Once regarded as the pearl of West Africa for its tranquil beaches, exotic markets and friendly people, Togo was overwhelmed by riots and human-rights abuses in the 1990s. Sadly the saga continues. When the despotic president Gnassingbé Eyadéma died in February 2005, and his son Faure Gnassingbé seized power, hundreds were killed in street battles and thousands fled the country. But with the new president gradually winning over the Togolese population, it’s a great time to check out tiny Togo’s hilly landscape, diverse cultures, yam-based dishes, and the football team that qualified for the 2006 World Cup.
Lomé, the capital, is one of the most beautiful cities in West Africa, with the grand Blvd du 13 Janvier sweeping away from the beach and into the heart of a ribald city, heaving with nightspots. To the east, past the resorts on Lake Togo and the Atlantic beaches, Aného exudes crumbling colonial charm, and has a fetish market. Voodoo is also practised across the lake in Togoville, a fishing village with fetishes in the streets.
Inland, Kpalimé is the gateway to the coffee and cocoa triangle, where ruined chateaus, butterflies and mountain villages hide in the forests. The northern cities Sokodé and Kara are appealingly slow-paced spots to take in rural Africa, with the road between them passing through national icon, the Aledjo fault. Close to Kara, centuries-old culture and traditions can be seen at the famous fortresslike mudbrick houses in the Tamberma Valley and the weekly markets in the Kabyé region.