This is a journey to a country that has only recently become accessible to travellers once again. If you’re a pioneering traveller looking to discover the many faces of Africa, them this is the itinerary for you. From liana bridges to cathedrals, coloured masks to initiation dances and sacred monkeys to opulent kingdoms of gold, this tour epitomises the very heart of West Africa. Encounter hardy communities of hunters, contrasted with the urban skylines of Abidjan. Travel through landscapes ranging from open savannahs to wild beaches. Allow yourself to be consumed by the magical worlds of the Dozo hunters of the Malinké and Komians in the indigenous Akan communities. Attend spectacular masked performances by tribes including the Guere, Senufo and the Baulé.
10 Breakfasts, 10 Lunches, 9 Dinners
Minibus or 4×4 vehicles
10 nights Hotel
• Attend masks’ performances by Guere, Senoufo and Baule tribes
• Get introduced into the magic world of Dozo hunters (Malinke) and Komians (Akan)
• Grand Bassam - Former Capital of the French Ivory Coast
• Basilica of Notre Dame de la Paix in Yamoussoukro
• Liana bridges and the Gbepleu Rainforest
Unfortunately, there are no departures available for this adventure.
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On your arrival in Abidjan, you will be met by your local guide at the airport and transferred to your hotel. Afterwards, enjoy some free time to relax after your flight.
Looking beyond the lagoon this morning, you will see that the ‘plateau’, or City District in Abidjan is growing very fast, and not horizontally as in most African towns, but vertically, with large modern buildings and skyscrapers. There is not much land available in the city and the little that there is has to be continuously extorted from the waters of the Ebrié Lagoon. The modern City District is outlined by the harbour to the west, distinguished by the endless queues of people waiting for the ferry, and the distinct silhouette of the Cathedral to the east.
Your visit of Abidjan will begin with a short boat trip to get a general view of the ‘plateau’ from the perspective of the water. Afterwards, enjoy the lively market of Treichville before experiencing the peace and quiet of Cocody, an elegant residential area. Continue on to the quarter of Youpugon, not far from the Banco River forest where you can observe the ‘Fanico’, Abidjan’s famous clothes washers.
After your visit of Abidjan, you will be transferred to the airport. Enjoy a picnic en route before your domestic flight to Bouake. You will then be met at the airport and transferred to your hotel.
This morning you will meet with the Baulé, a tribe of the Akan lineage originating from Ghana. Their complex craftsmanship is a reflection of the tribe’s rich heritage. You will see fine statues representing the world of the spirits, beautiful masks and sculpted weaving loom pulleys. Observe local life as you wonder through some of these tribal villages.
Gain a real insight into the cultural mores of these tribes as you attend a dance of the Goli masks. See the round shaped ‘lunar’ wooden masks, surmounted by two horns and patterned with intricate geometric designs. The dance can be performed for entertainment, or to commemorate the death of a high ranking member of society. The Baulé tribe adopted this ritual from their neighbours, the Wan tribe, after 1900. A celebration of peace and joy, the participants will sing, dance and drink palm wine.
This afternoon you will head north, leaving the main road behind you as you take a track that will lead you to the old town of Kong. You will notice a change in the landscape since Kong is located in the sub-Saharan Shael, a dry savannah populated with picturesque baobab trees. The origins of the Kong date back to the XII century. This ancient kingdom emerged as a trading centre when the merchants from the Mali Empire began trading in the territory of the Senufo people. Tradition claims that Kong is the place that gave origins to the Mandé ethnic group, merchants known all over West Africa as ‘Diola’. The Diola transformed Kong into an important trading point, halfway between the Sahara salt caravans and the exports from the Southern forests, including cola nuts, gold and slaves. See the Kong Mosque, one of the best examples of traditional Sudanese architecture in the country.
Drive to Ferkessedougou this morning, the main crossing into Mali and Burkina Faso. Its development began in 1895 when the first part of the Abidjan-Niger Railway was completed and Ferkessedougou became its southern terminal. Today, the town is known primarily as a Zebu trading centre. The cattle market here is well worth a visit.
From Ferkessedougou you will drive to a remote village to witness the ancient technique of iron melting carried out by a local blacksmith. This is a very rare example of traditional iron metallurgy in Africa. This ‘tribal technology’ is reminiscent of the first Iron Age in Africa. The iron ore comes from some local mines in the form of deep pits and it is milled manually. See how a classic ‘adobe bellows furnace’ is used, first loaded with layers of charcoal then ore before the fire is set. The furnace will now be left since the fusion will take until the following morning. The techniques of iron smelting are secret and often associated with taboos and initiations. Blacksmiths are feared by the rest of the tribe since they are believed to possess obscure magical powers and are thought to be in contact with evil spirits. For this reason, they often have to live on the outskirts of the village. The role of the blacksmith itself is endogamous, meaning that only those born into blacksmith families are eligible for the long and arduous apprenticeship into the craft.
This evening you will proceed to a comfortable hotel in Korhogo where you will spend the next two nights.
This morning, return to the village to see the result of the smelting fusion. The sealed base of the clay furnace will be broken to extract the iron bloom before it is pounded by the blacksmith. Afterwards, with the aid of the bellows, he will heat the metal powder obtained until it melts into a crucible. He will then pour it into a mould. The metal is later heated once again and hammered on the forge to the required shape until it is finally polished of any imperfections and bumps. This is a unique opportunity to witness the entire process involved in the creation of an object.
Afterwards, continue to the town of Korhogo, a must-see for any traveller visiting the northern regions of the Ivory Coast. Korhogo’s history dates back to the 8th century and today it is the capital of the Senufo, the tribe that has produced some of the greatest artworks in Africa across almost every field, including sculpture, weaving, painting and metalwork. Pay a visit to the craft market to discover wooden sculptures and textiles decorated with traditional Senufo patterns. These are the patterns that have inspired modern artists such as Pablo Picasso, who personally travelled to Senufo country to interact with the local artists.
The Senufo are renowned for their complex initiation rites, which for some young men involves a process that takes 21 years to be completed. This is the passage from youth to adulthood and it involves learning the social and religious secrets that transform a young boy into a genuine Senufo man. The most spectacular mask dance of the Senufo is the Boloy, or panther dance which is performed by initiated young men. You will have the chance to witness this intriguing spectacle during your time here.
Today you will leave the main road to discover the village of Niofoin with its clay granaries decorated with symbolic bas reliefs and a unique sacred building boasting a tall conical roof. This particular house contains painted decorations and sacred objects from the animistic cults that are still practice by the Senufo people.
Later in the day, encounter the unmistakable Fulani nomads. These are a people who are constantly in search of new pastures for their herds of Zebu. The Fulani can easily be recognised by their conical straw huts along with the walking sticks carried across their shoulders, the water bottles hanging from their necks and their proud posture. These nomads seem to come from nowhere whilst simultaneously heading in the direction of nowhere. Accustomed as they are to a hard life and simple joys, they seem perfectly happy with the very little that they carry. They are considered the true gentlemen and women of these endless savannahs. You will visit one of the Fulani’s villages, predominantly populated by women and children. You will be invited into their huts to see how they live.
Later this afternoon you will attend the dance of the virgin girls, known as Ngoro. This is performed by the Senufo people as part of the Poro Initiation. These young initiates spend months together in secluded sacred groves where they learn the social and religious secrets that will earn them the status of a Senufo man. After seven years, there is a big celebration for those who have undergone the many stages of initiation. The dance of the virgin girls in particular is done at the end of the first stage.
Today you will meet the Malinké in the region of Odienne, the surviving descendants of the old Mali Empire. The history of this ethnic group includes Samory Touré, a leader and slave hunter who became famous for his war against the French colonial army. The French were only able to defeat Touré after many years of fighting. His army included the Dozo, a group of initiated hunters that were reputed for their courage and mystic powers. Although there are no longer wars to fight, this lineage continues to enjoy unabated respect and their mystic powers continue to be passed on through a long initiation process. Today they are considered as a kind of social police, like guardian angels who watch over villages, mediate disputes and provide services of healing. You will encounter the Dozo in their traditional costumes and walk through the savannah with them. They will give you an interesting introduction to traditional herbal medicines before leading you to a sacred site where they will dance to the rhythm of the tam-tams as an illustration of their strength.
Today is dedicated to an encounter with the Yacuba, also known as the Dan. You will visit villages built on hillsides characterised by big round huts with thatched roofs. Some the houses here are decorated with frescoes that have been painted by the women during ceremonial periods. Amid the scented branches of a coffee plantation and at the foot of an enormous Iroko tree you will be led to a large pond inhabited by catfish, a hugely respected animal here that is considered a custodian of the ancestors. After a short while, the echoes of the tam-tams and the shouts of the initiated tell the masks worn by the Yacuba that it is time to leave this sacred forest.
Following your unforgettable encounter with the Yacuba, head southwards. When the ‘tooth’ of Mount Tonkpi comes into view, you will know you are close to your destination, the city of Man. Man is the capital of the We and Guéré ethnic groups who inhabit this mountainous region.
The rainforest that stretches between the Ivory Coast and Liberia is famous for its long liana bridges, the origin of which is shrouded in mystery. Tradition says that they have been secretly constructed by young initiated men over the course of only one night. The crossing is not difficult, provided that taboos are respected and no babies or heavy loads are carried along.
Late this afternoon you will enjoy a short excursion to the Gbepleu rainforest, home to the sacred monkeys after whom the town is named. In the Ivory Coast, behind each city, village or neighbourhood there are always hidden rainforests which are viewed as places of passage between the realms of the human and the magic world. It is in these forests that young men are initiated into the social and spiritual secrets of their tribe which is mainly done through the use of masks that are kept hidden at the bases of tall trees.
In a tiny village nearby, you will see these masks emerge from the forest towards you. In the cosmogony of the Guéré people, there is a creator god who only communicates with humans through the use of intermediaries; masks. During a masked dance, the distance between the human and spiritual worlds disappears, the cosmic and social orders are restored and gratitude is expressed to the gods and ancestors.
Continue your journey today across immense plantations of rubber, cocoa and coffee trees, dotted occasionally with tiny villages. The Ivory Coast is the world’s main producer of cocoa, learn all about the techniques of cultivation, harvesting and processing.
This afternoon you will arrive in Yamoussoukro, the country’s capital since 1983. This is the native village of Felix Houphouët-Boigny, the first president of the Ivory Coast and one of the great leaders of independence. InYamoussoukro, the former political capital, and Abidjan, the economic capital, the Ivorian dream of the 1970s and 1980s has come true: the dream of a country that has managed to rival European capitals in terms of architecture. After the death of Houphouët-Boigny, the town of Yamoussoukro has remained the formal capital, despite the fact that all ministries and administration buildings remain in Abidjan. After a period of crisis that degenerated in a long civil war, the Ivory Coast has once again found peace and stability.
Explore the city today and discover the remarkable Basilica of Notre Dame de la Paix, one of the largest Christian buildings in the world inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Admire skyscraper hotels, huge government buildings and the artificial lake inhabited by caimans!
Today you will drive southwards in the direction of Abidjan, eventually arriving at the Ebrié Lagoon on the Atlantic Ocean. Here you will find Grand Bassam, an old colonial town built on a sandbank between the lagoon and the ocean. This was the former capital of the French Ivory Coast colony and is now a maritime leisure resort for the Abidjanese. In Grand Bassam, the avenues shaded by tall trees, large bougainvillea and well-preserved colonial buildings create a calming ambience. See the old post office, a jewel of French colonial architecture. The CostumeMuseum, housed in the former governor’s palace is another architectural gem that houses a unique collection of tribal costumes, masks, ornaments and ethnographic photographs.
After your visit of Grand Bassam, continue to Abidjan where you will be transferred to the airport at an appropriate time to connect with your onward flight.