This little unknown country might not have so much to offer but it definitely reperesents a lovely West African experience. Beautiful nature, great hikes, hassle-free cities, voodoo rituals, motorcycle adrenaline and lots of beer. Welcome to Togo!
Languages: French (official), Ewe, others
Religion: Animism (50%, Christian (35%), Islam (15%)
Currency: CFA (1€=655 CFA)
Best town: Kpalimé
Best people: Atakpamé
Best accomodation: Kara
Best food: Dapaong
Arriving in Togo: the most pleasant arrival ever
We took a flight from Dakar to Lomé with ASKY Airlines. The flight was supposed to have a stopover in Abidjan before continuing to Lomé. We were kinda looking forward to that, because like that we would be able to say that we were in Côte d’Ivoire. After some 3 hours on the plane the captain said that we would be landing in Lomé in 30 minutes. Did we hear it right? What did he just say? Lomé? What about Abidjan? What is going on here? But after the initial 15 seconds of slight panic we calmed ourselves down thinking well, cos’ this is Africa. The flight just got like 3 hours shorter after all. Another pleasant surprise was waiting ahead of us-the Lomé airport. It’s a very, very nice airport! Everything works perfectly fine there! And another surprise to be found shortly after-the Togolese people. Arriving from the Senegalese hassle, we actually couldn’t believe that there was no one harassing us the moment we stepped out from the airport; no taxi hassle, everybody just seemed very chilled out, smiling, constantly making jokes, but letting you be at the same time. Paradise!
Lomé: modern, clean, slightly boring
We were about to find out why the people are so chill soon. Beer. Bars. Everywhere. A bar is the most common establishment in Togo. There is very often only one shop on a street but six or seven bars. The ratio of bars to everything else is just striking.
My way of seeing Togo is highly influenced by where I came from: Senegal. I was constantly comparing everything to the latter, I just couldn’t help it. So, comparing to Dakar, Lomé is:
Apprently, the Togolese have established a better waste management system. There are actually trash bins on the streets (!), which seriously astonished me. Who has been to West Africa knows what I am talking about. Whereas streets in Senegal would always be covered in plastic bags, candy bar wrappers, drinkable water sachets and other trash, Togo is pretty much clean. Nice change.
As I already mentioned, the Togolese mentality is just generally more peaceful, quieter and less into negotiation and hassle. Therefore, the whole vibe is just less bustling and less vivid. There is not so much business going on in the streets, sometimes I was even struggling to find a shop to buy water or something for breakfast (and I don’t mean a supermarket, just the typical african boutique. That was very unusual after Senegal, where you always have everything you need within 1 minute walking distance.
3) Less hassle.
The togolese are…simply chilled out. They like to have their beer in one of the bars, have a laugh and just don’t bother. Let’s put it this way-they don’t give a shit. When it comes to tourists, they would occasionally say bonjour to you, but leave you be afterwards. If they start offering you something and you say no, they will disappear. That was also very unexpected after the senegalese experience where the sellers just wouldn’t leave until you basically forced them to.
4) More motobikes.
I’d say that there are two types of countries in West Africa when it comes to (public) transport-countries with motorbikes and countries with no motorbikes. Well, contrary to Senegal, where you would move around the city in buses/minibuses for the very pleasant price of 100 CFA (0,15€), Togo is the country of motorbikes. From what I know, there is no public transport in Lomé, you simply hop on a motorbike and off you go. The motos are everywhere. It’s more fun, but also more expensive, since the price actually depends on the distance here.
5) More spaghetti
Last big difference was the food, unfortunately not to Togo’s favour. To be honest, I think that coming to any country from Senegal is a bit disappointing, since Senegal’s cuisine is really tasty. It’s hard to beat the Senegalese flavours and Togo definitely didn’t succeed in that. Red sauce (sauce tomate), peanut sauce (sauce arachide) or some other sauces with occasional piece of beef or goat, aloko (fried plaintanes), attièké (couscous with raw veggies-not an option for careful travelers), akpan (dough kinda thing from manioc flour) and-surprise surprise…spaghetti! I have never eaten so much spaghetti in my entire life as in Togo. They make them with red sauce and few peaces of beef/goat, in some places you can also get red sauce with green peas. They are usually not very tasty, but still the best option, comparing to the other dishes.
Kpalimé: hiking and malaria
Moving towards the small town of Kpalimé, some 1,5 hours away from Lomé, we already got to taste the Togo´s astounding nature. It´s completely different to Senegal; all of a sudden you you are surrounded by mountains and lush green almost jungle-like forests. You see so many shades of green that you could possibly imagine. Everything is just so abundant and wild. It´s absolutely beautiful.
Kpalimé, a town located in the valley between the mountains of the
Plateaux region is a great starting point for numerous hikes in the surrounding nature. You can hike all the way up to Togo´s highest peek-Mount Agou, see the waterfalls of Kpimé, waterfalls of Kpalimé, or go to see the bat caves. Unfortunately we only did the mountain hike and the Kpalimé waterfalls, because Peter got malaria.
Yeah, malaria. What an african experience would it be without getting it
You can find a lot of stuff about malaria online, so I am not gonna talk about it here. Just note that it is a serious desease and it can hit you really bad, espeially if you´re white and you have it for the first time, so be careful.
What I would like to write about though, is the experience from an african hospital. Since Peter got the serious version of malaria, he stayed in the hospital for 3 days. He basically spent the days sleeping, trying to regain the lost energy, but for me it was enough time to figure out the system and to make a lot of new friends. First thing you notice when you enter an african hospital is that there are so many people. But I don´t mean patients, I mean visitors. It´s crowded with them. During the day they sit outside on the stairs or just squat in front of the hospital, at night they sleep in the hospital´s corridor; on the benches, on a mat on the floor; basically wherever they can. You can barely walk in there, you gotta watch out not to step on someone´s leg or head. I found out why very soon. There are no nurses in the hospital. All the job that is normally done by them is done by the patient´s relatives. To give you an example: the doctor comes, he measures the temperature, the blood pressure etc. and then gives you a prescription which (apart from the actual medication) includes things like rubber gloves, syringes and drip-feed. Now it´s up to you to go buy all the things, bring them to the hospital and call the doctor (no worries, you don´t have to inject the patient yourself). I can´t imagine what happens when someone has no relatives to do the job. On the other hand, I can´t imagine an African with no relatives. Maybe that´s one of the reasons that the families are so big and the family is sacred. Such an experience, skipping the malaria part, actually gives you a very important insight on african society and culture. Anyway, after 5 days Peter completely recovered and we kept on moving.
Moving up north: direction Burkina
Our plan was to go up north all the way to Burkina Faso. If you ever do the same route, don’t let yourself fool by the country’s size; as small as Togo might look like, it is pretty f****** long! If you are traveling all the way from the very south to the very north, it will take you days! As togolese transport sucks (beat up sedans with 7 people in it-yes that is two on the front seat and four in the back), we decided to cut the journey in several parts. We never did more than a 5 hour route, we didn’t have to wake up early, we got to know basically all major togolese cities and tasted various version of the togolese spaghetti.
From Kpalimé, the itinerary was:
Kpalimé – Atakpamé – Kara – Dapaong – Cinkassé
Here are some tips for accomodation: (prices are per night for double room with fan)
Kpalimé: Hotel Djim (7500 CFA)-good location, wifi ok
Atakpamé: Hotel Nice (7000 CFA)-wifi ok, very comfy and nice
Kara: Hotel Étoile de Kozah (8000 CFA)-very nice, very good wifi
Dapaong: Grand hotel (7000 CFA after negotiation)-ugly and no wifi, great location though
If you have any other questions about the hotels or the transport, just send me a message.
Oh, and I almost forgot. Togo is known for its voodoo (vodun,voodou) culture. Don´t let yourself fool by the classic image of voodoo given by western culture; here it is simply an animistic religion, where people believe in vodun spirits, represented by the so-called fetishes, comparable to christian saints or angels. A fetish can be a dead animal, a plant or an object. Often, people go to pray to sacred forests, where the fetishes are hidden in various places. We happened to visit one of such forests in Lomé (Foret sacré de Bé) and it was a rather strange experience. You can´t enter the forest with your shoes, t-shirt nor pants on. Fortunately, we went there with a local man (they wouldn´t let a white man go in on his own anyway) who borrowed us some of those african big scarves, that women use as skirts. You wrap it around your hips and off you go. So yes, you guessed it right, I went there with my boobs out. Already quite an unusual feeling, since I´m not used to walk the streets with my breasts exposed. Even stranger wandering around a forest, greeting various trees and holes in the ground, where the fetishes were hidden. Overall, I just didn´t know how to feel when we left the forest. But I definitely left smiling.
Apart from that we went to the mandatory fetish market in Lomé, which was nothing special to be honest. It felt like it was meant more for the tourists than for the locals. Tons of dead animals, weird looking things and most of all tons of souvenirs. I recommend rather to ask the locals and watch out carefully what´s going on around you, and you will defnitely bump into a random ceremony or a ritual dance somewhere. It happened to me in Kpalimé, when I went to look for a bank and all of a sudden there I was making funny dance moves with the Togolese celebrating the dead relatives (not sure with that) and having a blast.
Overall, traveling in Togo is a nice experience, you get to see truly stunning african landscapes, you meet a lot of great people, the hotels are generally nice and there are always many options to choose from (at least in the major cities). It might get cosy sometimes, but there is zero hassle.
I recommend this country to both the first-travelers in Africa, as the togolese are very easy going, but to the experienced Africa lovers, too. Not touristy at all, it represents a lovely, genuine west african experience.