You might be familiar with the incredible walking and hiking opportunities in eastern and southern Africa, but did you know there are also spectacular possibilities in West Africa? Complete with verdant hillsides, rocky escarpments, snow, active volcanoes, and even the occasional elephant? Here are some of the best places to get out and about in West Africa, from short day walks to more full-on experienced treks.
1. Mount Cameroon, Cameroon
Fancy climbing an active volcano? Or being able to say you’ve climbed to the top of West Africa’s tallest mountain (at 4,070m, 13,350 ft)? Climbing Mount Cameroon is a challenging endeavour and you will need to hire a guide, but the payoff are the stupendous views, and an enormous sense of satisfaction. The ascent includes a variety of ecosystems, climatic zones and terrains, which ensures you remain focused. There are several routes, but arguably the most famous (or infamous) is the Guinness Trail, named for the yearly marathon race that used to be sponsored by Guinness. This route is straight up, no switchbacks, and not much in the way of relief. Allow for at least two to three days, though you can do it in one day — if you run!
2. Dogon Country, Mali
Walking through Dogon country in Mali is a unique experience and a highlight of any trip to Africa. Dogon country encompasses the Bandiagara Escarpment, which is about 150km long. Walks can be anywhere from two to 10 days, and can either be done with a group, or independently. It is best to hire a guide, who can provide a detailed insight into the Dogon traditions and religion as you walk from village to village.
It is an outstanding and stark landscape of cliffs, with beautiful, dramatic Dogon architecture clinging to them. The Dogon have been here since the fourteenth century, and their culture has remained largely intact. The paths you’ll walk on are centuries old, and the stone steps have been in use for hundreds of years. Prior to the Dogon, the Tellem people inhabited the region: look out for their tiny houses high above the Dogon buildings.
3. Yankari National Park, Nigeria
Featuring rolling hills and savannah woodland, Yankari National Park (gazetted in 1991) is a region of pristine West African bush, and is one of the few places in West Africa where you can still see animals in their natural habitat.
Visitors can opt for safari drives, or go on walks around the area surrounding the camp (watch out for warthogs!). It’s an excellent spot for bird-watching, or catching a glimpse of the elephants (numbering around 350, the largest surviving population in West Africa). And if the thought of walking makes you feel tired, unwind in the Wikki Warm Spring, with its crystal-clear water at a constant and deliciously warm temperature of 31°C. Keep an eye out for elephants coming down to drink!
4. Fathala Wildlife Reserve, Senegal
In Fathala you can walk with lions, or visit a typical Senegalese village. OK, it’s not your typical bush hike as such, but who could resist walking with lions? There’s a guide at all times with you, but otherwise it’s an unrivalled opportunity to interact with young lions and accompany them on foot through their natural habitat – no leashes here! Afterwards take an excursion to a traditional Senegalese village and experience the cacophony of sounds and enticing spicy smells.
5. Kakum National Park, Ghana
Take to the trees on the Kakum Canopy Walkway and take walking to a whole new level! 40m above the forest floor, this 350m-long wooden walkway, complete with viewing platforms, provides a different viewpoint of the Ghanaian rainforest. Although the park is home to an abundance of fauna, you are unlikely to view the animals from up here. But while you may not see them, you’re sure to hear them. It’s not often you can attain an altitude normally reserved for birds and monkeys. (Note: This hike is not recommended for those with vertigo!)
6. Slavery Walking Tours, Ghana
Once the hub of the West African slave trade, Accra and the Cape Coast still house remnants from that time. Tours are available, and it is recommended to take a guide with you, who will bring the past to life in chilling detail. Forts built along the Cape Coast stand testament to the trade in human life, including Elmina Castle, a two-hour car trip from Accra. Although primarily military in nature, the forts in Accra also housed slaves prior to transport. Ussher Fort contains poignant artifacts and displays, and at James Fort you can visit the dark and dank dungeons where thousands were imprisoned. Finish the walk at Brazil House Museum of Slavery. This recently restored building once housed Afro-Brazilian slaves, whose ancestors had been shipped into slavery, and whose descendants journeyed back to Ghana in 1836.
7. Pico do Fogo, Cape Verde
Never heard of Cape Verde? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. The rugged chain of islands off the coast of West Africa offers a unique blend of African and Portuguese history, food and culture. The islands, with their beautiful verdant landscapes, are volcanic in origin, and there are still active volcanoes scattered about which you can climb.
Pico do Fogo is the highest mountain on Cape Verde at 2,829m (9,281 ft). The surrounding landscape still resembles a moonscape with fields of lava. A climb to the crater can take two to four hours (depending on fitness levels and reaction to the higher altitude). It only takes around 20 minutes to jog down, knee-deep in the volcanic ash, if you dare.
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This article was originally published on October 22, 2015.