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Flag Source: CIA World Factbook
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.
The Top 10: What to Do in 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When to Go
It is best to visit Togo during its cooler months (though it is always pretty hot): April to July and September to November.