Though the region has been plagued with political instability and major health concerns, tourism in West Africa has risen in recent years, and the region offers some incredibly unique sights for travellers. Countries of West Africa include Sierra Leone, Niger, Ghana, the Gambia, Senegal, Liberia, and a great deal of others. The region borders the Atlantic Ocean on the West and mostly lies beneath the Saharan desert, though the northern sections of the region do display desertlike characteristics.
Historical evidence suggests humans first settled West Africa as early as 12,000 BCE, but it would take several thousand years for major civilizations such as the Nok, Ghana, and Mali empires to form. The Mali Empire held the region until approximately 1052 AD and again for several centuries beginning in 1240 AD. The arrival of the Europeans during the Age of Exploration played a huge role in West Africa’s history; not only the did entire region eventually fall under English and French rule, but the implementation of the slave trade scattered and divided the Western Africa people across the globe.
The region remained under European control until WWII, which sparked a trend of nationalism that eventually earned the entire region independence by 1974. Unfortunately, civil war soon broke out in most of the West African nations, and as of the writing of this article many of these violent conflicts still exist. Of course, the vast majority of West Africans are innocent civilians in these conflicts, in addition to being some of the most friendly and caring people on the planet.
Furthermore, the governments have done an admirable job of internationalizing the area and developing some of the tourist hotspots. Today, West African culture stands as a mixture between the region’s native roots and the current trend of globalization, and travelers to the region will feel safe and welcomed in most of the major cities.
West Africa Highlights
The West African Coastline
The coastal regions of Western Africa attract numerous travelers, especially in beach and resort towns. The tropical climate of the region provides optimal weather, and lounging next to the clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean in West Africa is likely one of the most relaxing ways to enjoy the region. In some regions, the waves can get quite high, and in recent years surfing has become a popular pastime for travelers. This statement is especially of true of Senegal, which draws surfers from across the globe.
Rainforests and National Parks
Another benefit of the tropical climate of the region is the development of vast rainforest. Numerous national parks exists throughout the region, and many of them are focused on providing ecologically fulfilling experiences for guests. The waterfalls found throughout Guinea and the tropical islands of Sierra Leone (particularly the Banana Islands) both serve this function and have become something of tourist hotspots in recent years.
West African Food
Much like the bordering region of North Africa, cuisine in West Africa relies heavily on the abundance of spices found in the region. Rice and beans make up the staple foods of the region; these are often supplemented by the numerous tropical fruits that grow throughout the region. Additionally, meats such as goat and cow play a major role in West African food. Soups are also quite common throughout the region; when traveling through West Africa, be sure to taste maafe, a succulent meat stew typically made from beef, chicken, or goat, tomatoes, peanut butter, and a variety of local ingredients. Besides being delicious, the dish is quite common throughout the region and a perfect introduction to West African cuisine.
Wildlife in West Africa
Because of the tropical climate and massive rainfall in most of West Africa, a great diversity of plants and animals exist throughout the region. Nowhere is this more evident than in an examination of the birdlife, which consists of parrots, ostrich, owls, birds of prey, and numerous ground birds. Mammals such as aardvarks, elephants, gorillas, chimps, and shrew can also be found in the region, as well as a variety of colourful tropical fish. Plantlife exists everywhere, and in fact, most botanists agree that dozens of undocumented species likely exist within the denser sections of West Africa’s rainforest.