West Africa questions
Replies: 23 - Last Post: Feb 15, 2012 3:43 PM Last Post By: Eriol
Jan 21, 2012 6:48 PM
West Africa questionsI would like to spend 9 weeks exploring Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Ghana, Togo & Benin (or some similar combination this summer. I am an 'always-on-the-go' type of traveler (I don't like to stay too long in any one place and can be moving from sunup to sundown) who enjoys nature, wildlife, historical areas, visiting traditional peoples and trying unique experiences that I don't/can't do back in the USA.
From my research, besides spending a day or two in the respective capitals, all I have planned is to visit Saint-Louis & a wildlife preserve in the west (Senegal), River Gambia Nat’l Park to see chimps (Gambia), Orango Islands National Park to see the saltwater hippos (G-B), Dogon country & maybe Timbuktu if the situation is calmer by then (Mali), Penjari Park & Voodoo Culture (Benin). I still haven’t figured out what to see in Ghana & Togo.
Now for my questions:
Is this a realistic itinerary for 9 weeks? How much time would you recommend for each country? I was thinking 10-14 days for Senegal & Mali respectively then a week or less for the other countries.
Any recommendations for must sees or dos?
Is a budget of $1000US a month reasonable of if not, what would you suggest? I generally take public transportation, do lots of walking around cities but occasionally take taxis, stay at the cheapest ‘relatively’ clean hotels/hostels possible, and eat at modest restaurants.
What are the big financial splurges that you would recommend in these nations and how much should I expect to pay?
Thanks for any insight you can offer
Jan 21, 2012 10:11 PM
1For Togo I suggest you visit Kpalime. It is north of the capital, Lome. It is a wonderful little town with a cool 'rasta' vibe and it is at the base of mountains. So you can sleep in town and take a taxi or zimmy up the mountains. Once you get up to the first village you can hire a guide for cheap and go hiking and go to different waterfalls. Our guide was really awesome and he stop and showed us all the different plants, trees and wildlife. He showed us how to make ink and paints with the plants. It was well worth the small fee for the guide. Plus there are 'rebels' in some areas so hire a guide. NOT A RASTA GUIDE! lol you want to get someone from the mountain village! There are a few hotels in Kpalime. We stayed in a nice place with a pool and AC for 7,000 CFA a night (14USD) but there is cheaper stuff too.
You should be able to get from Lome to Kpalime in a taxi for less than 5,000 (10 usd) but a bus is cheaper.
There is also lake Togo that was nice.
buy lots of FANICE!
In southern Togo there isn't alot of wildlife and stuff that I ever discovered though I heard there is a zoo or something like that way far north close to the BF border...
In Lome you will find just about anything you could need. Typical city. I will tell you that the best local food is in a neighborhood called Bekopte. To get there you would just ask to go to the round point in Bepokte (said Bay-Pu-Ta) and there is a place there to get food. Cant Miss it.. get the fufu and goat! Its amazing. And a Castel beer!
I would imagine that 1,000 a month should be ok. It depends on the type of nightlife you have too though. And you will have to stick completely to local places. If you start going into the Chinese and Lebanese owed places to eat and drink you wont make it on 1,000. Ghana is the most expensive place you will go. I don't know of much there because I didnt explore much I just hung out in Accra.
Jan 22, 2012 12:44 AM
2My standards could well be too high, but to me $1000 a month seems too low, once you include transport, visas, entry fees to parks, hotel and food. You might be able to get by if you only eat street food and stay in brothels, but I wouldn't bet on it. You will not have anything left over to splurge on. While transport is not very expensive, the distance you are planning to travel is going to add up over the weeks. To me, a budget of $1500 a month would be a little more reasonable. West Africa is not particularly cheap.
Also on your itinerary you would have to pass through Burkina to get from Mali to Ghana. I think 9 weeks would be very tight to see all of that, but if you are as you say, high energy and not fatigued by travel, then it could be done. Last summer I went from Bamako to Accra in 4 days of travel (6 days overall) so you can get around most places pretty quickly using the main roads.
Jan 22, 2012 2:06 AM
3Bring more money or forget splurges. Moving that quickly isn't cheap, and West Africa isn't particularly cheap to begin with. Don't neglect to allow for visas if you're not getting them in advance. You'll need one for Burkina Faso or Cote' d'Ivoire--neither is cheap, both are worthy. I'd transit Guinea to get from G.B. to Mali: one of my favorite countries.
Ok, I see that I'm mainly repeating what taharqa said. Best read his post twice, then think about skipping mine.
Jan 22, 2012 3:04 AM
Jan 22, 2012 9:05 AM
5Taharqa and Mark give sound advice, especially the visa costs (Burkina Faso now more expensive than it used to be).
Splurges can vary in cost. West Africa isn't like the other side of Africa where you have all the costly extras every few days like adventure activities at Swakopmund and Vic Falls, or Serengetti/Ngorogro Crater costs, and visiting Zanzibar etc
Security permitting, pinasse ride on the Niger around Mopti/Djenne/Timbuktu area could add up as the tourist numbers are down....then again it might be cheaper as they want your business. Dogon country trek might prove to be good value at the moment as again, tourist numbers are down.
If you wanted to visit the Bissagos islands of Guinea Bissau, this can prove to be quite expensive.
I always enjoyed the Niokolo-Koba national park in Senegal, but if you don't have your own transport the cost of hiring a vehicle and the compulsory guide will add up, plus you'll need to rent a room if you don't have a tent.
Visiting stilt villages at Ganvie, Benin, sites in Ouidah, Benin, Mole National Park, Ghana, the castles along Cape Coast, Ghana, and Ill De Goree, Senegal.....the costs for these are pretty low in comparison.
Edited by: owadavid
Edited by: ethelfleda
Jan 22, 2012 1:28 PM
6I agree & I'm tight
I cope on about 800euros a month ... which I believe is over your budget - I sleep in brothels, eat street food & travel a lot & even then it can be difficult
W.Africa isn't Asia, prices have increased month on month. I got home today after another 2 weeks in Ghana partly for business & partly for a holiday. Stayed with friends in Accra but still spent a fair bit - although a lot on taxis!
Jan 22, 2012 2:03 PM
800.00 EUR = 1,029.93 USD: the extra 30US isn't going to kill me. As for the brothels, being a woman you probably don't get solicited often. Do you think that I'll be constantly propositioned if I stay there? As one of the experts on the region, what splurges would you recommend and do you think my itinerary is doable?
If it looks like I will need to do a one way flight and overland in or out of the region as discussed on the other thread, I think making all the way to Ghana - Benin would be too much. In that case, which countries would you recommend in addition Guinea-Bissau Gambia & Senegal? How would you use 8 weeks ?
Owadavid, as a regional tour guide I appreciate your insight. I spent about 10 years tour guiding in Florida, so I know you have different rates than I will get as a solo traveler. That being said, can you ballpark me on the costs of the slurges you mentioned? I know that there are ferries to the main island in Bissagos islands, but how much will it run going to the hippo island? How much for the Niokolo-Koba national park in Senega if I do everything solo? The cost of pinasse ride on the Niger around Mopti/Djenne/Timbuktu?
My monthly budget was basically for the basics and wasn't including splurges or visas.. I already figured that visas for the region would cost an 'additional' $300-$500US and I was hoping that the slurges that I want to take won't run more than an additional $500.
Jan 22, 2012 3:35 PM
8Your budget only includes transport, lodging and food? No entertainment? No souvenirs? No activities, entrance fees, visas, beers, special treats? You never get lazy and take a nicer hotel room because you're exhausted and can't be bothered to wander the streets bargaining for a good deal? Have no use for A/C? Don't go out socializing with other travelers or local people you just met? Always travel in the cheapest, local manner? Are satisfied not staying places which have no cheap lodging (e.g., lots of the beach areas along the Gulf of Guinea)?
If all of the above--and all the rest it implies--is true, then your budget will be fine. And as long as you stop "splurging" at $500 (which won't take long at all), so will that part of your budget. Personally, I'd bring $3000 plus an emergency fund for two months. Notice that this is approximately what one of the other posts above suggested. That's not a coincidence.
Jan 22, 2012 4:00 PM
Your budget only includes transport, lodging and food? Yes - except it would include entrance fees to reasonable places (not the splurges). I use this as a base so I know what I will need to bring if I want to do enjoyable things - above and beyond that. If you reread my last entry, it says the following:
As I said, I already figured that visas for the region would cost an 'additional' $300-$500US and I was hoping that the slurges that I want to take won't run more than an additional $500.
*No entertainment? No souvenirs? No activities, entrance fees, visas, beers, special treats? * Beers I only drink occasionally - no different than at home. Activities & special treats fall within the splurges category or normal expenses depending on what they are.
And as long as you stop "splurging" at $500 - that's why I gave that as a possibility. What is a splurge for one is a waste of time for others, but the basics are still necessary. If you have experience in the region, why don't you share what splurges you would recommend and approximate costs. Last year I racked up about 2K in splurges, but I had major expenses to my home this year and I might not be able to go do to finances, so I am trying to get an accurate assessment of costs. If there are only 2 or 3 major expenses like owadavid mentioned, it might still be feasible for me to go. I am too old to go somewhere and not be able to enjoy the special things it has to offer. Last summer I ran into many 20 somethings who couldn't afford to take safaris. To me that's a waste of a trip.
Have no use for A/C? In ten summers of traveling in the tropics I've used A/C maybe a dozen times - 4 of which were in Djibouti last summer, and glad of it. I get used to hot and sweaty.
Are satisfied not staying places which have no cheap lodging (e.g., lots of the beach areas along the Gulf of Guinea)? I'm surrounded by over 1000 miles of excellent beaches and haven't gone in several years. In Zanzibar last summer, I only spent one day hanging out on the beach. I would rather 'splurge' on diving.
Jan 22, 2012 4:23 PM
10Am with Mark on this ........ you need more
I said I don't splurge BUT I stick to countries not a massive sub-region however I don't like A/C rooms (you might)
If I had 8 weeks on this kind of budget I'd be looking at Guinea & somewhere else, possibly Senegal/Guinea Bissau & maybe as far down as Liberia but not the trip you're talking about. It is possible to do some of it IF you have friends in the region that will put you up & therefore cut down on accomodation fees. Possibly I haven't explained this earlier but a lot of my accomodation costs are cut due to having friends in the region, there's no way I could afford it otherwise.
Decide where you'd like to go in the sub-region but don't try to do it all at once!
Jan 22, 2012 4:34 PM
11Viaggero, I've got lots of experience in West Africa, but I'm not willing to go to a lot of trouble on your behalf. Much of my experience is dated, much of it is irrelevant to you, and most of it you're not likely to make use of because you can't afford it. Besides, you can do better yourself--reading guidebooks, reading old posts here and elsewhere on the internet.
I've already told you I think you should double your budget. Your $500 could easily vanish in Mali alone: a Dogon trip, Tombouktou, a couple of days in Hombori. It could as easily be spent in Niger, should you try one of my favorite West African excursions in the Air Mountains. You could spend that much renting a motorbike to explore, as I generally do these days--even before you actually go anyplace in particular. And if you're doing a one-way trip with a local flight at the end, that's your budget for splurges right there.
This is a good place to come when you've got a specific question: "What are your three favorite places in Mali?" "How much did you pay for a Dogon guide?" "Does the train still run from Dakar?" "What's a cheap, local hotel in Lomé?" On the other hand, "I've got 9 weeks to cover West Africa: where should I go and how much will it cost?" is a bit vague for my taste.
Again, maybe others will fill you in--more power to them, and to you.
Enjoy your trip!
Jan 22, 2012 4:38 PM
Last summer I spent a month in Ethiopia (went to East, south, & north), 5 days in Djibouti & Somaliland respectively, 10 days in Kenya & 10 days in Tanzania/Zanzibar respectively. If you include all of the side trips, all total I probably covered over 3 thousand miles. Excluding the splurges, I averaged about $30 per day for basic entrance fees, food, accommodations and transportation - including domestic flights in Ethiopia. Just about every summer I've traveled I cover as many miles - I truthfully like to be on the go from dawn to dust. But as I mentioned in my prior posts, I really need to get a realistic idea of actual costs.
Is your concern with my itinerary due to the costs of long distance buses, visa costs, or basic logistics of duration of rides, or is it something else?
Jan 23, 2012 12:24 AM
13You cannot compare prices with E & W Africa, the west is more expensive (including visas) especially in the last few weeks as fuel prices have risen all over!
Jan 23, 2012 3:23 AM
14I'm going to add my two cents to this post: first about budget, I've spent considerably less than $1000 a month during my travels in West Africa, though it has to be said I'm very disciplined about sticking to a budget, and I have always carried a tent with me in West Africa, which is very useful for saving money on accommodation.
You mention seeing chimps in Gambia - I'm not sure what your chances are of spotting them there. I've never been to the national park personally, but I don't know that they have that many chimps around. Your best chance of seeing wild chimps in West Africa are at Bossou, in the south of Guinea (there's a place in Guinea Bissau which might also give you a very good chance of seeing them - I don't know much about it because I've never been to Guinea Bissau). Guinea is fascinating, but unforunately suffers from instability, and sees far fewer tourists than, say, Senegal or Mali.
The Niokolo-Koba park is quite expensive: I was offered a day-trip shared with two other people, and the cost was something like 70-80 USD (just for me). If you want to visit alone, and spend a night or two in the park, you'll have to hire a 4WD for the entire trip for yourself, and this won't be cheap.
As for dodgy hotels, I've stayed at a fair number of places in West Africa where prostitution dominates their business. I've rarely been hassled much at all; the hookers recognize that you're not there looking for their kind of business. There are some very secure, friendly hotels in the region which are basically brothels. I found a lot more hassle and irration at some of the tourist hotels in the region which are full of touts and wannabe guides.
Anyway. Just some thoughts.
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