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Togo & Benin: Cultural Explorer



  • 28 Dec
  • -
  • 11 Jan 2022
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  • 15 days


per person

Availability: 12 places

    Home to a fascinating variety of vibrant cultures, Togo and Benin are lands of quite extraordinary scope and spectacle, being the spiritual home of voodoo and steeped in the tragedy and horror of the tragic trans-atlantic slave trade. Beginning in Lome, Togo’s lively capital, our journey takes us into the heart of some of West Africa’s most culturally diverse regions and geographically varied landscapes.

    We’ll explore the tropical forests along the slopes of Mount Klouto and visit the spectacular adobe architecture of the Tamberma and Somba people. We’ll then head north to take in the scenic landscapes around the Atakora Mountains and hike amongst the villages of the Taneka plateau, our gateway into the voodoo world. Filled with an extraordinary wealth of experiences and encounters, we’ll get to witness fire festivals and mask dances and meet fetish priests, before heading south to the UNESCO setting of the Abomey Royal Palace and the stilt village of Ganvie.

    As a fitting climax we will attend the spectacular annual voodoo festival in Ouidah, the spiritual home of this most fascinating religion.

    Day 1


    The tour begins this evening in Togo’s lively capital city, Lome. Overlooking the Gulf of Guinea, the city has been at a crossroads of trade and cultures for centuries, a fact reflected in the character of its people and architecture. After checking into our hotel we’ll take the chance to talk about the exciting trip ahead over our first group dinner.

    Day 2


    The only African city to be colonised by the French, the British and the Germans, Lome is home to a fascinating fusion of styles and influences and includes amongst its more intriguing attractions a unique fetish market, which we will visit this morning. Departing the city we drive north-west towards the Ghanaian border and the market town of Kpalime. The land here is rich in coffee, cocoa and cotton and provides us with some of the most fertile panoramas in the country.

    Day 3


    The forest around Kpalime is home to a staggering array of butterflies, with some 500 different species to be found amongst the delicate eco-systems around the slopes of Mount Klouto. This morning we’ll join a local entomologist to learn more about the native insects and pristine wilderness, before discovering some of the colonial heritage, art centre and the market in Kpalime later in the afternoon.

    Day 4


    Continuing north this morning we head for the city of Sokode, situated between the waters of the Mo and Mono Rivers. Multi-ethnic and multi-religious, the city lies in the heart of agricultural farmland and provides an opportunity to enjoy the rich diversity of rural life. On arrival we’ll check in to our hotel and after dinner head out to witness a traditional fire dance in a small village close by, a truly hypnotic ritual combining the handling and even swallowing of glowing coals, frenetic drum rhythms and, dare we say it, magic!

    Day 5


    This morning we’ll notice the change in the landscapes and visit some of the region around Sokode which is inhabited by the Bassar people. Living in large clay houses with conical roofs, the Bassar are famous for their skilful iron production and the customs that go with it. Here the elder women are the only ones allowed to climb the mountains that surround the villages to collect rocks that contain the iron ore, whilst the men must refrain from sexual activity during the smelting process if they want it to be successful. In the villages we will meet with traditional chiefs and learn about the role of traditional chiefdom today, before continuing to Defale for the evening.

    Day 6


    Today we drive off into the mountains of Togo to meet with the Kabye people, whose traditional soukala huts are laid out in large circles and home to patriarchal families. Settled on high plateaus the Kabye women still form clay pots in the time-honoured fashion, whilst the men fashion iron tools with rocks rather than hammers, reminiscent of the early Iron Age. This afternoon we will then make our way to the Sarakawa Wildlife Reserve, once the private reserve of President Gnassingbé. Now open to the public we will have the chance to spot zebras, antelope, buffalo and other wildlife whilst we explore the 50,000ha Savannah.

    Day 7


    Today we will cross the border and make for the beautiful Atakora region in the north of Benin, sticking close to the Atakora Mountain range that extends from Ghana through central Togo and north west into Benin. For centuries these mountains have provided a haven for the Tamberma people, who took refuge amongst their inaccessible heights to escape the slave traders from Muslim North Africa. Closely related to the Dogon people of Mali, the Tamberma’s fortified dwellings are considered amongst the most beautiful examples of Africa’s ancient architectural legacy, as we will see for ourselves as we enjoy some traditional Tamberma hospitality today.

    Day 8


    After breakfast we will head out to visit the Betammaribe people, also known as the Somba and close neighbours of the Tamberma. Geographically isolated, the Somba’s traditions have been little affected by the outside world for centuries and their remarkable two and three-storey dwellings bear close resemblance with the fortified structures of the Tamberma. Today we’ll learn more about the initiation rites of these fascinating people, including learning about the delicate and complex geometrical patterns that are scarified on the bellies and backs of the young men and women. We’ll also have the opportunity to speak to some of the young people themselves about their experiences and beliefs.

    Day 9


    This morning we’ll venture up on to the Taneka plateau and walk amongst the villages of the Yom, a people who are believed to have settled in the region around the 9th century, when their Kabye ancestors first arrived in the area. The upper part of the village is inhabited by fetish priests and their initiates, dressed in goatskins and carrying long pipes. As we wander around along alleys bordered by a series of smooth stones, we will meet people going about their everyday life, which in itself is considered part of a rite of passage for all. From here we’ll start heading south as we drive to the town of Djougou for the night.

    Day 10


    Today we’ll first head to Dankoli, an important place of voodoo worship and long considered the gateway to the voodoo world. On arrival we’ll learn about fetishes and witness some of the rituals the religion is famed for. Depending on who is around we may get to witness an animal sacrifice so be prepared! Driving further south to the town of Dassa, once the capital of an ancient kingdom, the town can trace its royal ancestors back to the latter years of the 14th century. Today it’s still possible to find evidence of its regal past and the graves of the old kings are said to still be protected by voodoo magic. Later today we will get to experience a traditional voodoo Egun mask dance, which starts off with a kind of bull fight designed to create fear and respect amongst the crowd. Be warned that though the Egun may look colourful, the locals believe them to be the dead themselves so people tend to keep well back as the performers emerge from the forest and form a procession through the village streets. Remember you don’t want the Egun to touch you because if he does, there is danger of death, so watch out!

    Day 11


    Dassa is the seat of an old kingdom founded by Olofin in 1385, and this morning we'll take a quick tour of the town to see what sites remain from this dynasty. We'll then walk though the hills around Dassa to a scared place where kings are buried and still protected today by several voodoos. Next we will visit the Royal Palace of Abomey, a monument to the ancient Dahomey kings. Inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List, it is a rich repository of weaponry, statues and bas-reliefs that tell of a kingdom in a perpetual state of war. We will then head to our overnight accommodation in Ketou.

    Day 12


    This morning we will get the chance to meet with Benin royalty, Oba (King) Adedu Loye and his dignitaries. Ketou is the capital of the ancient and prestigious Yoruba Kingdom that "rules" on the border region of Benin and Nigeria. After completing the mandatory protocols we will be introduced to the King and will be able to ask his majesty about the history of Ketou. Next we will learn about and witness the Gelede celebrations, a tradition of the Fon and Yoruba people of Southern Benin. Gelede is dedicated to Mother Earth and celebrated by the whole community to promote the fertility of both the people and the soil. Each Gelede mask represents a different character with only the initiates knowing the true nature and secrets of the symbolic characters. The masks are brightly painted and they move like puppets as they relate myths and moral stories using mime in a fascinating mix of theatre.

    Day 13


    Today we will drive to Allada, known locally as the 'town of a thousand fetishes', where we will attend a local voodoo festival to prepare us for the upcoming Ouidah Festival. Although a much smaller affair, Allada opens the festivities of the voodoo holiday with much oomph and is attended by key voodoo leaders from Oudiah. Heading further south we’ll continue to the stilted village of Ganvie on Lake Nokoue, the largest of its kind in Africa. We’ll visit the thatched houses of the Tofinou people, whose traditions and lives still revolve around the lake, on which we’ll witness an abundance of pirogues that men, women and children guide with ease using brightly coloured poles. It is with these pirogues that men fish, women deliver goods to the market and children go to school and play.

    Day 14


    This morning we make for the coast and the town of Ouidah, long considered the spiritual home of Voodoo. Once one of the largest trading posts along the infamous Trans-Atlantic slave routes, its crumbling Afro-Portuguese architecture still seems to harbour the ghosts of those who suffered such horrors from the barbaric trade. In Ouidah we’ll visit the small Python Temple and follow part of the old slave trail known as ‘La Route des Esclaves’, before witnessing the town’s unique annual voodoo celebration that culminates at ‘The Door of No Return’ on the beach. It’s a truly remarkable event as people dress up in traditional outfits and take part in lively dances, and is sure to be a real highlight of the tour. Later in the day we’ll drive further west along the coast to Grand Popo on the shores of the Gulf of Benin, located on a beautiful stretch of golden sand Atlantic coastline. Be aware that the ocean currents here are notoriously dangerous so please pay attention to what your Tour Leader and the local people say about swimming here!

    Day 15


    After breakfast we’ll enjoy a relaxing morning on the beach at Grand Popo, and then drive back across the border into Togo and along the main coastal highway to Lome airport, in good time for the suggested group flight this evening.