Togo is a narrow country in West Africa, sandwiched between Ghana on the west and Benin on the east, with a small border with Burkina Faso to the north, and a 56km coastline on the Atlantic Ocean to the south.
In an 1884 treaty signed at Togoville, Germany declared a protectorate over a stretch of territory along the coast and gradually extended its control inland. This became the German colony Togoland in 1905. After the German defeat during World War I in August 1914 at the hands of British troops (coming from the Gold Coast) and the French troops (coming from Dahomey), Togoland became two League of Nations mandates, administered by the United Kingdom and France. After World War II, these mandates became UN Trust Territories. The residents of British Togoland voted to join the Gold Coast as part of the new independent nation of Ghana, and French Togoland became an autonomous republic within the French Union.
Togo's size is just less than 57,000 square kilometres (22,000 sq mi). It has a population of more than 6,600,000 people, which is dependent mainly on agriculture. The mild weather makes for good growing seasons. Togo is a tropical, sub-Saharan nation.
Togo gained its independence from France in 1960. In 1967, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, the former leader of the country, led a successful military coup, after which he became President. Eyadéma was the longest-serving leader in African history (after being president for 38 years) at the time of his death in 2005. In 2005, his son Faure Gnassingbé was elected president. About a third of the population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day.
In Togo, there are about 40 different ethnic groups, the most numerous of which are the Ewe in the south (46%) (Although along the south coastline they account for 21% of the population), Kotokoli and Tchamba in the center, Kabyé in the north (22%). Another classification lists Uaci or Ouatchis (14%) as a separate ethnic group from the Ewe which brings the proportion of Ewe down to (32%). However, there are no historic or ethnic facts that justify the separation between Ewes and Ouatchis. On the contrary, the term Ouatchi relates to a subgroup of Ewes which migrated south during the 16th century from Notse the ancient Ewe Kingdom capital. This classification is inaccurate and has been contested for being politically biased; Mina, Mossi, and Aja (about 8%) are the remainder; and under 1% are European expatriates who live in Togo as diplomats and for economic reasons. The Ouatchis are a sub-group of the Ewe just as the Anlo in the Republic of Ghana are a subgroup of the Ewe ethnic group.
The climate is generally tropical with average temperatures ranging from 27°C on the coast to about 30°C in the northernmost regions, with a dry climate and characteristics of a tropical savanna. To the south there are two seasons of rain (the first between April and July and the second between October and November).
Highly variable stretching from north to south. Gently rolling savanna in north; central hills; southern plateau; low coastal plain with extensive lagoons and marshes.
A week long visa will cost you 15,000 CFA at the border. An extension costs 30,000 for a month.
Several airlines offer regular flights to Lomé. But flying directly to Togo is often more expensive than flying to Accra in neighboring Ghana. Comfortable, air-conditioned, and reasonably priced buses leave Accra for the border at Aflao. At Aflao, travellers must walk across the border into Lomé and find their own transport inside Togo.
There are bush taxis everywhere. These are basically four door cars, with four people in the back, and two sharing the front. From either Accra or Benin, you can take bush taxis for $5 to Lomé. From there, you can take them out to more rural areas. You can also offer to pay for the entire car, so that you're not cramped. For this, calculate the price of six people, and then bargain down from there. The Trans-West African Coastal Highway crosses Togo, connecting it to Benin and Nigeria to the east, and Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire to the west. When construction in Liberia and Sierra Leone is finished, the highway will continue west to 7 other ECOWAS nations. A paved highway also connects Togo northwards to Burkina Faso and from there north-west to Mali and north-east to Niger.
There are overland buses from Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Benin.
A taxi-moto (motorcycle taxi) will cost 150-500 CFA to get you around. You can tell who the taxi-moto drivers are--they will honk or hiss at you as they drive by and usually wear baseball caps and sunglasses. A cab will usually cost about 500 CFA for a one-way short trip inside the city, for trips to the northern parts of the city expect to pay up to 2,500 CFA. Taxis will have yellow license plates and their registration number painted on the car. Always negotiate before you get on/in, the quoted price will include tip!
Sometimes, when you are on a side street, it might be helpful if you ask a security guard to wave down a cab for you. Tipping at around 300 to 600 CFA is expected.
The train service in Togo is not currently available.
French is the national language and the lingua franca. Virtually no English is spoken in the whole of the country, aside from business offices and major banks in the capital.
Ewe is far and away the most widely spoken native language, with the Ewe people populating the southern half of the country. You may also come across the related Mina language in the area around Aneho. Kabiyè is the predominant language of the north.
Togo is a charming country, but most of the charm comes from the charming people; this is a small country with a small number of small attractions. Lomé's markets, both general and voodoo, are the most popular stop in the country along the road between Ghana and Benin. The smaller towns of Togoville on Lake Togo and Aneho on the ocean are also popular stops for the former's voodoo shrines and historic sights and the latter's beaches.
Lately, the coffee growing region around Kpalimé has become popular with the errant tourist in Togo, with a good number of nice hikes, cooler weather, and pleasant views.
Perhaps the most alluring part of the country is the hardest to get to—the hilly and sparsely populated north. The best known destination is Tamberma Valley—the Koutammakou UNESCO World Heritage site, to the north of Kara. The local Batammariba people (known by colonists as the Tamberma) constructed and live in unique Takienta (a.k.a. Tata) "tower-houses" of mud and straw, which arguably have become the Togolese national symbol. It's a surreal dreamland of a place, and easily a highlight of a trip to Togo, although it is a journey to get there.
Togo's few parks/reserves are relatively rarely visited, but if you manage to make it out there on a safari, Fazao Mafakassa National Park in the center-west of the country is quite beautiful. In the far north of the country is Kéran National Park, with one of the larger elephant populations in West Africa. Aside from Kéran, the north also offers a ton of potential outdoor excursions, with nice hikes up mountains, out to waterfalls, etc.
Sports, especially football, are the main entertaining activity in Togo. You can watch the football (soccer) league games played in the weekends (check listings). Apart from football, there are several night clubs that can keep you awake at night, and the capital is full of them; the Chess BSBG is among the most popular. TV programs are not the best in the world, with movies and sitcoms that have been played for years. Plus, the beach offers another type of fun. Many activities and parties are organized there, with people coming from all over Lomé to enjoy the beautiful weather in the weekends. Despite those great things at the beach, you really have to choose a good spot, to avoid stepping or sitting on the unwanted.
Slow down there, tourist. Most goods are not supposed to have negotiable prices. Don't haggle with the poor woman trying to sell you a banana. If you are worried about Yovo (white person) surcharges, just ask anyone other than the person you intend to buy from what the price should be. You should, however, haggle over taxi rides, some items, such as clothes, in open markets, and always curios. Keep things in perspective, though. If you are being overcharged 50¢ for being white, that amount is not a big deal to you, but really would help the poor person sitting in the dust all day every day, trying to make things meet.
A liter of gasoline will cost you around 600 CFA, a liter of water around 300 CFA. A baguette is around 175 CFA and half a pound of local coffee will cost 1,200 CFA. A beer in the supermarket will cost your around 350 CFA, at an expat restaurant this will be around 1,000 CFA. A coca-cola will cost you between 200 and 400 CFA in the supermarket. "Western food", mostly imported from France, can be found in supermarkets, but is more pricey than in Europe.
The most popular souvenirs from Togo tend to be something voodoo related, like a charm or mask. The obvious place to shop for these curios is Lomé's voodoo market, although you will be paying tourist trap-premium prices.
Akume is made from corn flour. The "national" dish of West-Africa is Fufu. In Togo, it consists of white yams pounded into a doughy consistency. You will find plenty of Fufu Restaurants in the cities as well as roadside stands. Akume and Fufu are usually eaten with your hands and come with different sauces (from smoked fish to spicy tomato to peanut). Plantains can also be found in various forms; grilled, cooked, mashed or fried. In the season, Mangos, Papayas, and Pineapples are for sale everywhere.
Lemonade and Bissap juice are the most popular drinks. There are many bars almost around all corners in Lomé where you will be able to have a beer.
As a rule, stay away from public beaches, where tourists find themselves mugged any time of day or night. Most of the country has little crime, but Lomé is a clear exception, and is a good deal more dangerous than any city in Ghana or Benin. If going somewhere at night, take a car taxi, and get the numbers of a few trusted taxi drivers if you plan to stay for a while.
Driving is obscenity in Togo, with fatalistic overloaded speed demons chancing it on curves and hills, capital streets swarming with motorcycles throughout the black of night, and worrisome accident scenes along the main roads. The hilly north-south road north of Kara is particularly dangerous. If you are skeptical, take a day trip, and marvel at all the husks of buses and trucks that weren't there on the way out! Traffic is the single biggest danger to travelers in Togo.
Drink bottled water such as Volta or sachets of "Pure Water". Bissop juice is also fairly safe as it is boiled, and avoid the lemonade "citron" despite its delicious aspect. Stay away from road-side meals if possible. People relieve themselves in the streets in Lomé, so be aware of that.
Greetings are a little more elaborate in Togo. Say hello to everyone when coming and going. Handshakes are key. Also, maybe if you try to get to know them, you will fit in. Make sure you make yourself feel like you are at home. Don't make it too homey, though, because you don't want to get on their bad side.
Lomé has Internet cafes, and they are cheap. You buy time by the hour (something like a couple dollars an hour), but most of the cafes feature very slow computers and internet connection speeds. You can buy calling cards along the street. It is, however, much cheaper for people in the United States to call with their calling cards to a Togo cell phone.