After years of isolation, Ivory Coast is finally opening up to travellers and on this trip we will be exploring remote villages; untouched by the western world where the spirit gods and ancestral traditions are king. We will visit bustling markets in Abidjan, cross liana bridges in the rainforest, meet hunter-gatherer tribesman and explore a national park on the Atlantic. Ivory Coast has a wealth of different cultures and we aim to embrace the colours, songs and secrets that make up this fascinating country.
Due to local customs, most hotels will not allow travellers of the same sex to share a room, so all customers who would normally book on a twin share will automatically receive a single room, with no additional charge.
Mask Ceremonies - See the stilt dancers from the hill villages of the Yacouba
Sacred Warriors - Meet the chiefs of the Dozo people, sacred guardians who watch over the local villages
Rainforest - Explore rainforests throughout the country and look for monkeys, baboons and birdlife
The Spirit World - Learn about the power of Poro; the initiation of local men into secret societies
Ghost city - Discover the remnants of the Ivorian dream and find a life size replica of St Peter's in Rome
Why Book this Tour
Explore hasn't operated in the Ivory Coast before so join us for an intrepid journey across the country as we experience the colours, sights and sounds for the first time together
- Small Group
Day 1: Trip starts in Abidjan
Our trip starts in Abidjan this evening. As some group members will be arriving on different flights, we will have our introduction briefing tomorrow morning, however our Explore Leader will be around this evening to recommend somewhere to eat dinner locally.
Day 2: Explore Abidjan on foot and by ferry, and sample attieke
This morning we will have our group briefing before heading out on a city tour of Abidjan. We start by taking a ferry across the lagoon; these ferries are popular for local people which will give us our first taste of the people of the Ivory Coast. We will see colourfully clad women in traditional dress and businessmen in dapper suits on their daily commute to different parts of the city. As we cruise across the lagoon we can see the skyscrapers and the modernity of Abidjan, ever growing and always buzzing with life. We visit the lively African market of Treichville, this is one of the main markets of the city where locals come to barter, hawk and catch up on local gossip. Our next stop is the peaceful neighbourhood of Cocody, a residential area which house the Prime Minister's office and many old French colonial buildings. For lunch today we will have a local speciality called attieké, a kind of cassava couscous that is generally accompanied by grilled meat or meat with sauces and greens. We take in the National Museum and then visit the Youpugon neighbourhood, famous locally for the birth of Coupé-Décalé, which is the Ivory Coast's contribution to global music.
Day 3: Drive to Yamoussoukro to see the Basilica and discover the capital
We leave Abidjan and make our way to Yamoussoukro, the capital city and one of the most surreal urban areas in Africa. The first post-independence President of the Ivory Coast was Houphouët-Boigny and he was from Yamoussoukro; his dream was to create a city that could rival the best in Europe and as we arrive in the city after our four hour drive, we see the remnants of his vision. Our first stop will be the Basilica of the Virgin of Peace, an exact replica of St Peter's in Rome. It is hard to really believe that you are in West Africa as we walk around this mind boggling building; the basilica has 7000 seats and space for over 11,000 standing worshippers, though it only attracts a few hundred on most Sundays. We will see the other excesses of the former President, including huge government offices, 14 storey hotels and an artificial lake with crocodiles. Though this is an unmissable stop of any trip to the Ivory Coast, it is hard to not feel utter sadness at the incalculable waste of money, given the country's current level of poverty.
Day 4: Explore villages of the Baulé people
From today our trip gets out into the villages of the country and sees how the majority of the local people live their lives. As soon as we leave the madness of Yamoussoukro, we are driving through green forest, punctuated by small villages and settlements, populated by the Baulé people. The Baulé are known for the fine production of handicrafts that represent the spirit world; here it is possible to see fantastic examples of wooden masks and statues. We should also be able to take part in Atté, a local game similar to marbles which is played by everyone here. After spending the day meeting local villagers and learning about their customs and beliefs, our night stop is Bouake, the second largest city in the country.
Day 5: Drive to Korhogo and meet the artistic Senoufo people
This morning we have a long drive of around 6 hours, heading north along bumpy roads as we make our way to Korhogo, the main city of the north; along the way our Explore Leader will provide local information and stop at any particular points of interest. After arriving in Korhogo we will spend the afternoon visiting villages of the Senoufo, local people who are renowned for their art and sculpture work. The villages have sacred houses decorated with bas-reliefs and large clay granaries that we can explore. We will be some of the first westerners to visit these villages so can expect a warm but sometimes wary welcome, as they are just not used to foreign visitors. However hospitality is an integral part of their culture and they are proud to share their stories and show off their artistic skills. We will spend two nights in Korhogo.
Day 6: Discovering Senoufo villages and watching the 'panther dance'
We will spend the whole day exploring more Senoufo villages, learning more about their art culture and secretive rituals. The Senoufo have a complex and secretive initiation ritual called Poro, which involves their young men spending time in a sacred forest. This secret sect of the Senoufo has allowed their culture to flourish, even in times of war and persecution. After the young men have spent time in the forest they will emerge as men and have to perform traditional mask ceremonies, known locally as the panther dance. We plan to see a panther dance this afternoon in one of the villages, however this cannot be guaranteed as these rituals are connected with the spirit world and the local shamans might decide that the signs are not perfect for a ceremony.
Day 7: Walk to a sacred shrine and meet the Fulani nomads
This morning we will take a walk to a sacred shrine just outside of Korhogo, the walk will be around two hours in total, and apart from the humidity will be relatively easy. For those not wanting to participate, it is possible to wander around Korhogo or just relax in the hotel. We will then board our bus and drive to Boundiali, a small town two hours away. After lunch we will meet the Fulani people, a pastoral nomadic society who are easily recognised by their conical straw hats. When we visit their villages we will mainly meet women and children as the men are with their cattle; the women wearing colourful fabrics with abundant jewellery in their hair. The ladies here are very welcoming and we will spend the afternoon in their houses, seeing their family heirlooms and intricately decorated pumpkins!
Day 8: Meet the hunter-gatherer Dozo people
From Boundiali we drive for around four hours to the small town of Odienne, in the north-west of the country. The region is populated by the Malinké people, descendants of the former empire of Mali and in this community there are the Dozo, a hunter-gatherer sect who are feared and respected for their courage on the battlefield. We will spend the afternoon with the Dozo, as they take us on a walk through the bush and teach us about plants and their importance for medicine in local culture. After our walk we will witness a fire ceremony, which will involve hunters dancing to the beat of the drum, known locally as the tam-tam, as certain warriors show their immunity to fire and pain.
Day 9: Drive to Man, witness a stilt dance by the Yacouba people
Today is a long drive of around 7 hours to the town of Man, our home for two nights. On the drive we will travel through the lands of the Yacouba people, often known as the Dan. The area is fertile with green rolling hills and we will visit villages built on the slopes, characterised by big round mud huts with thatched roofs. Often the houses are decorated with frescos made by the women; during our trip here we will witness a mask dance. In these villages the mask dancers are called from the forest by the beat of the tam-tam; as they approach the whole village will start to sing traditional songs. The dancers enter the circle on long stilts and spend the next few minutes entertaining us with incredible acrobatics, all the time spinning to the sound of the tam-tam. Each mask has its own dance and song, steeped in local culture and this promises to be a highlight of the trip.
Day 10: Cross a liana bridge and see a Guéré mask dance
This morning we take a short drive to Danane to find some of the famous liana bridges that are found in this forest that stretches from Ivory Coast to Liberia. The bridges, like many things in the country are shrouded in mystery and secrecy, as they are built by young men who are being initiated in the ways of the forest, similar to Poro. The initiates create these river spanning bridges in one night and we may be able to cross one too, providing the spirits are happy! This afternoon we will enter the Gbepleu forest, this a sacred forest to the Guéré people who we will meet and hope to see one of their ceremonies. They believe that their god communicates to them through only a couple of humans - the masquerades; we will watch the dance where the masquerades interact with their god.
Day 11: Drive down to the Atlantic, stopping at a cocoa plantation
Our long drive today takes us to the south of the country and back to the Atlantic Ocean, as we make our way to Grand Lahou, a small fishing village and our base for the next two nights. Ivory Coast once built its economy on the exportation of cocoa and we will stop at a plantation en route, to learn about the cultivation of the crop and its importance today. Depending on the driving times today, we hope to stop at a local 'maquis', an open air restaurant which serves Ivorian stew, consisting of chunks of meat or fish served in an aubergine, peanut or okra sauce. Our drive today will be around 8 hours.
Day 12: Pirogue trip and walk in Assagny National Park, free time on the beach
Today we are going to explore Assagny National Park, starting with a trip on a local pirogue through the forest. We will continue on foot and take a three hour guided walk through the dense forest which makes up the park. Assagny contains a small population of forest elephants and a large range of birds, which our guide will help us to spot. This afternoon we will be on a beautiful sandy beach, with some time to relax. This evening will be our last dinner all together which will hopefully involve some fish, freshly caught by a local fisherman.
Day 13: Trip ends in Abidjan
This morning we drive the couple of hours back to Abidjan, our trip officially ends at the airport, but for those who have booked extra nights in Abidjan, we will take you to your hotel.
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