If you’re looking to reconnect with your ancestral culture and homeland, there’s never been a better time to visit Africa for heritage tourism.
In 2019, Ghana issued a clarion call to Black people across the African diaspora to return to Africa and to specifically visit the West African country. Ghana’s Year of Return campaign, which commemorated the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first recorded enslaved Africans in Jamestown Virginia in 1619, was nothing short of a major success. While Ghana anticipated about 500,000 diasporans, more than one million people answered the call, coming from as far away as Brazil, Jamaica, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom for the yearlong series of events and cultural activities.
Other African countries have taken note of Ghana’s success and are instituting diaspora initiatives of their own hoping to see a similar tourism boom. If you’re looking to reconnect with your ancestral culture and homeland, there’s never been a better time to go to Africa for heritage travel.
During the Year of Return (YOR), the Chiefs of Asebu Traditional Area and Elders created the Pan African Village project and offered free plots of land to qualified African diasporans. On the heels of YOR, Ghana initiated Beyond the Return, a decade-long initiative which it hopes will spur more tourism, investment, and collaboration between Ghana and the diaspora. Under the theme “A Decade of African Renaissance”, the project is built on 7 pillars supported by periodic cultural events, tourism drives, investment programs and diaspora pathway programs. Ghana recently hosted Tulsa Massacre survivors Viola Fletcher (age 107) and Hughes Van Ellis (age 100) and is purportedly formulating a plan for dual citizenship for Black diasporans. The African Diaspora Development Institute (ADDI) is hosting the Wakanda One City of Return Expo in Cape Coast from December 2 to December 13, 2021.
Sierra Leone made a splash in January 2021 when it gave citizenship to 22 diasporans who traced their roots to the country through DNA testing. Since then, the Sierra Leone government has partnered with the Black-owned DNA company African Ancestry to help more diasporans discover their ancestral roots and obtain Sierra Leonean citizenship. Under a newly created formal program, diasporans who can prove maternal or paternal lineage through DNA testing (solely with African Ancestry) AND who visit the country through a certified tour company can apply for citizenship. The goal of the program is to increase tourism, business opportunities, investments, and construction projects in the peaceful country also known as Salone. The next citizenship conferment ceremony will be held November 20 to December 4, 2021 in Freetown.
Guinea Bissau has joined Ghana and Sierra Leone in recognizing the ancestral roots of diasporans and welcoming them to the continent. In February 2021, Guinea Bissau launched its own Decade of Return initiative in conjunction with the US-based Balanta B’urassa History and Genealogy Society. The program seeks to increase public knowledge of the country’s historical connection to the transatlantic slave trade and Afro-liberation struggle and set up a new model of development and cultural tourism for small, underdeveloped African countries. Free visas and the opportunity to apply for citizenship are being offered to diasporans whose lineage to the country is verified by DNA testing. The goal is to spur the diaspora’s reintegration into Guinea Bissau’s varied ethnic groups, as well as increase tourism and investment. The next Decade of Return event will occur November 23 to November 30, 2021.
Though Cameroon was a significant source of slaves during the transatlantic slave trade, this central African country has not been on the radar of most diasporans. One Tikar One People, a community of Cameroonians and DNA-tested diasporan descendants of the Tikar and Bamileke ethnic groups, hopes to change that. For 2021, they are holding a special edition of their annual Festival for the Returned for diasporans, to be held from November 26, 2021 through January 7, 2022. The festival will feature cultural events, community tourism, volunteer opportunities and ancestral/naming ceremonies. Additionally, the Tikar and Bamileke Kings have decided to adopt all DNA-tested descendants of Cameroon and give them the opportunity to own a piece of land in Tikar and Bamileke villages.
The House of Slaves on Goree Island is one of the most famous memorials of the slave trade. Today, the island is the site of the Goree Island Diaspora Festival, an annual art and culture celebration created to promote the island and reunite the African diaspora. Held in November, the festival has a dual role as a meeting place for cultures and a space for reconciliation. Countries invited to past festivals include Martinique, Cape Verde, Guadeloupe, Brazil and Venezuela.
We anticipate that more African countries will offer heritage tourism, land and investment initiatives, and citizenship opportunities in the coming years. African Ancestry is working to expand their DNA testing partnership to more than 30 countries in Africa where they trace ancestry. Stay tuned for more developments.
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.
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.
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 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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
4. Murchison Falls
Murchison Falls (aka Kabalega Falls) is a waterfall on the lower Victoria Nile River in Uganda.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Togo is the 14th smallest country in Africa and is known for the Takienta mud houses of the Batammariba people. Learn more fun facts about this interesting country.
1. Togo is located in West Africa and is the 14th smallest country on the continent.
2. Its capital and largest city is Lomé.
3. Major languages: French, Ewe, Kabiye
4. Major ethnic groups: Ewe, Kabre, Wachi, Mina, Kotokoli, Bimoba
5. Major religions: Christianity (44%), Traditional and other religions (42%), Islam (14%)
6. It gained independence from France in April 1960.
7. The Togolese flag, adopted at independence, has symbolic meaning. The red square represents the blood shed for independence, the white star represents hope, green represents the forests, agriculture and nature, and yellow represents the natural resources. The five horizontal bands define the five regions of Togo.
8. Football (soccer) is the most recognized and national sport of Togo.
9. Togo means ‘house of sea’ in the Ewe language.
10. Voodoo is one of its most popular traditional animist religions. Traditional healing methods are widely used and medical treatments usually involve frequent visits to the voodoo house and the local fetish priest.
11. It has one site on the UNECO World Heritage List: Koutammakou landscape, home to the Takienta mud houses of the Batammariba people.
12. It offers a range of wildlife and has 3 national parks where animals can be seen: Fazao Mafakassa National Park, Kéran National Park, and Fosse Aux Lions National Park.
13. Things to see and do include: Lomé National Museum, Palais de Lomé, Grand Marché, Akodessewa Fetish Market, Monument de L’independence, Sacred Heart Cathedral, Hotel Sarkawa’s Olympic-sized pool, Aneho slave house, Togoville and Lake Togo, Kpalime waterfalls, hiking Mount Agou, fishing villages, whale watching, and beautiful beaches.
Sierra Leone is Africa’s 15th smallest country and its capital was founded as a home for repatriated former slaves. Learn more fun facts about this beautiful country.
1. It’s located in West Africa and is the 15th smallest country on the continent.
2. Its capital and largest city is Freetown, which was founded in 1787 as a home for repatriated former slaves from England, Nova Scotia, and Jamaica.
3. Major languages: English, Krio, Mende, Temne, Limba, Bengali
4. Major ethnic groups: Temne (36%), Mende (33%), Limba (7%), Kono (5%), Fula (4%), Loko (3%), Koranko (3%)
5. Major religions: Islam (78%), Christianity (21%), Traditional and other religions (1%)
6. It gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1961.
7. The name Sierra Leone means Lion Mountains in Portuguese.
8. It is rich in minerals, especially diamonds, and is known for “blood diamonds” which were mined and sold for weapons during the country’s civil war from 1991 to 2002.
9. Tourism is steadily growing and the main attractions are the beaches, nature reserves, rain forests, mountains, islands, historical sites, and culture.
10. One of the most historic and well-known symbols of Freetown is the Cotton Tree, a massive kapok tree where the first freed slaves gathered, prayed, and sang to celebrate landing on the soil of liberty and freedom. Today, citizens still pray and make offerings to the ancestors under the tree.
11. The Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary is located in the rain forest of the Western Area National Park and is home to 50+ orphaned or illegally captured chimpanzees.
12. It has several islands, including Tiwai Island, home to a wildlife sanctuary and the Gola Forest National Park; Bonthe Island, which is popular for sports fishing; Bunce Island, a former slave trading station; the Turtle Islands, a group of 8 islands known for its beaches and bamboo-built villages; and the Banana Islands, a group of 3 islands known for its tropical forests, beaches and colonial and slave trading monuments.
13.Things to see and do in Freetown include the Cotton Tree, De Ruyter Stone, Government Wharf and King’s Yard, King Jimmy’s Market, Victoria Park Market, Marcon’s Church, National Museum, Lumley Beach, and the Freetown Harbor.
5. Major religions: Islam (90%), Christianity (5%), Traditional and other religions (5%)
6. It gained independence from France in April 1960.
7. It is well known for its griots, storytellers who have kept West African history alive for thousands of years through words and music.
8. Its most popular sport is wrestling (La Lutte: French). But Senegalese wrestling includes gris-gris, in which veneration of traditional amulets, the use of magic potions, and hypnotic drumming, song and dance form an integral part of the wrestling match.
9. Its newest museum, the 40,000 sq ft (3,700 sq m) Museum of Black Civilizations, showcases art, history and culture from across the continent and the African diaspora.
10. It is home to Africa’s tallest statute, the African Renaissance Monument, which symbolizes the triumph of African liberation and the unity of the Black family
11. It has 7 UNESCO World Heritage sites: Goree Island, Niokolo-Koba National Reserve, the island of Saint-Louis, Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary, Stone Circles of the Senegambia, Saloum Delta and the Bassari, Fula and Bedik Cultural Landscapes in southeastern Senegal.
12. Its annual religious pilgrimage, The Grand Magal, brings nearly 4 million Muslims to the holy city of Touba to celebrate the life and teachings of Cheikh Amadou Bamba.
13. Tourism is a vital part of Senegal’s economy and centers around beaches, nature, history, and culture. Popular places include the beaches of the Petite Coast, Sine-Saloum Delta, Lompoul Desert, Touba, Saint-Louis (the former French colonial capital), and Casamance.
14. Things to see in and around Dakar include: Goree Island and the House of Slaves, African Renaissance Monument, Museum of Black Civilizations, Village des Arts, IFAN Museum, Mosque of the Divinity, Our Lady of Victories Cathedral, Ngor Island, Pink Lake, markets and beaches.
Nigeria is Africa’s 14th largest and most populous country. Learn more fun facts about this rapidly growing country.
1. It’s located in West Africa and is the 14th largest country on the continent.
2. It is Africa’s most populous country, with more than 200 million inhabitants.
3. Its capital is Abuja. Its largest city, Lagos, is the most populous on the African continent, home to more than 14 million people. Lagos is one of three African megacities.
4. Major languages: English is the official language, while Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo are national languages. More than 500 distinct languages are spoken in the country.
5. Major ethnic groups: The three largest ethnic groups are the Hausa–Fulani, Yoruba, and Igbo, together comprising over 60% of the total population. There are more than 250 ethnic groups in the country.
6. Major religions: Islam (53%), Christianity (46%) Traditional African and other religions (1%)
7. It is a former British colony and gained independence from the United Kingdom on October 1, 1960.
8. Its flag, adopted at independence, has three vertical bands of green, white and green. The two green stripes represent Nigeria’s natural wealth and the white represents peace and unity.
9. It is Africa’s largest oil producer and also home to the 2nd-largest proven oil reserves in Africa.
10. The town of Igbo-Ora has the world’s highest rate of twin births. Almost every house has at least one set of twins. It is believed to be caused by high consumption of yams.
11. Nigeria has been home to several indigenous pre-colonial states and kingdoms, including the Nok, Nri, Ife, Oyo and Benin, among others.
12. Tourism centers largely on festivals and events, arts and culture, history, national parks, beaches, rain forests, savannah, waterfalls, and other natural attractions.
13. There are numerous cities and attractions to explore across the country, including Aso Rock and the Presidential complex in Abuja, the palace in Kano, colonial and art deco architecture of Ibadan, Gashaka Game Reserve, the Slave History Museum and National Museum in Calabar, the palace and museum in Ife-Ife, Benin City, Olumirin Falls, Gurara Falls, the sacred Oshun shrine in Osogbo, Cross River National Park, and Yankari National Park.
14. Things to see and do in Lagos include: Victoria Island, Nike Art Gallery, Lekki Conservation Centre, Lekki Market, National Museum, Kalakuta Republic Museum and Tafawa Balewa Square.
Niger is Africa’s 6th largest country and its annual Gerewol is a must see cultural event. Learn more fun facts about this interesting country.
1. It’s a landlocked country in West Africa and the 6th largest country on the continent.
2. Its capital and largest city is Niamey.
3. Major languages: French (official), Arabic, Buduma, Fulfulde, Gourmanchéma, Hausa, Kanuri, Zarma & Songhai, Tamasheq, Tassawaq, Tebu
4. Major ethnic groups: Hausa (55%), Zarma-Songhai (21%), Tuareg (11%), Fula (7%), Kanuri Manga (6%)
5. Major religions: Islam (99%), Christianity and traditional beliefs (1%)
6. It was named after the Niger River.
7. Over 80% of its land area lies in the Sahara Desert and its climate is mostly very hot and dry.
8. Its people are called Nigeriens (as compared to the Nigerian people of Nigeria).
9. Humans have inhabited the territory of modern Niger for millennia; stone tools, some dating as far back as 280,000 BC, have been in the northern Agadez Region.
10. It gained independence from France in August 1960.
11. Its biggest cultural event is the annual Cure Salée Festival, in late September. The centerpiece is the Gerewol, where unmarried Tuareg and Wodaabe men adorn traditional face painting and fancy dress, and gather in line to dance and sing chants in the hopes of finding a wife.
12. There is a limited tourism industry, but it is opening up and centers around national parks and wildlife, desert landscapes, ancient cities, festivals and culture. Attractions include the W National Park, Termit & Tin Toumma National Nature and Cultural Reserve, the last West African giraffe herd in Koure, the ancient palace, central market and labyrinth alleyways of Agadez, and the markets, museum and palace in Zinder.
13. Things to see and do in Niamey include the small and grand markets, the National Museum, botanical gardens and zoo, the Great Mosque, the Hippodrome (where camel and hippo races are held), and sailing on the Niger River.
Mali is Africa’s 8th largest country and its 3rd largest gold producer. Learn more fun facts about this historically rich country.
1. It is a landlocked country in West Africa and is the 8th largest country in Africa.
2. Its capital and largest city is Bamako. It is one of the fastest-growing cities in Africa.
3. Present-day Mali was once part of three pre-colonial Sudanic empires that controlled trans-Saharan trade from the 7th to 16th Centuries: Songhai Empire, Ghana Empire and Mali Empire. The Mali Empire was the largest, renowned for the wealth of its rulers, especially Mansa Musa who was the wealthiest individual of the Middle Ages.
4. The name Mali is taken from the Mali Empire and means “the place where the king lives”.
5. French is the official language of Mali. It also has 13 national languages: Bambara, Bomu, Tieyaxo Bozo, Toro So Dogon, Maasina Fulfulde, Hassaniya Arabic, Mamara Senoufo, Kita Maninkakan, Soninke, Koyraboro Senni, Syenara Senoufo, Tamasheq and Xaasongaxango.
6. Major religions: Islam (95%), Traditional religions (3%), Christianity (2%)
7. It gained independence from France in 1960, after 68 years of French colonial rule.
8. It is Africa’s 3rd largest gold producer. It has many other mineral deposits that are not commercially exploited, including iron, bauxite, manganese, lithium, uranium, tungsten, tin, lead, copper, and zinc.
9. It is one of the poorest countries in Africa.
10. Mali is largely flat and arid, with the Niger River running through its interior and functioning as the main trading and transport artery.
11. It has 4 UNESCO World Heritage sites: Timbuktu, Bandiagara Escarpment, the Tomb of Askia and Djenné. The Great Mosque at Djenné is the largest mud brick building in the world.
12. Tourism is not well-developed due to infrastructure and security issues, but primarily focuses on its cultural, historical and nature sites. There are many interesting places to visit, including the Great Mosque of Djenné, Dogon Plateau, Mount Tenakourou, Djinguereber Mosque, Ahmed Baba House, Tanezrouft desert, Boucle du Baoule National Park, Adrar des Ifoghas desert, Gouina Falls, Mamelon de Sikasso, and Sidi Yahya Mosque.
13. The world famous Festival au Desert, an annual concert showcasing traditional Tuareg music and music from around the world, has been put on hold since 2013 due to security concerns.