At Last, Moderately Priced Cultural Tours of Africa

Tracing Nelson Mandela's footsteps to an island prison, touring ancient slave-market cities, and biking through coastal villages offer perspectives you won't get on a safari

Africa Desk has devised a number of cultural tour packages to various countries. Its "Ghana Cultural Tour" is a nine-day adventure through that West African nation, which starts in Accra with tours of the National Museum, Makola Market, Kwame Memorial, and the W.E.B. DuBois Center for Pan-African Studies. It then goes on to the heart of the Ashanti Region, once the seat of an empire that stretched from the Ivory Coast to Togo, and includes visits with Ashanti drummers and market ladies who sell intricate kente cloth fabrics. The last leg involves a tour of the bustling town of Cape Coast, with visits to the African Historical Museum and a tour of the fifteenth-century slave dungeons inside Elmina Castle. Including airfare from New York, hotel accommodation for seven nights, ground transportation, and meals, prices for the tour start at $2,589 per person.

The "Ivory Coast Cultural Tour," also offered by Africa Desk, is another rewarding package. Starting off in Abidjan, the nine-day trip includes escorted tours to the Cocody Market, National Museum, and religious sites. It then goes on to Grand Bassam, the former capital and a popular beach resort area, and Tiagba, a river village that juts out of the water on wooden pilings. Including airfare from New York, hotel accommodations for seven nights, ground transportation, and meals, prices start at $2,219 per person, double occupancy.

For a taste of French-African flavor, the seven-day "Senegal Cultural Tour" begins in Dakar at the deluxe French-owned Sofitel Hotel and includes tours of the city, arts and crafts markets, and government buildings. It then moves on to one of the most compelling places in all of Africa-Goree Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Now a mellow beach town dotted with colonial architecture, Gorée Island was one of the most infamous slave trading centers in West Africa during the eighteenth century, and most of its historic structures relating to the slave trade have been turned into museums. Including airfare from New York, hotel for five nights, and meals, the price of the tour is $2,239 per person.

A tour of "roots" in the Gambia or Benin

In 1989, Spector Travel of Boston (800/879-2374 or 617/351-0111,, began experimenting with even lower-cost Africa excursions, and it now offers several interesting tours. Its seven-day "Roots and Culture Tour" to Senegal and the Gambia starts with a tour of Dakar and Goree Island and continues on to Banjul with visits to a Gambian orphan village, health center, and primary school where tour members present gifts of books and school supplies to the children. Including airfare from New York, hotel accommodations, ground transportation, admission fees, and daily breakfast, the price starts at $1,699 per person (based on double occupancy).

Spector's Saturday-to-Saturday "Roots and Culture Tour" to Benin offers another fascinating slice of West Africa. Starting with a city tour of Cotonou, it continues with a full-day excursion to Ouidah, the voodoo center of the country and a port city from which thousands of slaves were shipped to Haiti, Brazil, and the United States. In addition, there are visits to the Sacred Forest, the Portuguese Museum, python temple, and slave memorials. Including airfare from New York, first-class hotels for five nights, ground transportation, admission fees, and breakfast daily, the cost is $1,699 per person (based on double occupancy).

For the adventurous: Roughing it

For travelers with no qualms about roughing it a little, two outstanding adventure tour operators are wonderfully inexpensive to use.

In Emeryville, California, Adventure Center (800/228-8747 or 510/654-1879, offers over 100 "participatory camping" tours to Africa, and recently its tours have been booked solid.

"We've seen grassroots cultural tours to Africa really taking off," says Trevor Saxty, Adventure Center's sales manager. "We focus on giving people an authentic African experience without insulating them too much from the reality of the continent. I always tell prospective clients the truth--if you don't mind getting a little dusty and helping out to pitch a tent, you will have a fantastic time. But I also tell them that Africa is not as unmanageable or difficult as most people think it is."

Part of a larger company called Far & Wide, Adventure Center tours attract people of all ages and backgrounds, from bored executives and graduate students to honeymooners and retirees. The top cost of its trips (not including airfare to Africa) is $80 per day, with some as low as $40 a day. All have experienced trip leaders, require members to bring a sleeping bag, include some but not all meals, and involve groups of 8 to 24 people. Carefully note again that airfare to and from the destination is not included in the tour prices.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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