Why Travel In West Africa?
Overlanding West Africa is one of the very few overland companies operating trips throughout the countries of West Africa.
But what is it about the region that inspired us to set up a company and run overland trips there in the first place?
West Africa is one of the few regions in the world where tourism is still in its infancy. Apart from the package holidays that are so popular in SeneGambia (as it has become known), the region can not compare with East and Southern Africa, South & Central America, or South East Asia for visitor numbers.
For us, that makes the region so much more exciting!
It’s a well worn cliche that the people make a country what it is, but we firmly believe that to be the case. With fewer tourists visiting the countries on the route our trips follow, you can be sure to experience the kind of hospitality and warmth that West Africa is so famous for. You’ll get to witness a way of life – and the traditions and customs that go with it – as they really are, and not feel like it’s being put on for the benefit of the numerous tourist groups that pass through each day.
In addition, you’ll find some truly dramatic and beautiful landscapes, unspoilt and deserted beaches, incredible music and nightlife, superb hiking opportunities, an unrivalled arts and crafts scene, and some of the most colourful and hectic markets anywhere in the world.
But is there a reason for the low number of visitors to West Africa?
We’ve pondered on this question for some time, and can put it down to a number of factors:
- The popular image of Africa is one of safari and large animals, which is a big highlight for many. Unfortunately, big game – though present in places – has been hunted to near extinction throughout much of the region. Wildlife is still present in national parks like Mole, Yankari and Pendjari, but can’t compare to the variety and quantity you can see in Kruger, Etosha or the Serengeti on the other side of the continent. West Africa isn’t as ‘marketable’ to tourists in that sense – we will certainly see some incredible wildlife on our journey, but our trips are not like a safari based holiday!
- Camp sites and tourist infrastructure in general is often quite basic, a contrast to the relative luxury you experience in countries like Namibia, Botswana, and Kenya.
- Obtaining visas requires planning and research, and can take up a fair amount of time.
- Travelling in the region can present certain challenges if you don’t speak at least basic French or some of the local languages like Peul, Hausa or Wolof.
- The overland industry mostly caters to English speaking nations (and some countries in mainland Europe and Scandinavia). By instinct, people from these nations associate Africa with what they are familiar with through their education and home media, which is almost exclusively focused upon North, East and Southern Africa. West Africa seldom appears in the news, and when it does it’s nearly always something negative being reported. A lot of peoples perception of the region is formed and influenced by a decidedly unbalanced media coverage.
- Perhaps the biggest concern for some is political stability and security. It’s fair to say that some countries in West Africa have suffered in the past from extreme poverty, corruption, and fighting. But any more so than the rest of Africa? It’s true that countries like Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone have gone through some troubled times, but so have Rwanda, Kenya and Zimbabwe. As stated elsewhere on this website, West Africa is a region moving on from a troubled past.
It’s also worth noting that, relatively speaking, the overland industry never paid much attention to West Africa. As overlanding in a commercial sense took off in the 1970s/80’s, completing the ‘Trans Africa’ (as it became known) became big business. Countless companies were set up in order to run trips back and forth between London and Cape Town via Cairo. As Sudan closed to overlanding because of the civil war, operators had to look for another way to link the north of Africa to the south.
As a result the Trans Sahara became the popular route as trucks ran from Algeria down through the Sahara into Niger and onto Uganda via Central Africa and Zaire (DR Congo). Mali in particular became a popular country on the overland network, and Kano in northern Nigeria became a regional hub for those passing from the north to the south of the continent.
As Mobutu was toppled from power in Zaire (DR Congo) and the security in Algeria deteriorated, most overland companies decided Sudan was no longer so risky and the Cairo to Cape Town route took off again.
However, some companies which had started operating in West Africa decided that it was worth continuing to run trips in the region in their own right, and the Moroccan coastal route to West Africa was established. To this day, there are a number of companies still running trips through this part of Africa. The traditional journey from Morocco to Mauritania, into Mali and onto Ghana, carrying on along the coast towards Central Africa, has now become firmly entrenched as a popular overland route.
At Overlanding West Africa, we like to go that bit further, and move away from the established/traditional path through West Africa.
We visit the countries in the region that were, at certain stages in the past, too unstable to visit. Countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast have all gone through political upheaval in recent times, but have since taken huge strides in moving on from a troubled past. 4×4 enthusiasts have been deviating from the traditional West Africa route and visiting these countries for a number of years now, as well as intrepid travellers doing so on public transport. Tourist hotspots are popping up all over the countries in question, with small scale initiatives now enticing greater numbers to visit.
There really has never been a better time to travel in the region. The trips we offer are unique – no other truck based overlanding company goes the way we do. You’ll be travelling with two experienced crew members with a passion for the region, and a group of passengers who also want to experience the magic of overlanding in West Africa.
West Africa is our passion and we have the knowledge to to help you get as much out of the trip as possible. We won’t be rushing from place to place to fit in all the ‘highlights’, but instead take our time to appreciate what we are seeing.