Those on group flights will arrive in Accra this evening and be transferred to our hotel in town.
A full day exploring Ghana's vibrant capital city. The National Museum was opened just before independence in 1957 and houses a number of exhibits from Ghanaian history and culture. Jamestown is the oldest district in Accra and one of its liveliest. Taking a walking tour through this working class neighbourhood gives us a glimpse into the life of many Ghanaians today as well as into the city's colonial past. Finally we head to Accra's outskirts to an area where carpenters make the most unusual coffins in the world. Traditionally the Ga people who inhabit the coast have buried their dead in coffins made to represent the deceased life. These extraordinary colourful coffins are shaped as fish, shoes, cars, planes, fruit and various other objects making for a very unusual site.
Leaving the city behind we head along the coast, driving around 3hrs, to Kakum National Park. This 375 square km park is comprised of the best preserved primary forest in Ghana and is home to a variety of animals including a number of globally endangered species. We will spend some time exploring the rainforest at canopy level along 300m of canopy-walkways. We then continue to Elmina, a picturesque fishing village and the site of St. George Castle, the oldest European structure still standing in sub-Saharan Africa. Built by the Portuguese this castle became one of the most important stops on the Slave Route between Africa and the Americas. This dark history is epitomised by the Door of No Return which slaves would walk through on their way to board ships heading across the Atlantic. Depending on what time we arrive in Elmina we will either visit the slave castle today or tomorrow morning.
Heading inland we drive to Kumasi in the heart of the Ashanti region. The Ashanti (or Asante) people make up about a quarter of the Ghanaian population and once controlled a strong empire which stood up to European colonisation right up to the dying years of the 19th Century. They still have a strong cultural tradition and are ruled by a king. The current king, who rules from Kumasi, is Otumfour Osei Tutu II.
This afternoon we will visit Kejeta Market, the largest open-air market in West Africa, selling all kinds of goods from jewellery to food. Time allowing we will visit a couple nearby crafts villages famous for its Kente cloths - kanga or sarong-type cloths worn on special occasions by various Akan people (which includes the Ashanti). Antoa produces stools which are a symbol of power and chieftainship amongst the Ashanti (if we don't have time we will visit these tomorrow)
Every 42 days (one month in the Ashanti calendar) the Ashanti celebrate the Akwasidae Festival. This is a time for the chiefs to pay respect to their ancestors and for the current king to take stock. The first part of the festival is a private affair where the king and high dignitaries make offerings to their ancestors. Though the first part of the festival is not open to the public the second part, which is the festival's culmination, is. It is an event full of pageantry with ritual sword bearers and guards bearing muskets as dignitaries pay their respect to the Asantehene (king).We join local Ghanaians wearing their best Kente at the king's court in the Manhyia Palace for this colourful ceremony involving dancing and drumming and even a court jester.
Today is a driving day as we travel further north to Mole National Park. The drive will take approximately six or seven hours. Along the way we stop at the Kintampo Falls for a refreshing dip and to stretch our legs. The drive is along paved roads until we reach Fufulso at which point we turn off the main highway and embark on a dirt road for the last 75kms to the park.
Mole National Park is one of the best game reserves in West Africa. Renowned for its elephant population the park is also home to baboons, monkeys and various antelopes. Predators such as lions and leopards are also amongst the 90 mammal species found here though they are much less frequently seen. In addition there are over 340 species of birds, some resident and some migratory. We will have two walking safaris inside the park in search of the local wildlife. In order to have the best chances of good wildlife sightings timing is important and we will have one outing early morning and the second in the late afternoon when animals are more active and easier to spot. Time between these two safaris can be sent relaxing and trying to spot more wildlife at the watering hole near the hotel or by the pool.
We start heading east and drive to the capital of the Northern Region, Tamale. In the afternoon we visit the village of Sognaayilli. Here we can learn about life in a typical Ghanaian village. We will meet the village chief; learn how to prepare Kulikuli (a pea nut snack, spin cotton and what a traditional baby bath is. We also have the opportunity to visit the local soothsayer who can, if you wish, read your future.
We continue towards the Togolese border and cross into our second country of the trip and eventually reach Kara. Part of this journey is on unpaved roads and depending on the state of the road the drive could take 5 or 6hrs including border crossing formalities.
This morning we drive approximately 70kms (50 on paved road and 20 on very rough road) to Koutammakou to visit the original home of the Betamaribe people visiting the Mt. Kaybe region on the way. The Koutammakou region which straddles the border of Togo and Benin across the Atakora Mountains was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004 in recognition of the cultural importance of the Betamaribe people and the distinct architecture of their houses. The Betamaribe tribe still live a traditional existence in harmony with the nature that surrounds them. Their dwellings, known as takienta or tata somba, distinguish themselves by their aesthetic towers which, unlike many other adobe abodes in Africa are normally two-stories high. These villages are widely recognised as some of the most impressive traditional adobe houses on the continent. We later cross into Benin and drive a little further to the town of Natitingou.
This morning we either visit another Betamaribe village or nearby Kota Falls before our drive South to Abomey (approximately 7hrs) in Fon country. Abomey is the ancient capital of the Dahomey Kingdom. The Dahomey kings were a blood-thirsty lot feared throughout the region for their slave-trading, human sacrifices and vicious warmongering. The Dahomey kings ruled from the 17th Century to up to 1894 when the kingdom became part of French West Africa. Dahomey, in fact, was the name of Benin during colonial times.
We visit the Abomey's Royal Palace and Museum famous for the gory depictions of the Dahomey history and traditions on banners and bas relief as well as housing traditional objects including the throne of King Giele which includes the skulls of four enemies.
This afternoon we visit nearby Cove to see the spectacular masked dance of the Gelede. This dance is practiced by the Yoruba-nago people of Benin, Togo and Nigeria and is a celebration of the ancestral mother Iya Nia and of the important role of women in society. Though there are both male and female masks all dancers are men part of a secret society. The dance lasts about 3hrs after which we return to Abomey.
Driving about 2hrs we reach Lake Nokoue where we board a pirogue (traditional canoe) to visit the village of Ganvie where some 30,000 Tofinu people live in Bamboo huts on stilts in the middle of the lake. The Tofinu fled to this swampy region in the 17th Century to escape the slave-hunting Dahomey who, by religious custom, were banned from venturing into the water.
Returning to shore we drive a further 1.5hrs to Ouidah, Benin's voodoo centre. Voodoo, or vodun as it is known locally, spread from this part of Africa to the new world, in particular parts of Brazil, Haiti and New Orleans, and is still widely practiced in the region. The government of Benin officially declared voodoo to be a religion in 1997. Ouidah's other historical export were the slaves who brought the voodoo religion with them.
A full day exploring Ouidah including the Ouidah Historical Museum set in the compound of the Portuguese fort. The museum houses a number of exhibits about Benin's links to the new world, voodoo, the Dahomey kingdom and the slave trade amongst others. We also visit the Temple of the Python dedicated to the voodoo serpent deity Dangbe. Those who have a phobia of snakes can opt to wait outside the temple. Later we trace the infamous Route des Esclaves (Slave Route). This 4km trail joins the old Portuguese fort with the beach from where countless slaves were shipped out to Brazil and the Caribbean. This is the route that slaves would have taken and along the way are a number of symbols and notable stops of this final walk on African soil. Finally we round up our day with a voodoo dance ceremony.
We start the day with a short drive back to the border with Togo before continuing to Lake Togo (approx. 3hrs including border formalities). We continue by boat to Togoville. This historic town was another slave-trade centre and the main departure point for slaves destined to Haiti. The strong voodoo culture remains and fetishes can be seen in the street alongside the German Cathedral built in 1910. Continuing on our journey we reach Lome after a short drive. This afternoon we visit the National Museum and the fetish market where supplies of traditional medicines used by local sorcerers are found including monkey skulls, snake skins, warthog teeth, lion skin, leopard skin and birds.
This morning we drive about 3.5 to 5hrs back to Accra in Ghana (depending on traffic). We have use of dayrooms and the afternoon is free for some last minute shopping. Those on the group flights will transfer to the airport in the evening for the return flight to London.