Must see attractions in West Africa

  • Top ChoiceSights in Cape Coast

    Cape Coast Castle

    Cape Coast’s imposing, whitewashed castle commands the heart of town, overlooking the sea. Once one of the world's most important slave-holding sites, it provides horrifying insight into the workings of the trade. Staff conduct hour-long tours, during which you’ll visit the dark, damp dungeons, where slaves waited for two to 12 weeks, while contemplating rumours that only hinted at their fate. A visit to the dungeons contrasts sharply with the governor’s bedroom, blessed with floor-to-ceiling windows and panoramic ocean views. There’s also an excellent museum on the first floor, detailing the history of Ghana, the slave trade and Akan culture. First converted into a castle by the Dutch in 1637 and expanded by the Swedes in 1652, the castle changed hands five times over the 13 tumultuous years that followed until, in 1664, it was captured by the British. During the two centuries of British occupation, it was the headquarters for the colonial administration until Accra was declared the new capital in 1877.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Nigeria

    Osun Sacred Grove

    The Sacred Grove is a large area of rainforest on the outskirts of Oshogbo. Within the forest is the beautiful Shrine of Oshuno, the River Goddess. In addition to natural beauty, there are many stunning sculptures by Suzanne Wenger (known locally as Aduni Olosa, the 'Adored One'), an Austrian painter and sculptor who came here in the 1950s. Alligators, snakes, monkeys and antelopes inhabit the grove, where there's a week-long festival here in August. For an extra fee, tour the grove and other sights with one of Susanne's adopted children (and traditional priests) Sangodare (0803 226 2188) or Doyin Faniyi (0803 226 2188).

  • Top ChoiceSights in São Tomé & Príncipe

    Praia Banana

    Once the subject of a world-famous Bacardi advertisement (you'll remember it when you see it), this picture-perfect tropical beach is located on the grounds of Roça Belo Monte, a 15-minute walk from the front gate. It is first seen from above, at a clifftop mirador (overlook; where the ad was shot), before descending to sea level, where you'll find its golden sands, in the shape of a banana, beneath swaying palms. Hidden beneath the trees are a small bar and lounge chairs. There is snorkeling at either end, excellent swimming in between, and kayaks available from resort staff. The perfect beach day is here!

  • Top ChoiceSights in São Tomé

    Cão Grande

    The Great Canine is the poster image of São Tomé, and an awesome sight. An enormous tooth of rock 663m high, it is a hardened column of magma, the remains of an ancient volcano whose softer outer shell has long since eroded away. The actual rock is known as phonolite, and there are many other towers composed of the same material; these vary in shape and size, and include Cão Pequeno (390m). Numerous phonolite towers also give Príncipe its Lost World vibe. You'll find Cão Grande around the 51km mark if you're heading south on the EN-2 – it rises dead ahead, as if lying at the end of the road.

  • Top ChoiceSights in São Tomé & Príncipe

    Baía das Agulhas

    The spectacular Bay of Spires is not just Príncipe's top attraction, but STP's as well. It's best seen from the water, where the postcard view of the island's world-class skyline slowly unfolds, including phonolite towers named (for obvious reasons) the Father, the Son and the Grandson, along with Table Mountain. You expect to hear the primordial roar of T-Rex at any moment. If you've flown all this way, you do not want to miss this.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Western Cameroon

    Palais Royal

    The must-see attraction is the sultan's palace, home to the 19th sultan of the Bamoun dynasty. It has a fascinating, well-organised museum providing great historical insight into the region. At the time of writing, the treasures were being transferred to a startling new building symbolically shaped as a serpent and a spider; the palace itself will remain open to visitors. Constructed in the early 20th century and modelled on German colonial architecture, the palace was built by the remarkable Sultan Njoya, who invented a corn-grinding machine, a script for the Bamun language, and a religion which fused Christianity and Islam. He had 681 wives, which made him well qualified to write his own version of the Kama Sutra (look out for it in the museum shop). Museum artefacts include a ancient feathered cloak worn only for the initiation of each sultan, beaded buffalo masks sported by members of secret societies, documents written using Sultan Njoya's script and a drinking horn made from the skull of one of his enemies. The palace sits opposite the market and main mosque, the minaret of which can be climbed as part of the palace tour. Palace entrance includes a visit to a nearby ceremonial drum housed in a bamboo hut: it’s a huge creation topped with animal hides and carved with a double-headed serpent.

  • Top ChoiceSights in The Gambia

    Abuko Nature Reserve

    Abuko is rare among African wildlife reserves: it's tiny, it's easy to reach and you don't need a car to go in. With amazing diversity of vegetation and animals, this well-managed reserve is one of the region's best bird-watching haunts (more than 250 bird species have been recorded in its environs). There are 5km of paths through the 106-hectare reserve, and a field station with views over a watering hole that's often a good place for wildlife watching. Among the 52 mammal species calling Abuko home are bushbucks, duikers, porcupines, bush babies and ground squirrels as well as three monkey types: green or vervet monkeys, endangered western red colobus monkeys and patas monkeys. The reserve is particularly famous for its Nile crocodiles and other slithering types such as pythons, puff adders, green mambas, spitting cobras and forest cobras. The compact area of Abuko teems with birds including sunbirds, green hylias, African goshawks, oriole warblers, yellowbills and leafloves. Abuko is about the only place in Gambia where you can observe green and violet turacos, white-spotted flufftails, ahanta francolins and western bluebills.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Kumasi

    Kejetia Market

    From afar, the Kejetia Market looks like an alien mothership landed in the centre of Kumasi. Closer up, the rusting tin roofs of this huge market (often cited as the largest in West Africa; there are 11,000 stalls and at least four times as many people working here) look like a circular shanty town. Inside, the throbbing Kejetia is quite disorienting but utterly captivating. There are foodstuffs, second-hand shoes, clothes, plastic knick-knacks, glass beads, kente strips, Ashanti sandals, batik, bracelets and more. Wandering around the market by yourself is absolutely fine: few tourists come here and shopkeepers will be pleasantly surprised to see you. Alternatively, go with a guide, who not only knows his or her way around but can also explain the more obscure trades and goods, and help you bargain and meet stallholders. Allow about C25 for a two-hour tour; contact the Ghana Tourist Authority or your hotel for recommendations.

  • Top ChoiceSights in São Tomé

    Claudio Corallo Chocolate Factory

    Claudio Corallo is both an extraordinary person and a local institution. For over 40 years this native Italian has pursued an overriding passion for coffee and cocoa in Africa, first in Zaire and later in STP, where he has two plantations and a factory in the capital. The results are on display in this fascinating little tour, which takes you not only through the chocolate production process, but through all the thought and experimentation that went into developing the bean. The result is a pure form of chocolate, and an acquired taste for those hooked on sugar. Visitors will also be able to taste another product of his laboratory, some amazing coffee that lingers in your mouth for hours. The factory is located in a light yellow plantation house with a small sign visible through the fence. Note that you must stop by and purchase tickets here the morning of the tour. The cost is later convertible into product.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Dakar

    Île de N'Gor

    For a quick escape from the frenetic streets of Dakar, head to peaceful Île de N'Gor, a tiny island just off Dakar's north shore. It has a few calm beaches on the bay side, and some legendary surf on the northern coastline. Most visitors just come for the day, to relax on the beaches, stroll the sandy lanes of the village and have lunch in one of the waterside eateries, but there are several appealing guesthouses here as well. Pirogues leave every hour or so between 10am and 7pm from Plage de N'Gor for the 400m trip across to the island (CFA500, 10 minutes). It's a wet landing on both sides, so wear sandals and prepare to roll up your pants.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Sierra Leone

    Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary

    In the dense rainforest of Western Area National Park, Sri Lankan founder Bala created Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, a leafy, waterfall-framed hideaway set up with the purpose of rescuing and rehabilitating endangered primates, and in the process educating humans about one of our closest relatives. The passionate and committed staff offer twice-daily tours of the sanctuary, during which you'll watch rescued chimps frolic in enclosures and spot those who have been released to a larger area in the mountains beyond. For those with more time to spare, there are a number of walking trails to follow, as well as four atmospheric lodges if you fancy staying the night. There's also a small gift shop, where you can arrange sponsorship of a chimp (US$80 per year) or pick up relevant documentaries and books, including King Bruno, a children's book telling the tale a chimp who escaped from the sanctuary in 2006, with tragic results. A 30-minute drive from Freetown, Tacugama is signposted off the Regent/Bathurst road. The second half of the route, a rough, unpaved path through the rainforest, is just about doable in a standard car, but you'll need to cover the final section, a steep 100-metre climb, by 4WD or on foot (5 minutes). By public transport, take a poda poda from Freetown, changing at Hillcot Junction to get to Regent. From there you could walk (40 minutes) or take an okada up the hill. A private taxi should charge around Le30,000 for the journey from Freetown, but it's worth paying them to wait for you for the return journey.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Ghana

    Mole National Park

    It's not everywhere you can get up close and personal with bus-sized elephants. Face-to-face encounters with these beasts, plus roving gangs of baboons, warthogs, water bucks and antelopes – 90 species of mammals in total – are possibilities at this national park, Ghana's largest at 4660 sq km and best as far as wildlife viewing goes. The park consists for the most part of flat savanna, with gallery forests along the rivers and streams. Walking and jeep safaris take place daily. If you've come with your own 4WD, you need to pay for an armed guide to join you in your car.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Conakry

    Centre d'Art Acrobatique Keita Fodeba

    The Centre d'Art Acrobatique Keita Fodeba is perhaps the single most amazing experience in Guinea. Every weekday morning scores of acrobats spin, twirl and flip through routines that have made them the envy of circuses the world over. As good as the acrobats are, it's the contortionists who steal the show. When they bend themselves 180 degrees the wrong way you can only wonder if they actually have backbones or if they are in fact jellyfish. Launched by the success of the Guinean troupe Circus Baobab, this magical place takes stage performance to a whole new level. The centre not only trains some of Africa's greatest acrobats, it provides youngsters with a whole range of skills. The discipline of practice for progress is one of them; practical expertise in crafts, literacy and much more are also part of the rigorous training. The centre's success has made waves across the world – young performers have been sought out to participate in circus performances from East Asia to the US and in 2016 some of the performers won L'Afrique a un incroyable talent (Franco-African equivalent of Africa's Got Talent). Visitors are welcome to come and watch the performers rehearse. Note that the hours stated here are a little flexible. Their training centre is in a large grey building in the sporting complex surrounding the Dixinn Stadium. The troupe also put on occasional shows in Conakry. Look out for advertising at embassy cultural centres and the restaurants and bars where expats are likely to gather.

  • Top ChoiceSights in São Tomé

    Praia dos Tamarindos

    One of the island's best beaches, a beautiful white crescent facing an emerald sea, with excellent swimming. An easy drive from the capital, it's empty during the week but crowded on weekends. Reaching Guadelupe from the capital, turn right at the monument in the middle of the road, then a further right at the primary school.

  • Top ChoiceSights in São Tomé

    Praia Bateria

    So perfect it stops you in your tracks, this cute little beach is a scallop of sand wedged between long walls of rock. Swimming here is like being in your own private bath. Definitely the couple's first choice, you'll either have it to yourself or you won't want to intrude on someone else.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Lagos

    Lekki Conservation Centre

    Run by the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, this centre has a huge tract of wetlands set aside for wildlife viewing. Canopy walkways enable you to see monkeys, crocodiles and various birds; early morning is the best time to visit. There is a conservation centre and a library.

  • Top ChoiceSights in The Gambia

    Wide Open Walls

    Two huge ibex grazing amid swirling waves, a blue tattooed lion, and a lovestruck blacksmith are just a few of the striking images awaiting visitors who stumble upon the village of Kubuneh, located a few kilometres outside of Makasutu Culture Forest. The simple homes of this African settlement have been transformed into a riotous collection of thought-provoking street art, courtesy of a talented group of international artists who have brought a touch of surreal beauty to this corner of West Africa. The brainchild of Lawrence Williams, one of the owners of Makasutu, Wide Open Walls began in 2009 when Williams began working with the Gambian painter Njogu Touray to create murals for communities on the fringes of the reserve. Since then, the project has grown in leaps and bounds, and today you'll find more than 400 works of art adorning some 14 villages in the area. To arrange a visit to the area, contact Makasutu, which offers guided tours. For a preview, check out Wide Open Walls on Facebook or Instagram to see some of the stunning works.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Sierra Leone

    Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary

    'Big Island' in the Mende language, 12-sq-km Tiwai Island certainly packs a punch when it comes to its primate population. Set on the Moa River, the entire island is run as a conservation research project. There are over 700 different plant species, 11 species of primates – including Diana monkeys and chimpanzees – 135 bird species plus otters, sea turtles and the endangered, elusive pygmy hippopotamus. First you'll need to get to Poturu (there is regular transport from Bo or Kenema); from there you'll need an okada to Kambama. Speedboats (Le100,000 per person including island entrance fee) carry you the short distance to the island, where you can overnight in tents on canopied platforms (US$30), or in a bed at the simple research lodge (US$35) and drift off to sleep, listening to the midnight chatter of the rainforest. Guided forest walks cost from Le25,000. Canoe tours cost Le50,000 per person.

  • Top ChoiceSights in The Gambia

    Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project

    This project forms the beating heart of River Gambia National Park. Comprised of so-called Baboon Island and several smaller islands, this is one of the most important wildlife sites in The Gambia. Despite the main island's moniker, this place is really the kingdom of chimps – over 100 of the primates live across it and three other islands in four separate communities. No one is allowed to set foot on Baboon Island (including staff), but visitors can see many of the simians during a boat tour around the islands. There's also other wildlife in the area, including hippos, manatees, crocodiles and abundant birdlife, not to mention other primates, such as red colobus monkeys, green vervet monkeys and – yes – even baboons. Knowledgeable guides can share the story of how this reserve came to be, and give insight into the lives and character of the island apes.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Burkina Faso

    Cour Royale

    More than 450 people live in Tiébélé's royal court, a large compound of typical sukhalas, or traditional painted houses. Children live with their grandparents in octagonal huts, couples live in rectangular huts and single people in round ones. Painting is generally done in February/March, after the harvest. Each drawing, whether geometrical or illustrative, has a meaning (fertility, afterlife, wisdom etc). To visit you're required to go with a local guide, who will take you inside the court as well as inside some of the homes, too. Visits offer an insight into life inside these tiny dwellings, and the meaning of the painted shapes; some are straightforward images, such as snakes (which signify a visit from a dead grandmother!), but others are more abstract. It's a marvellous experience.