Togo is just a thin sliver of West Africa; a line of land that ranges from the Atlantic Ocean to the depths of inland Burkina Faso.
But size has never been an issue for this culturally-rich place sandwiched between Benin and much-bigger Ghana.
Still endearingly and excitingly off-the-beaten-track, it bursts from the region in a medley of misty mountains and swamps, winding rivers and muddy backcountry, all trodden by the occasional elephant herd and bushbuck.
In the south, the salty spray of the Atlantic crashes against the beaches, and little lagoons host watersporting locals all the while.
The capital at Lome ticks over to the buzz of modern energy, still proud of its elegant Parisian-style boulevards and cafes.
And deep in the north the Sahel takes over.
It’s here that the savannah dominates, and the mysterious adobe villages of Koutammakou pop up – a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s certainly worth the visit!
Lets explore the best places to visit in Togo:
Palm trees burst from the mud-caked tin shacks and low-lying bungalows of Togo’s outdoorsy hub.
A town set beneath the jungle-dressed ridges of the Plateaux Region, and peppered with German colonial relics and the occasional European-style church spire, it’s famed for its backcountry and bazaars.
The former yields up gushing waterfalls at spots like Tomegbe and Kpoeta, and offers the hiking trails of Mount Agou (the highest in the country). The latter means craft sellers whittling away at Voodoo wood carvings, interesting ceramic creations, mysterious religious trinkets, and – of course – coffee beans, cacao, and tropical fruits.
Hailed as the ‘Land of the Batammariba’ by the UNESCO organisation that gave it that coveted World Heritage Site status back in 2004, the Koutammakou of northern Togo is a region of rustic villages built from adobe walls and thatched roofs.
The whole area not only offers a glimpse at the traditions of the tribal folk who fled here to avoid capture during the years of the Slave Coast, but also breathtaking vistas of mountain-topped horizons, mud-cracked bushlands, and undulating hills of greenery.
You might also see the area listed as the Tamberma Valley – don’t worry: they are one and the same.
Lome is a throbbing market town that sways to the beat of African drums and the rhythm of endless markets.
Founded in the 1800s by German and other European traders, it still has its mercantile character – just look to the ports, where endless depots of cocoa and palm products and even oil are loaded onto tankers.
However, today, the concrete jungle is balanced out by the earthy tribal pull of Voodoo.
This mesmerises buyers in the sprawling fetish stalls and talisman emporiums of the city’s folk market, and bursts from the explorative exhibitions of the Togo National Museum.
Also, don’t miss the Grand Marche: a massive local bazaar set over three floors.
Rarely does a city bless a country with its name, and even rarer is it for just a small clutch of Voodoo shrines and mud brick huts to inspire the moniker for the entire nation.
But that’s precisely what happened here, in the small town of Togo (as it was known then). Back in 1884, the expeditionary Nachtigal signed an agreement with the chieftain of the land for German hegemony to extend to this part of West Africa.
Today, visitors can still see copies of the interesting document, providing they ask the tribal leader nicely! Other draws include a pretty colonial cathedral and a series of little beaches along the lakeshore for strolling.
The second town on the banks of Lake Togo that’s worth a visit, Agbodrafo is known for its popular resort hotel: The Hotel le Lac.
This luxurious medley of shimmering al fresco pools and sunning terraces buts up right to the water’s edge, offering guests a luxurious stay on the side of the country’s famous lagoon.
The town itself is also known for its proliferation of watersports, and it’s possible to organise everything from pedal boating to jet skiing out on the surface.
On the other side of the town, to the south, is the Atlantic Ocean, complete with its rolling waves and stretches of sand.
Salt-washed canoes line the sandy shore of Aneho; Aneho that was once the capital of German Togo; Aneho that once boomed with the money and dubious merchandise of slave traders from across Africa and Europe alike.
Yep, today the erstwhile kingpin of the colonial age here is now just a sleepy little fishing village, relying heavily on the fruits of the Atlantic to feed its clutch of locals.
And talking of the locals, they are earthy and interesting people who still have a deep zeal for the national Voodoo faith.
Despite that, there’s also a duo of churches and some Christian shrines to see.
7. Fazao Malfakassa National Park
Togo’s largest national park sits smack bang in the heart of the nation.
It encompasses nearly 2,000 square kilometers, and is famed for its thick forests and riparian woodlands.
The piece de resistance, and much of the reason the park was first established back in the 1970s, is the presence of the uber-rare forest elephant.
Unfortunately, populations of the great beast have been significantly reduced due to illegal poaching in the area, but conservation efforts are underway, and there are also bay duiker and antelopes, kobs and bushbuck, to keep safari goers searching between the trees.
8. Keran National Park
Going all the way back to 1971, the riparian habitats that clutch the gushing courses of the Kamongou River in the northern part of Togo are now protected by the Keran National Park.
Over the decades, the whole reserve has been continuously expanded and added to, giving it a diversity of environments that range from swamplands to rocky escarpments.
The main draw are the elephants, which can be seen lining the watersides throughout the day.
However, there are also loads of bushbuck and antelopes to boot.
Oddly, the Keran National Park is more accessible from neighboring Ghana than from Togo’s capital at Lome, which sits on the coast more than 500 kilometers to the south!
9. Fosse aux Lions National Park
Perhaps the least-visited of all of Togo’s national parks, the protected region of the Fosse aux Lions lies the farthest north of all.
Apart from the mysterious mud-brick towns of Koutammakou, it’s the main draw of the Savanes Region: a patchwork of savannah and muddy swamplands, mires and acacia-dotted plains that plays host to elephants (even if the local numbers of West Africa’s largest mammal have decreased considerably in recent times). Unusually, the lands of Fosse aux Lions totally encompass the rustic town of Tandjouare, which is one of the top bases for hiking and game journeys here.
The great hub of the Centrale river lands, Sokode is crisscrossed by the courses of the Mono and the Mo, while its backcountry is irrigated by the channels of the meandering Kpondjo, Kpandi, and the Na.
And if that’s one too many rivers for you, just look at what the locals have carved out of the land using the lifeblood brought by the waters of the faraway hills: corn; yams; soy; cassava – the list goes on! It’s hardly a wonder that the main attraction is the indelible character of the farming locals.
Add to that the fascinating rituals of the Semassi warriors during the Kotokoli festival, and it’s easy to see why intrepid travelers love coming to this corner of Togo.
A long 400-kilometer drive from the capital of Lome, the far-flung town of Kara can be found clutching the edge of the winding Haugeau River.
Home to nearly 100,000 people, it’s actually one of the largest towns in the country, and has a bustling marketplace (with Voodoo trinkets and farmers’ goods aplenty) to match.
Kara is primarily a good stopover on the way to the great national parks (Fosse aux Lions and Keran) and UNESCO regions of northern Togo, but also figures a crossroads between Benin in the east and Ghana in the west.
Taste the fufu yams of Bassar and you’ll never want to leave – at least, that’s what the locals might tell you in this agricultural kingpin of the Kara Region, central Togo.
Yep, there’s rarely a place where the main draw is the type of yam produced in the surrounding fields.
But then again, there’s rarely a yam as popular in the national kitchen as the labaco type grown in Bassar.
Of course, that’s not it! You can also meet Voodoo locals, and tour the haunting so-called House of the Dead, which honors the tribal chieftains of old.
You’ll see ritual sacrifices of goats and other livestock here, as well as fascinating cultural processions.
50,000-strong Mango is a dusty town surrounded by the sweeping savannahs of the (appropriately-named) Savanes Region in northern Togo.
It’s a place of hard-working villagers and zealous mosque-goers, all bolstered by the presence of the Keran National Park, and by trade links across to Ghana thanks to the border in the west.
Sat on the main north-south road that heads into the far reaches of the country from Lome, it’s a fine stopover for those seeking the mysteries of the Koutammakou UNESCO site.
Mango is also the home of the so-called Hospital of Hope: a Christian health mission that’s new to the area.
In ages gone by, the small town of Atakpame and its little basin in the midst of the impossibly green Atakora Mountain was the site of an awesome battle.
It saw the forces of two of West Africa’s greatest empires – the Oyo and the Ashanti – clash, with mercenaries and fighters from countless tribal groups in the region joining in the fight.
Today, more than 300 years on, there’s little trace of the same violence, and Atakpame is a pleasant stronghold of the native Yoruba folk.
Visitors can expect traditional markets, plenty of trade, and access to the verdant mountains on the horizon.
One of the main producers of palm oil and centers for palm oil processing in Togo, Tsevie is an industrial place at heart.
That also means it’s a lived-in, modern town, with bustling locals and an energetic character.
You’ll find colourful brick-built churches rubbing shoulders with thatched and adobe yurt houses.
You’ll see dance festivals erupt in the streets during religious holiday times.
And – most importantly for the intrepid travelers out there – you’ll be able to organize hiking excursions and explorations out to the Foret d’ Lili and the wider Maritime Region.