West Africa Discovery website

Please visit the West Africa Discovery website to learn more about West Africa and our selection of sustainable tourism tours, accommodations and voluteer projects.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Working together towards our common goals

In a world such as ours it is essential to work together in order to achieve goals. If attempted alone it is not possible. Since West Africa Discovery started we have made a big effort to develop partnerships to help develop Responsible Tourism in the West African region. We are extremely grateful to our current partners in the field who have made a lot of effort already to spread the word of Sustainable Tourism in their respective countries, and to have gathered important information which has helped us grow in the past five months.

This week was a milestone! After filling out various application forms and having waited for board meetings to decide our fate, we have finally been accepted as a member of the International Coalition for Responsible Tourism, a Paris based ‘umbrella’ which has gathered together experts & professionals of the tourism industry, more than 80 NGO’s & associations in 35 countries, and a committee composed of experts each specialising in one of the three axes of sustainable development (economic & fair-trade, social & culture, ecology & biodiversity).

The main aim of the International Coalition is to inform, to raise awareness, to convince and to mobilise the main actors in the tourism field (professionals, governments, national & international NGO's) to the interest of the concept of Responsible Tourism.

As a member, we have been given a mission…
  • To promote West African Responsible Tourism to the European market
  • To promote World Day for Responsible Tourism in June by organising a local event during that particular day
  • To inform, raise awareness and make tourism development authorities (Ministries, local or regional authorities, professionals, etc.) in West Africa understand the importance of getting engaged in a more responsible tourism through lobbying and defense speeches and actions
  • To raise travellers’ awareness of Responsible Tourism and Sustainable Development
This is exactly what we have set out to do when we started West Africa Discovery. Convenient hey?

So, we are looking forward to the 2nd June 2010, as we will be organising an event to raise awareness and promote the Responsible Tourism concept around West Africa. Watch this space! In the meantime, to learn more about Responsible Tourism, West Africa and what we do at West Africa Discovery, visit our website here.

We also list a selection of unique and unforgettable responsible and sustainable tours, accommodations and volunteer projects, offering the opportunity to discover the wonders of West Africa.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Come rain or shine, West Africa has it all!

Sitting in the cabin of a hotel security guard in the Gambia, sipping Ataya ( a bitter tea), I was deep in discussion about tourism in the area, and the decline in the so called ‘beach tourists’ over the past few years. Abdul, my new found friend, was speaking with a serious tone about how a lot of people living in the area were relying on tourism to survive and put food on the table. He was concerned with the decline and made a point of saying that tourists were only coming in the dry season, that someone should try and educate the tourists that there is a lot still to do in the rainy season. So, here I am writing this blog about the wonderful and unique things you can do, see and visit in West Africa come rain or shine.

West Africa is one of the poorest regions in the world, but if wealth would be determined by heritage, then it would be one of the richest.

The geographical region of West Africa abounds with diverse natural habitats where thousands of species of plants and animals thrive. From the dry Sahel region of Senegal and Mali, passing through the tropical rainforests of Sierra Leone and Ghana, down to the equatorial vegetation of Cameroon, there are endless activities to be carried out. How about a rainforest trek in Sierra Leone, visiting the lush waterfalls, witnessing the songs of the variety of bird-life living in the canopies teaming with life; or maybe taking a trip up the Gambia River on a local fishing pirogue visiting the fishing villages along the way and sampling the fresh water fish dishes typical to the region?

These unique activities can be experienced during the dry season, but the rainy season offers another, more lively side. The forests are full of energy, teaming with wildlife making the most of the presence of water; migratory birds, living on an age old instinct arrive from all corners of the world to relish in this lush environment rich in food and ideal for a good rest; plants that have been waiting months for the rain to come let loose their beauty and release their multicoloured flowers, looking as if they are showing off. Another world opens up to the observing eye.

But the natural beauties of West Africa are only the tip of the iceberg! Culturally, the West African region in one of the most diverse in the whole of Africa, and a lot of the cultural events, festivals and rites are as much alive and intact today as they were back in the days of the great Kingdoms. Roberto, from TransAfrica operating for 30 years in West Africa offers an insight into the cultural events that can be witnessed in the rainy season:

“Along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea, it rains from May to July and from September to the start of November, and inland from May to September. Contrary to common belief, it does not rain all the time. There are heavy rains, but they do not last long, maybe an hour or so, and if it is more than a couple of hours it is an event.” He says.

“However, despite the rain, or from the locals’ perspective, because of the rain, a number of big events are celebrated. In Ghana for example, the Asafo festivals in Elmina start in July, the festival in Ada starts in August and the big Accra festival starts in the second half of the same month. The end of September marks the main Voodoo festival in a town called Glidji, in Togo; and then the Yam festival in a village called Bassar, in the North of Togo. So maybe the rain could give travellers plenty of opportunities to witness genuine traditions first hand and a good reason to travel to West Africa!”

But also, the abundance of Historical sites, from relics of the infamous slave trade, ancient vestiges of prosperous Kingdoms, archaeological sites showing signs of the first steps of humanity, and a wealth of museums, libraries and university archives, make a rainy hour or two a great opportunity to learn more about facts which have shaped the way that we live today. Here is a pick of the different rainy day attractions:

In Benin, the Abomey Historical Museum houses the palaces of the ancient Kings of Bénin including King Guézo and King Glèlè; and the Ethnographique Museum, which is Porto Novo’s first museum, currently holds a large collection of archaeological artefacts from different eras of humanity.

In Sierra Leone, the Sierra Leone National Museum is home to the ‘de Ruyter stone’, the main attraction of the museum. The replica of a 1664 rock graffiti, scratched by bored Dutch sea captains during a lull in a military expedition against the English, was discovered in the course of drainage work on the waterfront in 1923. It stands as the oldest archaeological evidence of a European presence in the strip of land.

Senegal, on the other hand, is the location for Gorée Island, one of the most famous, or even infamous, vestiges of the slave trade. ‘La porte du non-retour’ (The door of no-return) is one of the main attractions of the island and depicts the horrendous and brutal trade which was allowed to be carried out for more than 400 years.

So there you go, West Africa is not only a ‘dry season’ holiday destination, it also has the potential to be a great ‘rainy season’ destination for those seeking the thrills of new discoveries, the excitement of participating in age old cultural events, the satisfaction of learning about important historical facts and the excitement of witnessing nature at its best. Come rain or shine, West Africa has it all!

I could carry on for many more pages about the sheer amount of unique, exciting, educational, awe-inspiring and unforgettable experiences that the geographical region of West Africa has to offer, but you can always enquire with West Africa Discovery by emailing us at info@westafricadiscovery.co.uk or you can visit our website (www.westafricadiscovery.co.uk) to discover our selection of sustainable tourism tours, accommodations and volunteer projects.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Africa Cup of Nations: Young Ghana team falter in the final

Last Sunday, on a cold day in London, I was settled in for a day of sport which of course featured the Cup of Nations final between Egypt and Ghana. The two hours of coverage on BBC2 gave me the chance to watch football in faraway lands, and enjoy a beer in the comfort of my living room; perfect. Unfortunately this was one of only three matches accessible to the masses (the semi finals were shown on BBC3) and scheduled at the same time as the big Arsenal v Manchester United match. You just have to see pictures of people around the world of people wearing replica shirts to know that the English Premiership match would receive the better coverage. Still, despite the poor scheduling I was looking forward to the final since I was pretty sure it was going to be a good match. Egypt were going for a record third cup title on the trot against a plucky young Ghanaian team who had battled through to the final despite injuries to key players.

It was a true African football classic; North Africa against West Africa, the oldest average team against the youngest, age and experience against energy and technique, and the Cup record holders against their closest rivals to this honour. Egypt didn’t play their best football, and the Ghana Black Stars impressed with their skills and swift counter attacks, however they were unable to prevent the immense skill of Egypt sub Mohamed Nagy Gedo who blew them away with his fifth goal of the tournament (despite coming on as a sub in every game!). The Egyptians dominated the competition on the way to their history making treble. The Pharaohs are now on the longest unbeaten run in the tournament's 53-year history (19 matches spread across the last three tournaments). Their defence only conceded two goals, and they also had the best attack with 15 goals. Player of the tournament was awarded to captain Ahmed Hassan, who is also now Egypt’s most capped player.

Despite Egypt’s record breaking triumphs, the Cup for me and most others was a little disappointing and marred by the violence at the start with the attack on the Togo bus. The pre-tournament tragedy resurfaced towards the end when the Confederation of African Football ridiculously decided to ban Togo from the next two tournaments. Fans at the stadiums were minimal with most flying in the day before because Angola is far too expensive for most to have long term stays. Even if many visitors will largely remember Luanda's hectic traffic, the building works, and the pricey cost of pretty much everything in Angola; locals took pride in showcasing the new stadiums and infrastructure.

The Pharaohs are the best in Africa for the time being, however after they missed out on World Cup qualification I’m counting on the West African teams shining for Africa in a few months time.

Contact me at harry@westafricadiscovery.co.uk

Visit www.westafricadiscovery.co.uk

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Bénin: tourism profile of a unique west African country

Bénin, a former French Colony in the Central West of Africa lies east of Togo, west of Nigeria and south of Burkina Faso and Niger. It is one of the smallest countries in West Africa, and is a place of unusual beauty. This destination is home to rich natural and cultural heritages, interesting architecture and UNESCO World Heritage historic sites in its capital city Porto Novo. Bénin is easily accessible by air with flights to the city of Cotonou departing from Belgium, France, and a number of African countries.


Bénin has markets which can be found all over its various towns. For example the Marché Dantokpa street market, in Cotonou, sells traditional items to fetish/voodoo ornaments and handicrafts.

Ganvié, another makeshift market is Africa’s largest lake village. It is in actual fact a fishing village with wood and thatched houses built on stilts over a lake. Visitors use pirogues (small wooden boats) as transport over the lake. At Ganvié, women sell their goods from their boats.

Nature and Wildlife

Bénin’s landscape that is mostly flat with hills and low mountains. There are rivers for fishing, terrain for trekking, and in the north, Bénin has some of the best wildlife areas in West Africa - The Pendjari National Park, one of our partners, is home to leopards, elephants, lions, hippopotamuses, buffalos, antelopes, monkeys and hundreds of bird species.

National Parks and Reserves
The Pendjari National Park is known for its varied wildlife is a hotspot for birdwatchers. The W National Park also offers a good experience. This park is located in the far north of the country and stretches into Bénin’s next door neighbours, Niger and Burkina Faso.

Beaches and Islands

Bénin has a selection of palm-fringed beaches, lakes and lagoons waiting to be explored. Also located in Cotonou is Fidjrosse Beach which is known for being a hub for water sports enthusiasts. Also located in the Southwest of the country is the beach resort of Grand Popo.

Historical and Heritage Sites
Porto Novo, the capital city of Bénin lies between Cotonou, its largest city and Nigeria. It includes a variety of museums, historical attractions and local markets.

Another interesting place to visit is Ouidah, known for the practice of Voodoo, Bénin’s traditional religion. In addition to the history of the religion, Ouidah also offers an insight into the history of the slave trade.

In terms of museums, the Abomey Historical Museum houses the palaces of the ancient Kings of Bénin including King Guézo and King Glèlè. The abundance of ruins and temples in the area are a testimony of the presence of a previously spectacular Empire. The Porto-Novo Musée Honme (Palais Royal), located in the capital, is a castle that was once the former home of King Toffa. Not far from the castle is the Da Silva Museum. This museum displays the history of the Dahomey kingdom to its current democracy.

Also present in Porto Novo is the Ethnographique Museum, which is Porto Novo’s first museum. It currently holds a collection of historical artefacts.

The Door of No Return (Slave Trade Memorial), located in Ouidah is another important historical sight. Slaves were said to circle a sacred tree three times which was believed to help in the process of them forgetting about their past.

There are many more unique and exciting things waiting for you to discover in Bénin. For more information, visit the Bénin Tourism website.

Visit the West Africa Discovery website to see our selection of Responsible Tourism trips based in West Africa.

By Iyaniwura Adewunmi