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West Africa

Our drive through the Sahara Desert was an exhausting endurance; long days in confined quarters with little to no change in scenery. Our arrival into West Africa was a beacon of hope, shining for us as we arrived in what felt like the “real” Africa. The semi-arid region of the Sahel borders the Sahara Desert to the north, and with it a change in the warmth and attitudes of the people the moment we crossed into Mali.

West Africa is known for many of the wrong reasons; places like Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast grab all the headlines. These countries with dark pasts, home to an unthinkable tragedy, instead of bright spots like Ghana and Senegal. It is also home to two of the four poorest countries in the world; Mali and Burkina Faso. But the radically different tribes and peoples calling the place home is what makes this part of the world so amazing.

We began our West Africa adventure in the north-west of Mali, spending a night near the Mauritanian border before making our way to the capital, Bamako. From there we followed the Niger River to the north, spending nights in Segou and Djenne before heading into Dogon Country on our way to Burkina Faso and eventually Benin. We spent a few nights in the Panjari National park in the north of Benin before heading to the capital, Porto Novo. From there we looped back to the West, traveling through Togo and eventually arriving in Ghana.

The “Gold Coast” has a long and troubled history that stretches back for hundreds of years. It was colonized as early as 1482 starting with the Portuguese and changed hands many times; the Dutch, the British, the Swedish and the Germans all occupied forts along the coast at some point. The Coast was used as a trading point for rich African goods, particularly gold, from which the region takes its name from.

But the history of the region took a dark turn when these same castles and forts became major transit hubs for African Slaves heading to the New World. The forts and castles that litter the coast remain as a reminder of this dark period of human history. You can feel the screams and horror when you enter these historic structures.

After traveling in French-speaking West Africa, being able to speak English again after arriving in Ghana was one of the pleasant surprises, as the language barrier was removed. The country is well off by African standards. It was one of the first African countries to regain independence in 1957, it has been one of Africa’s few good stories, with democratic elections and foreign investment.

We spent a few days in Accra, a modern capital city and arranged our plans. We traveled inland to Kumasi – the traditional home of the Ashanti Kingdom – which was a formerly powerful regional Empire. From there we returned to the coast and visited Busua, Dixcove, Elmina and Cape Coast before returning to Accra.

This post features pictures from Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Togo and Ghana taken during an overland trip I took in 2008.


West Africa:


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Djenne Mud Mosque in Northern Mali. 2008.

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The fishing village of Elmina, Ghana. 2008.


Camped out on the beaches of Ghana. 2008.



Dixiecove Fortress. 2008. 


Gas for sale in recycled bottles on the side of the road. 2008.

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Beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean from Elmina Fortress. 2008.

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Sunset at Djenne Mud Mosque. 2008.

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Overlooking Elmina Fortress. 2008.

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Hippopotamus in Panjari National Park in Benin. 2008.

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Inside one of the slave chambers at Elmina Fortress. This was the creepiest room I’ve ever been inside, as all your senses are heightened knowing what happened here. 2008.

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Locals trying to sell us souvenirs and food on the ferry to Djenne. 2008.

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Soccer pitch in the center of town in Elmina. 2008. 


Tree reflection in Panjari National Park, located in Northern Benin. 2008.


Fishing Boats in Elmina, Ghana. 2008.


Elmina Fortress. 2008.


Elmina Fortress. 2008.


Elmina fishing village from above. 2008.


Fishing on the Atlantic Ocean. 2008.


Fishing Boats parked on the shore in Cape Coast. 2008.

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Ferry Crossing on the Niger River on our way to Djenne. 2008.



Gateway monument marking where some African Slaves left for the Americas. 2008.


The “Pope” of the Voodoo religion. 2008. 


Fishing boats along the coast in Elmina, Ghana. 2008.



City streets at mid-day in Kumasi, Ghana. 2008.


Elmina Fortress. 2008.


Kids playing in front of the UNESCO Mud Mosque of Djenne. 2008.


Djenne Mud Mosque in Northern Mali. 2008.

2 thoughts on “West Africa Leave a comment

  1. Hello Norma and Rob, OH my goodness. I think this is the first post I have seen on Mali. My husband and I spent three months in North West Africa in 1988. We had just married – I sometimes joke that it was our honeymoon. We travelled through Algeria, Niger, Mali, briefly through Senegal and out through The Gambia. I am really interested in these posts.

    I will return to drool and remember … three hard but amazing months in the sand, heat and getting bogged in rivers and tiny bits of mud. Why when you could drive around a small patch of mud, wouldn’t you? Instead of getting bogged for too long. Needless to say I wasn’t driving.Louise

    • This was way back in 2008… Rob did a 2 month road trip, from Morocco to Ghana. Stopped in Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Togo and Ghana. Was a pretty eye opening trip. It was quite the adventure! I’m glad you enjoyed!

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