Arrive in Accra, Ghana’s capital, and transfer to your fine hotel on the coast, the Labadi Beach Hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax, with an informal dinner at the hotel.
Bustling Accra, Ghana’s capital, is always lively and full of interest. Visit the fine National Museum, with an outstanding collection of artifacts and crafts. Some Ghanaians choose to be buried in colorful caskets that reflect their occupations or passions, and you have a chance to visit a workshop where brightly painted caskets may include giant fish, beer bottles, cars and more. Also plan to visit an exceptional gallery with traditional and contemporary art. After lunch, drive to the port of Tema and embark National Geographic Explorer and set sail.
Drive to the interesting town of Ouidah, a center for the animist “voodoo” religion that is widely practiced in the region, and also a place which had a long history in the slave trade. Visit the tranquil Sacred Forest to see statues representing some of the deities, and continue to the Portuguese fort, now a fine museum devoted to slavery and the attendant links between Benin and the Americas. Follow the route along which slaves were driven, from the town down to the ocean. In the afternoon, take motorized pirogues across Lake Nokoué to the village of Ganvié, built on stilts in the middle of the lake. The busy residents make their living by fishing in the lake, and you can see the fish traps and the workings of the village, where practically all transport is by boat. At the lake’s edge is a colorful market, where residents of Ganvié buy produce and other essentials and sell fish to “mainlanders.”
The region to the north and west of Lomé (and across the border into Ghana) is home to the Ewe people, whose traditions include a profound veneration for their ancestors and also weaving the renowned kente cloth. Visit an Ewe village, meeting the chief and local residents, and have a chance to stroll around and get a good sense of what life is like there. You can also stop by a nearby school and explore Lomé, seeing the friendly artisans’ market and a spirited performance of traditional puppetry.
Today, you have a choice of excursions. You may wish to visit the old part of Accra, seeing some of its original neighborhoods and the lighthouse that overlooked the former port. Attend a demonstration of local dancing and drumming, and visit the mausoleum of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president.
Alternatively, you may wish to visit the Shai Hills Reserve in search of baboons, kob and birdlife, and the Aburi Hills Botanic Garden. Back aboard ship this evening, welcome a Ghanaian notable for dinner and conversation.
A variety of absorbing experiences awaits us today. Dock at the Ghanaian town of Takoradi and visit Cape Coast Castle, a World Heritage Site, from where tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of slaves were dispatched through the “Door of No Return.” The contrasting images of the dungeons for the slaves and the fine quarters for the overseers are haunting. The beach below the castle is a beehive of activity, as fishing boats come and go and fishermen work at repairing their nets. You can also see the impressive exterior of Elmina Castle. The adventurous may want to visit Kakum National Park, whose canopy walkway, suspended high over the rain forest, is not for the faint of heart. Local guides show you the plants and birdlife of the forest.
During your day at sea, learn about the fascinating history of the region, preparing us for your days ahead in the countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Liberia has made remarkable strides in rebuilding during the short time since its civil war ended in 2005, and an upbeat, optimistic spirit pervades the country. Meet with local leaders to hear about the important work that is taking place and explore Monrovia, seeing the fine objects in the National Museum; a school; Liberia’s oldest church (built in 1839); and the great views from the top of Ducor Hill.
Spend most of the first day at sea, arriving in Freetown in time for a spirited musical performance and a late-night musical excursion for those who wish. Sierra Leone is also rebuilding rapidly since the end of its civil war, and this friendly country possesses an exuberant spirit. Spend the next day touring Freetown, seeing the National Museum, the “Big Market,” the massive cotton tree that is Freetown’s symbol and a number of other stops. In the afternoon, visit the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary. Or you may choose to explore the beautiful peninsula on which Freetown lies, which has picture-postcard beaches, good swimming and snorkeling, and interesting communities.
A lookout stays on deck to identify the seabirds that may follow the ship. Relax out on deck with a book, or head up to the Bridge to learn about navigation. Your ship's staff introduces you to the natural history of Gambia.
The country of Gambia straddles the Gambia River, and your ship docks at the capital of Banjul, where the river flows into the Atlantic. Among the optional activities today you can choose to explore the important Abuko Nature Center, known for its birdlife and monkeys; take a boat among the mangroves of the Tanbi Wetlands to look for water birds; tour the National Museum; and see a lively local market and a place where batik and tie-dyed clothing is made. There may also be a visit to the ship for a talk about current issues in the region.
Dakar is one of Africa’s most vital cities. Spend the morning exploring Gorée Island, a World Heritage Site that was a key hub for the slave trade. Gorée’s notorious “House of Slaves” offers a glimpse of the conditions that slaves lived in before they were sent overseas. In the afternoon, tour Dakar, seeing the Theodore Monod (IFAN) Museum, with excellent collections of the art of the region, and go to the village of Soumbédioune to watch fishing boats return with their catch. You may instead choose to see some of Dakar’s markets and shops, renowned for their handicrafts, masks and fabrics. Alternatively, visit a local birdwatching wetland “hotspot.” Visit a local club for great Senegalese music.
Take advantage of these days at sea to relax, browse the library, get a massage or a sauna, or sip a cappuccino in the Bistro Bar. Hear presentations from staff on the exciting days ahead.
At tranquil Dakhla, the Sahara meets the sea. Venture into the desert in four-wheel-drive vehicles through beautiful desertscapes to the White Dune. Swim in the lagoon, look for flamingoes, and enjoy a gala local lunch in tents set up especially for the occasion.
The beautiful, mountainous island of Tenerife is part of Spain. You have the choice of exploring the mountains of Anaga and the Mercedes Forest, or else walking through a colonial town, seeing its historic sites. Alternatively, you can visit one of the island's well-known beaches.
One last chance to catch up on your reading in the library and send emails home saying “Don’t want this to end.”
Disembark in Morocco’s largest city following breakfast, and transfer to the airport for flights home. Or else stay on in Morocco for our optional extension to its imperial cities.