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Soul Safari A cultural odyssey to uncover the art, history and voodoo rituals of West Africa In partnership with Abercrombie & Kent / By Madelin Tomelty

Vineyard at The Marlborough Lodge, New Zealand
Namibia and Rwanda are well and truly on travellers’ radars this year, and South Africa, Morocco and Tunisia are well-trodden countries that never stray far from the top ranks of globetrotters’ bucket lists.

But if you’re one who likes to get off the beaten track, why not venture somewhere a little different – to the diverse and culturally-rich West African countries of Ghana, Togo and Benin?

Often considered the Africa that once was, West Africa is full of soul, and a place that is still largely untravelled despite its beautiful landscapes and fascinating culture.

In West Africa you’ll still find the quintessential terrains that spring to mind when you think of Africa – landscapes like the Sahara and one of Africa’s longest rivers, the Niger, but you’ll also encounter tropical rainforests, volcanic outcrops, swirled and sculpted sand dunes and a vast, wonderfully deserted coastline peppered with rocky outcrops.

And while you wouldn’t go to West Africa looking for an East African–style safari, you can still find elephants, primates, big cats, pygmy hippos and some of the world’s best birdwatching there, minus the crowds of East or Southern Africa.

You’ll discover that traditions survive in West Africa like nowhere else on the continent, revealing themselves in exciting, colourful festivals and music, and the fascinating world of ‘magic’, masks and secret societies.

There’s Benin, the birthplace of the voodoo religion and former home of the Kingdom of Dahome, while the small country of Togo boasts 40-something ethnic groups along with the surreal, UNESCO World Heritage villages of the Tamberma Valley.

In Ghana, West Africa’s richest, most-English speaking country, you’ll encounter highly varied landscapes, a few off-the-beaten-path beach getaways, and the solemn, imposing slave castles off the coast west of Accra, the country’s capital.

On a journey through all three countries expect to be swept up in the colour of local festivals replete with tribal drumming and trance-dances.

Discover the long history of ancient African kingdoms and cultures that predate colonisation by centuries, witness the rituals of voodoo culture and see for yourself the fascinating arts, crafts and textiles created by the local people of this region.

A fascinating cultural odyssey, you’ll encounter bustling colonial cities, palm-fringed beaches and tiny fishing villages along with vast forts and castles built on the back of the gold and slave trades by Portuguese, Dutch, German, French and British colonists.

“The out-of-the-way countries of Ghana, Togo and Benin are unlike anywhere else I’ve been,” says Sujata Raman, Regional Managing Director of luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent Australia / Asia Pacific, which is offering limited edition tours to West Africa in 2019.

“We have only recently pinpointed this region for its fascinating cultural appeal, and what we’ve discovered is a destination that will suit the kinds of discerning guests who have explored the better-known African safari destinations and are in search of new adventures.”

So, what are the most unique activities on offer in West Africa? Read on to find out.

Ghana
Fantasy Coffin Building
Lion fantasy coffin

Lion fantasy coffin. Photograph by Benjamin Wigley for The Guardian
Accra, Ghana

Ghana is often considered the perfect entry-level or segue country for travellers who haven’t visited the continent before thanks to it being the most English-speaking country in Africa.

As Ghana’s capital, Accra is a must-stop and an ideal starting point for any tour through West Africa. While there, make sure you visit a fantasy coffin building workshop… and it’s not as morbid as it sounds, we promise.

These flamboyant coffins are special, handcrafted coffins that reflect a variety of shapes from fruit and animals to fish, cars and planes that are meant to challenge people’s perception of death.

Originally popular among the Ga (people of the region of Accra), the tradition of building fantasy coffins has spread across the region and is now practiced in Ashanti land (region of Kumasi, north of Accra), in Ewé land (the East of the country), and in parts of Togo.

They are works of art that can take up to three months to make, and they are now collected worldwide and exhibited in museums.

The National Museum of Ghana and the old quarter of James Town should also make it onto your itinerary while in Ghana, along with the Artists Alliance Gallery. Showcasing artworks, sculptures and carvings from established and emerging African artists, it’s a must-visit for the art-inclined.
Art at Artists Alliance in Accra, Ghana

Art at Artists Alliance Gallery in Accra, Ghana
Art by Yomi Momoh at Artists Alliance Gallery, Accra, Ghana

Art by Yomi Momoh at Artists Alliance Gallery, Accra, Ghana
Art at Artists Alliance Gallery, Accra, Ghana

Art at Artists Alliance Gallery, Accra, Ghana
Stay at: Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast City Accra
Nature Trails & Monkey-Spotting
Mona monkey in Ghana

Two hours from Accra in Ghana’s Eastern region is the small town of Akosombo, a peaceful pocket that is deeply rooted in nature.

Nearby is the expansive Lake Volta surrounded by beautiful forest teeming with wildlife, while the Akwamu Gorge is known as an unparalleled bird-watching spot and boasts incredible views looking down onto the snaking river below.

Unsurprisingly, this region is an excellent spot for nature enthusiasts to visit thanks to its myriad biking and hiking trails.

For more animal encounters, drive two hours north to the Monkey Sanctuary of Tafi Atome, created in 1993 to protect a community of sacred monkeys living in the forest, which includes the resident mona and colobus monkeys.
Colobus monkey in Ghana

Colobus monkey in Ghana
Picathartes Suite at The Royal Senchi, Ghana

Picathartes Suite at The Royal Senchi, Ghana
Stay at: The Royal Senchi Resort overlooking the Volta River.

TONY BAR
Travel, Food & Drink Editor / Tony Bar tonybar@wmwnewsturkey.com   NEW YORK  797 / 7th Ave, New York City, New York 10019, USA /
http://www.wmwnewsturkey.com

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