Sara Reeves has an extremely enviable job – Gecko’s Destination Manager for Africa. Sara is in charge of putting together all our Africa itineraries; this naturally involves lots of trips to Africa…all in the name of research.
We had a chat to Sara about her recent travels to West Africa and this is what she had to say:
I’ve spent around 8 weeks in West Africa thus far and am about to head to Senegal and The Gambia for some further research. It’s impossible to pinpoint one reason why I love this region so much, but I can definately name a few: the combination of the colourful & bizarre markets; the incredibly warm and welcoming people you meet along the way (it’s the most culturally diverse region of the entire world); the rich and sometimes harrowing history, including tales of ancient empires and the Atlantic slave trade. Add this to the hypnotic music and the amazing array of experiences to be had, from sailing down the Gambia River, to hiking in the mountains of Togo, to shaking your hips in a traditional voodoo ceremony – all there to be experienced with almost no other tourists in sight.
What’s your highlight of the region?
A stand-out experience is the 2-day trekking excursion in Dogon Country, Mali. The trek is listed by Lonely Planet in their Top 10 Places to See Before You Die. Here you trek between villages where life unfolds as it has for centuries. The area is known for its dwellings carved high into the cliff-face, as well as exotic masked dances and animist rituals. Plus, nothing beats camping each night on of rooftop of the chief’s compound – beneath a blanket of stars.
What’s your favourite city?
Bobo Dioulasso – for the nightlife. It’s impossible not get your feet moving to the rhythms of the amazing drumming the musicians in town are renowned for. A night out in Bobo (as the locals call it) is simply unforgettable.
Favourite local experience?
Ganvie Stilt Village in Benin. Drifting far from the shore in a small boat through the village is the perfect way to soak up the languid vibe of life on the lake. Great for photography and watching locals trade in the waterborne market.
What’s the most unique place?
Definitely the Temple of Pythons in the town of Ouidah. Ouidah is the birthplace of Voodoo and the temple is home to about 50 pythons. The snakes are sacred, but are released into the town each evening. The following morning the townsfolk bring them back safely. Don’t worry – we decided it best to stay a little way out of town on our trips!
We also get to meet a very intriguing man from the Lobi tribe who has more than 100 kids (yes 100!). The government even decided to build a primary school over the road from his house!
Standing on the top of Bandiagara Escarpment overlooking the incredible Dogon Country – beyond, for as far as the eye can see, are the endless sands of the Sahel. This is the tract of land that separates the Sahara Desert in the north from the fertile lands in the south of Mali.
There’s a little place we stay in called Banfora, in southern Burkina Faso. It makes the BEST home made chilli (make sure you buy a bottle for your backpack!). Also be sure to try the bread baked in Timbuktu – it makes its way down to the Mopti markets by way of the Niger River. You know it’s from Timbuktu as it has tiny granules of Sahara sands throughout it. Yes, sand is actually part of the recipe!
Why should you visit West Africa?
It’s such a cliché to say ‘get there before everybody else does’ but it really does ring true for West Africa. There are few places in the world that offer the traveller a more authentic, more grassroots experience. It really is a destination that gets under your skin and its filled with the kinds of amazing experiences that go so far beyond what is written in the brochure - you've just gotta get there and see it for yourself
Any handy travel tips for anyone planning a trip to West Africa?
- Allow at least 3 months prior to travel to get your travel visas sorted - we offer a group visa batch for each departure taking the hassle out of it.
- Scrub up on your school-days French – it will get you a long way!
- You probably won’t be able to Twitter, Facebook or even email your peeps for a few days or weeks – you really will be getting off the beaten track!
- Pack a sense of humour, a taste for adventure and prepare to have the trip of a lifetime!
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