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.
Photograph the unique and colorful Winneba Masquerade Festival with press passes
Photograph a private dance performance In Kumasi
Photograph the Teshle Coffin carver in Accra
Capture great images of boxers at a boxing gym in Jamestown
Photograph a traditional Ashanti funeral, attended by mourners wearing beautifully red or black togas
Experience private Voodoo ceremonies: Egungun, Ganbada divinity ceremony and Sapata divinity ceremony dedicated to the god of the earth.
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 hotel overlooks one of Ghana’s most beautiful beaches. New Year's eve celebration and fireworks at 8pm. Overnight Labadi Beach Hotel or similar. (B,D)
January 1, 2020: Winneba Masquerade Festival - Elmina, Ghana
Happy New Year! After breakfast, we check out of the hotel and drive for 1 1/2 hours 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 a competition between all the costumes four different groups make. We will have press passes to make sure to get the best photographs. Make a stop at a fishing village to photograph all the activities on the beach. In the late afternoon, continue to Elmina (2 hours). Overnight Elmina (B,D)
January 2: Elmina, Ghana
Explore Elmina and the local fish market to photograph the auction followed by a tour of the Cape Coast Castle, the oldest European-constructed building in Africa. Photograph the unique Posuban shrines, structures once responsible for the defense of towns along Ghana’s coast. Lunch at Castle Beach restaurant. At 5 pm photograph a drumming and dance rehearsal in the courtyard next to the castle. Overnight Elmina. (B, L)
January 3: Elmina - Kumasi, Ghana
Drive for 4 hours this morning to the center of the Ashanti Kingdom, Kumasi. Begin the day with a visit to the Ashanti Cultural Centre to photograph a private session with drummers and dancers. Kumasi is home to a bustling market selling all manner of goods from crafts to everyday items. We will have access to photograph the market from a rooftop. In the afternoon, observe a traditional Ashanti funeral, attended by mourners wearing beautifully red or black togas. Overnight at the Golden Tulip Kumasi or similar. (B,D)
January 4: Kumasi, Ghana
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 the Golden Tulip Kumasi or similar.
January 5: Kumasi to Accra
After breakfast, early morning departure for Accra. (5 hours). Upon arrival, enjoy a sightseeing city tour of Accra including Jamestown where we explore the old quarter of James Town, inhabited by the local population known as the Ga. Photograph a boxing match at well know boxing gym. After lunch photograph the Teshle Coffin carver who is known around the world for his craft of carving coffins into lifelike sculptures and are spectacular. Enjoy a drink on the beach at Osekan before we head back to our hotel. Overnight Kempinsky Hotel or similar. (B,L)
January 6: Accra — Lome, Togo
After breakfast, drive to Lome, Togo. (3 1/2 hours)
This evening photograph a fire dance . Overnight at Hotel L'independance, Togo or similar.
January 7: Lome - Cotonou, Benin
After breakfast, depart for the Akodessewa Fetish Market. From buffalo skull to antelope horn, desiccated cobra to bear skin, the healers, or fetish priests, in West Africa’s largest “Marché des Fetiches” have a world of decaying animals at their fingertips, ready to be ground up, burned, imbibed, or whatever else the gods may decry. A fetish priest markets his good-luck charms and fetish objects, and the visitor selects what he or she is interested in purchasing by placing each object in a tortoise shell before the legba. Each object is blessed with an incantation, and then the price-negotiation process begins by tossing and re-tossing a collection of broken cowry shells on the dirt floor. When a price is agreed upon and the purchases are made, he bids his visitors a warm goodbye, and insists that they be in touch to tell him how the charms and remedies are working. After lunch we depart for Cotonou, Benin. (3 hours drive).
Overnight at Maison Rouge Cotonou, 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 at the floating market and relaxing on a canoe ride along the waterways of this exotic 300-year-old village. After lunch photograph a private Egungun ceremony. Overnight at Maison Rouge Cotonou, Benin.
January 9: Allada, Benin (Mini Voodoo Festival)
After breakfast, depart to Allada (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. Photograph the sacred forest which houses many shrines dedicated to various deities. In a remote hidden village we will photograph 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. Photograph a private Ganbada divinity ceremony.
Overnight at Maison Rouge Cotonou, 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 gin. Overnight at Maison Rouge Cotonou, 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. Drive Time from Cotonou to Accra- 6 hrs approximately. Book your flights out of Accra (ACC) in the late evening. Transfer to airport for check-in and final departure back home. Day room in Accra and final dinner. (B,D)
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 $1450.
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.