For An Inspiring First Time In Africa, Go West

You want to visit the Motherland. This will be your first time in Africa. Congratulations! You have made a fantastic decision. The continent has so much to offer that can enrich one’s life. To be precise, there are 54 countries in Africa, making the continent diverse with various landscapes, people, and cultures. Also, just one of these countries cannot represent this whole continent. Some of them, however, can give you a good taste of the richness and diversity of Africa. So, where should you go for your first time in Africa?

Different Types of African Vacations


If you want to go on a safari, eastern or southern Africa should be on your list. You will be able to see the Big Five (elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, and buffalo), and relax in a luxurious camp in the middle of a park. Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia are your best picks. They house sizeable national parks with plenty of diverse wildlife and breathtaking landscapes.

Serengeti National Park

Beach Vacation

If you want to relax on gorgeous beaches, soak in the sun, and swim in clear waters, then the east coast on the Indian Ocean is your best bet. There are plenty of superb beaches not only on the mainland but also on the islands off the coast. Look for beaches in Mauritius, Seychelles, Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, and Mozambique. Watamu Beach, located in the Marine National Park Reserve of Malindi in Kenya, is picture-perfect with white sand, palm trees, and turquoise water. The offshore coral reefs make it one of the best spots for snorkeling and diving in Africa. The beach in Bazaruto, in the Bazaruto Archipelago in Mozambique, is another paradisiac beach.

Beaches on Bazaruto Archipelago

Archeology and Ancient Civilizations

If you are interested in the African heritage, archeology, and ancient architecture, as well as the history of the first great civilization, then Egypt is the obvious choice. You can witness the Pyramids of Giza, the only remaining Great Wonder of the Old World. On top of that, you can bathe in the beautiful Red Sea. Egypt is a unique destination, combining exceptional historical sites, culture, and leisure that will reward you in many ways.

Karnak Temple

Escapades in Deserts

If deserts are what attract you, then you should head to the Sahara Desert through Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Mauritania. You will be able to experience being alone in golden dunes and spend a beautiful night gazing at the stars. You can also visit the Namib Desert, the oldest desert in the world in Namibia, or the Kalahari Desert in Botswana for its abundance of mammals, including elephants, lions, and cheetahs.

Namib Desert

Slave Trade History

On a trip to Africa, you can also learn about the slave trade. You can witness the forts and places where slaves were detained before departing to The Americas. These places all have their notorious Door of no Return. If you wish to imagine what it was like for them to be separated from their homeland, then you should choose from destinations along the West African coast—Senegal, Gambia, Ghana, Togo, and Benin.

House Of Slaves on Gorée Island in Senegal

Vacation in West Africa

For your first time in Africa, if you do not have anything particular in mind and want to get a broader understanding of the continent and experience its diversity, then the best advice is to travel to West Africa.

You will be able to discover the different aspects of the African social lives and cultures, learn about history. In addition, you can witness the exceptional local fauna and flora. You can also de-stress on beautiful beaches. In West Africa, visitors enjoy uncrowded attractions. You can have authentic encounters with the locals because tourism is not as commercialized as it is in other parts of Africa, making it a rewarding destination. For all the above reasons, we recommend visiting West Africa for your first time in Africa.

Hippopotamus reserve in Afito, Togo

Best Time to Visit West Africa

West Africa has wet and dry seasons. The amount of rainfall and duration of the rainy season differs between regions. The more humid areas are located close to the coast, while the inland areas are the driest regions. Also, the closer you are to the Sahara Desert, the drier the climate is. Temperatures across West Africa are relatively high throughout the year, ranging from 21 °C to 30 °C on average. 

The best time to travel to West Africa is during the dry season. Travel from October/November to February/March, depending on the region, especially if you plan to visit a national park to spot animals.

The rainy season is also pleasant, with cooler temperatures and heavy but short rainfalls. The countries on the southern coast from Ivory Coast to Nigeria enjoy less rain during July and August, making it an excellent season for travelers as well.

Green chilies in a street market

For Your First Time in Africa, You Shouldn't Miss the Following Unique Features of a West African Vacation:

  • History of the slave trade - There are plenty of old slave prisons or other marks of slave maltreatment along the coast. The most famous forts are those of Elmina and Cape Coast in Ghana and the Maison des Esclaves on Gorée Island in Senegal. A visit to these places is sometimes painful, and always emotional.
  • Colorful, open-air, and bustling markets - There are huge markets, where locals go shopping for anything from clothes and beads to food and hardware, that will leave you in awe. The street market of Dantokpa in Cotonou, Benin, is the largest in West Africa and is a must-see. The Akodessewa Fetish Market in Lomé, Togo, is where voodoo priests buy supplies for their rituals. It is the largest of its kind, and a visit to this market would be a unique experience.
  • Most diverse African region - West Africa is the most diverse part of the continent when it comes to ethnicity. With their traditions very much alive, opportunities to witness festivals and ceremonies are abundant. In November, at the Fêtes des Masques in the region of Man, Ivory Coast, locals pay homage to the spirits of the forest by dancing while wearing traditional masks. In February, the Guinea-Bissau Carnival celebrates the cultures of all parts of the country in a big street parade.
  • Powerful spiritual beliefs - The cult of ancestors and belief that every living organism has a spirit are very strong. You can get a glimpse of African spirituality during traditional ceremonies, including voodoo. You will realize that African masks are not only for museums.
  • Rich music and dance - In night clubs or villages as well as festivals, music and dance are part of West Africans’ daily life. Every October, Felabration, a week-long festival in Lagos, Nigeria honors the legacy of the great Nigerian musician Fela. And, Afrochella, which takes place late in December in Accra, Ghana, is the new Mecca for Afro hipsters.
  • Delicious food - Whether in fancy restaurants or the street, West African food is so rich and varied that everyone’s taste buds can be satisfied. Try the world-famous jollof rice in Senegal, Ghana, or Nigeria. You should also treat yourself to cachupa, the national dish of Cape Verde, a stew made of corn, beans, and cassava with fish or meat.
  • Sophisticated fabrics - West Africa is the home of wax fabrics and the famous Nana Benz who sell them. Wax is worn by men and women on special occasions and in daily life alike. Also, the Kente cloth from the Ewe and Ashanti people is the fabric worn by the kings even today.
  • Legendary welcoming people - Everywhere you go, you will be amazed by the hospitality of the locals. They will gladly offer what they have, even if not much, to share a cherished moment with you.
African woman walking on a long red ochre dirt road in Togo, a great destination for your first time in Africa
Woman walking on a dirt road in Togo

In Addition to These Unique Features, West Africa is Home to Several Other Attractions:

  • Beautiful beaches along the entire West Coast and in islands, like Cape Verde.
  • Animal reserves and sanctuaries where you will come across elephants, lions, antelopes, monkeys, crocodiles, hippos, and plenty of bird species.
  • Tropical rain forests, which serve as unique eco-systems for the fauna and flora to thrive.
  • Stunning West African landscapes that entail paradisiac coconut groves on the coast, lush green forest, and mountains with waterfalls, savanna, and the Sahel, the transition zone between the Sahara Desert and the savanna, and more.
  • The small Lompoul Desert in Senegal, accessible from Dakar, offers a peek of what living in a desert can be. The Sahara Desert that crosses Mauritania, Mali, and Niger is the largest hot desert in the world.
  • Traditional and ancient architecture, which is still present in West Africa. Great examples of these magnificent constructions are the houses on the cliff of Bandiagara in Dogon Country in Mali, the Great Mosque of Agadez in Niger, as well as the Tata Tamberma and Tata Somba (castle house) in Togo and Benin.
  • Remains of great and powerful African kingdoms, like the ones of Mali, Ashanti, and Dahomey. They dominated the continent before the arrival of Europeans in Africa.
  • Vibrant big cities such as Lagos, Accra, Abidjan, and Dakar, which exhibit some of the modernity of Africa. They all have great nightlife, fancy restaurants, business centers, and museums. Several vibrant cultural activities, including the Saint-Louis Jazz Festival in Senegal and the FESPACO, Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, are organized in these cities in West Africa as well.
Skyline of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, a great destination for your first time in Africa
Abidjan's skyline

West is Best for Your First Time in Africa

You have made a great choice in deciding to come to Africa. If you are looking for a specific type of vacation, there are places dedicated to each. However, for your first time in Africa, if you want to “meet Africa”, indulge in the authentic culture, and enjoy many of the different attractions that the Motherland has to offer, then you should visit West Africa. You won’t be disappointed. You will find something for all your senses as well as your mind, body, and soul. The above guide was aimed to help you with how to travel to West Africa. A holiday in West Africa could be the trip of your life!

Written by Thierry Sanvee

Thierry Sanvee is the founder of the tour operator Meet Africa. He designs custom tours in West Africa. He creates genuine experiences that will inspire you. Schedule a free consultation with him and start planning your fantastic voyage!

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