Sandwiched in between Ghana, Benin and Burkina Faso, the tiny West African nation of Togo was, for many centuries, occupied by shifting and varied tribes. Later, the country was a major centre of the European slave trade; so much so that the country became known as the “Slave Coast.”
Having eventually passed from German hands into those of the French, Togo reached independence in 1960. While colonial elements remain, Lomé serves as the economic heart of the country and has become a key centre for business, including serving as the base for African banking giant Ecobank.
Getting there and away
Lomé-Tokoin Airport is situated less than five kilometres from the city centre. The airport has direct international flights from Casablanca and Paris, and several other airlines offer regular flights to Lomé. However, it is often cheaper to fly to Accra, Ghana, and take a bus into the country. Week-long visas can be extended for further fees.
To get into the city, take the shuttle service or, if you prefer a quicker trip, hire a taxi or rent a car. Taxis can be rented getting you anywhere in town.
If you are not hiring a car or taking a hired taxi, a taxi-moto (motorcycle taxi) to get you around. Bush taxis are available all over and will easily take you over international borders. There are also numerous buses between Lomé and Benin, Ghana and Burkina Faso.
Accessing other West African countries is surprisingly convenient. Benin and Nigeria are connected by the Trans-West African Coastal Highway, which crosses Togo. This highway will eventually continue west to seven other ECOWAS nations when construction in Liberia and Sierra Leone is completed. Togo is also linked northwards to Burkina Faso by a paved highway.
Where to stay
Hotel Belle-Vue is a quiet gem with a pleasant ambiance and great food. Amenities include wi-fi access and a small swimming pool. Interestingly, the hotel also houses two permanent exhibitions of contemporary Togolese artists.
La Résidence Hôtelière Océane is an attractive, eye-catching hotel with great service and a variety of menus. The sea view doesn’t hurt either. For a pricier option, the Fevrier Sofitel Hotel is a great bet. The hotel itself is unmistakable, being the tallest building in Lomé, but the cost can be prohibitive.
Not far from the port, Alt München is a Bavaria-themed restaurant offering up a good selection of meat and fish as well as numerous varieties of German beer. For a more romantic setting, French-style, Belle Epoque offers pleasant outdoor dining. Attached to the Hotel Belle-Vue, the restaurant also offers a well-stocked bar and great service.
For more traditional fare, try Keur Rama on the eastern side of town near the Nigerian embassy. This restaurant offers both Senegalese and Togolese menus and fish with groundnut (peanut) sauce is particularly good.
Lomé likes to play at night and, accordingly, has a great many nightclubs and bars of varying degrees of respectability, but the ambience is warm and friendly. Music and dance define Lomé after dark but start your night at Chez Julien, a great locally-owned beer bar.
From there, the pick of dance clubs is unending although an introduction should start with the international scene; a good pick being Byblos nightclub. Many parties are also inevitably organised on the beaches, mostly by the hotels but entertainment can include traditional dances and voodoo-style magic shows.
In the city
Lomé is a typical African city in that it is home to many different styles and architectures, typified by large boulevards, colourful houses and European-style buildings. The most interesting of these is the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, which is designed in the German Gothic style.
The Togo National Museum is housed in the Palais du Congrès complex. The museum has great collections, and also sells jewellery, musical instruments, dolls, pottery, weapons and many other objects showing the arts and traditions of Togo.
Out of the city
Togo is a small country but it can be difficult to get around and traffic is almost uniformly terrible. If you make the effort on a day trip, however, the rewards make it well worth it. Togoville on Lake Togo is popular for its voodoo shrines while the small town of Aneho is a good beach destination. Fazao Mafakassa National Park in the centre-west of the country, offers beautiful hiking trails.
The Tamberna Valley in the hard-to-get-to north is home to the Koutammakou UNESCO World Heritage site. Here the local Batammariba people construct and live in unique Takienta – “tower-houses” of mud and straw. These surreal palaces need to be seen to be believed.
Lomé’s markets are world-renowned. But if you’re looking for a different kind of souvenir, by far the most interesting of these is the fetish (voodoo) market, the Akodessewa market. There you can find all manner of curiosities, including fetishes, gongons and gris-gris (amulets), but you will pay tourist prices. The three-storey Lomé Grand Market is a more general market: food, clothing, household items and traditional medicine are all found here.
Health and safety
Most of Togo has little crime but Lomé is an exception. Like any other city, it is best to be sensible about where you go alone and after dark and universal rules apply. Be aware that to keep safe on the beaches. Take taxis at night and stay in groups, if possible.
Health-wise, before you go, it is necessary to get a yellow fever injection. Some areas of Togo are also prone to malaria, so be sure to take the necessary medication. Once you’re there, bottled water is the best bet in avoiding sickness.
Language and culture
French is the national language and almost no English is spoken except by some of the larger businesses and banks.
Football is a huge part of the national culture and games can be attended every weekend. European football matches are also popular on television.
Although somewhat touristy, Togo’s voodoo history can also be explored in various ‘voodoo tours’. With its roots in the slave trade, it’s an admittedly fascinating look into West African culture.