Category: Central Africa

Why You Should Visit Lusophone Africa

Posted By : Travel Africa Movement/ 52 0

Africa’s Lusophone countries are some of the least visited on the continent. Here’s why you should visit.

During the Scramble for Africa, European colonial powers divided up the continent amongst themselves and took control over 90% of the land. While France and the United Kingdom collectively controlled the majority, Portugal gained control of 5 nations: Mozambique (then Portuguese Mozambique), Angola (then Portuguese Angola), Guinea-Bissau (then Portuguese Guinea), Cape Verde (then Portuguese Cape Verde) and São Tomé and Príncipe (then Portuguese São Tomé and Príncipe). Today, Portuguese remains the lingua franca spoken by most residents. And while these Lusophone countries are some of the least visited countries on the continent, they offer beautiful landscapes, rich culture, and fascinating historical sites for the adventurous and intrepid traveler. Here’s why you should visit.

Angola

Marginal in Luanda, Angola
Photo credit: David Stanley, Flickr

Travelers are re-discovering Angola’s beauty and charm following a prolonged civil war that ended in 2002. Angola’s tourism industry is small but growing and centers on its culture, history, and natural environment, which includes tropical beaches, rainforests, mountains, sub-Saharan desert, rivers, waterfalls, mountains, and national parks.

Most travelers enter via Luanda, the capital, largest city and beating heart of Angola. Once known as the most expensive city in the world, downtown Luanda’s gleaming skyscrapers, grand colonial buildings, and palm tree lined streets showcase its considerable oil and diamond wealth. But the city is also full of stark contrasts with shantytowns lying just beyond the fancy buildings. The juxtaposition can be striking and highlights the inequality in Africa’s third largest economy.

Luanda’s best known attractions include the Marginal, a seafront promenade that runs along Luanda Bay; the mausoleum of Agostinho Neto, the first president; the Iron Palace, an iron building shipped from Paris in the late 1800s and rumored to be designed by Gustav Eiffel, creator of the Eiffel Tower; the Museum of Natural History; the National Museum of Anthropology; the Museum of Money; and the Museum of Armed Forces, located at Fort Sao Miguel. Fort Sao Miguel, a former fortress and slave port, is one of many forts that line the coastline, bearing witness to the country’s history as a former colony and trading post of Portugal. During the colonial era, the transatlantic slave trade in Angola was one of the longest, with more than 5 million slaves brought to Brazil, the Caribbean, and the USA. This history is detailed in the Angolan National Museum of Slavery, which is housed in the former property of Álvaro de Carvalho Matoso, one of Angola’s largest slave traders. The museum displays hundreds of items used in the slave trade and adjoins the Capela da Casa Grande, a 17th-century church where slaves were baptized before being loaded on slave ships.

Ilha do Cabo (locally called Ilha do Luanda or Ilha) is where everyone goes to relax and have fun on the weekend. The island, which is connected to the mainland by a bridge, is packed with beaches, restaurants and bars. Mussulo island is another popular escape for tourists and wealthy locals seeking to enjoy its tropical beaches and array of water sports. The island is about a 10-minute ride from Luanda by boat. Beach huts, restaurants and bars offer many opportunities for fresh seafood and drinks.

For nature and wildlife lovers, there are many outstanding sites. Just 2 hours south of Luanda, Quiçama National Park is Angola’s third largest national park with a growing wildlife population. Birdwatching is one of the most popular activities due to the vast array of birds in the park. Maiombe Forest, often called the “Amazon of Africa”, features rare flora and fauna, as well as gorillas, elephants, chimps, birds, butterflies, and other rare species. The Tundavala Gap is a huge abyss at the rim of the Serra da Leba mountain range that offers breathtaking panoramic views over Angola. And Kalandula Falls is the third highest waterfall in Africa and one of the largest by volume. 

Angola’s tourist infrastructure is underdeveloped, so it should be considered an off-the-beaten destination. If exploring outside of Luanda, a bilingual tour guide is highly recommended for safety and logistical purposes. English is not widely spoken, so learning a few Portuguese words will help considerably.

Cape Verde

Laginha Beach, Mindelo, Sao Vicente island
Photo credit: @thetravesista

Located just 350 miles off the coast of Senegal, Cape Verde is comprised of 10 islands in the Atlantic Ocean: Santiago, Sal, Boa Vista, Santo Antão, São Vicente, São Nicolau, Santa Luzia, Maio, Fogo, and Brava. Its capital and largest city is Praia on the main island of Santiago, where more than half of Cape Verde’s population lives. Most of the people are Creole, descending from the mixture of European settlers and African slaves who were brought to the islands to work on the plantations. Cape Verde has emerged from that storied history to become an increasingly popular tourist destination where sun, sand, and beach figure prominently. Each of the islands offers a different landscape and cultural vibe and visitors often island hop to visit several islands during one trip.

Sal is the tourist hub and most visited of the islands, popular with sea lovers and water sports enthusiasts. Espargos is Sal’s capital and the location of its international airport, while Santa Maria is the main tourist town with fancy resorts, restaurants and bars lining its beautiful sandy beaches. Sal’s most famous attractions are the Buracona (aka the Blue Eye), a natural pool that beams a bright turquoise color around midday, and the Pedra de Lume salt mines. Turtle watching, kitesurfing, snorkeling and scuba diving are also popular.

São Vicente is the cultural heart and its capital, Mindelo, is known for its music, nightlife, and annual Carnival. While all of the islands celebrate Carnival, the most popular one is here. Morna, the national music of Cape Verde, was born in Mindelo, as well as its most famous singer, Césaria Evora. Today, a museum and memorial are dedicated to the late singer, not far from her former home. In addition to the beautiful Laginha beach, the city contains a treasure-trove of colonial buildings painted in bright pastel colors.

Santiago is typically considered the most “African” of the islands and probably has the most diverse landscape, with sandy beaches, mountains, fertile valleys, and plateaus. Things to see include the colonial houses, the Nossa Senhora da Graça church, the food market, the palace of justice, the Museo Ethnográfico, the presidential palace, the parliament building, and the old town fortress of Bateira, which has spectacular ocean views.

Fogo is the volcanic island, home to Pico de Fogo, a live volcano that last erupted in 2014. You can enjoy beautiful views of Pico from the old craters that surround the mountain. Its largest city, São Filipe, is known for its black sand beaches.

Cape Verde has established tourist infrastructure and it is easy to travel between the islands by plane or ferry.

Guinea-Bissau

Fort Cacheu, Guinea Bissau
Fort Cacheu
Photo credit: Olivier Rohas, Flickr

Guinea-Bissau is one of the world’s least visited countries, seeing only about 30,000 tourists per year. Although tourists are few and far between, for the venturesome traveler this tropical country offers abundant culture, untouched natural environments, and great wildlife. Like other Lusophone African countries, Guinea-Bissau celebrates Carnival annually with vibrant street processions and displays of traditional grab, dancing, and drumming.

The capital and largest city is Bissau, a coastal town in the west-central portion of the country. Things to see there include Varela Beach, the Portuguese quarter, Cathedral, São José da Amura Fort, Presidential Palace, Bandim Market, and the ruins of Bolama, the former colonial capital.

The town of Cacheu, on the northwest coast, was the former colonial capital and the official slave trading point for the Portuguese in the upper Guinea region. Its most notable building is Fort Cacheau, which along with the slavery museum (Memorial da Escravatura e do Tráfico Negriero), memorializes the grim history of Portugal’s first settlement in sub-Saharan Africa. Other attractions in the area include the cultural center (Casa do Capitao Mor) and Tarrafes do Rio Cacheu Natural Park.

Jemberem, about 5 hours south of the capital, is a sprawling stretch of nature and wildlife. Cantanhez Natural Park, the largest remaining forest in Guinea-Bissau, is home to a community-based conservation project and features a wide variety of fauna, flora, and landscapes. The local community lives in close contact with chimpanzees living inside the park. The nearby town of Guilede has two interesting museums about the country’s liberation.

The Bijagos Archipelago is a beautiful group of 88 islands off the coast. This UNESCO World Heritage Biosphere reserve offers excellent swimming, diving, and fishing, as well as opportunities to see pygmy hippos, sharks, manatees, turtles, and a myriad of migratory birds. Orango National Park, in the southern part of the archipelago, is its crown jewel.

Guinea-Bissau’s tourist infrastructure is underdeveloped, so it should be considered an off-the-beaten destination. It’s recommended to partner with a guide or local resident familiar with the landscape.

Mozambique

Goa island, Mozambique
Goa island near Ilha de Mozambique
Photo credit: @thetravelsista

Mozambique is a diamond in the rough that has yet to realize its full tourism potential. But while this country may be underexplored by tourists, it offers excellent eco-tourism opportunities. Mozambique boasts the 4th longest coastline in Africa, lined with many beach towns and numerous islands off its coast. It also has some of the best coral reefs in the world, with excellent diving and snorkeling opportunities. For wildlife fans, several parks provide safari experiences, including Gorongosa National Park, the Maputo Elephant Reserve, Niassa Reserve, and Limpopo National Park.

Mozambique’s capital and largest city is Maputo, situated on Maputo Bay on the Indian Ocean. Though visitors often bypass the city for the northern beaches, it’s worth a visit for a few days. Maputo’s most popular attractions include the Central Market, the Central Railway Station, FEIMA Arts and Crafts Market, National Arts Museum, Casa do Ferro, Museum of Natural History, and National Money Museum. Maputo also has a lively arts and music scene, with many restaurants doubling as entertainment venues on nights and weekends. Art afficionados will enjoy the Fundação Fernando Leite Couto Cultural Center and Nucleo de Arte, both of which offer art galleries and live music performances. Bairro Mafalala, one of the more impoverished areas of the city, holds significant relevance to Maputo’s historical and cultural roots. It was the home base of the Mozambican independence movement and many important artists, intellectuals, cultural and political figures hailed from there. The neighborhood has a museum to preserve its historical and cultural legacy and residents also host walking tours.

Catembe, located on the southern side of Maputo Bay, offers a relaxed atmosphere, beaches, and great views of Maputo’s skyline. It’s easily accessible by ferry or private boat from downtown. The nearby Inhaca Island, an important marine research center, is known for its coral reefs and snorkeling. It’s popular for day trips or weekend getaways from the mainland. But the best beaches and water activities are found outside the environs of Maputo and the multitude of coastal beach towns will make any water lover happy.

In southern Mozambique, Ponta do Ouro, Bilene, Xai-Xai Beach, and Tofo Beach offer turquoise waters and spectacular snorkeling and diving. Vilankulo (aka Vilanculos) is the Mozambican capital of watersports and the gateway to the Bazaruto Archipelago, a group of 6 islands which arguably boast some of the best beaches in the country. The largest island, Bazaruto, is beautiful resort and underwater marine park geared to high-end tourism; it offers great scuba diving, snorkeling and deep-sea fishing. Coral reefs surround Magaruque and Santa Carolina islands, which are also popular with snorkelers and divers. More than 1,200 species of fish have been identified in the archipelago.

In northern Mozambique, Ilha de Mozambique is the former Portuguese capital and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Pemba, another popular beach destination, is also the gateway to the Quirimbas Archipelago, a chain of 32 islands in the Indian Ocean. The Quirimbas, as the islands are called, have some of Mozambique’s most secluded and stunning beaches. Many of the islands are part of Quirimbas National Park, renowned for its coral reefs and waters inhabited by dolphins, whales, and dugongs (endangered sea cows). Vamizi Island is the most exclusive private island, known for its luxury amenities, world class fishing, and deep-sea diving.

Quelimane, in east-central Mozambique, holds the country’s biggest annual Carnival in February/March. It has been dubbed “Little Brazil” and attracts many visitors across Mozambique and the world. Carnival features street parades with floats, live bands, dancers, and a food fair.

The tourism infrastructure in Mozambique is underdeveloped, so travel can be long and tiring. But it’s so worth it. Check out our Mozambique Travel Guide for more detailed info and English speaking tour guides.

São Tomé and Príncipe

Beach at Sao Tome
Beach at São Tomé
Photo credit: Miss Helena, Flickr

The country of São Tomé and Príncipe includes the 2 islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, and several rocky islets, including Rôlas, Caroço, Pedras, and Tenhosas. It sits in the Gulf of Guinea, off the coast of Gabon, and is known for its many beautiful beaches, waterfalls, rainforests, natural landscapes, history, and ecotourism opportunities. The capital and largest city is São Tomé on the island of São Tomé, which sees most of the country’s tourism.

São Tomé and Príncipe was a vital center for the transatlantic slave trade and coffee, sugar and cocoa were cultivated on the 800+ plantations (roças) there. Today most lie in ruins, but several remain standing and are open to tourists. Roça Água Izé is one of the most visited and still actively produces cocoa beans. Roça Nova Moca is also still in use and grows most of the country’s coffee for export. Roça Agostinho Neto, once the largest on the island, is now an informal settlement and provincial government post. Though much of the site is crumbling, the former mansion, now a museum, and the hospital, gardens and some houses still exist and are worth a visit. Other attractions on São Tomé include the Fort de São Sebastião, a former fortress which houses a museum containing religious art and colonial-era artifacts; Boca de Inferno, a natural blowhole; Lagoa Azul, a small bay and popular diving spot; Cascada São Nicolãu waterfalls; Pico de São Tomé mountain; Obo National Park; Corallo Chocolate Factory; Central Market; rum factories; dolphin and humpback whale watching; bird watching; black sand beaches; and water activities, including deep sea fishing, snorkeling and diving.

The island of Príncipe is about a 35-minute flight from São Tomé and is the smaller and more tranquil of the two islands. Its attractions include the colonial architecture in Santo António, Roça Sundy, Pico Papagaio Mountain, Baía das Alguhas (Bay of Needles), Bom Bom island, Príncipe Ecological Zone, bird watching, sea turtles, rainforests, and secluded beaches that you’ll likely enjoy to yourself.

20 of Africa's Best Views: Farafra Desert, Egypt

20 of Africa’s Best Natural Views

Posted By : Travel Africa Movement/ 294

Need some travel inspiration? Well look no further. Here are 20 of the best natural views in Africa.

Need some travel inspiration? Africa will wow you like no other with its million dollar views. Here are 20 of the best natural views in Africa.

Oceans, Lakes and Waterfalls

1. Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi is the third largest and second deepest lake in Africa. It’s located between Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.

20 of Africa's Best Natural Views
Photo credit: Olisa Gravney

2. Lake Retba

Lake Retba (aka Lac Rose or Pink Lake) is named for its pink waters caused by Dunaliella salina algae and is known for its high salt content, up to 40% in some areas. It’s located in Senegal.

Photo credit: @thetravelsista

3. Mosi Oa Tunya Falls

Mosi Oa Tunya Falls (aka Victoria Falls) is a waterfall on the Zambezi River, located on the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. It is one of the 7 Natural Wonders in the World and is considered the world’s largest waterfall.

Photo credit: Paul Balfe, Flickr

4. Murchison Falls

Murchison Falls (aka Kabalega Falls) is a waterfall on the lower Victoria Nile River in Uganda.

Photo credit: @placestogetlost.de

5. Cascades d’Ouzoud

Cascades d’Ouzoud (aka Ouzoud Waterfalls) is the name for a collection of waterfalls in the High Atlas Mountains. The falls tumble 361 feet (110 meters) through a red rock gorge of the El Abid River. They are Morocco‘s highest and Africa’s second highest waterfalls.

Photo credit: Freed eXplore, Flickr

6. Chutes de Kambadaga

The Chutes de Kambadaga (aka Kambadaga Falls) are made up of three successive waterfalls on the Kokulo River, in the Fouta-Djalon highland region of Guinea.

Photo credit: @ibrohimhotep

7. Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean is the world’s third largest major ocean, touching the continents of Asia, Australia, and Africa and offering spectacular views of turquoise waters for miles on end. It runs along Africa’s southern and eastern coastline, in South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia, and surrounds the island nations of Madagascar, Comoros, Mauritius, and Seychelles.

Deserts, Canyons and Caves

8. Blyde River Canyon

Blyde River Canyon is the largest green canyon and third largest canyon in the world. It is part of the Panoramic Route, a scenic road connecting several natural points of interest, and is located in Mpumalanga Province, South Africa.

Photo credit: @thetravelsista

9. Fish River Canyon

Fish River Canyon is the world’s second largest canyon. It consists of an upper and lower canyon formed by erosion of the Fish River and is located in southern Namibia.

Photo credit: @thetravelsista

10. Namib Desert

The Namib Desert is the world’s oldest desert, spanning primarily across Namibia, as well as parts of Angola and South Africa. Its massive red sand dunes are some of the largest on earth.

Photo credit: Monica Guy, Flickr

11. Sudwala Caves

The Sudwala Caves are the oldest known caves in the world, believed to be more than 240 million years old. They are located in Mpumalanga Province, South Africa.

Photo credit: @tamcursmith

Depressions and Geological Formations

12. Farafra Depression

The Farafra Depression is located in the White Desert National Park in Egypt. The park is the site of cliffs, sand dunes, oases, and large white chalk rock formations, created through erosion by wind and sand.

Photo credit: @pierreschuester

13. Danakil Depression

The Danakil Depression, known as the hottest place on earth, is a geological depression caused by the continent drift of three tectonic plates. Its alien-like environment is home to salt lakes, lava lakes, volcanoes and colorful acid springs. It’s located in northern Ethiopia.

Photo credit: Achilli Family, Flickr

14. Seven Colored Earths

The Seven Colored Earths are a small area of striped sand dunes comprised of seven distinct colors (red, brown, violet, green, blue, purple and yellow). It is located in Chamarel in southwestern Mauritius.

Photo credit: Shankar S., Flickr

Jungles and Forests

15. Congo Rainforest

The Congo Rainforest is the world’s second largest tropical forest, known for its high levels of biodiversity which includes more than 600 tree species and 10,000 animal species. It spans six countries: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

Kahuzi-Biege National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Photo credit: USDA Forest Service

16. Upper Guinea Forest

The Upper Guinea Forest is a tropical forest region of West Africa, extending from Guinea and Sierra Leone through Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo and Benin.

Tai National Park, Ivory Coast
Photo credit: @fantasticafrica

17. Avenue of the Baobabs

The Avenue of Baobabs is a group of baobab trees lining the dirt road linking Morondava and Belo Tsiribihina in western Madagascar. The trees are more than 800 years old, reaching heights of up to 100 feet (30 m) with trunks as big as 10 feet (3 m) in diameter. They are a legacy of the dense tropical forests that once thrived on the island.

Photo credit: Rod Waddington, Flickr

Mountains and Volcanos

18. Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano in Tanzania. It is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest single free-standing mountain in the world.

Photo credit: Erik Cleves Kristensen, Flickr

19. Mount Nyiragongo

Mount Nyiragongo is stratovolcano in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, located near Lake Kivu at the eastern border of Rwanda. Its summit caldera contains the world’s largest and most active lava lake.

Photo credit: Nina R, Flickr

20. Table Mountain

Table Mountain is a flat topped mountain overlooking the city of Cape Town, South Africa. It is the country’s most iconic and photographed landmark.

Photo credit: @tamcursmith

5 Francophone African Countries You Should Visit

Posted By : Travel Africa Movement/ 340 0

Francophone Africa offers beautiful landscapes, friendly people, and abundant history and culture. Here are our top 5 French-speaking countries that you should visit.

Due to its history of colonization, there are more French speakers on the African continent than in the country of France itself. In fact, French is the official language in 21 African countries and spoken in at least 29, primarily in West and Central Africa. American and other English-speaking tourists often overlook the Francophone countries due to a perceived language barrier, but those adventurous enough to explore will find beautiful landscapes, friendly people, and abundant history and culture. By learning some basic French words and hiring a bilingual tour guide, English speakers can have an enjoyable time in Francophone Africa. Here are our top 5 Francophone African countries that you should visit.

WEST AFRICA

1. Senegal

Known as the land of “Teranga” (a Wolof word for hospitality), Senegal is quickly becoming one of West Africa’s most popular tourist destinations, with visitors lured by its vibrant culture, historical sites, and fabulous beaches. Its capital and largest city, Dakar, sits on the Cap-Vert peninsula, the westernmost point of Africa. At only 7.5 hours from New York, the flight is one of the shortest from the United States to the African continent.

The first stop for most tourists is Dakar, the bustling capital with a fascinating mix of old, traditional, and religious juxtaposed against new, modern, and secular. It’s not uncommon to see a Range Rover drive past a horse-drawn cart on the same street or to see two Senegalese men greet each other, one dressed in a traditional boubou and the other wearing jeans and a tee. Though more than 90% of the population practices Islam, Muslims and Christians live side by side in relative peace. In fact, two of the city’s most notable buildings are the Catholic Our Lady of Victories Cathedral and the Mosque of the Divinity. But don’t let this deeply religious nation fool you. Dakar also has a vibrant night life and you’ll need plenty of stamina to keep up. Most parties don’t start until after midnight and continue well into early morning.

African Renaissance Monument
Photo credit: The Travel Sista

For those interested in heritage tourism, Goree Island and the House of Slaves is a pilgrimage destination. Once a slave trading post during the transatlantic slave trade, today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and memorial to those affected by the suffering and brutality of slavery. Dakar is also home to the Museum of Black Civilizations – the world’s largest museum dedicated to the history of Africa and the African diaspora, as well as the African Renaissance Monument – Africa’s largest statue. This massive bronze statue of a Black man, woman and child represents the end of slavery and Africa’s emergence from colonial rule. Other noted attractions include IFAN Museum of African Arts, Village des Arts, Ngor Island, and the Pink Lake.

If it’s beaches that you want, Senegal has plenty to choose from. Dakar is surrounded by water on three sides and its public and private beaches provide a break for locals and tourists alike. But the most popular Senegalese beaches are found along the Petite Coast, in the coastal towns of Saly, Somone, and Popenguine. Another popular beach area is the Casamance region, in southern Senegal, where Cap Skirring, Abene, and other coastal villages boast some of the most beautiful and unspoiled beaches in the country. The Sine-Saloum delta region, south of the Petite Coast, is a fascinating area of lagoons, islands, and coastal villages and well worth a visit.

French and Wolof are the most widely spoken languages in Senegal. Though it’s possible to find a few English speakers, we recommend learning some greetings and phrases in French and/or Wolof.

For more insider tips and information about things to do and the best places to visit in Senegal, check out our Senegal Travel Guide.

2. Côte d’Ivoire

Côte d’Ivoire (commonly called Ivory Coast) is one of West Africa’s fastest growing tourism destinations, having seen a near ten-fold increase of visitors between 2010 and 2020. Tourism largely centers around nature, beaches, culture, and architecture. Côte d’Ivoire is an interesting country of contrasts with the 3rd largest French speaking population in the world.

Abidjan is the de facto capital and largest city of Côte d’Ivoire. It’s also West Africa’s second most populous city and a cosmopolitan city renowned for its shopping, food, and nightlife. Its Plateau area has been called the “Manhattan of Africa” because of its gleaming skyscrapers and manicured gardens. Landmarks include La Pyramide building, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Plateau Mosque, Félix Houphouët-Boigny stadium, and the Museum of Civilizations of Côte d’Ivoire. From the markets, maquis (local restaurants), and caves (local bars) to the many rooftop bars, lounges and nightclubs, there’s always something fun to do. By contrast, Yamoussoukro, the official political capital, is a much smaller urban town explored by most visitors as a day trip. Its pièce de resistance is the Our Lady of Peace Basilica (Basilica Notre Dame de la Paix), the world’s largest church. The Fondation Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Presidential Palace and surrounding Crocodile Lake are other popular attractions there.

The town of Man, located about 9 hours from Abidjan in western Côte d’Ivoire, lies between two of the country’s highest mountains and is popular with hikers and rock climbers. It’s also home to Les Cascades, a natural waterfall which is the city’s best-known attraction (the falls are most impressive during rainy season, but less so during the dry season from July to October). Korhogo, in the north, is a cultural hub known for its wood carvers, weavers, painters, and metalworkers. The handpainted pictorial Korhogo cloth, named after the village, is its most famous export. Kong, a few hours east of Korhogo, is known for its mud mosque reminiscent of those in Mali.

Grand Bassam beach
Photo credit: The Travel Sista

The beach towns of Grand Bassam, Assinie, and San Pedro are also popular with vacationers and locals alike. Grand Bassam is the closest to Abidjan and a popular weekend hangout. The National Costume Museum, Lighthouse, and Artisans Village there are worth a visit. Assinie, about 2 hours from Abidjan, is a resort area with boutique hotels lining the coast. San Pedro, about 7 hours from Abidjan, arguably has the most pristine beaches in Côte d’Ivoire and they’re swimmable, unlike those in Grand Bassam and Assinie which have dangerous waves and riptides.

For the nature and wildlife lovers, Côte d’Ivoire has 3 national parks on the UNESCO World Heritage List: Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve, a geographically unique mountainous area with unusually rich flora and fauna; Taï National Park, home of 11 monkey species and the pygmy hippo; and Comoe National Park, West Africa’s largest protected area, which is teeming with wildlife.

French is the lingua franca in Côte d’Ivoire. English speakers are few, particularly outside of Abidjan, so it’s useful to learn some basic French greetings and phrases.

3. Benin

Known as the birthplace of Vodun (aka voodoo), Benin is a popular destination for those interested in history, heritage tourism, and traditional African religions. Present day Benin was the site of Dahomey, a prominent West African kingdom that rose in the 15th century and specialized in the slave trade. Today, its ruined temples and royal palaces are a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the country’s top tourist attractions. The 12 Royal Palaces of Abomey are spread over 100 acres in the town of Abomey and several have been converted into museums which illustrate the history of the kingdom.

Cotonou, a coastal city in the south, is Benin’s largest city and the primary entry point for most tourists as the main international airport is located there. But alas most people are surprised to learn that Cotonou is not the official capital; that would be Porto Novo, the former colonial port city known for its colonial architecture, Yoruba culture, and its connection to Afro-Brazilian history. One of Cotonou’s most famous buildings is the Grande Marché du Dantopka, where you can find fruit, spices, electronics, woven baskets, and just about anything else for sale. But the main draw for tourists is the fetish market, with skulls, bones, medicinal treatments, and other items used for traditional vodun rituals. Other Cotonou attractions include the Foundation Zinsou, an artistic space with artwork from local and regional artists; L’etoile Rouge, a monument in the center of the city; Centre Artisanal, an arts, crafts and souvenir market; and the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Door of No Return monument, Ouidah, Benin
Photo credit: Dan Sloan, Flickr

Ouidah, also in southern Benin about 50 minutes from Cotonou, is ground zero for heritage tourists. One of its most visited sites is the Slave Route, a 2.5 mile trail terminating at the beachside Door of No Return monument, a memorial to those who were kidnapped, sold, and shipped to the Americas. Ouidah is also the main site of the Vodun Festival, held every year on January 10th. This festival attracts visitors from around the world who come to celebrate vodun, the traditional animist religion that centers vodun spirits and other elements of divine essence that govern the Earth. At the Python Temple, dozens of pythons are revered and worshipped as religious symbols.

Benin’s most unique landmark is the lake village of Ganvie, affectionately called the Venice of Africa. The founders of the village escaped there 500 years ago to avoid slave traders and today the settlement has grown to more than 3,000 homes and buildings, all on stilts and accessible only by boat.

Most Beninese people speak French or Fon, so it’s useful to learn some basic French.

4. Togo

One of the smallest countries in West Africa, Togo draws visitors to its wildlife, nature, traditional religions, and historical sites. Its capital and largest city is Lomé, where popular attractions include the Lomé National Museum, Palais de Lomé, Grand Marché, Monument de L’independence, Sacred Heart Cathedral, and the Hotel Sarakawa’s Olympic-sized pool.

Similar to Benin, Vodou is one of its most popular animist religions and traditional healing methods are widely used. The Akodessewa Fetish Market in Lomé is the world’s largest voodoo market and a mecca for local practitioners and tourists curious about the oft-misunderstood religion. There you can find anything from talismans, leopard heads, and human skulls to Vodou priests who will bless you, create fetishes, predict the future, and make medicines to heal your ailments.

The coastal town of Aného (aka Little Popo), in southeast Togo, was founded as a slave port in the late 17th century and was once one of West Africa’s largest slave centers. Today, the slave house in nearby Agbodrafo is a tourist site where visitors learn about the legal and illegal slave trade in the region. It’s often a stop for tourists en route to Lake Togo and Togoville, known for its many sacred trees and vodou shrines.

Togo also offers a variety of nature activities. Kpalime waterfalls in the central region are the tallest and most beautiful waterfalls in the country. The falls are impressive during the rainy season, but less so during the dry season from late October to March. Nearby, Mount Agou, Togo’s highest mountain, provides hiking and climbing opportunities. Togo also has a range of wildlife in three national parks: Fazao Mafakassa National Park, Kéran National Park, and Fosse Aux Lions National Park.

Takienta mud tower house, Koutammakou, Togo
Photo credit: David Bacon, Flickr

The Koutammakou landscape, in northeast Togo, is a UNECO World Heritage site and home to the Takienta houses of the Batammariba people. These mud tower houses and village architecture have become a symbol of Togo and source of national pride.

French and Ewe are the mostly widely spoken languages in Togo, so it’s useful to learn some basic French.

CENTRAL AFRICA

5. Cameroon

Unlike the others, both French and English are official languages in Cameroon. But eight of its 10 regions are Francophone, with 84% of the population speaking French (the Northwest and Southwest regions are Anglophone, with 16% speaking English). Tourism is a minor but growing industry and typically centers around heritage tourism, history, and nature. Travelers are advised to avoid the borders with Nigeria, Chad and Central African Republic due to ongoing conflicts, but otherwise Cameroon has much to offer adventurous tourists.

Cameroon’s natural features include beaches, deserts, mountains, rainforests, waterfalls, lakes, and savannas. Wildlife and safaris are also popular, with Waza National Park being its largest wildlife reserve along with 18 other national parks. Mount Cameroon, an active volcano, is the highest point in the country and is popular with hikers and climbers.

Douala is its largest city and also the location of its international airport and largest port. Things to see include the Maritime Museum, Flower Market, La Nouvelle Liberte monument, Doual’Art gallery, and St. Pierre and St. Paul Cathedral. Sonara beach, in nearby Limbé, features black sand, a laid-back vibe, and the best views of Mount Cameroon. Tea plantations and the Limbe Botanical Garden are other oft-visited attractions there.

Yaoundé is the capital and 2nd largest city, beautifully spread over seven hills. Popular attractions include the Reunification Monument, Musée de la Blackitude, Mokolo Market, Place de l’Indépendence, Benedictine Museum of Mont Febe, and the National Museum of Yaounde.

Kribi, located about 2.5 hours south of Douala, is called the paradise of Cameroon. It’s renowned for its white sandy beaches, crystal blue waters, and fresh fish served in the many seafront restaurants. The Lobé Waterfalls, which cascade into the ocean, are also nearby. Kribi is also home to the Baka people (formerly known as pygmies).

Bimbia, in southwest Cameroon, was said to be Central Africa’s largest slave port during the transatlantic slave trade. Today, its slave village is a national monument and tourist site. While most of the structures were destroyed at abolition of slavery, a few remain albeit in disrepair due to the passage of time. Periodic enslavement reenactments are performed at the site.

Palace of the Sultan of Bamoun, Foumban, Cameroon
Photo credit: Jasmine Halki, Flickr

For history buffs, the Foumban Palace and Bafut Palace are must-see attractions. Foumban, in northwest Cameroon, is home to the Bamoun kingdom, which has had a succession of 19 kings since 1394. The palace, where the current king still resides, houses a museum which tells the history of the Bamoun dynasty and displays a multitude of royal gowns, arms, musical instruments, statues, jewelry, masks, and colorful bead-covered thrones. The nearby Museum of Bamoun Arts and Traditions is also worth a visit. Also in the northwest, the Bafut Palace is the heart of the Bafut kingdom. The palace comprises over 50 buildings arranged around a shrine, which are used by the Fon (traditional ruler), his wives, and the royal court.

French, English, and several pidgin languages are lingua francas in Cameroon. But since most Cameroonians speak French, it’s useful to learn some basic French greetings and phrases.


Local African tour guides and tour companies with Bilingual guides:

Country Highlight: GABON

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Gabon is Africa’s 30th largest country and more than 85% of its land area is covered by rainforests. Learn more fun facts about this beautiful country.

Fast Facts:

1. It is located on the west coast of Central Africa and is the 30th largest country on the continent.

2. Its capital and largest city is Libreville.

3. It is Africa’s 5th least densely populated country, but 50% of its people reside in the capital city.

4. Major ethnic groups: Fang (23%), Shira-Punu/Vili (19%), Nzabi-Duma (11%), Mbede-Teke (7%), Myene (5%), Kota-Kele (5%), Okande-Tsogo (2%), Pygmy (.3%)

5. Major languages: French (official), Fang, Myene, Nzebi, Bapounou/Eschira, Bandjabi

6. Major religions: Christianity (73%), Islam (12%), Traditional religions (10%), No religion or Atheism (5%)

7. Gabon gained its independence from France in August 1960. It was formerly colonized as one of four territories in French Equatorial Africa.

8. Revenues from oil and mineral reserves give Gabon one of the highest per capita incomes in Sub-Saharan Africa, but due to income inequality about 1/3 of the population lives in poverty.

9. Rainforests cover 85% of the country and house an abundant array of wildlife, including gorillas, chimpanzees, panthers, buffalos, elephants, crocodiles, sea turtles, and nearly 800 bird species.

10. Eleven percent of the country is designated as a protected area and 13 National Parks were created for these natural preservation efforts.

11. Gabon is a tourist friendly, but off the beaten path destination. Tourist attractions include white sandy beaches, waterfalls, national parks, limestone caves, canyons, ancient rock art sites, the Crystal Mountains, and craft villages.

12. Things to do in the capital of Libreville include the markets, the National Museum, the Presidential Palace, L’Eglise St-Michel (St Michael Cathedral), Musée des Arts et Traditions du Gabon (Museum of Arts and Traditions), and casinos.

Photo credit: southafrica-info.com
Video credit: Andre
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Country Highlight: EQUATORIAL GUINEA

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Equatorial Guinea is the only Spanish-speaking nation in Africa and one of the least visited countries in the world. Learn more fun facts about this beautiful country.

Fun Facts:

1. It’s located on the west coast of Central Africa and consists of two parts: a mainland region, Rio Muni, and an insular region comprised of five islands, Bioko, Annobón, Corisco, Great Elobey, and Little Elobey.

2. Its current capital is Malabo, on Bioko island. Its largest city is Bata, located on the mainland region, along with Ciudad de la Paz, the country’s planned future capital.

3. It’s one of Africa’s top 5 oil producers and is the richest country per capita in Africa. Due to extreme income inequality, most of the population lives in poverty.

4. It’s the only Spanish-speaking nation in Africa. Spanish is the language of education and administration and one of 3 official languages, along with French and Portuguese (which aren’t widely spoken).

5. Regional languages include Fang, Bube, Combe, Pidgin English, Annobonese and Igbo.

6. Major ethnic groups: Fang (81.7%), Bubi (6.5%), Igbo (5.4%), Ndowe (3.6%), Annobon (1.6%), Bujeba (1.1%)

7. Major religions: Christianity (93%), Indigenous and other (5%), Islam (2%)

8. It is a former colony of Spain, from whom it gained independence in October 1968.

9. Its president Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, in power since 1979, is Africa’s longest-serving ruler.

10. Most of the mainland region is covered by tropical rainforest.

11. It has abundant wildlife, including western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, mandrills, and forest elephants, and a sea wildlife unique to the area.

12. It’s one of the world’s least visited countries and is an off the beaten path destination.

13. Tourist attractions include the Spanish Colonial architecture of Malabo, the town and markets of Bata, Moca Valley and the Cascades de Moca waterfalls, Monte Alen National Park, Pico Basile mountain, Pico Malabo volcano, the beaches, and the tropical rain forests.

14. Its new festival, the Equatorial Guinea Bodypainting Festival held in January, is poised to bring more tourism to the country.

Photo credit: www.mapsoftheworld.com
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Country Highlight: DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO (aka CONGO KINSHASA or DRC)

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The Democratic Republic of the Congo is Africa’s second largest country and was named after the Congo River. Learn more fun facts about this beautiful country.

Fast Facts:

1. It’s located in Central Africa and is the second largest country in Africa.

2. Its capital and largest city is Kinshasa.

3. DRC was named after the Congo River, the world’s deepest river, which separates DRC from its neighboring country Congo-Brazzaville.

4. More than 200 ethnic groups populate the DRC. Major ethnic groups include: Mongo, Luba, Kongo, Mangbetu-Azande.

5. Major languages: French (official), Lingala, Kikongo, Swahili, Tshiluba

6. Major religions: Christianity (85%), Islam (5%), Indigenous religions (5%), other religions (5%)

7. Congo was colonized in 1879 and ruled by Belgium under several different names, including the Congo Free State, Belgian Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Congo-Leopoldville, and Zaire.  

8. The colonial administration of the Congo under King Leopold was characterized by murder, torture, and notorious brutality. He extracted a fortune from the territory by forcing the native population to harvest and process rubber and cutting off their hands if quotas were not met.

9. Congo obtained independence from Belgium on June 30, 1960.

10. DRC is extremely rich in natural resources but has suffered from political instability and exploitation since independence. Its mineral wealth includes cobalt, copper, cadmium, diamonds, gold, silver, zinc, manganese, tin, germanium, uranium, radium, bauxite, iron ore, and coal.

11. It has an active volcano, Mount Nyiragongo, which last erupted in 2010. It is popular with hikers who climb the 11,380 foot mountain to see its lava lake.

12. The Congo Basin, the world’s second largest rainforest, spans across DRC and 5 other countries. The Congo Basin contains the greatest number of mammals, primates, birds, amphibians, fish and swallowtail butterflies in Africa and shelters all three subspecies of gorilla: the lowland gorilla, the eastern lowland gorilla and the mountain gorilla.

13. DRC is blessed with natural beauty and amazing landscapes. The most tourist visited areas are Goma, Lake Kivu, Virunga National Park and Bukavu in in the east, and the capital Kinshasa in the west.

Photo credit: umich.edu\
Video credit: Patiz TV
Video credit: Top Tourist Places
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Country Highlight: CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

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Central African Republic is the 21st largest country in Africa and one of the least visited countries in Africa. Learn more about this interesting country.

Fast Facts:

1. Central African Republic is a landlocked country located in the center of Africa (commonly shortened to CAR).

2. It’s the 21st largest country in Africa and the 44th largest country in the word.

3. Its capital and largest city is Bangui.

4. Major ethnic groups: Baya (33%), Banda (27%), Mandjia (13%), Sara (10%), Mboum (7%), M’Baka (4%), Yakoma (4%), other (2%)

5. Major languages: Sangho and French (both official); CAR is one of the few African countries to have an African language as their official language.

6. Major religions: Christianity (80%), Islam (10%), Indigenous or other beliefs (5%), no religion (5%)

7. Today’s CAR has been inhabited for millennia, but its current borders were established by France, which ruled the country as a colony beginning in the late 1800s.

8. CAR gained independence from France in August 1960.

9. Despite its significant resources, such as uranium reserves, crude oil, gold, diamonds, cobalt, lumber, and hydropower, CAR is one of the least developed African countries and among the 10 poorest countries in the world.

10. CAR has diverse and beautiful landscapes, which include grasslands, deserts, waterfalls, rainforests and mountains.

11. Things to do in Bangui include the national museum – Musée Ethnograhique Barthélémy Boganda, Central Market, Notre Dame Cathedral, the presidential palace, and canoe rides on the Oubangui River.

12. The two biggest tourist attractions are the Chutes De Boali (164-foot waterfalls) and Dzanga-Sangha National Park (home of western lowland gorillas and forest elephants). Visits and stays with the local Pygmy communities are also popular.

13. CAR is one of the least visited countries in Africa and not currently considered safe for travel due to ongoing civil war.

Video credit: CBX Studios

Country Highlight: REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO (aka CONGO-BRAZZAVILLE)

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The Republic of the Congo is the 27th largest country in Africa, commonly known as Congo-Brazzaville. Learn more fun facts about this beautiful country.

Fast Facts:

1. It’s located on the western coast of Central Africa.

2. It is the 27th largest country in Africa and the 64th largest in the world.

3. The capital and largest city is Brazzaville.

4. The people are called Congolese. The major ethnic groups are: Kongo (41%), Teke (17%), M’Bochi (13%).

5. Major languages: French (official), Kituba, Lingala, Kikongo

6. Major religions: Christianity (75%), traditional African religions (10%), Islam (2%), none (11%)

7. It was colonized by France in 1880 and became known as French Congo, then later Middle Congo. In 1908, France organized French Equatorial Africa, comprising Middle Congo, Gabon, Chad, and Oubangui-Chari (the modern Central African Republic), with Brazzaville as the federal capital.

8. It gained independence from France in August 1960.

9. It is the 8th highest oil producing country in Africa and 36th largest in the world. It also has large untapped base metal, gold, iron and phosphate deposits.

10. It is one of Africa’s most urbanized countries, with 85% of the population living in the urban areas of Brazzaville, Pointe-Noire, or one of the small cities or villages lining the railway which connects the two cities.

11. The Congo rainforest covers 80% of the country. It is part of the Congo Basin, the world’s second largest rainforest, which spans 6 countries.

12. Tourism is a small industry in Congo-Brazzaville, but it’s poised to become one of Africa’s finest eco-tourism destinations. It boasts beautiful landscapes, with rainforest, waterfalls, lagoons, river rapids, and swamps. These places are home to interesting flora and fauna, and rare primates, like mountain gorillas and chimpanzees.

13. Brazzaville city boasts historical architecture, African markets, art galleries, vibrant street culture, and beaches. Popular attractions include the Basilique Sainte-Anne church, Les Dépêche de Brazzaville Gallery, Le Marché de Poto Poto, L’Institut Français du Congo, Nabemba Tower, Marche Plateau Ville, and the Djoue Rapides of the Congo River.

Photo credit: ontheworldmap.com
Video by National Geographic
Video by Republic of Congo Ministry of Tourism and Environment

Country Highlight: CHAD

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Chad is Africa’s 5th largest country and sometimes called the “Dead Heart of Africa”. Learn more about this interesting country.

Fast Facts:
1. It is a landlocked country in north-central Africa.

2. It is the 5th largest African country and the 20th largest country in the world.

3. Its capital and largest city is N’Djamena, located about 660 miles from the nearest seaport in Douala, Cameroon. Because of this distance from the sea and the country’s largely desert climate, Chad is sometimes called the “Dead Heart of Africa”.

4. Chad has more than 200 ethnic groups. The three largest are: Sara (27%), Arab (13%), Kanembu/Buduma (8.5%)

5. Chad has more than 120 traditional languages and two official languages, Arabic and French. Chadian Arabic, a dialect of Arabic, is spoken by 80% of the population.

6. Major religions: Islam (55%), Christianity (41%), Animism and other traditional religions (2%), None (2%)

7. Chad was colonized by France in 1920 as part of French Equitorial Africa.

8. Chad gained independence from France in 1960. Its post-independence history has been characterized by civil unrest, largely due to ethnic and religious conflicts.

9. Chad’s major exports are oil, cattle and cotton, but it is one of the poorer countries on the continent.

10. All photography in Chad requires a government permit.

11. Lowest point: Djourab Depression (525 ft). Highest point: Emi Koussi (11,204 ft).

12. Tourism in Chad is a minor but growing industry. Tourist attractions in the capital include markets, N’Djamena Central Mosque, and Avenue Charles de Gaulle, lined with embassies, high-end restaurants, and colonial Victorian homes.

13. Notable landmarks include Zakouma National Park (with 44 wildlife species), the Great Aloba Arch, Lake Chad, Tibesti Mountains, and the Sahara Desert, as well as sandstone formations and ancient rock paintings.

14. Chadian people are very friendly and hospitable, but they expect foreigners to respect their customs and beliefs.

Photo credit: ontheworldmap.com

Video credit: Top Tourist Places


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Country Highlight: CAMEROON

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Cameroon is the 25th largest country in Africa and one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world. Learn more fun facts about the fascinating country.

Fun Facts:

1. It’s located in Central Africa and is the 25th largest country in Africa.

2. Its capital and 2nd largest city is Yaoundé. Douala is its largest city.

3. Cameroon’s current president, Paul Biya, has been in power for 38 years.

4. Major languages: French, English, Fulfulde, Ewondo

5. About 250 traditional languages are spoken in Cameroon and it is considered one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world.

6. Major ethnic groups: Cameroon Highlanders (31%), Equatorial Bantu (19%), Kirdi (11%), Fulani (10%), Northwestern Bantu (8%), Eastern Nigritic (7%)

7. Major religions: Christianity (70%), Islam (20%), traditional religions (10%)

8. Cameroon is the only African country to have been colonized by three separate European countries. First it was a German colony, then later split into French Cameroon (80%) and British Cameroon (20%).

9. French Cameroon gained independence from France on January 1, 1960. On October 1, 1961, British Cameroon gained independence and the two joined to become a unified Cameroon. This date is an annual public holiday known as Unification Day.

10. The Cameroon slave trade served as an important supply zone for the export of African slaves to the Americas. Most slaves were captured from inland places and sold on the coast of Bimbia.

11. Cameroonian craftsmen are highly regarded for their crafts, which include sculpting, bead working, calabash carving and painting, embroidery, basket-weaving, bronze and brass working, leather working, and pottery.

12. Mount Cameroon is the highest point in the country (13,500 feet) and is popular with hikers, climbers and nature lovers.

13. Popular attractions in Yaounde include Limbe Botanic Garden, Benedictine Museum of Mont Febe, National Museum of Yaounde, the Reunification Monument and the Kribi.

14. Tourism is a growing but still relatively minor industry in Cameroon. Its natural features include beaches, deserts, mountains, rain forests, waterfalls, lakes and savannas. Wildlife and safaris are also popular, with Waza National Park being its largest wildlife reserve.

Photo credit: Map of Africa blog
Video credit: Cameroon Ministry of Tourism and Leisure
Video credit: Displore
Video credit: Omo Naija