SETTING THE SCENE
Togo, like other nations in West Africa, has an incredibly rich but in some ways checkered history tainted by centuries of slave trading, colonial exploitation (German, British, French) and civil strife. In reality I did not know much about Togo but I was drawn to wanting to explore the coastline, getting a sense of the indigenous and colonial influences that permeates the food, music, architecture and culture of the country. Tourism is not a huge part of the economy so its nice to be in a destination that you can truly explore without being overwhelmed by the tourist trade.
Keep in mind Togo is only 56 kms from east to west making it one of the smallest countries in Africa. But it nevertheless packs a punch in terms of the different climates, vegetation and topography north to south (desert, highlands, savannah, coastline). It goes without saying that my most pleasant surprise of the trip was the people.
Trying to get a better sense of what to do in Togo, I was introduced to Afdal, an incredibly generous, kind and affable Togolese that had lived his entire life in the country and made this trip a truly memorable life experience. I do mean what I say, the people you meet color your experience of a new country. Afdal and his crew (guys who worked in fintech to law, government to entrepreneurship) made the experience absolutely incredible as they loved their country and were eager to showcase it to a passing traveler.
GETTING THERE: My first challenge was how to get to Togo with the prevailing COVID restrictions. I initially wanted to hire a driver to drive me along the coast from Ghana to the border and cross into Togo to go to Lome, the capital, which is only three kilometers from the city center. However, because of the need for COVID tests and other travel restrictions related to visa, laissez-passe etc. it was impossible. I had to bite the bullet and pay for a CRAZY expensive flight.
COVID PROTOCOLS: Even though I had taken a COVID test just before leaving Ghana I was asked for another test on arrival in Lome. What’s odd, was that the results would be available in two days, and thankfully instead of putting me in a quarantine hotel for that time, I would be allowed to enter the country…PHEWWW! Side note, I was only in Lome for just 48 hours so I would get the results the day I left and hoped that would suffice to meet the COVID testing protocols of Ghana. Timing was going to be everything…more on that later!
ACCOMMODATIONS: I found a few options for accommodations that were not too expensive and looked safe and central. However, I was highly recommended to stay at the 2 Febriver Hotel (named after the nationalization of the nation’s phosphates), which is located in the city center at an incredible square dedicated to the independence of the country from French colonial rule. The hotel itself is the tallest building in the country and has a very interesting history and definitely worth stopping by if for nothing more than going to the bar at the top to see an amazing view of the city.
After arriving in the airport and making it through the COVID protocols, I was scooped up by Afdal’s friend’s brother. Next thing you know, I found myself taking a car tour of the city and the suburbs including a brand new stadium built by Chinese developers. Why was I even at a stadium you ask? Because one of Afdal’s many friends that hosted me, was going to a wedding there lol! I almost crashed it, but I was dressed in shorts so I think my status as an interloper tourist was clear as day!
We officially kicked off the tour of Lome with a walk to the old town, spending time in the market and the church (Roman Catholics make up the majority of the country, with Animists making up a third of the population … more on this later).
That night we all went to visit Afdal’s family in the suburbs for his niece’s birthday. Next thing I know I was dancing to Congolese music with his favorite aunt and family members of all ages!
We capped the night driving around the lively streets of Lome to see and get a feel for the nightlife.
The next day I decided to explore on my own some of the main historical sights. I first toured the Independence Square which has an iconic statue of a man’s silhouette breaking from the shackles of colonialism.
I then walked over to the Palais de Lome built for the former German Governor. After colonial rule, the Palace became the residence of the President of Togo. However, it fell into complete disrepair in 1990 when the President moved to another location.
What I loved about the palace is not only its prime location right on the waterfront but how the Togolese renovators and developers transformed this symbol of colonialism into a space for African culture, pride and art. Inside the former Palace is a museum dedicated to African artists. When I was there, the show was about artists from the region who used recyclable materials to demonstrate their talents.
Outside is another wonder. The developers decided to plant trees and plants from each part of Togo, which not only celebrates the biodiversity of the country but makes for an incredibly lush landscape just minutes from the water and city center!
I loved the experience so much I even wrote a review on Google (something I highly encourage you to do especially to help support local businesses)!
That afternoon I was in for a real treat. Afdal and his friends took me to Chez Leo about an hour outside of Lome in Togoville, Agbodrafo. They have cabana huts on the water and the fish they served was FIRE! It was the first time in my life I had eaten fish with my hands but it was so worth it. The fish was spicy cooked with select local veggies and on the side you ate it with Pinon Rouge, which is a crunchy cassava couscous meal. I can still taste that meal now! I also had a sip of Sodabi, a liquor made from distilled palm wine. Ewwwooowwwe, it was strong!
After the meal we took a tour of Lake Togo, which is actually a Lagoon.
The main city on the lagoon is Togoville, and what’s cool about the city is that it’s known as one of the major centers of voodoo in the country. While I missed visiting nearby Agbodrafo, it still worth a visit if you have the time as it has a wooden Slave House for transatlantic slave trade. I had seen such houses in Nigeria and Senegal but unfortunately did not have time to make it to either place.
After we got back I did my usual ritual and went for a nice evening run. This time I wanted to run for the first time to an actual border and pulled it off when I went on a short 5KM run from the city center to the Ghanian border and back! Definitely recommend making exercise especially walking and running a part of any itinerary!
I then took the crew to dinner (Asian fusion, go figure lol) at the hotel as a humble thank you for being such incredible hosts.
My final stop before I left Togo the next day was the famed Akodessawa Fetish Market, which boasts it is the world’s largest voodoo market! Local believers would come to the market to pick up a medium, let’s say a dried up snake, head of a monkey, or a cow’s skull that can best channel your desire or power to make something happen, whether positive (curing someone) or negative (bringing about someone’s demise)!
Now I was off to the airport but I was cutting it close. I never got that COVID test result I took at the airport a few days before so I had to go to the testing center to collect it. After a back and forth, a few calls, and some prayers I got the result back, NEGATIVE and was on my way back to Ghana!
Visiting Togo truly exceeded my expectations and I only had three days on the ground. So much more to see and explore especially the different terrains as you keep going north. While I did not plan to go back before I visited, I do not think this is the last time I will visit this land. And I have to say the best part of it was the people I met, all thanks to Afdal and his family and friends that made my visit so special!.
1.Making Friends: I was very fortunate to have thought to ask a close friend if he knew of anyone in Togo and he referred me to his friend who connected me with Afdal. I think this was one of the best decisions and experiences of the trip because I met his family, I visited areas way off the tourist path and got to know more about the country then had I traveled solo. So if you have a chance, make sure to ask friends on your social media if they know of anyone on the ground and it will prove to be invaluable if they do.
2.Using Covid Test Twice: When I got into Togo I had to take a PCR test in the airport. Knowing that I was technically leaving just under 48 hours later, I decided to use that test to go back into Ghana. Now you have to make sure the test results are date stamped so they know the date and time it was administered and should have all the stamps and letterhead to make sure it is seen and recognized as a legitimate test.