West Africa Discovery website

Please visit the West Africa Discovery website to learn more about West Africa and our selection of sustainable tourism tours, accommodations and voluteer projects.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Adventure travel in West Africa - Part 2: Ghana

In our second instalment of West Africa’s best adventure travel destinations, we explore Ghana, a Land of sunshine and reputed for the friendliness of its people. Rich in history, and home to the Ashanti Kingdom, a once prosperous and powerful dynasty, this country is a great place to start of in Africa due to its ‘user-friendliness’ and offers a great deal of opportunities for the demanding traveller looking for the next best beach, the most succulent dish, the intense cultural encounter, or the fast paced adventure activity.

Ghana is on the Gulf of Guinea, the ‘under-belly’ of West Africa, facing south towards the Atlantic Ocean.In terms of geography, the country presents flat plains, low hills and a few rivers. The coastline is mostly a low, sandy shore backed by plains intersected by several rivers and streams while the northern part of the country features high hills and rolling plains. Southwest and south central Ghana is made up of a forested plateau region consisting of the Ashanti uplands and the Kwahu Plateau and the hilly Akuapim-Togo ranges are found along the country's eastern border. Ghana's highest point is Mount Afadjato which is 885 m (2,904 ft) and is found in the Akwapim-Togo Ranges.

For all of those who are in to medium intensity adventure travel or if you are looking for activities that are not solely for making your muscles sore, but are willing to combine it will other activities that will soothe your soul, this is the place to come. Hiking, mountain biking, surfing, whale watching, not to mention the overwhelming smells, bright colours, and entrancing music are some of the awe-inspiring experiences you can have in Ghana.

Why not go on a mountain biking excursion through a rural setting, stopping off at mud-hut dotted villages for a rest or to sample the local Jollof rice dish (tomato-flavoured rice to which meat or fish is added) for lunch? Or how about a more intense experience trekking up Mount Afadjato where you can spend the night in a homestay and enjoy a relaxing evening of music and good food (I’ve heard of this place where you can eat village grown mushrooms in a spicy tomato sauce with rice. Vegetarians, eat your... artichoke heart out).

For more information on how you can find yourself in these experiences, click here.

If you are looking for something different, look no further than the only tree-top canopy walk in Africa located in Kakum National Park, home to over three-hundred species of birds, unique monkeys and the highly endangered forest elephant and bongo antelope. The rope bridge suspended 100-110 feet off the forest floor yields an extraordinary sweep of nature from what feels like just below cloud level, a must-see if you’re not afraid of heights.

Down by the Ocean, there are plenty more opportunities for adventure. Ghanaians are natural ocean goers, maybe due to their culture of fishing, and this is reflected in the activities that are on offer. There is the possibility to rent a fishing boat in order to spend a whole day catching your lunch for the evening and learning the different traditional techniques that the locals use to sustain their livelihoods. You might even catch a glimpse of a whale poking its tail fins out of the water! Or if you prefer a more relaxing experience, there are plenty of opportunities to take a traditional canoe up one of the many tributaries and try your hand at fresh water fishing.

A great accommodation idea that offers these activities can be found here.

Ghana’s coast also offers some of the best waves in West Africa (you know where I am going with this), and therefore surfing and body-boarding are also on the ‘adventure menu’ for you to try and practice.

Busua beach, in the west, is one of the best locations for surfing in Ghana and is a wonderful mix of a traditional Ghanaian coastal village and a tourist destination, allowing you to get to know the people and culture of Ghana, meanwhile providing you with many entertainment options in a very relaxed atmosphere. Beginners and veterans alike are welcome to try their hands at the different sized swell found along the Busua stretch of coast.

To find out more about the surfing opportunities, click here.

Of course, as always when visiting a West African country, there is a richness of culture, history and biodiversity to discover, but you would need a life-time to make your way around the amazing things to see and do. The West Africa Discovery web portal has selected a variety of tours, accommodations and volunteer projects that not only give you the opportunity to experience West Africa to its full potential but also make sure that the tourism projects listed have policies that provide benefits to local communities in the area and that, through their activities, make sure that negative impacts on the local heritage are minimised.

For more information, email us at info@westafricadiscovery.co.uk or join us on facebook & twitter to keep up-to-date with our progress, and that of the West African sustainable tourism industry.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Adventure travel in West Africa – Part 1: Senegal

Adventure travel has to be the most invigorating form of travel out there, combining the thrills of physical exercise and adrenaline rushes with the beauty of local scenery and the immersion in the destination. We all know of Australia as an adventure destination with the many possibilities to stimulate those rushes of adrenaline such as bungee jumping or skydiving, or Chile for its white water rafting and trekking possibilities, but what do we know about West Africa as an adventure destination? Not much I suspect. That is why I decided to explore, bycountry over a four part series’, the opportunities for a good old escapade in a few of the 16 countries of this little known part of the World.

For those of you who are in to exploration, you may well have heard of Scottish born Mungo Park who made it his life mission to go where no man had gone before on the African continent. He concentrated his efforts on the West African countries of Senegal, The Gambia and Mali, and was said to be the first Westerner to encounter the Niger River and set up residence in the fabled city of Timbuktu. Well, following in his footsteps, I am going to concentrate on a more modern timeline and will attempt to give you a breakdown of ‘adventure travel’ opportunities and cover the possibilities for the development of activities which reflect the adventure ethos and aim to cause less damage to the environment they operate in.

Let’s start in Senegal which is a diverse country in many ways. It has a variety of ethnicities and a climate that changes dramatically from North to South. This country has been nicknamed ‘Le pays de la Teranga’ (Teranga, in Wolof, can be approximately translated as ‘The art of hospitality’) due to the overwhelming thoughtfulness of its inhabitants and their willingness to share, even though most have nothing. The coast in the West, stretching 531km (330mi), is our starting point for our ‘adventure discovery’.

An Atlantic coastline means waves, and waves mean body-boarding or surfing! In the capital, Dakar, there are several surf camps that make it possible to ride on the longest swell window in the World. Not only do these camps provide you with expert knowledge of the areas surf spots, but they also aim to give employment to local people by training them in hospitality and surf instruction. They also boost the local economy by bringing tourists to the destination and encouraging them to live ‘local’. Check out this surf camp near the Island of N’Gor for an example of what you can expect.

If you fancy taking a break from the Ocean breeze and prefer discovering the hinterland of Senegal, bike tours are possible on which it is possible to stay in homestays and immerse yourself in the local life whilst appreciating the awe-inspiring, baobab dotted, landscapes. Visits to the Lac Rose (the pink lake) or the Lac de Guièr near the Sénégalo-Mauritanian border are a great way to discover the rural culture on Northern Senegal and appreciate the beauties of the semi-arid Sahel region. For more information contact us.

Moving down south to the Siné-Saloum, dotted with mangroves and small tropical-like islands, there are possibilities to go powerchuting to discover the splendours of scenery where land intertwines with the Ocean, or take a pirogue (traditional fishing boat) with a guide to go fishing in the maze of waterways which a variety of birds, butterflies and monkeys call their home. Obviously, you will need a place to rest, and there is no lack of accommodation in idyllic spots to recover from the day’s thrills and spills. Many an eco-lodge are available for your needs to be pampered, and other budget accommodation is also available (enquire with us to learn more). So why not kick back and relax in a traditional hammock with a glass (or bucket) of palm wine and listen to the sounds of nature. You might even catch sight of a mischievous monkey or two.

Moving to the complete opposite on the map, we find ourselves in the South-East of the country, also nicknamed Bassari Country after the mysterious tribe of the same name linked to the Dogon people in Mali. Here, lies the Senegalo-Guinean border dominated by the Fouta Djallon, a granite and sandstone formation with the highest elevation of 1,515m dominated by tropical-like forests and home to the headwaters of three major rivers, the Niger River, the Gambia River and the Senegal River. This is an ideal place to get your hiking boots out and take on a medium-hard trek up to the highest point, Mount Loura. Along the way you will encounter a number of species of monkeys including green colobus and patas, and even chimps are known to dwell in the depths of the jungle. At the foot of the Fouta Djallon, on the Senegal side, lies the sleepy eco-village of Dindéfélo which you could call your base, and is the location of one of the only two waterfalls in Senegal.

If you fancy a bit of exploration, you can retrace your steps to the Gambian border and cross over to some of the least visited parts of that region where you can find some hidden eco-lodges which have purposely been built for those in need of a getaway from mass tourism. To the South is Casamance, one of the most beautiful parts of Senegal but least touristy due to the lack of marketing and the occasional news about rebel activity. However, I have been there and take it from me, there is nothing to worry about, in fact it is probably the best place I have visited in my life.

When in Casamance there are plenty of adventure activities to partake in, although less organised. From mangrove exploration in canoes, scuba diving or snorkelling on the coast, beach hiking or mountain biking, there are plenty of options for those open enough to approach the locals for a bit of advice.

There are many other activities that can be found in Senegal to quench your thirst for adventure; however I would probably need another thousand words to describe the entirety of the possibilities, but needless to say that if the adventure travel industry was developed to a higher level, whilst taking into consideration the local communities and local heritage of course, then Senegal’s relief and different climates could open a number of doors for those seeking new locations and new alternative ways of getting that all important adrenaline rush.

Imagine kite surfing near the South’s deserted beaches or paragliding from the Fouta Djallon plateau, canoeing down the whole length of the Gambia River or hot air ballooning over the sand dunes in the North. Only imagination is the limit!

But until then, why not visit the West Africa Discovery website for more information on unique and exciting holiday ideas that will tickle your explorer glands or provide you with your next hit of adrenaline. Alternatively, email our dedicated team of West African Manatees who will be delighted to help you!

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Discovering Gambia and Senegal independently

Andrew, a traveller who has recently booked a responsible tourism holiday to Cameroon through the West Africa Discovery website, suggested that we post his story about his journey through Senegal and the Gambia in order to raise awareness to the rich experiences that can be had in West Africa. Of course,without hesitation, we agreed! So, without further ado, sit back with a cup of tea (or coffee, as you prefer) and enjoy the following recount of what seems like an unforgettable experience.

Every time I plan a trip abroad I weigh up the benefits of travelling as part of a group and going myself. Group travel certainly makes things easier, probably more secure, and doesn’t require so much planning.

Travelling entirely on your own can, of course, bring you into much closer contact with the people in the country you have chosen to visit, and every penny you spend ends up in the local economy. I have enjoyed both, many times, but when my partner Sheila and I decided to visit Senegal and The Gambia earlier this year, we decided that we would do this one ourselves.

Both Senegal and the Gambia have relatively well developed transport networks. In Senegal fleets of Peugeot estate cars connect major towns regularly, smaller destinations less often, making travel quick and trouble free. We rarely had to wait longer than half an hour for the seven seater ‘sept-places’ to fill up travelling between major towns, and it seemed that the seven seat rule was strictly enforced preventing overcrowding. For the price of all seven seats it would usually be possible to hire the whole car if extra comfort or a quick departure to a less popular destination was required. French, at least at basic survival level, is really essential to communicate with local drivers - they are not going to speak English. Because of the quite large number of French tourists who visit Senegal, individual travellers are not that unusual.

There are lots of high quality hotels in larger towns, as well as more basic options, and finding food in markets, shops or restaurants was never a problem - as long as you have enough French to ask for what you want and understand the price.In (English speaking) Gambia, transport is by minibus - much more cramped as extra bodies are crammed in - with much less frequent connections once the coast was left behind. Public transport did seem, however, more easy than some of the popular guidebooks suggested, not to mention one UK based tour operator who tried his best to suggest that individual travel would be a totally miserable experience.

Gambia has a huge variety of hotels and restaurants on the coast, including many hotels catering to western package tours, and finding good accommodation and good food is not a problem - a much more limited range of options exists inland, but we always managed to find somewhere reasonabe to sleep. Electricity in most inland towns is not constant, and most hotels will only run a generator for a limited number of hours. We met many friendly people, working hard to make a living from the small number of foreigners who venture away from the coastal resorts.

If time is more important than money, there are plenty of local taxi drivers and guides who can arrange transport. Many advertise on the web, or offer individual fares to any destination in thecountry through tourist agencies in the coastal resort. We took advantage of the services of Moses Coley (http://www.realgambiamoses.com/) who, along with his driver Sheriff, drove us from the coast to the Senegal border in the far East of the country, stopping along the way to see wildlife and birds. You can see some of my photos from the trip on his website.
Travelling with a guide has many advantages. Moses has a great knowledge of his country, and many friends and contacts throughout. He took a real pride in ensuring we enjoyed our trip, we told him where we wanted to go, and then on the way between these main destinations he took us to many out of the way places to see the birds and wildlife that were one of the main reasons for our visit to The Gambia. By arranging local guides from remote villages for a relatively small price we managed to make an impression on local people that the wildlife and wild environment around them did have a value, as well as making sure that local people did benefit from our visit. One young man who took us to the fields round his village (one of the best habitats for viewing birds, monkeys and baboons!) had never seen European visitors in his village before. Moses is an enterprising man, keen to develop eco-tourism as a way of benefiting his village. He has recently financed a local school, as well as arranging inovative cultural tourism opportunities, for example the opportunity to get married in a Gambian village ceremony (try 'googling' his name for more info on this!)

One of the things that stuck me most about both Senegal and The Gambia is the strength of Islam. More than once, our driver would stop at the side of the road, take out his prayer mat, and pray. Driving before sun-up was usually accompanied by Islamic music and prayer on the radio, before the driver changed over to local popular music as day broke. Every town had its mosque, many of them new. I maybe shouldn’t have been surprised by this, but I witnessed a mush greater level of religious devotion than I have even in countries such as Pakistan, Iran and the Middle East. Highlights of our trip were national parks in Senegal - Langue de Berberie and Djoudj near St Louis, and Nikolo Kobo in the East - and the Gambia - Aboko, the Bao Bolon wetland area around Tendaba Lodge, and the River Gambia National Park. We also enjoyed visiting Dakar and St Louis in Senegal, eating good food on the Gambian coast and visiting the small up-river towns in The Gambia.
I think Senegal and the Gambia must be amongst the easiest countries in Africa to visit as individual travellers. Both are relatively well developed, and have established tourist industries, although in both these are concentrated in specific areas and easy to leave behind if that is what you want. With a healthy dose of common sense both seemed secure enough, and in both it was easy to find help if long wait for the next, possibly non-existent, minibus just seemed too much! Why not discover them for yourselves?
To see what unique experiences you can have in Senegal, the Gambia and the rest of West Africa, why not have a browse through our selection of responsible and sustainable holiday ideas on our website. Or if you have a particular query, please contact us on info@westafricadiscovery.co.uk.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Ghana: home to the Black Stars, but also much more than that!

After dispatching the USA in their last game of the World Cup, Ghana made history as being the fourth African team to reach the quarter final when they faced Uruguay tonight. Ghana has already done better than four years ago when they were knocked out in the last 16. It seemed that all of Africa celebrated Ghana's qualification for the quarter finals of the World Cup. And many hoped the Black Stars would beat Uruguay to become the first African team to qualify for a World Cup semi-final. Unfortunately, after an intense game and many heart stopping moments, Ghana lost on penalty shoot-outs but went home heroes to their own country who welcomed them with all the Ghanaian pride you could imagine.

Not only does Ghana have a world class team who represent a whole continent, but closer to home they also are one of the friendliest, most stable countries in West Africa with rich local heritage.

From the pristine sandy beaches in the south to the hilly and rainforest covered north, bordered by Togo to the east, Côte d’Ivoire to the West and Burkina Faso to the North, Ghana is truly a gateway to West Africa. And what a gateway it is! For the beginner to Africa, the traveller who wants to experience the ‘dark continent’ first-hand, the cautious tourist wanting to learn more about West Africa’s culture, this country is a great choice. Here are a few examples of the unique things you can do and see in the Black Stars home country.

For the avid historian
Ghana, unfortunately, is infamously known for being one of the main departure countries from which the slave traders filled their ships with ‘cargo’ to take them to the ‘New World’, and the remnants of this barbaric trade are still present. On cape coast near Accra, the capital, Elmina castle is the oldest European building in sub-Sahara Africa. According to records, thousands of captives passed through the dungeons of both castles to be shipped as commodities.

Museums are also numerous, and you will not be disappointed with the amount of choice. From the ‘National Museum of Ghana’, home to a varied collection of objects relating to the ethnography and culture of Ghana, to the ‘Dubois Memorial Centre for Pan African Culture’, a national historic monument in its own right documenting the life of the influential Du Bois family, passing by ‘Museum of Science and Technology’ displaying and preserving natural history specimens found in Ghana, you will need an entire lifetime to satisfy your curiosity.

Recently vestiges from an ancient civilisation were found in a remote part of the country which has questioned many theories that were put forward about the history of the regions people. To read the BBC article on the find, click here.

Or to learn about the possibilities to visit the country to learn about the history of slavery, click here.

For the budding naturalist
The vegetation of Ghana ranges from Evergreen forests and Savannah grasslands, to the lowlands to the highlands which boasts the highest point in the country, Mount Afadjato which is 885 metres high and found in the Volta region. The landscape is very suitable for both hiking and trekking which will allow you to get up-close to the wide variety of flora and fauna species.

For example, Tafi-Atome in the Volta region, is home to 300 endangered Mona and Pata Monkeys and is a traditional conservation area backed by statutory enforcement in co-operation with local communities. These monkeys are found in a remnant patch of forests, which has survived fire and human disturbance around the village.

Agumatsa wildlife sanctuary is another place of interest for those interested in wildlife. The area boasts Ghana’s highest waterfalls. The beauty of the falls is enhanced not only by the towering face of the gorge but most impressively by the several thousands of fruit bats clinging to its sides. At the base of the falls, in the surrounding forest, butterflies of various colours and other wild animals make the area significant for conservation. The falls also plays an important part in the cultural life of the communities around it. The people regard it as a fetish protecting them in all walks of life.

For a holiday idea that will take you to the sites mentioned above, click here.

For the culture enthusiast
Like the rest of West Africa, Ghana has a rich cultural heritage
which has been passed down from generation to generation for millennia, and its origins have been lost in the midst of time. However, being ever present gives the open-minded traveller a glimpse into the various rites, rituals, ceremonies and belief systems which make this country and its people ‘oh so special’.

One of the most important cultural remnants from a bygone era is the Ashanti stemming from a once prosperous Kingdom that ruled the region. There are certain days each year on the Ashanti calendar that are set aside for a celebration at the Royal Palace. This ceremony is called Akwasidae.

During the celebration, the King is seated under a spectacular umbrella of colourful, draped cloth and is adorned in vivid cloth and massive gold jewellery which is centuries old (the Ashanti gold jewellery and masks are considered masterpieces of African art). This traditional ceremony takes place in one of the last African Kingdoms to have kept its ancient rituals alive.

But Ghana is also known for its overwhelming hospitality, and there will be no lack of people who will offer to show you their home, offer you meals or just to have a friendly chat. In the remote villages of the Volta region, you can experience the culture first hand by learning how to cook the various traditional meals, discovering the history of weaving in this area and trying your hands on the weaving process, or visiting some farms in the local communities to learn how to use local farming tools.

There is no lack of educational opportunities in Ghana, and you will surely learn a thing or two from this holiday idea.

For the adventure fiend
For the adrenaline junkie, the exercise addict or for the simple traveller looking for a bit of fun, Ghana offers the possibility to partake in an array of activities including hiking, mountain biking, surfing, canoeing, canopy walking, fishing, and many more.

Let’s take example on the possibilities of surfing. Ghana’s south coast is perfect for those wanting to learn how to ride waves. Constant warm water, no crowds and perfect waves (that’s right, no fighting for waves and no wetsuits) make Ghana’s coasts a great location for beginners and intermediate surfers. To learn more about the surfing possibilities, click here.

Sticking to the water theme, the marshes created by the Volta River, create a rarely visited environment which allows for excellent canoeing where you can observe an exotic collection of birds and a baobab grove.

Or if you fancy something different, in Kakum National Park you can find the only rainforest canopy walk experience in the whole of Africa. Suspended 100 feet above the ground, this offers you what is truly a bird's eye view of the rainforest. At this height, you don't have to be an expert to identify the colourful patterns of tropical birds as they glide through the forest below you.

Unfortunately I could not include all the amazing things available to do and see in Ghana, but I am sure that through the above description you have become curious to know more. So do not hesitate to get in touch with us at info@westafricadiscovery.co.uk with any queries about this beautiful country or any of the other 15 West African countries. Or you can visit our website here to discover all the other unique and awe-inspiring holiday ideas available in one of the most undiscovered parts of the World.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Responsible Cruising in West Africa

Cruise tourism is a billion pound industry focusing on offering quality services to their guests whilst visiting exotic locations with beautiful sceneries. A recent report from the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) estimated that cruise tourism in Europe alone generates goods and services worth more than €32bn and provides over 311,512 jobs.

However, over the past few years, this industry has been increasingly criticised for its irresponsible practises and the negative effects that the itinerant boats have on the natural heritage they ‘cruise’ through. Even though the cruise industry has made a significant effort to reduce their negative impact on the environment, according to a presentation I witnessed by Jamie Sweeting, Vice President of Environmental Stewardship and Global Chief Environmental Officer for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, it does not seem that they have concrete policies to provide benefits for local communities in destinations, when I asked the question.

Over the past few weeks, a number of articles have appeared in the digital press about the increasing move of cruise companies towards less explored shores, diversifying their ports of call and using alternative itineraries to break from the norm. Some of these destinations found in West Africa, such as Senegal, Sierra Leone and Ghana are familiar to us at West Africa Discovery.

Let’s take an example of responsible tourism cruising in West Africa to explain how responsible tourism practises can be used to benefit local communities in destinations whilst respecting the local heritage and at the same time provide a positive and unique experience for the tourists participating.

In Senegal, on the west coast of West Africa, a small ship offers its passengers an unforgettable cruising experience along the Senegal River. The trip begins in Dakar where the tourist will be able to experience the vibrant and colourful scenery of a West African capital from which an overland journey will be undertaken to the Jazz Capital of West Africa, Saint Louis. From there, the trip diverts inland to a point where the 6 day cruise will begin. A beautifully refurbished Cruiser, which has been doing this journey for 50 years, will be waiting. Through this cruise, the passenger will learn about Wolof, Tukolor and Moore cultures and will witness the magnificence of the local natural heritage in the Parc Oiseau de Djoudj , the world’s third most important breeding grounds for migrating birds. Each day there will be a stop off in villages or visits old French Forts, gardens in the desert, or the birding reserve. Throughout the trip the passenger will be given a thorough history of the region both colonial and tribal.

“How may this cruise differ from the others? How does it make a difference?” you may ask. Well, Senegal is a great example of modern vibrant, open and progressing West Africa. Tourism has helped fuel their boom but, as with its neighbour The Gambia, it has often been package based holidays around the stunning coast. This type of mass tourism gives very little positive cultural interaction.

This trip however aims to show the participant modern Senegal, by spending some time in Dakar, and then to learn about the historic and cultural background in Saint Louis, followed by a cruise through some of the regions very different cultures. The Cruiser itself has been making the journey from Saint Louis to Podor for over 50 years. In the last decade it was fully refurbished and is now back in action providing an important and much loved communication link along this stretch of the Senegal River. Different communities who live along the river will be visited and they all benefit greatly from their links with the cruiser.

The cruiser is run by a local Senegalese company based in Saint Louis and has long established links with the communities visited on the cruise.

Furthermore, the cruise passes through the world’s third most important breeding grounds for migrating birds thus raising awareness towards the importance of natural conservation to show that this location, used for millennia by various species of birds, is extremely important for the survival of our planets feathery friends.

As you may have gathered, not only does this type of tourism offer the tourist a first-hand insight into the local heritage of a destination visited, thus offering an added value to what has become, from my point of view, a bland industry, but it also aims to give back to the local communities who live along the itinerary. In a region such as West Africa, which is fragile in terms of being easily influenced from outside sources, responsible tourism can offer much needed benefits to local communities as well as reducing the negative effects that tourism can have on local natural, cultural and social heritages.

For more information on the responsible cruising experience mentioned above, click here.

To discover more responsible tourism holiday ideas in West Africa, click here.

For more information, don’t hesitate to contact us by emailing info@westafricadiscovery.co.uk.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Good Luck Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria!

Out of the six African teams in the World Cup this summer, four are from West Africa. It is the first time that the World Cup has been held on the African continent, and it would be a momentous occasion for its people and African football if one these teams could go all the way. West Africa is a dominant force in African football and regularly produces stars that play for top European clubs. We took a look at the four teams from West Africa and their chances of success in this World Cup.


Also know as the Indomitable Lions, a tribute to their habit of grinding out results, Cameroon have long been flag bearers for Africa on the world stage since their first world cup in 1982.

Cyprian, one of our tour operators in Cameroon feels confident;

“I am almost sure that Cameroon can get to the second round at the world cup, but we still need discipline in the team to produce good results.

Our super star Samuel Eto’o has had some arguments with the management. If this is resolved then he will be explosive at the world cup and his performance could help Cameroon to the quarter finals at least. That is my forecast, anyway, let’s wait and see!”

With a group including the Netherlands, Denmark and Japan it will be challenging, but not impossible. They must find a way of getting the best out of Samuel Eto'o to progress.

Côte d’Ivoire

In Côte d’Ivoire everyone is wearing orange – the colour of the strip of their national team, The Elephants. Hopes have been dampened by the fact there’ll be no Didier Drogba, but they're managed by Sven-Goran Eriksson who may have a trick up his sleeve (some England fans may disagree!).

I read that one hundred Côte d’Ivoire fans are heading to South Africa on an all-expenses paid trip to watch their team. The country's national supporters club, the National Elephants Supporters Committee, drew the 100 names from their membership. Anyone with a $4 membership was included in the draw, touted as a way to thank ordinary fans who would never be able to afford the trip to the World Cup. A local tour operator is offering a similar trip for about $4,000. Whilst this is a nice gesture and will be a great trip for these fans, it highlighted to me how unattainable it is for a lot of local fans to attend the World Cup.

Côte d’Ivoire seems to be attracted to the ‘group of death’ with the best teams in major tournaments. This time round is no different with a group including Brazil, Portugal and North Korea. There will be a chance for the talented Aruna Dindane and Salomon Kalou to make their mark, and the side has strength in holding midfielder Yaya Touré. Sven Goran-Eriksson needs to improve the underachievement of a team beaten by Algeria in the quarter finals of the Africa Cup of Nations.


The Black Stars’ appearance at the World Cup in 2006 finally brought international recognition to a team that has long been one of the greats of Africa but somehow never qualified for the big event. They did well in the last finals in Germany with an adventurous style that won them many fans, but ending up losing to Brazil in the second round with key players missing.

Manuel our local expert in Accra says;

“We have hopes Ghana will do well in the Group stage to progress. 2006 was Ghana’s first time at the World Cup and we finished the group stage second. So I am expecting the same this time around!”

Their group includes Australia, Serbia, and Germany. Kevin Prince-Boateng's decision to play for his parents' country of origin means he could face his brother, Jerome, who has been selected by Germany where they were born. Michael Essien is injured so there is little star quality but their powerful style could be troublesome to other teams in their group.


This will be the Super Eagles fourth appearance in the World Cup. Meetings with Ghana in the Africa Cup of Nations have thrown up some epic games, although the Nigerians have lost the last two in the latter stages of recent tournaments. A meeting in the quarter final would be an epic encounter and sure to split the local South African support.

Nigeria will face Argentina, Greece and South Korea in their group. They have suffered a blow with Chelsea midfielder Mikel John Obi ruled out through injury, but with a squad largely drawn from top clubs it should be a confident team. Nigeria will be looking to their gifted attackers Obafemi Martins and Yakubu for goals.

Group B: Argentina/Nigeria/South Korea/Greece

Group D: Germany/Australia/Serbia/Ghana

Group E: Netherlands/Denmark/Japan/Cameroon

Group G: Brazil/North Korea/Côte d'Ivoire/Portugal

Visit the Fifa website for full group listings and fixtures.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

The World Cup: Local enthusiasm! Local benefits?

With just over a week to go, millions of people around the world will be watching their team in South Africa competing for the ultimate prize in football, the World Cup. But for many, particularly in Africa, this world cup has taken on greater significance. When South Africa was chosen to host the 2010 World Cup, it was hailed as a chance to 'give something back' to Africa. However, will the biggest event on Earth benefit some of the planet's poorest people?

The event could provide many benefits to local communities through local trade. However, according to an article in The Independent, informal traders who are a crucial part of African economy have been banned from around the 10 stadiums, reducing their chances to gain from the increased tourism. Creating more jobs for local people is also in question. The future of a project to set up public bus transport is in doubt because the government is cautious about standing up to South Africa's powerful minibus-taxi industry.

There are also question marks over Fifa's internet ticketing system that has left most of the continent unable to buy seats. Fifa kept ticket sales online until 15 April when poor sales forced them to open ticketing booths in the host country. Even though there will be a record six African teams in the finals; South Africa, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Nigeria and Algeria, only 11,000 African fans outside South Africa have purchased tickets. Should there have been more effort to include the fans of these countries?

As well as low ticket sales, especially in the northern hemisphere, tourism visitor figures for the World Cup have been revised down to 200,000 – about the same number of people that visit South Africa during an average summer season from November to February. Local airlines and hotels have cut prices for the coming month, and local businesses are worried about the lack of financial benefit the event will bring.

However, there is some good news. Fifa president Sepp Blatter, in an interview, said that the event is about "giving back to Africa what the continent has given world football through its players.” During a press conference, the organisation pointed to the "centres for hope" - 20 football academies that it will build after the cup. These could provide opportunities to African youth to develop themselves not only in football, but also through education. Examples of how successful these academies can be are The Craig Bellamy Foundation set to open this September in Sierra Leone, and the Right to Dream Academy in Ghana.

Elsewhere, organisations such as Oxfam are trying to use this world Cup and football to connect people around the world. Their new campaign calls on fans to upload a video of their tricks to the website, www.dontdropaid.org. The campaign calls on governments not to drop the ball on overseas aid, which helps to pay for kids to go to school and for medicines and bed-nets that save the lives of millions of people who would otherwise die from HIV or malaria.

Charles Bambara, a former player in the Burkina Faso premier league who works for Oxfam in West Africa, said: “Across the continent, from Algeria to Zambia, football brings a massive ray of hope to people’s lives. We want to tap into all of that energy to say: don’t drop the ball, don’t lose sight of the goal, which is to end poverty and make life better for the world’s poorest people.”

However, despite the event being marred by controversy, one thing is for sure, this event will unite Africans from all over the continent during the World Cup. Voice of America spoke to Ben Owusu from the Ghanaian community in South Africa. He says that Africans will be uniting behind an entire continent;

“We all are coming together this time around to support that particular African team that is playing that day. To come together is the only way we are going to come close to winning the Cup. Whatever African team does well, it will be a victory for the whole of Africa. This is Africa’s World Cup.”

“Brazil, Italy, England and Germany and all those other fancy teams must realize when they land here in South Africa that they are not only playing single African countries," he said. "They must know that they are playing against an entire continent, with its population of one billion firmly behind it … the Cup should remain in Africa.”

This is going to be a very exciting month for the players and fans from the four West African nations playing in the tournament. We will update you with information on the Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria teams over the next week for the build up to the big event. For more information on West Africa, or to discover how you can be a part of the World Cup by visiting the continent yourself, visit West Africa Discovery.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Surf tourism in West Africa: a Working Model for Responsible Tourism.

Sun, sea, waves, tanned bodies and relaxed attitudes are all part of the surfing lifestyle, but it has also come to my attention that tourism can be a part of the ‘gnarly’ world of riding waves.

Whilst researching alternative tourism activities in West Africa, I came across a great number of surf shops, surf camps and surf tours along the coastal areas in countries such as Senegal, Liberia and Ghana. These are little known projects, and not only take the tourist to some beautiful beaches, but also have a low environmental impact and provide economic and development opportunities to the local communities through empowerment initiatives.

I became interested in how the surf tourism model could be considered as an alternative, unique and fulfilling experience for those seeking to discover the local heritage of a destination whilst being sure that the local communities will benefit directly from their presence on the ground.

Let me set the scene:

“After first impressions, the destinations look like paradise on earth. White pristine beaches bordered by palm trees, rolling green hills dominated by lush untouched rainforest, the silence only disturbed by the birds calling after one-another and the sound of the waves lapping against the shore, not to forget the sea at a constant warm temperature. As you look deeper into the local area, you will find friendly local communities, usually fishermen, who work hard to survive in the poverty stricken rural areas, children playing football on the beach who invite you to kick the ball about, a family having lunch outside on the porch who motion for you to come and taste a local dish, and everyone with smiling faces, showing that you don’t need much to be happy. You feel a sense of being part of the bigger picture, a sense of freedom, devoid of materialism and barriers, a feeling of, at last, finding the true sense of the word ‘living’.

Going back to your accommodation near the local surf shop, you hear the crash of the waves and feel an overwhelming need to be on a board, waiting for the swell so that you can get up and slide down the wall of water, trying to keep your balance but falling into the clear blue, warm water. You emerge into a soft breeze, dust yourself off and try again until you get it just right.”

Jesper, owner of a surf camp in Senegal adds to this: “Surfing in west Africa is something special. The sport has exploded the last 10 years, and therefore everyone is surfing. That brings many problems to all the famous surf spots around the world. In surfing jargon it's called localism. The people that live at the surf spot do not like that the tourists come and surf at "their spot". This leads to fights, negative atmosphere in the water and so on.”

He continues: “Senegal is very different, the locals are very happy for tourists to come. They welcome people in the water, talk and guide them. You will not see this in many places on the planet. Senegal doesn't have many ‘surf tourists’, and surfers who come to Senegal usually donate boards, wet suits, clothes and more. So it’s something special to surf here. This is one of the main reasons I moved here.”

Tempting hey? Well, not only are there opportunities to experience the above fantasy first-hand, but also you will be making a contribution to the sustainable development of the local community in the destination.

The surf shops in West Africa strive to train members of the local community to become surf instructors, therefore empowering them to earn a living for themselves and their family. Surf tourism usually being small-scale projects bring small groups of tourists to the area thus reducing the possible negative effects of tourism and nurtures the rise of local entrepreneurship to cater for the arriving guests. This, subsequently, boosts the local economy. Furthermore, all the produce used to cater for the guests are locally sourced, as well as the labourers who maintain the premises.

Jesper explains: “surf tourism provides many jobs for the locals. I employ six locals at the camp plus two more in the busy season. There is also more business for everyone living around the surf project. I think that is the main reason for the good atmosphere here.”

In terms of raising awareness towards the local heritage, it is needless to say that through involving the local community in the tourism project, the guest will experience the cultural aspect of the locality, by walking around the area and not being afraid to start chatting to an elder, the historical setting of the area will come into focus, and activities such as cycling, hiking or canoeing to areas where natural heritage is present will be a learning experience for anyone not used to these settings.

Most importantly, as a result of the increased interest to the local heritage, the local community will surely be inspired to protect it, not only because of a renewed sense of pride towards what they have always considered as ‘normal’ but also because of the economic opportunities that can be felt by conserving it and not destroying it.

Peter, founder of a surf shop in Ghana gives his opinion: "I feel that the development in of surfing in West Africa provides a somewhat unique opportunity to put forth a surfing development model that is truly responsible and built by locals. In the past, and in many places around the world, the surf infrastructure has followed a development model that is exploitative, although this exploitation is usually not intentional and there are good people involved. What has happened around the world is that foreigners stumble across a place in a developing country that eventually becomes a surf destination and by the time the locals have any idea about surfing or realize its potential as a business it is too late for them to get into the game. This results in a bunch of foreign owned surf businesses with very few opportunities for local ownership or locals people securing high end, well paying surfing related jobs. There is an opportunity to develop the countries of West Africa into surf destinations (the waves are there!) with an idea of local ownership or at least local/foreign collaborations in mind. This would provide a new, responsible way of doing things that respects the idea that local people have first rights to benefit from their local resources, which in this case are their beaches and some killer surf spots."

He continues objectively: "Training locals to compete with foreigners in the surfing business (surf shops, surf tours, surf camps and lessons) is a daunting task as cultural differences on how we communicate loom large. Lots of training is required for locals to understand what comes naturally to foreigners with regards to knowing what a surf tourist expects and wants and how to meet those needs."

Surf tourism, if managed properly of course, could be used as a working model to show how tourism can be used as a tool to alleviate poverty in local communities in destinations by boosting local economies, providing entrepreneurship opportunities, empowering members of the community and sourcing products and labour locally. It can be a means to raise awareness towards wealth of local cultural, historical and natural heritage not only to the visitor, but also to the local communities.

Why not see for yourselves how surf camps are set up, by checking out this example in Ghana.

Or if you desire to learn more about other projects out there, email us at info@westafricadiscovery.co.uk.