Children's first impressions of the continent are likely to be the warmth and friendliness of the people. Indeed, many West Africans have grown up in large families and children help open doors to closer contact with local people, who are generally friendly, helpful and protective towards children. In short, travelling with children in West Africa, while not without its challenges, adds a whole new dimension to your journey.

Practicalities

In West African countries with a mainstream tourism industry (eg Senegal and The Gambia), some package-tour hotels cater for families with children and, in large cities, top-end hotels usually have rooms with three or four beds for only slightly more than a double. Alternatively, arranging an extra bed or mattress is generally easy and inexpensive. You'll almost certainly want something with a private bathroom and hot water, thereby precluding most budget accommodation.

Despite such exceptions, there are very few child-oriented facilities in the region. In most hotels there are generally no discounts for children. Likewise, on public transport, if you want a seat it has to be paid for. Most local children travel for free on buses but spend the whole journey on their parent's lap.

In addition to the length and discomfort involved in road journeys, possible concerns include the scarcity of medical facilities, especially outside major cities, and the difficulty of finding clean, decent bathrooms outside of midrange and top-end hotels. Canned baby food, powdered milk and sometimes also baby cereal (usually with sugar in it), disposable nappies, wipes and other items are available in most capitals, but not everywhere, and they can be expensive. It's best to avoid feeding your children street food.

There are other factors to bear in mind when travelling with kids. The rainy season may mean that temperatures are lower, but the risks of malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases are higher. At all times, bring mosquito nets along for your children and ensure they sleep under them. Bring child-friendly mosquito repellent and long-sleeved shirts and trousers.

For more information and hints on travelling with children, Lonely Planet's Travel with Children is highly recommended.

Sights & Activities

The specific highlights kids are sure to enjoy include the otherworldly villages and festivals of Koutammakou (the Tamberma Valley, Togo), the stilt villages of Ganvié, Benin, a trip down the Niger River and the beaches, castles and markets all along the West African coast. The thrill of a West African 'safari' to see elephants, gorillas, turtles or other mammals will surely be another highlight.

Ten West Africa Books for Kids

Start searching for children's books on West Africa and you'll quickly discover a whole library of everything from folk tales to simply told histories that you never knew existed. Aimed at children learning about the diverse peoples of the region, the Heritage Library of African Peoples: West Africa is an excellent series. Otherwise, here are some of our favourites:

  • The Adventures of Spider: West African Folktales by Joyce Cooper Arkhurst (suitable for four to eight years)
  • The Fire Children: A West African Folk Tale by Eric Maddern (four to eight years)
  • Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears: A West African Tale by Verna Aardema (four to eight years)
  • The Hatseller and the Monkeys by Baba Wague Diakite (four to eight years)
  • Sundiata: The Lion King of Mali by David Wisniewski (four to eight years)
  • Traditional Stories from West Africa by Robert Hull (seven to 11 years)
  • The Cow-Tail Switch and Other West African Stories by Harold Courlander (nine to 12 years)
  • Indigenous Peoples of Africa – West Africa by Tony Zurlo (nine to 12 years)
  • Ancient West African Kingdoms: Ghana, Mali and Songhai by Mary Quigley (10 to 14 years)
  • Tales from West Africa by Martin Bennett (mixed ages)