22 Day Ghana Togo and Benin Grand Tour

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Ghana

Ghana is often referred to as 'Africa for beginners' and for good reason. It is a friendly and largely safe country with locals who typically speak excellent English and are usually eager to help first time foreigners find their feet on African soil. This spectacularly scenic nation boasts an exquisite tropical coastline and some exceptional national parks providing a haven for some unusual flora and fauna. The capital, Accra is a thriving metropolis complete with bustling markets, luxury hotels and a lively nightlife scene. Pack your itinerary with visits to gorgeous palm-fringed beaches, ancient forts, historical castles, and quaint fishing villages. Whether you are seeking a relaxing beach vacation or are keen to immerse yourself in the fascinating ancient cultures of this nation’s diverse ethnic groups, Ghana offers a unique and compelling African experience.


Banking and Currency

Currency

Ghana Cedi (GHS; symbol ¢) = 100 Ghana pesewas. Notes are in denominations of ¢50, 20, 10, 5 and 1. Coins are in denominations of ¢1 and 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1 pesewas.

The import of local currency is limited to the amount previously taken out of the country and declared. The import of foreign currency is unlimited, but must be declared upon arrival. The export of local currency is limited to ¢1,000. The export of foreign currency is limited to US$5,000 or equivalent. None of this us likely to have any practical implication for tourists.

The exchange rate system has been liberalised and foreign currency is freely available through authorised dealers including banks and foreign exchange bureaux. The US dollar is the most widely recognised currency, and smaller bills often fetch a poor rate compared with US$50 or US$100 bills.

Banking

Banking hours: Monday-Friday 08h30-16h00; some banks also open Sat 08h00-12h00.

Credit and debit cards are accepted by some leading hotels, restaurants, banks, businesses and upmarket shops in Accra, but are seldom accepted elsewhere in the country, and fraud is quite common. In large urban areas such as Accra and Kumasi, a safer bet is to draw local currency from one of the many ATMs that accept international credit cards. By far the most widely accepted type of card is Visa. MasterCard is also accepted at some outlets, but other brands, including American Express and Diners Club, are near useless in Ghana.

In large urban areas such as Accra and Kumasi, ATMs accepting international Visa cards (and occasionally MasterCard) are common.

Travellers cheques are close to useless in Ghana. One of the few places that will exchange them is the head office of Barclays Bank in Accra and Takoradi, but it seems likely this facility will eventually close too.


Travel, Transport and Getting Around

Domestic services between Accra, Takoradi, Kumasi and Tamale are operated by Starbow (www.flystarbow.com), Fly540 (www.fly540africa.com) and Antrak Air (www.antrakair.com).

Formerly very expensive, domestic flights are now quite affordable and a viable alternative to travelling by bus or car.

Car hire services are available in Accra but there are few outlets, and hiring a car can be rather expensive, with or without a driver. However, the only way to reach most sites of interest in Ghana is by road, whether you rent a car and driver, or catch public transport. Be warned that all commercially available maps of Ghana (as well as those issued by the Survey Department in Accra) are seriously out of date, or riddled with inaccuracies, or both. These maps are fine for general orientation purposes, but can't be relied upon fully. Urban roads are generally in good condition, but road conditions can be in poor condition outside of the towns.

The speed limit is 50kph (31mph) in towns and 80kph (50mph) outside of towns. Seat belts are compulsory and drink-driving is illegal. A UK driving licence is theoretically valid for 90 days, but you are less likely to be queried by bribe-seeking officials if you carry an International Driving Permit.

Taxis are available throughout Ghana.

Travelling by coach is usually the best way to travel between major centres. The market used to be dominated by the State Transport Company (STC), which still operates along most major surfaced routes, but better and more reliable air-conditioned services are now provided by operators such as VIP, VVIP and OA.

The usual form of transport on minor routes is minibuses or vans. These break down into two broad categories: newer air-conditioned vans known variously as Fords, Stanbics or Yutons, and older and less comfortable bangers called tro-tros (or sometimes lorries). In small towns and villages, public transport generally arrives at and departs from one central terminus (usually referred to as the ‘station’, or ‘lorry station’).

Larger towns usually have several different stations. Most road transport doesn’t operate to a fixed schedule; vehicles simply wait at their designated station, and leave as soon as they are full. This can seem quite chaotic to first-time visitors, especially where departure points are decentralised, but it is actually quite efficient and straightforward. Local transport is cheap, too, though unfortunately the standard of driving is poor.

Accra has extensive bus and taxi services operated by the private sector. There is an abundance of taxis in the towns. Prices are reasonable. Drivers do not generally expect tips. Other ways of getting around, for the more adventurous traveller, are tro-tros (minibuses), which are usually far less comfortable than taxis.


Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice

Water sources should generally be regarded as being potentially contaminated, and water used for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice should have first been boiled or otherwise sterilised. Inexpensive sachets and bottles of purified water are readily available throughout the country. Milk is unpasteurised and should be boiled. Powdered or tinned milk is available and is advised. Avoid dairy products which are likely to have been made from unboiled milk. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.

International food is available in most large hotels and many restaurants serve a range of local traditional foods. In Accra there are also restaurants serving Middle Eastern, Indian, South East Asian, French and pretty much every other international cuisine you can think of. The country's largest concentration of eateries lies along and around the main drag through Osu - known locally as Oxford Street - where you could literally eat somewhere different every night for a month. Fast food outlets are also well represented in upmarket areas such as Osu and the Accra Mall.

Outside of Accra, a fair selection of cuisines is represented in the likes of Kumasi, Takoradi, Tema, Cape Coast and Elmina. The most popular international cuisine is Chinese, which seems to find its way onto even the most unimaginative hotel restaurant menus.

Alternatively, wherever you are in Ghana, local food can be eaten in small restaurants known as ‘chop bars’, where you will generally be served with rice or a local staple together with a portion of meat or vegetable stew. Almost as ubiquitous (except in a few small and very Islamic settlements in the north) are small local bars known endearingly as 'spots'. These usually serve inexpensive chilled lager-style beers in 750ml bottles (brands include Guder, Bell and Club, all with an alcohol level of around 5%) as well as inexpensive draught beer (called bubra) in the south.

Tipping is permitted; it is not usually included in the bill.


Climate and Weather

Ghana has a typically tropical climate thanks to its proximity to the equator and low elevations – the entire country lies below 1,000m (3300ft). Daytime temperatures are high throughout the year, approaching or surpassing 30°C (86°F) on most days, and humidity is also very high, especially along the coast. Temperatures tend to drop to around 20°C (68°F) drop at night, more noticeably in the relatively dry north than the humid south. The most temperate part of Ghana is the highlands area flanking the Volta Basin, which is often pleasantly cool after dusk.

There are two rainy seasons: from March to July and from September to October Rainfall is highest in the south, with some areas receiving in excess of 2,000mm each year, but the drier north more typically receives about 800mm annually. The capital Accra, together with the coast running east to Togo andBenin, lies within the Dahomey Gap, a tract of savannah that receives relatively little rain and divides the Upper Guinean forests (running westward from central Ghana) from the Lower Guinean forests (running southward from Nigeria southward to the Congo). A noteworthy climatic phenomenon is the harmattan winds, which blow in from the northeast from December to March, bringing dust from the Sahara and reducing visibility to as little as 1km (0.6 miles).


Clothing and Dress Recommendations

Light and loose is the way to go in this humid tropical climate. Bring light trousers or skirts made of a natural fabric such as cotton, combined with a stash of cotton T-shirts, and plenty of socks and underwear, also ideally must be made from natural fabrics to prevent fungal infections. Ghanaians are relatively relaxed about dress codes, but women should keep their shoulders covered and wear a skirt below the knees in the predominantly Muslim north. One sweater or sweatshirt should be adequate, since night time temperatures are seldom chilly. As for footwear, a good pair of walking shoes with solid ankle support is a must, but you'll also want sandals. There is a massive used-clothing industry in Ghana, and having new clothes made from local fabrics is quick and affordable.


Internet Availability

Internet popularity is rapidly growing and service is improving to keep up with demand. Internet facilities can be found in most towns. The connection used to be very slow, but it has greatly improved in recent years. Several mobile phone operators offer affordable and efficient data services and modems, allowing you to access the internet and to send emails through your phone, tablet or laptop


Electricity and Plug Standards

For the most part, there are two types of electrical sockets (outlets) used in Ghana: the "Type G " British BS-1363 and the "Type D" Indian (old British BS-546 5 amp "small") sockets. If your appliance's plug doesn't match the shape of these sockets, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in. Travel plug adapters simply change the shape of your appliance's plug to match whatever type of socket you need to plug into. If it's crucial to be able to plug in no matter what, bring an adapter for both types.

Electrical sockets (outlets) in Ghana usually supply electricity at between 220 and 240 volts AC. If you're plugging in an appliance that was built for 220-240 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need. If your appliance is not compatible with 220-240 electrical output, a voltage converter will be necessary.


Togo

Set along the magnificent Atlantic Coast in West Africa, the off-the-beaten-track country of Togo is known for its varied landscapes, pristine white-sand beaches, and diverse cultural heritage. Togo also offers a huge dose of tradition with almost 40 different ethnic groups celebrating their rich culture and traditions with an array of festivals held throughout the year. Visitors can laze on the palm-fringed beaches of Lome and Aneho, view the amazing 17th-century mud huts of Koutammakou, and explore the country’s spectacular interior, known for its cocoa and coffee plantations and undulating savannah-covered hills traversed by a network of scenic hiking trails. Other highlights include: visiting hilltop villages, browsing the fascinating fetish market, and soaking up Togo ’s beautiful wilderness at the national parks of Fazao and Keran.


Banking and Currency

Currency

The currency of Togo is the CFA (Communauté Financière Africaine) Franc (XOF) = 100 centimes. Notes are in denominations of XOF10,000, 5,000, 2,500, 2,000, 1,000 and 500. Coins are in denominations of XOF250, 100, 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1. Togo is part of the French Monetary Area. Only currency issued by the Banque des Etats de l'Afrique de l'Ouest (Bank of West African States) is valid; currency issued by the Banque des Etats de l'Afrique Centrale (Bank of Central African States) is not. The CFA Franc is tied to the Euro.

Banking

Banking hours: Monday-Friday 08h00-16h00.

American Express is widely accepted, with more limited use of Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa. The main branch of the Togolese Central Bank in Lomé (BTCI) can give cash withdrawals against a Visa card.

International traveller's cheques are accepted in Lome and other major cities.


Travel, Transport and Getting Around

Tarred roads run to the border countries and the major northern route is called 'The Highway of Unity'. There are roads linking most settlements, but these are largely impassable during the rainy season. Police checkpoints are frequent and may cause delays. It's advisable to keep windows rolled up and doors locked.

Car hire is available in Lome; elsewhere the cost of car hire is very high and it's usually better to hire a taxi. Visitors can hire bikes in large towns. Ferries run along the coast. For details, contact the port authorities.



Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice

Though the national staple is undoubtedly maize (sweetcorn), eaten on the cob or ground to create a filling savoury porridge, Togolese cuisine also displays the country's German and French colonial legacies in its love of beer and baguettes.

Meat and poultry are plentiful and well prepared, while fish and shellfish are popular choices on the Atlantic coast. Bushmeat including agouti (bush rat) remains popular, but is unlikely to be found on many menus. Local fruit and vegetables, particularly tomatoes, okra and spinach, are also readily available.

All water should be regarded as a potential health risk. Water used for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice should have first been boiled or otherwise sterilised. Milk is unpasteurised and should be boiled. Powdered or tinned milk is available and is advised. Avoid dairy products which are likely to have been made from unboiled milk. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish, preferably served hot. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.

Tipping is customary. When not included in the bill, a tip of about 10% is customary.


Climate and Weather

Togo shares borders with Burkina Faso to the north, Benin to the east and Ghana to the west, with a short coast on the Atlantic in the south. The country is a narrow strip, rising behind coastal lagoons and swampy plains to an undulating plateau. Northwards, the plateau descends to a wide plain irrigated by the River Oti. The central area is covered by deciduous forest, while savannah stretches to the north and south. In the east, the River Mono runs to the sea; long sandy beaches shaded by palms characterise the coastline between Lomé and Cotonou in Benin.

From December to January, the Harmattan wind blows from the north. The rainy season lasts from April to July. Short rains occur from October to November. The driest and hottest months are February and March, which are also the best months to visit.


Clothing and Dress Recommendations

Tropical lightweight clothing for most of the year is recommended, while rainwear is advisable for the rainy season.


Internet Availability

Public access is available in Internet cafes all over the country.


Electricity and Plug Standards

Electrical sockets in Togo are Type C (CEE 7/16 Europlug). If your appliance's plug doesn't match the shape of this socket, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in. Travel plug adapters simply change the shape of your appliance's plug to match whatever type of socket you need to plug into.

Electrical sockets in Togo, supply electricity at 220 volts AC / 50 Hz frequency. If you're plugging in an appliance that was built for 220-volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then a plug adapter is all you need. If your appliance isn’t compatible with 220-volts, a voltage converter will be necessary.


Benin

Situated in West Africa, Benin is known for its pristine beaches, bountiful wildlife and rich history. Benin features stilted villages, numerous national parks and a dark past linked to the slave trade. This French-speaking West African nation is also known as the birthplace of the Voodoo religion. Visitors can explore French colonial architecture in the laid-back capital of Porto Novo; discover the bustling commercial hub of Cotonou, home to an impressive cathedral and the vibrant Dantokpa Market; and spot aardvarks and cheetahs at W National Park. Other popular attractions include: the Royal Palaces of Abomey, the Ouidah Museum of History and the eerie Door of No Return.


Banking and Currency

Currency

The currency of the Republic of Benin is the CFA (Communaute Financiere Africaine) Franc (XOF) = 100 centimes. Notes are in denominations of XOF10,000, 5,000, 2,000 and 1,000. Coins are in denominations of XOF500, 200, 100, 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1. Benin is part of the French Monetary Area. Only currency issued by the Banque des Etats de l'Afrique de l'Ouest (Bank of West African States) is valid; currency issued by the Banque des Etats de l'Afrique Centrale (Bank of Central African States) is not. The CFA Franc is tied to the Euro.

Banking

Banking hours: Monday-Friday 08h00-11h00 and 15h00-17h00. Some banks may open on Saturday.

American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa are accepted on a limited basis. Some banks may advance cash or visa cards.

Traveller’s cheques are accepted. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in Euros or Pounds Sterling.



Travel, Transport and Getting Around

Car hire is available in Benin. A number of local and international firms are available in Cotonou. It's advised to hire a car with a driver rather than attempting to drive yourself.

Buses connect the main cities, while bush taxi services run along routes to smaller towns.

Benin's railway service has been mainly limited to freight trains in recent years, but the Cotonou-Parakou line is being upgraded, with plans for an eventual extension to the border at Gaya and on to neighbouring Niger.


Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice

Benin’s cuisine is an exotic fusion of European and African flavours. Fish and shellfish are popular choices in the south, close to the country’s lagoons and Atlantic coast, while chicken comprises the most common protein in the drier north. No meal, whether it’s a quick snack from a street-side hawker or a full meal at one of Cotonou’s finest restaurants, is complete without a rich sauce. Commonly tomato or peanut-based, these sauces are the mainstay of Benin’s stews and fried foods. Though desserts are thin on the ground, there is a plethora of freshly-picked tropical fruits including mangoes, oranges and bananas. The small locally-grown pineapples, which can be skinned and chopped on the street for you, are particularly fine.

All water should be regarded as being potentially contaminated. Water used for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice should have first been boiled or otherwise sterilised. Milk is unpasteurised and should be boiled. Powdered or tinned milk is available and is advised. Avoid all dairy products. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.

It is normal to tip 10% in hotels and restaurants.


Climate and Weather

Benin is situated in West Africa and is bordered to the east by Nigeria, to the north by Niger and Burkina Faso, and to the west by Togo. Benin stretches 700 km (435 miles) from the Bight of Benin to the Niger River. The coastal strip is sandy with coconut palms. Beyond the lagoons of Porto Novo, Nokoue, Ouidah and Grand Popo is a plateau rising gradually to the heights of the Atakora Mountains. From the highlands run two tributaries of the Niger, while southwards the Ouémé flows down to Nokoue lagoon. Mono River flows into the sea at Grand Popo and forms a frontier with Togo.

The south of Benin has an equatorial climate with four seasons. It is hot and dry from January to April and during August, with rainy seasons through May to July and September to December. The north has more extreme temperatures, hot and dry between November and June, cooler and very wet between July and October.


Clothing and Dress Recommendations

Lightweight cottons and linens. A light raincoat or an umbrella is necessary in rainy seasons and warmer clothes are advised for cool


Internet Availability

Public access is available in Cotonou with free WiFi hotspots around the city. Internet is also available in internet cafes and most hotels.



Electricity and Plug Standards

Electrical sockets in the Republic of Benin are Type C (CEE 7/16 Europlug) and Type E (CEE 7/5 Schuko). If your appliance's plug doesn't match the shape of these sockets, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in. Travel plug adapters simply change the shape of your appliance's plug to match whatever type of socket you need to plug into.

Electrical sockets in the Republic of Benin supply electricity at 220 volts AC / 50 Hz frequency. If you're plugging in an appliance that was built for 220-volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then a plug adapter is all you need. If your appliance isn’t compatible with 220 volts, a voltage converter will be necessary.



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