Ghana, Togo & Benin "Voodoo Festival"
January 07 to 20, 2020
Thriving traditional cultures, renowned art forms, flamboyantly colorful festivals, mask dances, and a dazzling ethnic mosaic are the golden gems of tribal West Africa. This fantastic cultural odyssey takes you to the remote reaches of Ghana, Togo, and Benin to discover lost tribal worlds guided by ancient spirits. On this journey you will witness a special festival-the Egun Mask Dances of the Yoruba villages of southern Benin. Along the way, you will meet unforgettable people including the Taberma, whose fairytale clay castles are spectacular examples of uniquely African architecture. Finish your excursion on the coast, in the heart of voodoo country, visiting practitioners, watching trance-dances, and learning about the awesome power that voodoo spirits still hold over people.
Per person sharing in double occupancy (air and land from JFK or Dulles, DC): $7,995.00
Single Supplement: $800.00
Led by lecturer/guide Mr. Mohamed Halouani
Credit for not using our included airfare $850.00
Price based on a group size minimum of 4 and maximum of 10 participants
Your tour does not include
All Visa expenses (Multiple entry to Ghana & Togo while single entry to Benin).
Airport taxes, fuel surcharges and security charges (Approx. $460.00 - subject to change).
Vaccinations, yellow fever immunization, anti-malaria prophylaxis (all highly recommended).
Trip surcharge to operate below required minimum participants.
Items of a personal nature: beverages, laundry, phone calls, email, souvenirs, etc.
Hotel accommodations necessitated by changes in air schedules or misconnections.
Travel protection insurance (highly recommended).
Air tickets from USA to Lome and out of Accra. Best option is Delta/Air France; approx. cost $1200 including taxes from JFK.
Your tour includes
Accommodation at hotels mentioned or similar.
Meals as mentioned in the itinerary (B: breakfast, L: lunch and D: dinner).
Transportation in a minibus with A/C and 4-WD vehicles with A/C (at the Penjari Park).
All visits to sites, villages, monuments and museums.
English speaking guide and local guides at the various villages.
Gratuities to guide, drivers, hotel & restaurant staff and porters.
1 bottle of water per day.
Camera fees at the Festival of Ouidah.
II Active – Some hikes, slightly more demanding walks at or to sites, comfortable but busy schedule and some long rides. There are many early starts with long hours spent driving on rough roads. Many walks into villages entail walks in muddy areas, over dirt piles, and unpaved paths. The trip requires a reasonable good physical stamina in order to participate in all the activities. Some flexibility is also required as perhaps we can alter or change the sequence of the program for any unforeseen conditions.
*** Superior: Lodges and hotels with additional amenities, refined service and comfort level acceptable to western standards. With a few exceptions you can expect rooms to be en-suite, with private bathroom and when necessary air-conditioning will be provided. In general you will find your hotel has a restaurant and/or bar. We require that all the properties and transport we use comply fully with local regulations, but we do not guarantee the same standards as in your home country. (3 or 4 stars)
Important Trip Notes: Tourist facilities are very limited in the remote regions and small villages you will be visiting. There are few first-class hotels anywhere outside the cities, but rest assured, we always try to acquire the best possible. For the most part, the hotels are comfortable, but they are very basic. Hotel air-conditioning in West Africa does not cool a room to American standards of comfort, and there may be occasions where the hotel electricity goes off for periods of time.
Frequent stops will be made to give you ample opportunity to stroll around villages and markets to see and experience the differences in architecture, dress, and culture among the many tribes in West Africa. Participants should understand that this trip involves long drives, hot and humid weather, and somewhat basic hotels outside of Accra. The physical shape you are in will be an important factor in your enjoyment of your trip. There are dangers inherent in any expedition traveling to remote regions, such as sickness and lack of modern medical facilities.
If you have any chronic health problems (respiratory or cardiac problems, a bad back, or diabetes), we recommend you consider a different trip. It is highly advisable to purchase travel protection insurance for such a journey. The weather is rather hot and humid and you need to be tolerant to temperatures in the mid-80’s to mid-90's. In addition, some of the roads are dirt and this can cause breathing and eye irritation from the dust. By signing up for such tour, you are admitting to accepting these challenges and that you are agreeing to be tolerant, flexible and patient with any possible arising inefficiency.
BEWARE that slaughtering animals is an integral part of the Voodoo culture, but tourists are often hurt seeing such rituals take place and many people may find it upsetting to witness such ceremonies. There is also the remains of many animals and birds on display, including some that are under threat.
View Tour Itinerary
Tue, Jan 07
USA to Lomé (Togo)
Depart the USA, arriving the next day in Lomé, Togo.
Wed, Jan 08
Arrive in Lomé
on arrival in Lomé, our staff will be at the airport ready to greet you and assist with the transfer to your pre-booked hotel for check-in. Overnight at the Hotel Sarakawa or similar. (D)
Thu, Jan 09
Lomé - Ouidah (Benin)
Lomé, the vibrant capital of Togo, is the only African city that was a colony of the Germans, British and French. It is also one of the few capitals in the world that borders with another nation. These elements have led to the development of a unique identity reflected in the lifestyle of its inhabitants and in the architecture of the town. Lomé is indeed a cross point for people, trade and cultures - a cosmopolitan city but still small in size. Enjoy a city tour beginning with a visit to the central market to see the famous “Nana Benz” (African Queens of Textile) - women who control the expensive “pagne” (cloths) market. They are known as "Nana Benz" because between the 1950's and 1980's, they had made so much money they were the only people who could afford Mercedes Benzes. The fabric they use is imported from Europe and sold all over West Africa. Unfortunately, the market has been partially destroyed by fire. Next, see the colonial buildings in the administrative quarter where the flavor of colonial times is still very present. Also explore the fetish market where you can find an eclectic assortment of all the necessary ingredients for love potions and magical concoctions. The tour then moves to the countryside and into the voodoo world where you'll meet with a traditional healer. Traditional healers treat their patients combining voodoo rites with their deep knowledge of ancestral herbs. The treatments are believed to be effective for almost all diseases, especially for the insane. The endless list of voodoos shows the powers concentrated in their impressive shrines! Overnight at Hotel Casa del Papa or similar in Ouidah. (B,L,D)
Fri, Jan 10
Ouidah “Voodoo Festival”
Every January 10th in Benin, is a national celebration day in honor of the traditional voodoo religion and of the cults associated with it. In particular, many voodoo ceremonies are held in Ouidah, gathering thousands of adepts, traditional chiefs and fetish priests. Ouidah became a main slave port when it was conquered by the Dahomey Army during the 18th century. Today, Ouidah features an Afro-Portuguese architecture and the laid-back attitude of the locals blend in harmoniously with the thunder of the distant waves and the rhythm of the drums - a timeless atmosphere very well described by Bruce Chatwin in his book "The Vice-Roy of Ouidah". On a walking tour, visit the Temple of Pythons, a sacred shrine that is home to dozens of pythons that roam freely throughout the temple. Across from the temple is the Catholic Cathedral. Next, visit the Portuguese Fort, now a museum on the history of Ouidah and the slave trade. You'll end the tour by following the "slave road" to the beach and to the "Point of No Return" where most slaves were kept while they waited to be shipped off to the Americas - without any hope of returning. We'll choose the best sites for you to attend the festival according to the festival program. Return to the hotel in Ouidah for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Sat, Jan 11
Ouidah - Abomey - Dassa
Today you'll cross Lake Nokwe on a motorized boat to Ganvie, the largest and most beautiful African village on stilts. The approximate 25,000 inhabitants of the Tofinou ethnic group build their huts on teak stilts and cover the roofs with a thick layer of leaves. The village was established sometime between the 16th or 17th century by the Tofinu trying to avoid capture by the Fon warriors, who were selling them to European traders. Ganvie has managed to preserve its traditions and environment despite its long-lasting human presence in a closed setting. Canoes are a major source of transportation and life unfolds each day as men, women and children guide the canoes with ease using brightly colored poles. With these canoes the men fish, women deliver goods to the market and children go to school and play. You'll then continue on to Abomey, a kingdom whose economy was for a long time based on the slave trade. A permanent state of war made it possible for the kings to capture thousands of prisoners whom they then sold as slaves. The Abomey Royal Army also included a female troop famous for its boldness and aggressive fighting spirit. At the height of their power, there were up to 4,000 women in the palace harem. A walk around the buildings helps the visitor to recall the past splendor of the court - one that proudly challenged the powerful armies coming to colonize the continent. In the middle of the royal courtyard there is a temple built with a mixture of clay, gold dust and human blood. You'll visit the Royal Palace and see the bas-reliefs representing symbols of the ancient Dahomey kings decorated on the walls of the palace. Now listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the museum houses items that once belonged to the ancient kings including thrones, cult altars, statues, costumes and weapons. Continue on to Dassa where you overnight at Hotel Jeko or similar. (B,L,D)
Sun, Jan 12
Dassa, the seat of an old kingdom, was founded by Olofin in 1385 and it is still possible to see some of sites that illustrate the passage of this long-time dynasty. Stop at the wooden horse that the Portuguese merchants offered in 1903 to the local chief after he complained that four of his horses had died from a mysterious disease. Take a walk through the hills to a sacred place where kings were once buried and is still protected to this day by several voodoo Egun masks. The Egunun is a very powerful masked secret society and Egun masks are said to be the reincarnation of deceased people - known and feared for their aggressiveness and unpredictable way of moving around. The intensively colored masks are covered with many pieces of cloth in a variety of red shades and as the Egunun spins, the strips of cloth are sent flying, creating a "breeze of blessings". They emerge from the forest and form a procession through the streets of the village, leaping towards any foolish spectator who dares get too close - and nobody wants to be touched by the Egun because any contact carries the danger of death! This type of "bull fight" is designed to scare the crowd, but in truth, they are actually greeted with bursts of laughter! Return to the hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Mon, Jan 13
Dassa – Natitingou
This morning, stop at the Dankoli Fetish, an important place for the Voodoo cult. A fetish is a statue or an object that contains supernatural powers and are decorated with materials such as horns, shells, feathers, metal, cloth, fur, and herbs, said to add power to the fetish. Each fetish is designed to promote health and happiness and solve many other problems such as protection from evil spirits. Perhaps the most important and most powerful fetish is the Dankoli Fetish, a popular pilgrimage site. In fact, it is said the Dankoli Fetish is so powerful that the voodoo followers who come here can communicate directly with the gods without the help of a voodoo priest or priestess. The devotees that have had their demands met have to come back to the fetish and bring an offering to thank the gods, usually by pouring the blood of a chicken or other animal on the fetish. Continue on to the mountainous region of Djougou and enjoy a hike through the old Taneka villages. These villages are made up of round houses covered with a conical roof that is protected at the top by a terra-cotta pot. The upper part of the village is inhabited by young initiated and fetish priests who only cover themselves with a piece of goat skin and always carry a long pipe. This ethnic group has been living here for centuries, and in fact, it is thought that the first inhabitants (from Kabye origins) moved to the mountain sometime during the ninth century. Since then, other groups including the Bariba, Gourmantche, and later, the Ashanti, who came here to escape the slave market, have made these mountains their home, forming a kind of melting-pot. Despite the fact that each group has kept its own cults and initiation rites, common religious and political institutions were defined to live in harmony. They all had a common goal - to defend themselves against their enemies. This village is a great example of how different cultures and ethnicities can live peacefully and create a new population. As you wander among the villages along alleys bordered by a series of smooth stones, you may come across half-naked Taneka men. This ethnic group believe that in order to “become” a man, it is necessary to combine time, patience, and a lot of blood - from sacrificed animals. It is actually a life-long process in the sense that life itself becomes a "rite of passage" and should not be considered a “before” or an “after” but rather as "following a continuous path". Overnight at Hotel Tata Somba or similar (B,L,D)
Tue, Jan 14
Natitingou - Kara (Togo)
Depart for the Atakora Mountains and enter the land of the Somba and Tamberma people who live in fortified dwellings. Similar in shape to medieval castles, they are one of the most beautiful examples of ancient African architecture. Their style impressed Swiss-French architect, Le Corbusier, so much so that he compared them to "architectural sculpture". These UNESCO World Heritage Site homes are built by hand, layer after layer, adding round mud balls and shaping them as per the plan of the house. Perhaps a kind of sensual gesture mixing strength, care and beauty. The strong, traditional beliefs of the people are proven by the presence of big shrines - of phallic form - at the entrance of their homes. With permission granted by the inhabitants, you'll enter their homes for a better understanding of their way of life. Their houses are actually a projection of their anthropology and cosmology - the ground floor, with its darkness, represents death and is the place of ancestors; the second floor, open to the sky, represents life and is the place where grandmothers keep babies until they “find out” which ancestor has come back as the new life - only then will the baby be allowed to come down from the terrace. The family, food supplies and stock are all kept inside the house for safety and survival in case of an attack by enemies. In fact, for centuries, these people have been seeking refuge in the Atakora Mountains to escape slave traders. Overnight at Hotel Kara or similar. (B,L,D)
Wed, Jan 15
Kara - Tamale (Ghana)
Today the road takes you to the Ghana border and to a seldom visited region in the savannah where the Dagomba ethnic group live. Similar to the Taneka villages, the houses here are round clay huts with thatched roofs. The home of the village chief is easily recognizable due to its larger size and style. It has a central pole supporting the roof and the entry is framed with pieces of burned clay. This is also where the council of the elders meets. Continuing on, you'll meet a very large settlement of witches - all exiled from their villages because they were found guilty of terrible events such as the death of a teenager, a mysterious disease, a bad harvest, etc. You'll chat with them about their life and about the special shrine that protects them and “cleanses” their spirit from bad will. Their warm welcome dramatically contrasts with the stories that justify their being here. Overnight at the Gariba Lodge or similar. (B,L,D)
Thu, Jan 16
Tamale – Techiman
Drive from the savannah to the Brong Ahafo region, leaving the main road to another road that leads to a sacred forest where the people consider Monas and Colobus monkeys as their totems. As a result, you'll encounter the largest community of these monkey species in the world. During a walk through the forest, accompanied by the emerald green light filtered by the giant trees, you will see plenty of the sacred monkeys. Overnight at Encom Hotel or similar in Techiman. (B,L,D)
Fri, Jan 17
Techiman - Kumasi
Kumasi is the historical and spiritual capital of the old Ashanti Kingdom. The Ashanti people were one of the most powerful nations in Africa until the end of the 19th century, when the British annexed Ashanti Country to their Gold Coast colony. The tribute paid today to the Asantehene (King) is the best evidence of their past splendor and strength. With nearly one million inhabitants, Kumasi is a sprawling city with a fantastic central market, one of the biggest in Africa. Every type of Ashanti craft (leather goods, pottery, Kente cloth, etc.,) can be found here, along with just about every kind of tropical fruit and vegetable. The program also includes a visit to the Ashanti Cultural Centre where you'll find a rich collection of Ashanti artifacts displayed in a wonderful reproduction of an Ashanti house. In the afternoon, if available, you'll participate in a traditional Ashanti funeral, attended by mourners wearing beautifully red or black togas. We say “funerals” but it actually means “festive” celebration. The deceased, in fact, are believed to still be with his or her family, and through this ceremony, he or she becomes an ancestor. Relatives and friends gather, socialize and celebrate his or her memory. The chief arrives surrounded by his court under the shade of large umbrellas, while drums give rhythm to the dancers whose intricate moves are highly symbolic. Overnight at the Miklin Hotel or similar in Kumasi. (B,L,D)
Sat, Jan 18
Kumasi - Anomabu
The tour of Kumasi continues with a visit to the Royal Palace Museum, which contains a unique collection of gold jewels worn by the Ashanti court. There are also a few villages nearby that specialize in weaving the traditional Kente cloth, praised by the socially important people and used to make special ceremonial stools. At the end of these amazing visits, drive back to the coast and overnight at the Anomabu Beach Resort or similar. (B,L,D)
Sun, Jan 19
You'll spend the day exploring Anomabu, which was originally a small fishing village, but eventually became one of the most important trading ports on the Gold Coast. By the 18th century, it was one of the largest exporters of slaves on the West Coast of Africa. The Anomabu Castle (Fort William), built by the British during the mid 18th century, was considered to be the strongest fortification on the coast and became the center of British slave trading until it was outlawed in the early 1800's. Visit the Elmina Castle, the oldest European building in Africa, built by the Portuguese in the 15th century. At different times, the castle has been used as a warehouse to trade gold, ivory, and eventually slaves. Today, the castle is the result of successive extension works and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Old Dutch Cemetery in Elmina dates back to 1806 and outside the castle, is a wonderful fishing village with lots of large colorful fishing boats. Every day these canoes are guided by skilled fishermen across strong ocean waves and currents, “fighting” to earn a living. In the old town, you will see the Posuban sanctuary - shrines of the old “Asafo companies” - warriors who used to lay their offerings on the large colorful statues. In the past, the Asafo companies were responsible for protecting a clan or village, but eventually lost their military value and now are more known for their ceremonial role. The alleyways in the old town have a very lively atmosphere, bringing you back to a time when Elmina was a busy colonial town. In the afternoon, visit the Cape Coast Castle, which exchanged hands between the Portuguese, Dutch, Danes, Swedes, and English. Due to its strategic location on Cape Coast, with a sheltered beach close to Elmina Castle, it made it attractive to these European nations. Return to the Anomabu Beach Resort where you'll have some time to relax on the beach. (B,L,D)
Mon, Jan 20
Anomabu - Accra -USA
Today you'll make the drive to Accra, the capital of Ghana and an intriguing city that has maintained its unique identity despite its fast-paced development currently underway. Here you'll visit the National Museum, established in 1957 and one of the first works of independent Ghana. The inspiration for this museum was to relate Ghanaian art to the rest of the continent and to prove the existence of an African history as part of the general history of humanity. Next, explore the old quarter of James Town, inhabited by the local population known as the Ga people. You tour ends with a visit to a workshop where they specialize in building fantasy coffins. These special hand-crafted coffins can reflect any shape: fruits, animals, fish, cars, airplanes…. the only limit being imagination! The coffins are used by the Ga people, who believe that death is not the end and life continues into the next world just as it did on earth. These flamboyant coffin designs are now collected worldwide and shown in museums. In the evening transfer to the airport for your departing flight. (B,L) NB: Arrival in USA will be on January 21st.
We (STS) reserve the right to change hotels, restaurants or the order of activities if/as needed