villages located on a mountain with the same name. The villages are made up of round houses covered with a conical roof protected at the top by a terra cotta pot. The upper part of the village is inhabited by the young initiated and by the fetish priests who only cover themselves with a goat skin and always carry a long pipe. This ethnic group has been living on an archaeological site for centuries, in fact it looks as if the first inhabitants (from Kabye origins) moved to the mountain during the IX century. Since then, other populations have joined to so form a kind of melting-pot where despite the fact that each group has kept its own cults and initiation rites, they defined common religious and political institutions.
As you wander around, along alleys bordered by series of smooth stones, you may come across half naked men. The Taneka people believe that in order to “become” a man, it is necessary to combine time, patience and a lot of… blood from sacrificed animals. It actually is a lifetime process in the sense that life itself becomes a rite of passage. As a consequence, life should not be considered conditioned by a “before” and an “after” but rather as following a continuous path.
Transfer southwards. Visit the Savalou shrine, an important place for animist pilgrims.
Overnight on a full board basis at Hotel Jeko or similar
DASSA - ABOMEY
Dassa is the seat of an old kingdom founded by Olofin in 1385 and in town it is still possible to see sites witnessing the passage of this long lasting dynasty. A walk through the hills will take you to a sacred place where kings used to be buried – it is still protected today by several voodoos.
Once you get to Abomey, you will visit the Royal Palace whose walls are decorated with the symbols of the former kings of the Dahomey Kingdom. The Palace hosts a Museum and a temple built with a mixture of clay, gold dust and human blood. The Kingdom of Dahomey maintained a permanent state of war in order for kings to capture prisoners and sell them as slaves. The royal army also included a female troop famous for its boldness and aggressive fighting spirit. Historians like to emphasize the “secular” aspect of the king’s rule however even though the king was considered neither a god nor a priest, on special occasions many human sacrifices were performed on the kings’ graves. The power was exercised in a rational way, easy to understand also for a European; proof is the fact that kings of France and of the Dahomey interchanged their turns as diplomatic representatives at the end of the XVIII century.
In the afternoon you will attend spectacular Gelede dancing masks.
Gelede is at the same time a cult, a secret society and a mask. First of all it is the cult of Oudua: the great divinity, the old mother and the mother earth. Gelede is also the daughter of Ougun, the god of iron and one of the main gods in South Benin’s Voodoo religion. But Gelede is also the secret society which holds the Gelede masks and organizes special dances. Gelede performances recall our western “theatre” where each mask represents a character, often humoristic or ironic. This theatrical aspect of the masks mimicking short stories has the function of educating, not simply entertaining the village. Gelede mask has feminine features but is worn by men dressed up like women and dancing incredible performances: a chorus made up of more than 20 singers dancing in a large circle with two big drums in the middle, the surrounding public, happy and excited, singing along, laughing and clapping hands. Colours dominate the scene with the dancers dressed up in colorful clothes moving around all the time.
Overnight on a full board basis at Hotel Sun City or similar
ABOMEY - OUIDAH
A few kilometres north of Cotonou you will cross Lake Nokwe with a motorized boat and reach Ganvie, the largest and most beautiful African village on stilts. The approximately 25,000 inhabitants of the Tofinou ethnic group build their huts on teak stilts and cover the roofs with a thick layer of leaves. Fishing is their main activity. The village has managed to preserve its traditions and environment despite the long-lasting human presence in a closed setting; and the lake is not over-fished. Life unfolds each day around the canoes that men, women and children guide with ease using brightly colored poles. It is with these canoes that men fish, women deliver goods to the market and children go to school and play.
Drive to Ouidah, considered the capital town of African Voodoo. Ouidah was conquered by the Dahomey army during the XVIII century to become one of the main slave ports. Today the city enjoys an Afro-Portuguese architecture and the python temple faces the Catholic Cathedral. The laid back attitude of the locals blends in harmoniously with the thunder of the distant waves and the rhythm of the drums - a timeless atmosphere very well described by Bruce Chatwin in his book "The Vice-Roy of Ouidah". On foot you will visit the Python Temple and the Portuguese Fort, now a museum on the history of Ouidah and the slave trade. You will end your city tour by following the “slave road” to the beach, the point of “no return” where slaves used to board ships.
Overnight on a full board basis at Hotel Casa del Papa or similar
OUIDAH - LOMÉ
Crossing the Togolese border (Save Kodji / Hilla Kodji).
All along the coast of Togo and Benin, voodoo is a religion that has been passed on by the ancestors and is still fervently practiced. Although according to many Westerners voodoo is only a vulgar form of black magic, in truth voodoo is a real religion, far richer and more complex than people often think. In a remote hidden village you will join a Voodoo ceremony: the frenetic rhythm of the drums and chants of the adepts help calling in the voodoo spirit who then takes possession of some of the dancers. They fall into a deep trance: eyes rolling back, grimaces, convulsions, unsensitivity to fire or pain. Sakpata, Heviesso, Mami Water are just some of the voodoo divinities who can show up. In this narrow village, surrounded by the magic atmosphere of the ceremony, you will finally understand what people mean when they say: “In your Churches you pray to God; in our voodoo shrine we become God!”
Arrival in Lomé in the afternoon.
City tour of Lomé, the vibrant capital of Togo, the only African city which was a colony of the Germans, the British and the French. It is also one of the few capitals in the world bordering with another nation. These elements have led to the development of a unique identity reflected in the life style of its inhabitants and in the architecture of the town: Lomé is indeed a cross point for people, trade and cultures, a cosmopolitan city in small size. You will visit: the central market with its famous “Nana Benz”, women who control the market of the expensive “pagne” (cloths) coming from Europe and sold all over West Africa (unfortunately the market has been partially destroyed by fire); the colonial buildings in the administrative quarter where the flavor of colonial time is still very present; and the fetish market where we can find an eclectic assortment of all the necessary ingredients for love potions and magical concoctions – it is here that all the adepts of the local animist religion come to buy the necessary items to practice their cults. The market masters will introduce you with some of their home-made “gris-gris” prepared to help you solve your daily life issues.
Overnight on a full board basis at Hotel Onomo or similar
After breakfast, spend some free time shopping. Many of the places which can be visited for this purpose the vehicle will be available to take you around: shops for tribal art and antiques, craftworks, art galleries with contemporary paintings from the “Togolese school” (which start to be quite popular in French and North-American galleries), shops selling “popular” art items such as the colourful “advertising” signs in front of the street hairdressers etc.
In the evening drive to Accra and transfer to the airport for the flight out.
Arrival in the United States at Washington Dulles (IAD) airports.
Round trip coach air on South African Airways from Washington (IAD) Airport to Kotoka International Airport; Assistance at airport upon arrival and departure; Accommodation as per the itinerary; Experienced tour guide; Tours and visits as per the itinerary; Most meals as per the itinerary; Entrance fees to parks, concessions, protected areas and cultural sites; All transfers as per the itinerary; All service charges and taxes
Add on air from other US cities; Earlier and/or later transfers from and to airport; Visa fees and any airport departure taxes; Any meal or sightseeing tour other than those specified in itinerary; Any items of personal expense - i.e. mineral water and drinks at meals, telephone calls, laundry, personal photos and videos etc; Personal and holiday insurance (compulsory); Gratuities for drivers, guides and hotel staff; Porterage; Costs relating to delayed or lost luggage