Gateway to the West

Whether your idea of fun is tracking chimps through lush forests, surfing Atlantic breakers, delving into ancient history or doing business in modern cities, West Africa delivers. we reveal some of the region’s best kept secrets

WestAfricaWest Africa offers an unparalleled variety of activities, sights and experiences across 17 countries, from the desert beaches of Mauritania to the remote rainforests of Cameroon. Its phenomenal variety of tribes and languages, combined with a vibrant musical culture, thriving cities and the absence of tourist crowds, all adds up to a region that invites exploration – whether you’re visiting on business or for pleasure. Kenya Airways’ comprehensive African network includes flights to several key cities in West Africa, with the Nigerian capital, Abuja, being the airline’s latest direct service from Nairobi.

Mali: Feeling the beat in Bamako
The Malian capital is a must for music-lovers. This, after all, was the city that gave birth to that quintessential West African combo, the Rail Band – Salif Keïta’s musical alma mater. There’s always live music in town, and often a host of options, especially at weekends. To find out what’s on where, ask your hotel reception and every taxi driver you meet (if you get a good one, book him for the evening). The Hippodrome district is usually buzzing – try Bla Bla Bar, Ibiza, Savana or kora maestro Toumani Diabaté’s wonderful club, Le Hogon. You can usually count on a good choice of Bambara, R&B and Senegalese music. Next morning, start the day at the Pâtisserie le Royaume des Gourmands before exploring the compact downtown area, the banks of the Niger (perhaps splurge on lunch at the Mandé hotel) and the well presented National Museum.

Cameroon: Where the wild things are
The rich fauna of the Congo basin can be viewed from raised platforms, or miradors, constructed in forest clearings known as bais in Lobéké National Park. Staying overnight in a mirador offers a great opportunity to observe birds, insects and amphibians, while large mammals wander past seemingly unaware of your presence. Lowland gorillas, however, rarely enter the bais where the miradors are sited and you need to track them deep in the rainforest. Trekking through it is an unforgettable experience: your ‘Pygmy’ Baka guide moves stealthily and rapidly through the dense vegetation, alert to every sound, and constantly pointing out easily missed highlights. Patience and persistence can pay off: seeing these giant primates is an experience that will stay with you forever.

Ghana: The grim past of the Gold Coast
The oldest European building in Africa, the imposing Castle of St George El Mina, was built by the Portuguese in 1482 – ten years before Columbus landed in America. The Dutch later used it to exploit the trade in human lives that dominated this area in the 18th century. You can take a free tour, or simply walk around on your own, communing with a past that at times can feel overwhelmingly close. The oppressive holding cells are disturbingly unpleasant to visit and it’s easy to forget the 21st century buzzing around in the town beyond the walls. Further east, Cape Coast Castle juts out over the ocean. In a daze, you walk through the dungeons of the damp, suffocating prison – what the British traders upstairs called the ‘slave hole’ – where captives plucked from war or famine in the interior were held before being herded through the ‘door of no return’ and shipped across the Atlantic.

Liberia: Riding waves in Robertsport
West Africa’s finest surfing can be found at the quiet backwater of Robertsport, near the Sierra Leone border. Here, determined surfers will find a clutch of superb breaks, offering some very long rides and good-sized waves, up to about 4m high. The great thing about Robertsport is the consistency of the surfing throughout the year, so the tiring journey up from Monrovia isn’t going to be wasted. What’s more, while an embryonic surf culture has germinated in the town you are not going to find your enjoyment circumscribed by crowds. At all.

Sierra Leone:  Wild wonders of Tiwai and Outamba Kilimi
Tiwai Island, in the middle of the Moa River, is the Africa of the imagination – a magical rainforest, full of buttress-rooted trees and heaving with monkeys, birds and insects. Guides will take you out looking for pygmy hippos and chimps and crocodiles, and you can also walk the dark paths at night, armed with a torch, looking for pottos, tree hyraxes and the biggest snail in the world. Up on the Guinean border, Outamba Kilimi National Park covers 1000 square kilometres of undulating savannah and jungle. Wildlife here includes elephants, bongo antelope and chimpanzees, and it’s a wonderful area for birders, with more than 150 species present.

Benin:  The palaces of Abomey
Over the 300 years of the Dan-Homey empire – built on trading slaves with the Europeans – the kings gradually constructed a magnificent palace in the centre of Abomey. In fact, it was a vast complex of many palaces, since the sovereign never occupied the residence of his predecessor, but built a new one next to the old. By the time the French attacked Abomey in 1892 there was a honeycomb of twelve adjoining palaces. Abomey, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, is fascinating to wander through; any path off the main roads twists through alleys of mud-brick houses and colourfully painted fetish temples. Visit the tomb of King Glele, and the neighbouring tomb of the 41 unfortunate wives buried alive with him (out of his supposed 3000 spouses).

Time out in Nigeria
When in Abuja… Hire a car and driver for an afternoon trip into the countryside. Zuma Rock, 55km from the capital on the Abuja–Kaduna Expressway, is a kilometre-long, 300m-high dome that is considered the geographical centre of Nigeria, while at the nearby 30m-high Gurara Falls there’s a picnic spot and walking trails. Just 7km from the city centre on Airport Rd, drop in at Nike Art Village. It’s owned by acclaimed Nigerian artist Nike Okundaye, and has paintings, sculptures and textiles for sale. When in Lagos… Check out the glitzy, air-conditioned Palms Shopping Mall – the first of its kind in Nigeria. It features international brands, a food court, ten-pin bowling alley and six-screen cinema. Around 45km west of the city on Porto Novo Creek Badagry can be explored on a day trip from Lagos with a car and driver. A slave market was established here in 1502 and visitors can learn the sombre story of the West African slave trade in the museums, and take a rowing boat to a sandbar known as the ‘point of no return’, where slaves were herded on to waiting ships.

Kenya Airways: Connecting West Africa
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Abidjan IVORY COAST Mon, Thu, Sat  Nairobi – Abidjan – Dakar –  Abidjan – Nairobi Abuja NIGERIA NEW! MoN, WED, FRI, SUN Nairobi – Abuja – Nairobi Accra GHANA Mon, WED, Sat Nairobi – Accra – Monrovia – Accra – Nairobi Tue, Thu, Fri, Sun Nairobi – Accra – Freetown – Accra – Nairobi Tue, Sun Nairobi – Accra – Dakar – Accra – Nairobi Bamako MALI Wed, Fri, Sun Nairobi – Bamako – Dakar – Bamako – Nairobi Cotonou BENIN Mon, Thu, Sat Nairobi –  Lagos – Cotonou – Nairobi Dakar SENEGAL Wed, Fri, Sun Bamako – Dakar – Bamako – Nairobi Tue, Sun Nairobi – Accra – Dakar – Accra – Nairobi Douala CAMEROON DAILY Nairobi – Douala – Nairobi Freetown SIERRA LEONE Tue, Thu, Fri, Sun Nairobi  – Accra – Freetown – Accra – Nairobi Lagos NIGERIA Daily Nairobi- Lagos- Nairobi Plus service Nairobi – Lagos  – Cotonou – Nairobi Monrovia LIBERIA Mon, Wed, Sat Nairobi – Accra – Monrovia – Accra – Nairobi YaoundÉ CAMEROON Tue, Wed, Fri, Sun Nairobi – Yaoundé – Nairobi