Welcome to Travel Planning 101. Find country specific information about where you are going and what to do to prepare to get there!
- Travel highlights of the country.
- Fun facts and background information.
- History notes, facts on currency, health, holidays and transportation.
- Pre-departure tips, when to go, and visa information.
- Information on weather and electricity plugs.
- Suggestions on things to do if you have extra time to explore on your own.
Places To See
It would be a crime to visit Togo and not check out this amazing valley. Its unique collection of fortified villages were founded in the 17th century by people who fled the slaving forays of the Benin's Dahomeyan kings.
The valley was isolated until recently but is now the closest thing northern Togo has to a tourist hotspot, with the attendant overzealous guides.
A typical Tamberma compound, called a tata, consists of a series of towers connected by a thick wall with a single entrance chamber, used to trap an enemy so he can be showered with arrows. The castle-like nature of these extraordinary structures helped ward off invasions by neighbouring tribes and, in the late 19th century, the Germans. As in the Somba people's tata somba nearby in Benin, life in a tata revolves around an elevated terrace of clay-covered logs, where the inhabitants cook, dry their millet and corn, and spend most of their leisure time.
Skilled builders, the Tamberma use only use clay, wood and straw - and no tools. The walls are banco, a mixture of unfired clay and straw, which is used as a binder. The towers, capped by picturesque conical roofs, are used for storing corn and millet. The other rooms are used for sleeping, bathing and, during the rainy season, cooking. The animals are kept under the terrace, protected from the rain.
Lomé's Grand Marché is a great place to get a sense of what Togo is all about. It is colourful, noisy, crowded and buzzing, not the place for genteel browsing but rather for intense haggling with the often formidable female marketeers, named Mama Benz, after their favourite motors.
This is the place to pick up everything from Togolese football tops to something exotic for a picnic. One of the most sought after items on offer is wax cloth, sold by the 2m pagne - the amount needed for a complete outfit - and available in a variety of bright colours.
Togo's best waterfall is the 35m (115ft) Akloa Falls. It's like something out of a shampoo commercial: water gushing down a cliff, and people frolicking in the pool below, surrounded by lush vegetation. The falls are accessed via a strenuous climb that follows the Domi River and passes through coffee fields, pineapple plantations and a butterfly garden.
When to go?
Togo spans six geographic zones and ranges in climate from the tropical south to semi-arid north, which make planning a trip a tricky affair. One of the best times to visit is mid-June to mid-July. This is after the heaviest early rains have passed, and the country is humid but not scorching hot. The period from March to May can be a real scorcher. The July to September and November to February periods are the driest but also coincide with the choking, dust-laden harmattan winds and with poor visibility, it is rotten time for photographers. If you're sticking close to the coastline, December to March is the area's 'tourist season,' as the harmattan only makes it through to the coast a few times.
Major roads are dependable throughout the year, but unsealed roads, such as those in the national parks, can be impassable during and after the rains.
Travel Visa Overview
Everyone except nationals of the member countries of ECOWAS must have a visa to visit Togo. Proof of yellow-fever vaccination is officially required for entry, though it's not usually checked at land crossings.
European plug with two circular metal pins
Yellow fever is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. There is an effective vaccine against yellow fever, so if you have been immunised, you can basically rule this disease out. Symptoms of yellow fever range from a mild fever which resolves over a few days to more serious forms with fever, headache, muscle pains, abdominal pain and vomiting. This can progress to bleeding, shock and liver and kidney failure. The liver failure causes jaundice, or yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes - hence the name. There's no specific treatment but you should seek medical help urgently if you think you have yellow fever.
This diarrhoeal disease can cause rapid dehydration and death. Cholera is caused by a bacteria, Vibrio cholerae . It's transmitted from person to person by direct contact (often via healthy carriers of the disease) or via contaminated food and water. It can be spread by seafood, including crustaceans and shellfish, which get infected via sewage.
Cholera exists where standards of environmental and personal hygiene are low. Every so often there are massive epidemics, usually due to contaminated water in conditions where there is a breakdown of the normal infrastructure.
The time between becoming infected and symptoms appearing is usually short, between one and five days. The diarrhoea starts suddenly, and pours out of you. It's characteristically described as 'ricewater' diarrhoea because it is watery and flecked with white mucus. Vomiting and muscle cramps are usual, but fever is rare. In its most serious form, it causes a massive outpouring of fluid (up to 20L a day). This is the worst case scenario - only about one in 10 sufferers get this severe form.
It's a self-limiting illness, meaning that if you don't succumb to dehydration, it will end in about a week without any treatment.
You should seek medical help urgently; in the meantime, start re-hydration therapy with oral re-hydration salts. You may need antibiotic treatment with tetracycline, but fluid replacement is the single most important treatment strategy in cholera.
Prevention is by taking basic food and water precautions, avoiding seafood and having scrupulous personal hygiene. The currently available vaccine is not thought worthwhile as it provides only limited protection for a short time.
This serious and potentially fatal disease is spread by mosquito bites. If you are travelling in endemic areas it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhoea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal.
If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment. You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you.
If you do contract malaria, be sure to be re-tested for malaria once you return home as you can harbour malaria parasites in your body even if you are symptom free.
Travellers are advised to prevent mosquito bites at all times. The main messages are: wear light-coloured clothing; wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas (prolonged overuse of DEET may be harmful, especially to children, but its use is considered preferable to being bitten by disease-transmitting mosquitoes); avoid perfumes and aftershave.Use a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (permethrin) - it may be worth taking your own.
Also known as bilharzia, this disease is carried in freshwater by tiny worms that enter through the skin and attach themselves to the intestines or bladder. The first symptom may be tingling and sometimes a light rash around the area where the worm entered. Weeks later, a high fever may develop. A general unwell feeling may be the first symptom, or there may be no symptoms. Once the disease is established, abdominal pain and blood in the urine are other signs. The infection often causes no symptoms until the disease is well established (several months to years after exposure), and damage to internal organs is irreversible.
Avoid swimming or bathing in freshwater where bilharzia is present. Even deep water can be infected. If you do get wet, dry off quickly and dry your clothes as well. A blood test is the most reliable test, but it will not show positive until a number of weeks after exposure.
With two rainy seasons, one peaking around May or June, one in October, Togo's tiny coastline is generally wetter than the country's arid north, but at least provides shelter from the harsh harmattan winds. Temperatures are generally hotter during the first six months of the year, reaching 27-33°C (80-91°F) during the day on the coast and climbing a bit higher inland.
History and Culture
Pre-20th Centure History
No one is quite sure what was happening in Togo before the Portuguese arrived in the late 15th century. Various tribes moved into the country from all sides - the Ewé from Nigeria and Benin and the Mina and Guin from Ghana. All of them settled on the coast. When the slave trade began in earnest in the 16th century, several of the tribes - especially the Mina - became agents for the European traders, travelling inland to buy slaves from the Kabyé and other northern tribes. Denmark staked a claim on Togo in the 18th century, but in 1884, Germany signed a deal with a local king, Mlapa, and 'Togoland' became a German colony. The Germans brought scientific cultivation to the country's main export crops (cacao, coffee and cotton) and developed its infrastructure to the highest level in Africa. The Togolese, however, didn't appreciate some of Germany's tighter reins on their lives, and when WWI broke out, they welcomed British forces with open arms. Encircled by British and French colonies, the Germans blew up their expensive radio station and surrendered - the Allies' first victory in the war. Togo was split between the British and the French by League of Nations mandates after the war.
During the colonial period, the Mina grew in political and economic influence by virtue of their coastal position and long association with Europeans. The Ewé, by contrast, were divided with the dissection of Togoland, and political groups on both sides began to agitate for reunification. Hopes for unity were dashed when British Togoland voted to be incorporated into Ghana, then on the brink of independence. When the French side declared its independence in April 1960, that portion (two thirds) of the country became known as Togo.
In 1963, Togo became the first country on the continent to experience a military coup following independence (Africa has averaged at least two a year since then, plus many more unsuccessful attempts). President Sylvanus Olympio was shot and his brother-in-law, Nicolas Grunitzky, returned from exile and was put in charge, but he too was deposed in January 1967 by Lt Colonel (now General) Etienne Eyadéma.
Eyadéma set out to unify the country, insisting on one trade union confederation and one political party. After nearly losing his life in a plane crash that he (at least publicly) chalked up to an assassination attempt, Eyadéma nationalised the country's phosphate mines and ordered all Togolese to take an African name. He renamed himself Gnassingbé Eyadéma.
It was, however, only a perfunctory strike against colonialism: Togo remained heavily dependent on the West. From the late 1960s to 1980, Togo experienced a booming economy, built largely on its phosphate reserves, and Eyadéma tried to mould the country into a traveller's and investor's paradise. His plans proved overly ambitious, and when the recession of the early 1980s hit and phosphates prices plummeted, Togo's economy fell into ruin. The government was plagued by numerous coup attempts. Eyadéma himself fired many of the shots that killed 13 attackers in a 1986 coup.
In the early 1990s, the international community began putting pressure on Eyadéma to democratise, a notion he resisted with a few waves of his trademark iron fist. Pro-democracy activists - mainly southern Mina and Ewé - were met with armed troops, killing scores of protesters in several clashes. The people of France and Togo were furious, and under their backlash Eyadéma gave in. He was summarily stripped of all powers and made president in name only. An interim prime minister was elected to take over command, but not four months later his residence was shelled with heavy artillery by Eyadéma's army. Their hardball tactics continued into 1993.
Terror strikes against the independent press and political assassination attempts became commonplace, while the promised 'transition' to democracy came to a standstill. The opposition continued to call general strikes, leading to further violence by the army and the exodus of hundreds of thousands of southerners to Ghana and Benin. Using intimidation tactics and clever political machinations that disqualified one opposition party and caused another to refuse to participate, Eyadéma won the 1993 presidential elections with more than 96% of the vote. In the years following, opposition parties have lost most of their steam and Eyadéma's family's control has become almost as firm as before the crisis began.
In August 1996, Prime Minister Edem Kodjo resigned, and the planning minister, Kwassi Klutse, was appointed prime minister. Eyadéma won another five-year term in June 1998 with 52% of the vote. Later investigations revealed widespread human rights abuses.
In 2002, in what critics called a 'constitutional coup', the national assembly voted unanimously to change the constitution and allow Eyadéma to 'sacrifice himself again' and run for a third term during the 2003 presidential elections. Meanwhile, Gilchrist Olympio's attempts to beat the man who overthrew his father were scuppered yet again when he was banned from running on a tax-law technicality.
Despite allegations of electoral fraud, Eyadéma won 57% of the votes in the 2003 elections, which international observers from the African Union described as generally free and transparent. In 2005, Africa's longest serving ruler finally left office in the way many suspected he would - in a coffin. His son, Faure Gnassingbe, seized power in a military coup, before relenting in the face of international pressure and mass riots in Lomé. He triumphed in the ensuing elections with depressing inevitability, but Togolese people now concede that he is at least an improvement on his despotic father. With Faure encouraging Togolese refugees to return home from camps in Benin and Ghana and holding tentative talks with opposition parties, Togo is finally taking real steps towards a multiparty democracy.
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