January 10th is always a very special day in Benin, a day for celebrating ancestral cults. In particular all the Voodoo's adepts meet in Ouidah and then convey in a long procession to the Door of No Return. Some do this on foot while others by motorbike or “taxi-brousse”. They are all dressed up in traditional costumes, white being the dominant colour. The Festival reaches its peak with the arrival of the Dagbo Houno, the chief “feticheur”. Dances, libations, masks and some official speeches are all part of the morning programme. This fantastic cultural odyssey then heads inland, through northern savannah and we meet the Taneka tribe on a rocky mountain, the Tamberma people with their fairy-tale clay castles and finally we enter the Ashanti kingdom in Kumasi. We end our tour exploring the former Slave Coast, with its haunting European forts. This is thus one of the most complete and spectacular tours in West Africa timed on a very unique occasion. Great experiences combined with the choice of good accommodation. For travellers who want to get acquainted with this incredible region … and love Africa!
|Price (From)||:||US$ 4550|
|Includes international air|
Day 01: Arrive Lome (TOGO)
Upon arrival at Lome Lome International Airport we will be met & transferred to our hotel. Check in time starts from 1500 hrs. Balance of the day is free to relax.
Overnight: Hotel Sarakawa or similar (1 night)
Day 02: Lome/Ouidah (Drive) (BENIN)
Lomé, the vibrant capital of Togo, is the only African city that was a colony of the Germans, British and the French. It is also one of the few capitals in the world that borders with another country. These elements give a unique identity reflected in the life style and the architecture. Lomé is a cross point for people, trade and cultures, a cosmopolitan city in small size. We start our exploration with a visit to the central market with its famous “Nana Benz”. Women control the market especially the expensive “pagne” (cloths) trade coming from Europe and sold all over West Africa. At the fetish market we find an eclectic assortment of all the necessary ingredients for love potions and magical concoctions.
We move inland and step into voodoo world. Meeting with a traditional healer - traditional healers treat their patients combining voodoo rites with their deep knowledge of ancestral herbs. Treatments are believed to be effective for almost all diseases, especially for insanity. The endless list of voodoos shows the endless powers concentrated in their impressive shrines!
Overnight: Hotel Casa del Papa or similar (2 nights) (B, L, D)
Day 03: Ouidah
Every 10th of January is a national celebration day in Benin, honouring traditional religion and all cults associated with it. Ouidah in particular is where dozens of voodoo ceremonies are held, calling thousands of adepts, traditional chiefs and fetish priests.
Ouidah was conquered by the Dahomey army during the XVIII Century to become one of the main slave ports. Today the town 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". We go ion a walking tour of the Python Temple and the Portuguese Fort, now a museum on the history of Ouidah and on the slave trade. We then end our city tour by following the “slave road” to the beach and the point of “no return” where slaves used to board ships.
As per the program of festivities, we will choose the best sites - the festival takes place in the entire region around Ouidah. (B, L, D)
Day 04: Ouidah/Dassa (Drive)
We cross Lake Nokwe on a motorized boat to reach Ganvié, the largest and most beautiful African village on stilts. Some 25,000 inhabitants of the Tofinou ethnic group build their wooden huts on teak stilts. Fishing is their main activity. Ganvié has managed to preserve their traditions and environment despite the long-lasting human presence in a closed setting and yet the lake is not over-fished. Daily life unfolds in the dugout canoes that adults and children row with ease using brightly coloured paddles. From these canoes men fishing, women sell goods at the “floating market” and children go to school and play.
Continue to Abomey and visit the Royal Palace. The walls of the palace are decorated with bas-reliefs representing symbols of the ancient Dahomey kings. At the height of power the King has up to 4.000 wives living in the harem. Nowadays the royal palace is a museum, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It displays items belonging to the ancient kings including thrones, cult altars, statues, costumes and weapons. It is 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 sold as slaves. The royal army included a female battalion feared for its boldness and cruel war behaviour. In the centre of the royal courtyard we discover a temple built with a mixture of clay, gold dust kneaded with the blood of thousands human sacrifices.
Overnight: Hotel Jeko (1 night) (B, L, D)
Day 05: Dassa/Natitingou (Drive)
Today is an interesting day, albeit a long one. We start with Dankoli Fetish, a unique shrine for ancient animistic cults, still practiced. Thousands of short sticks are pushed in and all around 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. Fresh traces of sacrifice, palm alcohol and oil on the fetish are witnesses to the many prayers fulfilled.
Afternoon we explore a few old Taneka villages located on a mountain. The villages are made up of round adobe huts covered with a conical roof protected on 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 goatskin and carry a long pipe. This ethnic group has been living on this archaeological site for centuries and it looks as if their first inhabitants moved to the mountain during the IXth Century. Since then, other ethnic groups have joined thus forming a melting-pot where despite the fact that each group kept its own cults and initiation rites, common religious and political institutions were defined.
We wander around the villages along alleys bordered by rocks with ancient and mysterious carved marks. We may come across young initiated, wearing only with sex and magical amulets, or elders fetiche priest wearing a skin. Taneka believe that in order to “become” a man, it is necessary to combine time, patience with many sacrifices. Initiation is a lifetime process till it becomes a rite of passage. Therefore, life should not be conditioned by a “before” and an “after” but rather as following a continuous path.
Overnight: Hotel Tata Somba or similar (1 night) (B, L, D)
Day 06: Natitingou/Defale (Drive) (TOGO)
We enter the land of Somba & Tamberma who live in adobe fortified dwellings. The shape is like small medieval castles. They are one of the most beautiful examples of traditional African architecture. Their style impressed Le Corbusier vanguard architect that described it as «sculptural architecture». In fact, the houses are built by hand, layer of clay 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. Large shrines- of phallic form - at the entrance of their homes show their animistic believes. With the permission granted to us by the elders we enter their homes to better understand their way of life. Actually their houses are projections of their cosmology: the ground floor, with its darkness, represents death and is the place of the ancestors; the second floor, open to the sky, represents life and is the place where grandmothers keep babies until they “find out” which ancestor has come back as the new life; only then the baby will be allowed to come down from the terrace. All - family, food supplies and stock - are kept inside the fortified house, for safety reasons in case of attack by enemies. For centuries these populations have been seeking refuge on the Atakora Mountains to escape Muslim slave traders coming from the north.
Overnight: Hotel Defalé or similar (1 night) (B, L, D)
Day 07: Defale/Sokode (Drive)
Half a day easy walking to discover Kabye and Moba villages living on Defale mountains to experience a spontaneous and friendly welcome.
Drive in the mountains will bring us to encounter the Kabye ethnic group. Kabye dwellings called «Soukala» are composed by several adobe huts joined by a wall. Each dwelling is the domain of a patriarchal family. In the villages located at the top of the mountains, women are potters using an ancestral technique without the wheel while men are blacksmiths still working iron with heavy stones instead of hammers and anvil as in the early down of Iron Age. We follow the process of shaping a hoe.
In the evening, we arrive at the villages of Tem tribe to discover the fire dance. At the centre of the village a large fire lights up the silhouette 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 and swallowing them, 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: Hotel Central or similar (1 night) (B, L, D)
Day 08: Sokode/Kloto (Drive)
We will head southwards, with a stop on the way in Atakpame, a typical African town built on a hill where it is possible to find all the products coming from the nearby forests. Through their skilled work on small weaving looms, the men of the region make the large brightly coloured fabric called “Kente”.
From Atakpame we then move to the tropical forests surrounding Kpalime. A walk in the forest to discover the mysterious world of the tropical forest and meet with the majesty of the tropical trees, the sounds of tam-tam... Under the guidance of a local entomologist, we will learn about endemic butterflies and insects.
Overnight: Hotel Jess or similar (1 night) (B, L, D)
Day 09: Kloto/Koforidua (Drive) (GHANA)
Ghana border crossing and continuation 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. We 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.
We reach Koforidua.
Overnight: New Capital View or similar (1 night) (B, L, D)
Day 10: Koforidua/Kumasi (Drive)
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 XIX 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 three 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 program includes a visit to the Ashanti Cultural Centre: a rich collection of Ashanti artefacts housed in a wonderful reproduction of an Ashanti house. In the afternoon, we participate – if available – in a traditional Ashanti funeral, attended by mourners wearing beautiful red or black togas. We say “funeral” but here it actually means a “festive” celebration: the deceased 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: Miklin Hotel or similar (1 night) (B, L, D)
Day 11: Kumasi/Anomabu (Drive)
In the morning continuation of the tour of Kumasi, with the visit of the Royal Palace Museum hosting a unique collection of gold jewels worn by the Ashanti court. In the afternoon drive to the coast.
Late morning, we will attend the spectacular Awukudae festival : In the Ashanti calendar certain days each year are set aside for a very special celebration at the Royal Palace. We will experience a great traditional ceremony in one of the last African Kingdoms, which still practices its ancient rituals in full. During the celebration, the King sits under a large colourful umbrella, surrounded by dignitaries and elders, and on the side of the King sits the Linguist holding the golden symbols of power. The position and distance from His Majesty represents all roles and positions of power in the royal court. The ceremony starts with a procession: attendants bringing gifts, story tellers reciting the deeds of the past Kings, drummers and ivory trumpet players, sword bearers, armed guards, carriers of ostrich feather fans, high fetish priests, and corpulent women dressed in vivid red performing dance with erotic symbolism. In the afternoon drive to the coast.
Overnight: Anomabu Beach Resort or similar (1 night) (B, L, D)
Day 12: Anomabu/Accra (Drive)
We start our day with the visit of Elmina Castle, the oldest European building in Africa, erected by the Portuguese in the XV century. At different times the castle has been used as a warehouse to trade gold, ivory, and eventually slaves. The castle we 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 us back to a time when Elmina was a busy colonial town.
Drive to Accra Optional, we enjoy live music in town.
Overnight: La Villa Boutique or similar (1 night) (B, L, D)
Day 13: Depart Accra
Accra, the capital of Ghana, has maintained its unique identity despite the fast paced development currently underway in this intriguing African city.
We explore the old quarter of James Town, inhabited by the local population known as the Ga. Our day tour ends with the visit of a workshop specialized 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.
In the evening transfer to the airport for the flight out. (B, L)
B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner
Departure Dates & Prices
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This tour operates on a minimum of 02 and a maximum of 16 participants
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