Ready for the adventure of a lifetime?
Backpacking West Africa may sound overwhelming at first — some may consider this continent a dark place full of danger. However…
“The darkest thing about Africa has always been our ignorance of it.” -George Kimble, Geographer
Breaking down prejudice is easy, all it takes is three easy steps: 1) pack travel essentials 2) get a positive attitude, and 3) hit the road. There are, however, some things to keep in mind when planning your amazing trip into the unknown. If there is anything that traveling has taught me, it is to find out everything you can before the trip, and to be prepared for learning many new things along the way.
As soon as you let someone know about your plan to backpack in West Africa, you may hear a lot of myths, and it is important not to believe them and change plans, because you’ll miss out on the experience of a lifetime. So let’s get one thing clear first: stepping foot into Africa will not give you AIDS (most West African countries have an infection rate below 5 percent AND you have enough sense not to engage in risky behavior anyway). Second, if you think that all the locals walk around with AK47s the fact is they are really friendly. You have probably heard about the risk of malaria as well, but through the miracle of modern medicine there are now medications that you can take to prevent it.
Where to Go?
West Africa is vast and unless you have all the time in the world, you will not be able to see it all. One of the first destinations I recommend is Gambia, which is often called “Africa for Beginners.” It has a rather developed tourist infrastructure, and you will be able to communicate in English. Practically walking distance from Gambia is Senegal, which has great beach resorts. French is one of the official languages. Still, one of the best countries to see and experience is the gold coast of Africa – Ghana. A rich mixture of lush tropical forests, traditional villages run by chiefs, bustling cities, dry lands, waterfalls, etc. One of the official languages is English, so you will have no trouble getting by. Ghana is also famous for being one of the friendliest countries in Africa.
Where to Stay, What to Eat, What to Do?
Although there is a hotel in almost every city, sometimes it can be full or unavailable for some reason. In those cases it can be hard to find accommodations in Ghana, but you can be prepared to book a place via AirBnB. If you are looking for a longer stay, you can find a place to rent via meQasa.com. Make sure you book a place in some of the bustling cities which will help you get to know local culture, but don’t miss out on hiking Mount Afadja or see Boti Falls at the Boti Forest Reserve. Three top cultural spots include Accra, Elmina Castle, and Kumasi).
Africa’s Real Gem: Its People
If there is one thing I learned about Africa that is that its greatest treasure is its people, and not in its history, wildlife or nature. West Africa is the home of more than 1, 500 groups with different ethnic identities and they are all rather open when it comes to contact with strangers. One of my most pleasant experiences was a visit to a traditional village in Ghana – Opeikuma. I visited the local school St. Peter, and had fun with the kids there. They are all very friendly and they appreciated even small tokens such as pencils, notebooks, balls, etc. The village chief, Nana, was really kind and I even had the opportunity to observe (and participate in – that was not a pretty sight) their traditional dance.
The Tastiest Dishes of Ghana
For me, Ghana is the West African country with the tastiest dishes. One of my favorites is a common street food – chichinga. It is a dish similar to kebab made of beef or chicken in spicy peanut marinade or garlic and ginger marinade. And you simply must try Red Red (beans, mix of prawns or fish, combined into a fine bean curry), a dish that has made my family fall in love with beans, and the only Ghanaian dish I have really learned to cook. Last, but not the least – Shoko, a traditional beef and spinach stew which truly displays the culinary identity of the country.
Packed your bags already? It’s the perfect time to set sail into the unknown. In the words of Helen Keller, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
Oliver is an experienced business consultant from the UK. His job allows him to travel, which also happens to be one of his greatest passions. Recently he personally discovered the truth behind the saying “The only man I truly envy is the one who has not yet been to Africa… he has so much to look forward to.” You can find him on Twitter.