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West Africa - What Is It Really Like

One of our staff members went on our popular Accra to Accra trip that visits Ghana, Benin and Togo. It’s his second visit to the region and he shares some of his insights on this fascinating and often misunderstood area.

 

Is it safe? For the foreign tourist, West Africa is perhaps one of the safest and most laid back regions in the world. While crime does exist (as everywhere) it’s is generally never targeted towards tourists. In the 8+ months in 10 countries that I have spent there I have never encountered any uncomfortable situations let alone felt in anyway threatened. On the contrary, except for natural curiosity, you will be left unmolested and free to go about your business.

 

Is there any wildlife? It’s true that it’s not on the scale of Eastern Africa but the National Parks are usually a great surprise for many. There are limited tourists and the wildlife is left alone so encounters with animals are generally more authentic. In the last visit to Pendjari NP in Benin over a period of 2 days I spotted, Lion, Elephant, buffalo, hippo, hartebeest, baboon, monkeys and multitudes of exotic (and often rare) birds.

 

Is the food any good? In short yes, good quality food is plentiful in West Africa. Many of the cities are quite well developed and will have numerous restaurants and cafes serving all types of food from all over the world. In the previously French colonised countries, fresh baguette, patisseries, and ground coffee are common. The local food is based on seasonal availability but around the coast fresh fish is abundant, vegetables are usually organic and chicken with jolof rice is widely available. Most small towns stock cold drinks, beers and frozen yogurt and ice cream are common. Flagging down a cyclist with a ‘Fan Milk’ box on the front is great fun and they pop up even in quite remote areas.

 

What about culture? This is where West Africa really excels. The wide array of tribal and colonial influences all combine to give many countries in the region a vibrant and fascinating cultural experience. From voodoo ceremonies (which can be attended by visitors) to large Catholic churches and from huge crowded markets to impromptu dances in local villages; there is always something happening. Mostly it is open and accessible for the visitor and the only attention you’ll get is when you’re being pressed to join in!

 

Is travel difficult? The legendary washed out roads in many of West Africa still exist and make for some highly adventurous overlanding but it’s certainly not like that everywhere. Most countries now have good quality highways and most off the beaten track is on ungraded gravel/dirt roads. There’s a good mix of adventure, off road and comfortable tarmac. Compared to many other regions, there are far less long drive days and in some parts a journey of a few hours every day or two is all there is.

 

Will I pick up lots of diseases? With sensible precautions around water, hygiene and food preparation there is no reason why anyone should be at more risk than many other places in the world. The biggest risk is from Malaria but by keeping covered up at the right times, using anti mosquito spray and using a net at night, the risk is greatly limited. The Ebola outbreak hit West Africa in recent years and received a huge amount of media attention that affected the whole region, even though the outbreak was limited to a few countries. However, this was not something that affected tourists and is not present as a matter of course.  Whilst there are plenty of things to be aware of the foreign tourist is not generally exposed to the more severe ailments.

 

Music and Dance? This is another area that West Africa excels in. There is huge variety across the region but the one thing that everyone has in common is a love of music and dance. In villages, road side bars, music venues, nightclubs or at festivals or events, music (often loud) and dance are always evident. The music is rhythmic and eclectic and is renowned for its creativity. Many West African musicians and singers migrate to a global audience and it’s great fun to witness at its creative roots.

 

 

Are the people friendly? It’s part of West African cultural life that people treat each other with respect and almost without exception; you will be accepted and welcomed regardless of race, nationality, age, sex or religion. It’s a well worn cliché to describe the ‘locals as friendly’ but most first time visitors leave with a strong impression of the warmth and friendliness of all West Africans. As long as you have a ready smile and are prepared to take the time to greet people it’s virtually impossible for the gesture to not be returned with anything other than at least equal enthusiasm.

A trip here is truly memorable and while often associated with more experienced travellers is also perfectly suitable for people of any travel experience or age. If you have any queries do not hesitate to contact our sales team and if you need in depth advice one of our experts will be happy to help.

Call our sales team today! UK = 01728 861133 AUS = +61 (0) 38 594 3108

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