Holidays & Travel

As Harry and Meghan shine a spotlight on West Africa – here are the places you should visit

Lesser known than typical safari destinations, this area of the continent is making its way onto the tourist radar, says Sarah Marshall.

Senegal is one of the top destinations in this vibrant region
Senegal is one of the top destinations in this vibrant region (Alamy Stock Photo)

When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced a visit to Nigeria this month, several eyebrows were raised.

It’s not an obvious choice of destination for high profile figures. Despite having a population of more than 229 million – accounting for one sixth of the continent, making it Africa’s most populous country – the number of British tourists arriving each year is around 117,000 (largely for the purpose of seeing family and friends).

Travel authority Lonely Planet describes the West African nation as “a pulsating powerhouse” and “the face of modern Africa” – yet high levels of poverty and security concerns raised by ongoing terrorist activity deter many people from travelling.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex plan to visit Nigeria in May
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex plan to visit Nigeria in May (Alamy Stock Photo)

Harry – like his brother, the Prince of Wales, and late mother Princess Diana – has strong emotional ties to Africa. He reportedly proposed to his wife, Meghan, during a trip to Botswana and has been involved in numerous conservation projects; currently he is on the board of directors for non-profit organisation African Parks.

While Nigeria is unlikely to feature on the mainstream holiday map any time soon, other areas of the continent are steadily developing their infrastructure and opening the door to outsiders. Governments in Sierra Leone and Liberia – both countries once devastated by civil war and Ebola outbreaks – are investing in tourism. Interest from established tour operators such as package holiday giants TUI and escorted tour specialists Explore also suggests this largely overlooked area of the continent – still woefully regarded as “deepest, darkest Africa” – is no longer limited to niche interests.

If you are keen to discover this part of the world, here are a few of the places to go…

Benin and Togo

A Voodoo Festival in Ouida, Benin
A Voodoo Festival in Ouida, Benin (Alamy Stock Photo)

The Kingdom of Benin – also known as the Edo Kingdom – was a powerful civilisation between the 13th and 19th century. It covered an area now encompassing southern Nigeria and shouldn’t be confused with modern day Benin, a narrow neighbouring country known as Dahomey until 1975.

Despite being one of the poorest countries in the world, with around 55% of the population classified as living in multidimensional poverty according to 2023 figures from the UN, Benin has a vibrant tourism industry focused largely on its most famous export – voodoo.

Far removed from Hollywood misconceptions of sticking pins in dolls, this is a deeply spiritual religion celebrated through ceremonies and masquerade dances. Visit the birthplace of voodoo in Ouidah and combine with a trip to neighbouring Togo to learn more about the culture.

How: Explore offers a 14-day Benin and Togo Voodoo Discovery tour from £2,289pp (two sharing), excluding flights. Various departures from August to December.

Sierra Leone

A chimp at Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, Sierra Leone
A chimp at Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, Sierra Leone (Alamy Stock Photo)

One of the few countries in West Africa where English is widely spoken – due to past colonial ties – this was the location for Sir David Attenborough’s first foray outside Europe in 1954. He came in search of a rare bird called the picathartes (a type of rock fowl), but there’s much more wildlife to encounter.

The islands of Tiwai and Jaibui are excellent for birding and chances of spotting the rare pygmy hippo, while Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, in the hills overlooking capital Freetown, provides an insight into the many challenges facing our closest cousins in this region.

Sparkling, sandy beaches are another drawcard. Ideal for surfing or spotting local colourful fishing boats, River No. 2 and Bureh Beach – both a short drive from Freetown – are two of the best.

How: Rainbow Tours offers a 10-night Sierra Leone Natural History Explorer Tour from £3,355pp (two sharing), including flights.


Goree Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Goree Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Alamy Stock Photo)

Well-known for its high-level resort accommodation, dynamic capital Dakar and wildlife-rich mangrove ecosystems, politically stable Senegal has been popular with French tourists for many decades. In November 2022, TUI opened the destination up to a British market with direct six-hour flights from London Gatwick and all-inclusive package holidays available between November and March – promoting is as an economical, mid-haul option for winter sun.

The westernmost country on the continent, it also played a significant role in the devastating slave trade. The Slave House on Goree Island, just outside Dakar, pays solemn homage to the estimated 20 million Africans who passed through the island between the mid-16th and mid-19th centuries.

How: A seven-night all-inclusive stay at the Riu Baobab costs from £1087pp, including flights.