Marrakech to Cotonou - West Africa Odyssey
This is the big one – the ultimate trip through West Africa, taking in all of its intoxicating variety.
Starting in the ever-exotic city of Marrakech, the end point of the Saharan camel caravans of old, we journey through the lands of the Berbers and across the mighty High Atlas Mountains, to the magical landscapes of the Draa Valley, encountering huge dunes and semi-nomadic people living in the desert.
From Tarfaya we enter the disputed territory of the Western Sahara, a land of Saharawi nomads, rolling dunes and camel trains, exploring a land that has almost been forgotten, where traditions are strong and the scenery awe-inspiring. In Mauritania we visit the age-old city of Chinguetti and explore the striking Adrar region before moving on to Senegal. As the Sahara starts to disappear into the Sahel we search for wildlife, see the striking Lac Rose, and visit the former colonial capital of St Louis.
Travelling further south we make a brief stop in the Gambia before arriving in the Casamance region, where Islam and Christianity never quite managed to dominate; this is the Africa of old, where ancient beliefs and customs are still revered, a world away from the lands we have just crossed, and we take time to learn about the cultural traditions of its inhabitants.
In Guinea-Bissau we sail to the Bijagos Islands, where local customs are at their strongest and unusual wildlife dwells, then return to the mainland to travel through the lands of the Fulani, stopping in small villages and exploring the stunning highlands of the Fouta Djalon range. In Guinea we see mask dances of ancient secret societies, the incredible ‘living bridges’ of the rainforest, and chimpanzees.
Moving on to Sierra Leone we stay on lush tropical islands and discover delightful fishing villages, gorgeous beaches and the troubling history of the slave trade, as well as meeting diamond miners seeking their fortune. In Liberia we explore the heritage of this unusual country, ‘founded’ by freed Afro-American slaves in the 19th century and quite different to others in the region.
Ivory Coast offers us the opportunity to witness and see the amazing mask dances of the Dan and Guere people, as well as the rather bizarre ‘cathedral in the forest’ – the vast and opulent basilica at Yamoussoukro. As we hit the coast again we travel through old colonial settlements dotted with European forts and charming colonial buildings, on our way to Accra.
Our final two countries, Togo and Benin, are home to the followers of voodoo and we have excellent opportunities to learn about this much misunderstood religion, seeing traditional ceremonies and dances that are among the most fascinating spectacles in West Africa.
Covering twelve countries (plus an unrecognised one – Western Sahara) this is epic in every sense of the word. From arid deserts to thick rainforest, from the tribal dances of Togo to the nomadic culture of the Sahara, this tour allows an unparalleled insight into the diversity of one of our planet’s most exciting regions.