Where did you go?
I visited three countries during my time in Africa. All three are nestled together along the Gulf of Guinea on the western side of the continent. My first stop was Benin, where I spent time in Cotonou, the country’s largest port city, and Ouidah, a coastal town steeped in slave-trade history. Next, I traveled west to Togo and visited its capital city of Lomé on Ghana’s eastern border. And lastly, I crossed the Togo-Ghana border to explore Ghana’s capital city, Accra, before venturing inland to the town of Kumasi, one of the largest cities in the region.
Where should our guests start for unique experiences?
For those looking for an interesting and historically rich destination while in Benin, I highly recommend a visit to the Ganvie stilt village, located just outside of Cotonou. This village was built in the 16th century as a means for people to escape from other Africans who would sell them to Europeans into the slave trade. In voodoo tradition—which was born in Benin—it is extremely frowned upon to capture someone from the water, so this location was respected as a refuge.
In Togo, we were invited to a local village outside of Lomé to witness a voodoo ceremony, where the majority of the village participates. It’s a celebratory event with singing, dancing and offerings to the spirits. Different ceremonies happen at different villages on specific days, so having a local expert guide is key to know where to go for this unique cultural experience.
Be sure to plan a trip around the Akwasidae festival in Kumasi, Ghana. Held on a Sunday once every six weeks, this festival celebrates the seasons and pays homage to ancestors. It’s presided over by the Asante king or other high chiefs, and includes singing and dancing, and attendees bring food offerings and donations.
Describe some can’t-miss experiences and destinations.
In Benin, visit the Ouidah Museum of History, a former Portuguese slave fort that’s been converted into a captivating museum filled with artifacts and photos from the slave trade and colonial times. A short, 15-minute drive from the museum takes you to the Porte du Non Retour (Door of No Return), a stirring monument in tribute to the millions of Africans who were taken from this slave port to the Americas.
Shop the Lomé Market while in Togo for the brightly colored and patterned local cloth made by Togo's famous women. Known as Nana Benz, these women create and sell a very popular wax cloth, which is used for clothing for men and women all over West Africa. The Nana Benz have dominated the wax prints trade and have positioned Lomé as a regional hub for textile distribution.
Enjoy a coffee break in Accra’s Jamestown Café. This coffee shop is housed in a building that’s about 100 years old. The people who run the café are trying to preserve this and restore other historic buildings in the area. As you sip your drink, take in the rotating display of local and international artwork, curated by the café’s owners.
You stayed in some remarkable properties. What made them special?
While in Benin, Cotonou’s Maison Rouge was an ideal property for a relaxing, boutique-style stay. In addition to its regional décor and artwork, this hotel is an oasis conveniently located ten minutes from the airport. Between outings, relax in the garden, enjoy the two refreshing pools or put your feet up on the tranquil patio.
Hotel Le Patio in Lomé, Togo is a design enthusiast’s dream. This boutique property has attentive service, spacious rooms with modern amenities, and stunning architectural and artistic elements. From the colorful prints used on the lounge chairs around the pool to the art collection hanging in the restaurant, joyful surprises are throughout the property. In the evening, dine poolside and indulge in a delicious pizza from the wood-fired oven.
The Kempinski Gold Coast City Accra is the uncontested leader in the city’s luxury properties. Enter the grand lobby and be warmly greeted by the deeply caring staff. Relax in the garden, take a dip in the pool or indulge at the spa with its saunas, steam room and 10 treatment rooms.
Describe some of your favorite food experiences.
While visiting a small village outside Lomé, we tried some fried sweet potatoes with a very spicy sauce made by a local woman. There’s nothing like home cooking, and this simple snack was fresh, delicious and the perfect afternoon treat.
Palava sauce is a delicious stew eaten throughout West Africa and can be found in almost any local restaurant. Though there are many versions depending on the region, the dish usually combines leafy greens, protein (like fish or beef) and spices, and is typically served with rice.
Accra, Ghana is a fantastic location for those looking for chic and high-end dining options. Located within the modern city and just 10 minutes from the airport, Coco Lounge boasts a wonderful mixologist-themed drink menu, wide variety of international dishes and artistically minded décor.