This cultural odyssey takes you to the most remote regions of Ghana, Togo and Benin to discover lost tribal worlds guided by ancient spirits. Discover the Taneka tribe on a rocky mountain, the Tamberma with their fairy-tale clay castles and the Ashanti kingdom in Kumasi.
Depart from Washington Dulles on 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 - SOGAKOPE
Accra, the capital of Ghana, has maintained its unique identity despite the fast-paced development currently underway in this intriguing African city.
The itinerary includes a visit to the National Museum (if open, presently under renovation), one of the first works of independent Ghana - the idea inspiring the Museum is to relate Ghanaian art to the rest of the continent and to prove the existence of an African history as part of the general history of humanity. You explore the old quarter of James Town, inhabited by the local population known as the Ga. The tour ends with the visit of a workshop where they specialize in building fantasy coffins. These special handcrafted coffins can reflect any shape: fruits, animals, fish, cars, airplanes, the only limit being imagination! Started in Africa, these flamboyant coffin designs are by now collected worldwide and exposed in museums.
Overnight on a full board basis at Sogakope Beach Resort or similar.
SOGAKOPE - AGBODRAFO
Today is the Togo border crossing at Aflao.
Lomé, the vibrant capital of Togo, is 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 you can find an eclectic assortment of all the necessary ingredients for love potions and magical concoctions.
In a remote hidden village you will join a voodoo ceremony: the frenetic rhythm of the drums and the 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, insensitivity to fire or pain. Sakpata, Heviesso, Mami Water are just some of the voodoos 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!”
Overnight on a full board basis at Hotel Le Lac or similar.
AGBODRAFO - OUIDAH
After breakfast, depart towards Benin border crossing (Hilla Kodji / Save Kodji)
You will cross Lake Nokwe with a motorized boat to 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. Ouidah was conquered by the Dahomey army during the 18th century to become one of the main slave ports. Today Ouidah 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 - DASSA
After breakfast, depart towards Abomey where you will 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 Unesco World Heritage List, it displays items belonging to the ancient kings: thrones, cult altars, statues, costumes and weapons. A 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 whom they then sold as slaves. The royal army also included a female troop famous for its boldness and aggressive fighting spirit. In the middle of the royal courtyard there is a temple built with a mixture of clay, gold dust and human blood. At the height of their power there were up to 4.000 women in the palace harem. A walk around the buildings helps the visitor to recall the past splendour of the court, a court which also proudly challenged the powerful armies coming to colonize the continent.
Egun dancing masks
The Egungun is a very powerful masks secret society. Egun masks are the reincarnation of deceased people and are known and feared for their aggressiveness and their unpredictable way of moving around. Intensively coloured, masks are covered with a multitude of pieces of cloth of many red shades. They emerge from the forest and form a procession through the streets of the village, leaping towards any foolish spectator who dares getting too close. And nobody wants to be touched by the Egun because any contact carries the danger of death. Better watch out! When masks arrive they perform a kind of bull fight designed to scare the crowd but in truth they are actually greeted with bursts of laughter!
Overnight on a full board basis at Hotel Jeko or similar.
DASSA - NATITINGOU
You stop at the Dankoli Fetish, an important place for the voodoo cult: thousands of little sticks are pushed in the fetish as testimony of the countless prayers for a good harvest, a happy wedding, an easy delivery, success at school etc. Once the prayers are answered, people come back to sacrifice what they had promised - a goat, a chicken or a cow, according to the nature of the prayer. Traces of blood, palm alcohol or oil on the fetish are proof that many prayers have been answered.
In the afternoon you 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 IXth century. Since then, other populations have joined thus forming a kind of melting-pot where despite the fact that each group kept its own cults and initiation rites, common religious and political institutions were defined.
As we wander among the villages along alleys bordered by smooth stones, we 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, therefore life should not be conditioned by a “before” and an “after” but rather it is following a continuous path.
Overnight on a full board basis at Hotel Tata Somba or similar.
NATITINGOU - SOKODE
After breakfast, you will enter the land of the Somba & Tamberma who live in fortified dwellings. Similar in form to medieval castles, they 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. Their strong tradition beliefs are proved by the presence of big shrines - of phallic form - at the entrance of their homes. With the permission granted to us by the inhabitants we enter their homes to better understand their way of life. Actually their houses are a projection of their anthropology and cosmology - the ground floor, with its darkness, represents death and is the place of ancestors; the second floor, open to the sky, represents life and is the place where grand mothers keep babies until they “find out” which ancestor has come back as the new life - only then will the baby be allowed to come down from the terrace. All - family, food supplies and stock - are kept inside the house, for safety and survival in case of attack by enemies. For centuries these populations have been seeking refuge in the Atakora Mountains to escape slave traders.
Togo border (Bokoumbe/Nadoba)
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 or similar.
SOKODE - KPALIME
After breakfast, head south, with a stop on the way in Atakpame, a typical African town built on hills where all the products coming from the nearby forests can be found. Through their skilled work on small weaving looms, men of the region make the large brightly coloured fabric called “Kente”.
From Atakpame you move to the tropical forests surrounding Kpalime, a town with a rich colonial past which is now an important trade center. Visit the market and the arts center.
At night, walk in the forest to discover the mysterious world of the tropical forest in the darkness and so meet with the majesty of the tropical trees, the sounds of tam-tams and the echoes of wild animals. Under the guidance of a local entomologist, you will learn about endemic butterflies and insects.
Overnight on a full board basis at Hotel Residence Park or similar.
KPALIME - KOFORIDUA
Today, you cross Ghana border and continue to the Volta Region.
The area of Krobo is famous all around the world for its beads. Here they are produced and used for cults and aesthetic purposes. You will visit a factory specialized in the production of those beads and even follow the process of making one! The craftsmen have been making beads following the same long lasting traditional technique for centuries. They use scrap glass that is grounded into a fine powder. The glass powder is then meticulously made into patterns and placed into hand-made clay moulds covered in kaolin. The beads are cooked then decorated, washed and eventually strung.
You will reach Koforidua on time to visit the weekly beads market, which is a great opportunity for shopping.
Overnight on a full board basis at New Capital View or similar.
KOFORIDUA - KUMASI
Kumasi is the historical and spiritual capital of the old Ashanti Kingdom. 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 to their Gold Coast colony. The tribute paid today to the Asantehene (King) is the best evidence of their past splendour and strength. With nearly one million inhabitants, Kumasi is a sprawling city with a fantastic central market, one of the biggest in Africa. Every type of Ashanti craft (leather goods, pottery, Kente cloth) is found here, along with just about every kind of tropical fruit and vegetable.
The itinerary includes a visit to the Ashanti Cultural Centre, a rich collection of Ashanti artifacts housed in a wonderful reproduction of an Ashanti house. In the afternoon you will participate, if available, in a traditional Ashanti funeral, attended by mourners wearing beautifully red or black togas. We say “funerals” but it means a “festive” celebration: the deceased in fact is believed to be still with his/her family and through this ceremony he/she becomes an ancestor. Relatives and friends gather, socialize and celebrate his/her memory. The chief arrives surrounded by his court under the shade of large umbrellas while drums give rhythm to the dancers whose intricate moves are highly symbolic.
Overnight on a full board basis at Miklin Hotel or similar.
KUMASI - ANOMABU
After breakfast, continue with a tour of Kumasi, and visit the Royal Palace Museum, which hosts a unique collection of gold jewels worn by the Ashanti court.
In the afternoon drive to the coast.
Overnight on a full board basis at Anomabu Beach Resort or similar.
After breakfast, visit Elmina Castle, the oldest European building in Africa, erected by the Portuguese in the 15th century. At different times the castle has been used as a warehouse to trade gold, ivory, and eventually slaves. The castle you visit today is the result of successive extension works and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The old Dutch Cemetery in Elmina goes back to 1806. Outside the castle, a wonderful fishing village with lots of large colorful fishing boats - every day these canoes are guided by skilled fishermen across strong ocean waves and currents, “fighting” to earn a living. In the old town we will see the Posuban, the shrines of the old “Asafo companies” - the warriors who used to put their offerings on the large colorful statues. The alleys in the old town have a very lively atmosphere, bringing you back to a time when Elmina was a busy colonial town.
In the late morning drive to Accra and in the evening transfer to the airport for your flight to the United States.
Arrival in the United States at Washington Dulles airport.
Round trip coach air on South African Airways from Washington Dulles airport to Kotoka International Airport; Assistance at airport upon arrival and departure; Accommodations 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