Thriving traditional cultures, renowned art forms, flamboyantly colorful festivals, mask dances, and a dazzling ethnic mosaic are the golden gems of tribal West Africa. Our unique PhotoQuest takes you to Ghana, Togo and Benin to discover lost tribal worlds guided by ancient spirits.
Visit the coast for the annual festival of voodoo, where people dressed up in traditional costumes perform unique rituals and ceremonies in devotion to ancient gods. While there, one should expect to bump into the earthly manifestations of voodoo spirits, photograph practitioners, trance-dances and learn about the awesome power that voodoo spirits still hold over people. The other highlight will be the "Fancy Dress Festival" which is a masquerade festival held by the people of Winneba.
Meet unforgettable people including the Taberma, whose fairytale clay castles are spectacular examples of uniquely African architecture.
December 30: Depart the United States for Accra, Ghana (ACC)
December 31: Arrive in Accra, Ghana
Arrive in Accra, capital of Ghana, and transfer to Labadi Beach Hotel. Set amidst tropical landscaped gardens, this famous hotel overlooks one of Ghana’s most beautiful beaches.
Overnight Labadi Beach Hotel.
January 1: Winneba Masquerade Festival - Elmina, Ghana
After breakfast, we check out of the hotel and make our way to Winneba for the “Fancy Dress Festival,” known locally as Kakamotobi, a masquerade festival held annually by the people of Winneba. This colorful festival features brass band music and costumes. In the afternoon, continue to Elmina, check into the hotel and relax. (Drive Time from Accra to Winneba- 2 hrs).
Overnight at Coconut Grove Beach Resort.
January 2: Elmina, Ghana
Explore the old quarter of Elmina and the Castle of St George, the oldest European-constructed building in Africa. Also visit the unique Posuban shrines, structures once responsible for the defense of towns along Ghana’s coast.
Overnight at Coconut Grove Beach Resort.
January 3: Elmina - Kumasi
Travel to the center of the Ashanti Kingdom, Kumasi. Begin the day with a visit to the Ashanti Cultural Centre featuring a rich collection of Ashanti artifacts. Kumasi is also home to a bustling market selling all manner of goods from crafts to everyday items. In the afternoon, observe a traditional Ashanti funeral, attended by mourners wearing beautifully red or black togas. (Drive Time from Cape Coast to Kumasi- 3 hrs 30mins)
Overnight at Golden Tulip Kumasi.
January 4: Kumasi
Visit the three famous Ashanti craft villages: Ahwiaa, the wood carvers’ village; Ntonso, the home of Adinkra cloth; and Bonwire, the Kente weaving village. We will have an opportunity to see how African crafts are made andto buy directly from the artisans who make them.
Overnight at Golden Tulip Kumasi.
January 5: Kumasi to Accra
After breakfast, early morning departure for a Accra.
Upon arrival, enjoy a sightseeing city tour of Accra. We will drive through the administrative and economic districts of Accra, the capital of Ghana. Points of interest along the tour include the W. E. B. Dubois Centre for Pan African Culture, Independence/ Black Star Square and Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park. The tour ends at the Arts Centre where we will have an opportunity to photograph and shop in an open-air market renowned traditional artifacts and crafts. (Drive Time from Kumasi to Accra - 4 hrs)
Overnight at Labadi Beach Hotel.
January 6: Accra — Lome, Togo
After breakfast, drive to Aburi Botanical Gardens. This eco-paradise was created in 1890 for pleasure and scientific research and is a habitat for plants and butterflies from all
around the world. Later in the day, visit the wonderful Woodcarvers’ Village. Transfer to Lome in the afternoon. (Drive Time from Accra to Lome- 4 hrs). Overnight at Ibis Lomé, Togo.
January 7: Lome - Cotonou, Benin
After breakfast, depart hotel to tour highlights in and around Lome: the Grand Marche, Marche des Feticheurs, Musee National, Place de I’ndependence Hotel Azalai Plage. After lunch we depart for Cotonou, Benin. (3 hours drive).
Overnight at Azalai Plage, Benin
January 8: Lome - Ganvie, Benin
After breakfast, take a sensational visit to Ganvie, a village on the water commonly referred to as the ‘Venice of West Africa.’ Witness firsthand the people of Ganvie carrying out their daily routine as vendors in dugout canoes piled high with wares. Enjoy a day of photographing, shopping at the floating market, and relaxing on a canoe ride along the waterways of this exotic 300-year-old village. Overnight at Azalai Plage, Benin.
January 9: Ouidah, Benin
After breakfast, depart to Ouidah (1 hour drive) , the cradle of African Traditional Religion. Along the way, tour the temple dedicated to the sacred Python, which is believed to give vitality and protection. We will also visit the sacred forest which houses many shrines dedicated to various deities.
In the afternoon, visit the historical Museum of Ouidah, located in
an old Portuguese fort built in 1721. This Museum portrays Benin's role in the Atlantic Slave Trade. Later, visit the Port of No Return, a monument built by the Benin Government to commemorate the Africans that were taken from the Dahomey Empire during the Slave Trade.
Overnight at Azalai Plage, Benin.
January 10: Ouidah (Voodoo Festival), Benin
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 of the 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 will discover groups from various voodoo temples performing their own rites and rituals. This visit promises fascinating insight into a much maligned religion and will be unlike anything you may have seen before! The celebrations will also be filled with singing, chanting, dancing, beating of drums and drinking various spirits usually gin.
Overnight at Azalai Plage, Benin.
January 11: Cotonou, Benin – Accra, Ghana and return home
Morning departure for a return trip to Accra by road. Spend the remainder of the day at leisure in preparation towards your journey home in your Day Room (Coconut Grove Regency Hotel) . Drive Time from Cotonou to Accra- 6 hrs approximately. Book your flights out of Accra (ACC) in the evening.
Farewell Dinner and transfer to airport for check-in and final departure back home.
Accommodations based on double occupancy.
A single supplement is paid by participants who specifically request single accommodations, subject to availability.
Mirjam is a New York City based travel photographer specializing in international environmental portraiture, landscape photography and adventure images. Born and raised in the Netherlands, she has photographed in more than 75 countries, including many of the most exotic places in the world. Mirjam's photographs are indicative of her unique capacity to personally connect with diverse cultures and communities. Her eye for location lighting is highly stylized and works to illustrate and heighten the unique characteristics of each international locale. She is able to transcend cultural and language barriers with an intangible spirit that is conveyed in every image. Her work has appeared in AFAR, The New York Times, AARP, Outdoor Photographer, PDN, American Photo, Popular Photography, Digital Photo, Departures, MSN Travel.
A valid passport is required for your trip. Be sure to check the expiration date. Your passport must be valid for six months after your date of exit from West Africa. In addition, we recommend your passport has at least two completely blank visa pages for every country you will be visiting. It is very important that the blank pages say “Visas” at the top. The last few pages of your passport, which say “Amendments and Endorsements,” and the final page of your passport, which may not have a page number, are not considered to be legitimate visa pages. You can request a new passport through a visa service agency or the US Passport Services Office. Be sure to allow sufficient time to acquire this before your trip. It is a good idea to carry photocopies of your passport’s photo page and any acquired visa pages for your trip in case your passport is lost or as an additional piece of identification, as well as two extra passport photos.
US citizens need a visa for Ghana, Togo, and Benin. Do not apply for the visas directly with the consulate, since you may encounter problems. You can use various companies to help expedite your visas, like Passport Visas Express (PVE). On the PVE website, purchase the Ghana Tourist Multiple Visa (valid for 3 months), the Togo Tourist Multiple Visa (valid for 3 months) and the Benin Tourist Visa (valid for 3 years). PVE can also be reached by phone at 888-596-6028. If you are a citizen of any country other than the US, check with a local consulate for entry requirements.
Most of our hotels have wi-fi or a lobby/computer room with internet access. Keep in mind that sometimes the internet may be very slow or not work at all. There are also internet cafes in towns.
The currency in Togo and Benin is the CFA (the West African franc, linked to the Euro). In Ghana it is the Cedi (GHC). We suggest you bring most of your money in US and Euros cash (travelers checks are not recommended as they can be difficult and time-consuming to cash). For US cash, new $50 and $100 bills get a higher rate than old $1s and $5s. It is important that your bills be clean and crisp; old, faded, ripped, or soiled bills will be rejected. Only a few hotels change Euros to CFA for free, and they would only have enough cash for one or two people.
during the trip. NOTE: USD bills need to be dated 2006 or newer.
It is very easy to obtain the local Ghanian currency, the Cedi (GHC), at the airport or Foreex bureau in Ghana (faster than at the banks). It is a little more difficult to change money for Togo and Benin.
Ghana and Togo are 5 hours ahead of US Eastern Standard Time; Benin is 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. Daylight Savings Time in the US may affect these times.
The international dialing code for Ghana is 233, Togo is 228, and Benin is 229. Please contact your cell phone company for specific instructions for international use.
West Africa has 220-volt current. Plugs usually have three rectangular prongs or two or three round pins. Electricity can be unreliable and subject to brownouts, even in the larger cities.
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 favorite car, traditionally based on the occupation of the deceased, but customizable upon prior request.
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 monopolize 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.
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.
Mythologized 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.
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.
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.
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 organization is centered 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.
Computer / Digital Accessories
$6200 based on double occupancy.
Single supplements are available for an additional $1250.
Tourist facilities are very limited in the remote regions and small villages we will be visiting. There are few first-class hotels anywhere outside the cities, but rest assured that we always try to book the best possible accommodations. Hotels will be comfortable and clean, but very basic in terms of amenities.
Frequent stops will be made to give us ample opportunity to stroll around villages and markets to see and experience the differences in architecture, dress, and culture among the many tribes in West Africa. Questers should understand that this trip involves long drives in hot and humid weather. The physical shape you are in will be an important factor in your enjoyment of your trip.
The weather is rather hot and humid, and you need to be tolerant to temperatures in the mid 80’s to mid-90's. Moreover, some roads are dirt and this can cause breathing and eye irritation from the dust. By signing up for this Quest, the traveller must accept those challenges and agree to be tolerant, flexible and patient should a delay, detour or inefficiency arise.
It is highly advisable to purchase travel protection insurance.