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West Africa route advice - Guinea/Ghana/Benin/Togo
Hi, we're travelling north to south across Africa later this year, heading via the western route. We're planning on taking about 10 months in total (heading to South & Central America afterwards for total max 2 year trip), and currently the route is Morrocco-Western Sahara-Mauritania-Mali-Burkina Faso-Niger-Nigeria-Cameroon.
There are options to take a little longer and add in the following countries along the west - Guinea, Ghana, Benin and Togo.
Can anyone offer advice (or strong encouragement!) on whether it is worth adding the extra time to our route for one or more of these 4 countries, bearing in mind it may mean skipping more quickly through other countries past Cameroon? They all sound very interesting, but we're wary of taking up too much just getting through western Africa. Decisions, decisions....(note we've never been to Africa before).
Guinea is great, beautiful country. Two things, it's not particularly stable politically but keep your eye on the news on your way south. Secondly the roads are terrible, 3 paved roads in the country but definitely worth exploring for the scenery! The Guineans are wonderful people and probably the friendliest on your route going south. The next friendliest are the Ivorians which you could go to from Guinea and from there into Ghana.
I would STRONGLY encourage you to go to Guinea & the Cote d'Ivoire, providing they both hold stable! Ghana is OK, not as friendly as the previous two but lots to see there too & more in terms of wildlife, Burkina is wonderful & friendly; Benin & Togo both have their interests but forget beaches there (Guinea & CI have fabulous beaches!)
Hi Kira, thanks very much for the response, I was hoping you might respond. I've had a brief look at your websites a couple of months ago and was planning to look again as I know you've done alot round that area. Must put that on the to-do list....
Sorry, should have noted we are two-up on two wheels. Not that fussed about beaches, we are more interested in wildlife and landscapes, but thanks for the pointers - we may be looking for a short beach break by that stage! How secure is Cote? Only I've got the impression it's a bit tricky there...
Being on two wheels in Guinea is probably a good thing. You need to bear in mind that to see what Guinea has to offer, particularly in the Fouta Djallon you should go outside of the harmattan season!
Cote d'Ivoire is stable at the moment, I've just come back from 5 weeks there; the north definitely has a different feel to the south but nevertheless people are still very friendly, hospitable, accomodating & welcoming ... (can't think of anymore adjectives!!!) With Guinea, it's my favourite African country & I've seen a few on all corners of the continent; possibly CI is better than Guinea in so much as it has better infrastructure & whilst the Guineans are very friendly, the Ivorians are incredibly hospitable (I had picnic lunches made for me & refused payment) it's really the jewel in the W.African crown ... maybe I shouldn't be saying this on a forum or else the 'masses' will go!
Been down here in guinea-bissau for over a year now, travelled around senegal, guinea-connakry & Mali, whilst i've been here..
If you wanted to add senegal & dakar to the list I strongly advise missing the road in senegal between kaolack & tambaconda as it rates very bad, wore the hell out of me & the bike. (Dakar Kaolack - > Tambaconda in 10 hours with breakfast in kaolack !.. Also drove 34 tonnes bedford 6x6 with trailer over the same road and it took 2 days just to go Kaolack to Tambaconda, and i bust centre pin on the trailer spring set !.
However!.. i do recommend going south from dakar down through the Gambia (Indian Restaurants) to sothern senegal (Blue Cheese & nice beaches!) then you can either travell across south senegal to mali on nice flat tar roads, or pop further south to bissau and go for an island trip or two then go back up through gabu north to tambacunda. If you want your money to go further though i would stay south and go into Connakry, the roads are worse until labe, but the difference is your money will go 10 times further !.. (hotels arn't that fantastic but for an overnight stop there fine)
If you have any other q's about the area or roads just ask and if i've driven/ been there it i'll give you the info...
Location: After Africa and a bit of Asia, now in the Americas.
YES go to Guinea
Also Sierra Leone, Liberia is a bit harsher, but very friendly outside Monrovia
Cote d'Ivoire follow Kira. And then there is Ghana, I am here right now, beaches are the best, it is safe as u like
but it all has changed from Mali or Guinea or CI
food, language, ... but also other stuff seems be missing
10 months to do the western route to Cape Town is plenty. You don't need to worry about adding extra time to see those countries. Of course everybody travels with a different pace but unless you want to spend a month here and a month there, 10 months is enough. We did Morokko, Mauri, Mali, Burkina, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Burkina, Niger, Cameroon, Gabon etc down to C.P. in 6 1/2 months and we took it leisurely. The central west coast, is interesting but there is not a lot to see and it won't take much time, except Gabon maybe, with the national parks.
I thought I would add a quick note about Togo, I was there last year ( on work not travel ) and noticed that it seemed more hassle than other countries in W.Africa. I was only in Lome, but the demand for bribes on the roads and the blatant corruption at the airport even I was surprised at. However strangely when it came to visiting a government office to get a visa extension it was done for the correct fee, quickly with no grief !
Ghana is a great country with very friendly people (like most countries in West Africa). However as you are not so much for the great beaches that the country has to offer I think you might find it to be a bit of a detour.
If you do end up going there, the eastern side of the Volta lake on the border to Togo is very beautiful - hilly and very green with a few waterfalls around. And there are some great beaches along the coast (check out Safari Beach and Green Turtle lodge). Ghana also has some interesting history sites, especially the old slave forts at Elmina and Cape Coast.
If you are coming from the north (Burkina Faso) then it's a long drive to the coast. The road is decent, it just takes forever, partly beacuse of traffic in the towns you pass. I live in the very northern part of the country (in Tumu) and it takes us 14-15 hours to drive to Accra.
You say that you are interested in wildlife; Ranch de Nazinga in Burkina Faso is great for elefant watching. But gameviewing is generally much better in the eastern and southern parts of africa (Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa)
If you need more info on Ghana feel free to write me
Of course you should make a point of seeing and doing everything, everywhere....but not only is that impossible, but the natural rhythm of long journeys includes periods of fatigue. Or is that just me? I get fatigued with mosques/temples/cathedrals, craving only mountains and large spaces; then I get tired of mountains and can think only of beaches, thatch roofs and lethargy.
I've been most of the places you're considering. I loved Guinea, particularly the Fouta Djallon, and wouldn't miss it. I loved Mali, and wouldn't miss this area either. In fact, I loved Burkina Faso and Niger, too. Probably I'll really like northern Nigeria, parts of Cameroon, the parks in Gabon.....if I ever get there.
I'd recommend making a point of visiting at least one or two of the slaver castles on the Ghana Coast---there are quite a few, and the experience is powerful and unavailable elsewhere aside from Ilha de Mozambique. The beach scene in western Ghana is pretty nice for de-stressing, as is also true in Benin and, I assume, Togo. I'd go elsewhere for wildlife experiences....but if you're not planning to go to east or southern Africa (this part is not clear from your description), you should certainly look into some of the game parks along the way--maybe Mole. The Sahel cultures and scenery are worth your time, and if the rebellion in Niger happens to be in remission when you're nearby the desert mountains out of Agadez are spectacular. Those have been highlights for me at various times.
I'm far less entranced by Cote d"Ivoire than Kira, and I often wonder about this. In terms of arts, crafts and food, C.I. stands out, and the infrastructure is generally very good (by African standards). Yamassoukro is amazing, in a horrifying sort of way. But I think much of the hospitality Kira describes derives from her language abilities; if, like me, you speak French poorly you might not fare so well. But this is just a guess, and of course your mileage may vary. My experience there was just as the civil war was getting ready to break out, and I did not care for the intense militarization, the pride in zenophobia, the persecution of nationals of other countries, the violent crime which prevails.
I think your timeline is probably a good one. It's true that you could spend a year or more exploring West Africa alone, but once you factor in the "fatigue" you'll find yourself skipping prime beaches, beautiful highlands and unique cultural experiences just because you've had enough of them for a while....and you'll move on to the next country, language grouping, landscape or climatic zone.
Hope some of the above rambling has been helpful. Safe journeys!
I think Mark has picked a good point here ... I think being able to speak French as I do makes things considerably easier for me. Added to which, with my accent some of them realise I'm NOT French - which is a plus! I am enamoured with CI having seen a lot of Africa, and received a call yesterday saying my friends had named their baby after me & are waiting for me to return for the christening!!!
French aids me considerably in all Francophone countries, the Guineans and Burkinabes are also incredibly hospitable and friendly. However I NEVER use it with the military/police etc ... unless I realise they're the friendly variety who don't want any money!!!
The countries I'm least at ease with are Senegal & Ghana, find both hard work, lots of touts & hassle. A French friend was born in Senegal & agrees with me, but many friends say differently!
I would try to learn some French before you go or pick it up on the way down - take a phrasebook & just talk, don't be embarassed!
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