Though Togo may take up only a sliver of the West African coastline, it has become one of the most popular destinations on the continent. There is nothing small about what this country and its people have to offer visitors.
Despite decades under the rule of one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, Togo’s culture, with its distinctly Francophone flavor, has remained as rich and enticing as ever. From pristine coastlines to lush rain forests and untouched, sun-scorched savannas, Togo is as topographically varied as its people are culturally diverse: Togo has almost 40 different ethnic groups. It is the perfect destination for the adventurous soul looking to experience West Africa. Travelers can learn about ancient voodoo rituals and medicine, shop in vibrant fabric markets, and explore mystical forests. You will fall in love with the colors, sights, sounds, and tastes of Togo.
1. Voodoo Fetish Market: Any visitor to Lomé should not pass up the opportunity to visit this traditional voodoo fetish market. Built around a small lot, the market consists of tables displaying every body part of any animal imaginable, from hyena heads to monkey testicles and shark teeth. Tourists are often invited to participate in a small ceremony with a voodoo holy man and encouraged to hold and feed the live monkeys chained around the market. This is certainly an experience not to be missed, but beware of trying to take a shriveled monkey head in your suitcase through customs and back into your country!
2. Le Grand Marché: Lomé’s central market is the commercial hub of the capital. Here one can find anything and everything, from shoes and motorcycle parts to fresh fruit and vegetables. As elsewhere in West Africa, women dominate market life. Weaving through the Grand Marché, these market women can be heard joking, gossiping, and laughing with one another, hawking their wares at the top of their lungs and berating their children. The crowds of the market sway to the beat of Togolese music pumping from ancient boom boxes. Lomé’s market presents the quintessential picture of the spirit and vivacity of Togo and its people.
3. Baguida and Avepozo: Looking to enjoy Togo’s pristine beaches? The beaches outside of Lomé are definitely cleaner and safer to hit. Short drives along the coast from the capital take visitors to the small beach towns of Baguda and Avepozo, some of the most beautiful and untouched beaches on the West African coast, lined with coconut trees and colorful fishing boats. The only problem is that you’ll never want to leave!
4. Aného: On the easternmost end of Togo’s short coast sits Aného, the spiritual center of the Guin-Mina people. Built on a lagoon, this town was the first German administrative center on the coast and later the capital of the region. Much of the colonial architecture still exists and is well worth a visit.
5. Agbodrafo: Now a small, peaceful place half an hour from Lomé, this small town was once Porto Seguro, a Portuguese fort and an important station along the Slave Coast. Though much evidence of Agbodrafo’s cruel past has been erased, one can still visit the Woold Home (also called the maison des esclaves) and see the chains that bound the slaves who were kept there.
6. Kpalimé: Located an hour and a half from Lomé, this town is cherished for its supreme natural beauty. Kpalimé is surrounded by several hills covered in rain forest, with small villages, deep valleys, and stunning waterfalls. Local guides can arrange hikes of various lengths through the forest, to the peaks of Mount Agou and Mount Kloto, and to the Kpoeta and Tomegbe waterfalls. Once the center of the coffee and cocoa trade, the town still has some impressive colonial buildings, such as the German cathedral and the governor’s house.
7. Sokodé: The second-largest city in Togo, Sokodé has a large Muslim population and a strong North African flavor. Life in this part of Togo is organized around the chiefdoms of the Tem people, which dictate political, social, and religious practices. The music and dance of the Sokodé people is some of the most impressive in the country, especially during the many religious festivals and ceremonies. Explore Sokodé’s markets, and buy some of the fabric for which the city’s artisans are known.
8. Koutammakou: This UNESCO World Heritage Site is situated about an hour’s drive north of the town of Kara in the Kara region. It is famous for its batammariba, the round, mud-built houses of the Takienta people that have become a symbol of Togo. Tour the region and learn about the spiritual practices of the Takienta.
9. Réserve de Sarakawa: If you’re intent on seeing some typical African wildlife while you’re in Togo, head to the Kara region and the Sarakawa Reserve. Once the private game reserve of President Gnassingbé Eyadéma, it is home to zebras, buffalo, antelope, and many bird species.
10. Caves of Nano and Maproug: These caves, inhabited during periods of strife between the 17th and 19th centuries, are located in the very north of Togo. The caves are part of a long escarpment that reaches across the savanna toward Burkina Faso. Though many of the original items found in the caves, such as weapons, have disappeared, visitors can see how cave dwellers adapted the traditional architecture of villages outside the caves to create their homes within.
It is best to visit Togo during its cooler months (though it is always pretty hot): April to July and September to November.
Visas: Visas for entry into Togo can be acquired either before one arrives in the country or upon arrival at the airport or border. Prices vary depending on one’s country of citizenship. Visitors must also have proof of yellow fever immunization to enter Togo. For complete visa requirements and details, visit the website for the Togolese embassy in the United States.
Transportation: The most common way to get around in Togo is to drive. In most cities, especially Lomé, taxis abound. Fares are negotiable and should be determined before the ride begins.
Another popular way to get around to Togo is by riding on the backs of taxi-moto (motorcycles). This is definitely the cheapest and fastest way to navigate the cities, though it is generally not the safest. Taxi-brousses (bush taxis) are a common form of transportation between cities and over the border to surrounding countries. They are either minibuses or four-door cars. Fares are usually set, and the vehicles are always crowded, so don’t count on a comfortable ride and be sure to closely guard your personal belongings. Another reliable means of transportation is provided through the national Postal Service. These large buses are air-conditioned, have partitioned seats, and you are able to carry baggage on the bus.
Be warned that the roads in Lomé and throughout the rest of Togo are generally rough, and long road trips can be arduous.
Mobile Phones: We recommend buying a prepaid mobile phone or purchasing a SIM card for a GSM-enabled phone. Prepaid phones and SIM cards are available at phone shops in Lomé and some other cities. Major phone providers are Moov, Togocell, and Togo Telecom.
Foreigners traveling to Togo have no reason to be afraid of theft or attack, but you must use common sense. Togolese people often advise tourists against areas they think might be dangerous, such as the beach in Lomé. Listen to the locals and avoid walking alone at night.
Petty theft is common in cities, especially Lomé, so make sure your belongings are somewhere safe at all times. We recommend leaving passports and other important valuables at your hotel if possible. Check the U.S. Department of State’s consular website for up-to-date travel warnings for Togo.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has created a security ratings system called the Ibrahim Index, according to scores based on each country’s quality of government. Before traveling to Togo or anywhere on the continent, check the index and do your research.
The Ewe people, one of Togo’s largest ethnic groups, moved into the area now known as Togo between the 12th and 14th centuries. Portuguese explorers arrived in the 15th and 16th centuries, marking the beginning of European influence in West Africa. Over the next two centuries the coast along the Gulf of Guinea became a major center of the slave trade, as well as the trade in such other commodities as sugar, coffee, cocoa, and gold.
In 1884 the area along the coast known as Togoland became a German protectorate and gradually expanded inland. In 1914, French and British forces invaded Togoland, and after the end of the World War I the area became a U.N. mandate administered by the French and the British. Following World War II, Togoland became a U.N. trusteeship. In 1955 it became an autonomous republic within the French Union.
On April 27, 1960, Togo finally became an independent nation, led by President Sylvanus Olympio. Three years later Olympio was assassinated, and the leader of the opposition party, Nicolas Grunitzky, became president.
In 1967, Grunitzky was overthrown in a bloodless coup led by Lt. Col. Etienne Eyadéma, who assumed the presidency soon afterward. From 1969 to 1991, Togo was under single-party rule, and Eyadéma’s dictatorship took its toll on the country’s economy. He was known for being a brutal leader and violently quashed all opposition.
In the early 1990s Eyadéma was forced to open up the government to other political parties. Despite the multiparty elections held over the next decade, he was able to remain president until he died, in 2005. At the time of his death, he was one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders. His son, Fauré Gnassingbé, who continues to govern Togo, replaced him.
1. Togo is located in West Africa on the Bight of Benin, a bay sandwiched between Ghana to the west and Benin to the east. To the north it borders Burkina Faso. It is long and thin, with only 35 miles (56 kilometers) of coastline, and is divided into five regions: Maritime, Plateau, Central, Kara, and Savanna. It is slightly smaller than the state of West Virginia. It is hot and humid in the south and semi-arid in the north.
2. The official language in Togo is French, but several native languages are spoken, such as Ewe and Mina in the south and Dagomba and Kabye in the north. Some people speak a little English, but it is wise to brush up on your French before you arrive.
3. The currency in Togo is the CFA Franc, used throughout Francophone West Africa. The symbol for the CFA Franc is XOF.
4. There are significant Christian and Muslim populations in Togo (30 percent and 20 percent, respectively). Most Togolese, though, practice indigenous forms of religion, like voodoo.
5. As is the case in many former French colonies, smoking is common in Togo and permitted in most public areas.