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Itinerary: Food & Music Tour of West Africa & Morocco

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I would like to plan travel for myself and a friend (both males) to West & NW Africa. We are looking to experience the food, life and most importantly, music of the region. We would like to touch Dakar, Lagos, Accra, and a couple of places in Morocco.
In Dakar, I'd really like to see Youssuo N'Dour play at his club Thiossane, and would like to know of similar places in the other cities :-) Duration: 12-16 days; Date: November 2013; Budget: $4500, not including airfare to/from India, but should include travel between the recommended cities.

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Wednesday:

Visit the mountains. Head to the nearby Western High Atlas, only a 1- to 2-hour drive away from Marrakech (but up to 12°C cooler). Around the villages of Imlil, Ouirgane, and Oukaïmeden, you'll find some of the country's tallest mountain peaks, inhabited by overwhelmingly friendly Atlas Berbers, and places to have lunch or a mint tea that range from rustic local teahouses to five-star international restaurants. Makes for a great day trip.


Hanging Vilage East of Imlil


Be back in Marrakesh for dinner at La Table de Mona, one of the best Lebanese restaurants in town. the menu is deliciously varied and includes standards such as hummus, tabbouleh, moussaka, moutabbal, falafel, and chawarma. Other dishes include Rikakat Jebné and Kebbé K'rass. The meze platters are a good choice if you feel like a bit of everything. For dessert try the traditional mouhallabieh, a melt-in-your-mouth Lebanese cream perfumed with orange water. The restaurant is on a small side street away from the noise of busy avenue Mohammed V, and offers shaded tables on the pavement, or two levels of tables and benches inside. Walls of turquoise, chocolate, and pink are decorated with pictures of the Virgin Mary, while world lounge music plays in the background. The journey to find this hidden gem is definitely worth the effort.

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Thursday:

Marrakesh to Fez road trip


This is a 5 hour trip on which you will pass Casablanca, Rabat and Meknes (where you must take the short diversion to see the Roman ruins at Volubilis - best visited around sunset). So expect the journey to take the major portion of the day.


Volubilis


Reach Fez by dinner time at Cafe Clock - a vibrant, fresh alternative to the medina's traditional cafes. Set within a restored 250-year-old dar, Cafe Clock consists of a quaint, cool courtyard surrounded by two floors of rooms that include a relaxed juice bar, an open kitchen and a  nonsmoking lounge. There's also a projector room for showing movies on select evenings, a book exchange, and regular "Clock Culture" happenings, such as belly-dancing, henna, and yoga classes, cross-cultural debates, and art exhibitions. The multilevel roof terrace is filled with plants and is a great place to view the Bouinania Medersa next door.


Here’s a review: “This little "house of tranquillity," off busy Tala'a Kbira, is a real home away from home. Aussie Josephine came to Fes for a 12-month adventure and liked it so much, she decided to stay. The almost-300-year-old house was once owned by the imam of the nearby mosque and has been left largely untouched bar a few concessions to modern living. Each room is different: The Jacaranda suite can accommodate a third person in a separate sitting room; the Hibiscus room has welcoming external windows; and the Acacia room is excellent for two single travelers. The building's heart is a small patio on the first floor with a narrow kitchen to one side. Here everyone gathers for a communal breakfast -- and dinner if requested -- and can also spend the day enjoying an on-site cooking lesson. The combination of rooms and the kitchen make Dar el Hana a perfect choice for groups of friends or families to rent out. Everything is little here, but in a nice way. The rooftop terrace is small but has enough space for everyone; an outdoor shower helps to cool down while sunbathing, while a round mosaic table is a popular spot for sunset drinks. Maisons d'hôte are a reflection of their owners, and friendly, welcoming, diminutive, and lively Dar el Hana is definitely that.”


 

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Friday and Saturday:

Since Fez's old city is best explored while wandering through the thousands of lanes, I've left these two days more or less unstructured.


Start off with a stop at one of the medina viewpoints. For a relaxed entree into Fassi life, partake in some quality people-watching along with an early lunch at one of the many cheap eateries clustered around the imposing Bab Boujloud.


Spend the rest of the two days wandering some of the 9,500 lanes and alleys accompanied by an official guide or a good map. The main sights you will want to see are:



  • Bouinania Medersa

  • Chouwara Tannery

  • Najjarine Museum of Wooden Arts & Crafts

  • Bab Boujloud

  • Dar Batha Museum

  • Kairouine Mosque and University

  • Seffarine Square


Enjoy the dinner spectacular at Restaurant al Fassia on Friday night.


Fez Nightlife: There isn’t much to write home about here in terms of nightlife. Cafe Clock is a great place to meet both locals and travelers. Farther down Tala'a Kbrira is the Fez Lounge, a sultry lounge bar that blends aspects of Spain with that of the exotic l'Orient, offering tapas and a menu of Moroccan standards in an interior of charcoal walls, soft lighting, and minimalistic decor. They often have themed party nights, when the usual sounds of world lounge are replaced with the latest in Euro electronica. It's open daily from 11am to 10pm.


If you're looking for a drink in the medina, the longtime watering hole of choice is still the Hotel Batha. The hotel's Churchill lounge is a popular haunt with both expat residents and hotel guests, while Le Consul bar at the rear can sometimes have quite a party happening and stays open until 2am.


Between the two medinas of Fel el Bali and Fes Jdid, and only a 5-minute walk from Bab Boujloud, is Mezzanine. It has a menu of mainly tapas, Moroccan and Mediterranean dishes, and a drinks list that ranges from fresh juices and cold beer to cocktails and shots of whiskey. The vibe is chic and cosmopolitan as the young and beautiful of Fes come to drink and be seen, backed by a soundtrack of world lounge music. It's open until 1am, and two-for-one drinks are on offer nightly from 6 to 8:30pm.


For a refined, though expensive, after-dark drink, head to the Sofitel Palais Jamaï. This 1879 former palace has a piano bar -- which actually has a piano -- and also offers glorious sweeping views over the medina. Come here for sunset.


Live music: There are very few good choices here. Your best bets are the restaurants: Riad Sheherazade, Jnan Palace and La Trois Sources that often host live music.

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Saturday late afternoon:

Leave for Casablanca by late afternoon so you can catch the somewhat more interesting nightlife there. The trip should take you around 3 hours.


Have dinner at La Bavaroise in Casablanca, one of the finest dining establishments in the city (reservations recommended - call 0522/311760). They’re closed on Sundays so make sure you go there on Saturday night.

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Sunday morning:

Visit the marvelous Hassan II Mosque.


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Then have an early lunch at Rick’s Cafe before getting ready to head to the airport for your return journey.

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Flights from Mumbai to Accra By Aashish Gupta
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Aashish Gupta wrote:  

Wednesday flights are significantly cheaper than Saturday - by about Rs. 14.5k. Does that matter to you?

Aashish Gupta wrote:  

Do note that the 36k flight (Saturday) is only 11:15 in duration, versus 32:35 for the 22k flight. The other advantage of taking the Saturday morning flight is that you arrive in Accra on Saturday by 11:25am, letting you take advantage of the Saturday night nightlife.

Anonymous wrote:  

Lets do the shorter flight. 32 hours in a plane is not worth the 14k in savings.


Azonto By Anonymous
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Anonymous wrote:  

Any idea about how I can get to see that popular dance called Azonto in Accra? It's not a very upmarket thing so you will need to dig a bit.

Aashish Gupta wrote:  

Let me do some research and get back to you on this in a couple of days.

Aashish Gupta wrote:  

Ok, so below is the information on Azonto that you had asked for. There are no scheduled performances as such, but heading to some of these places will improve your chances of catching one:

If you want to see where the dance originated, go to the rough neighborhoods of fishing villages in coastal Accra such as in Jamestown. There you will find kids on the street breaking out into dance at the sound of speakers, football club members swinging into dance mode after a practice game and friendly locals obliging on the beach. Wander around these areas, greet a friendly (young) local, and you are bound to find a group of young people willing to show you how they do azonto.

In these places, it's more a way of life than a dance, as the people originally used it to communicate their occupations with each other. It was the youth of the streets that took up the form of communication and turned it into the dynamic contemporary dance form that it is today.

You may also find some performances in the clubs of Accra. There used to be a divide (with economic roots) between those that danced azonto and those that didn't (who danced to American hip-hop and other European styles) but that seems to be changing with the local youth discovering pride in this dance form they created. So head to some hip hop bars around town in Accra and you may hit jackpot on a weekend. 

I've picked some places for you to catch the real thing. Read on to find out. But bear in mind that Ghanaians are always willing to dance if you just ask them about Azonto.

1. Jamestown

Head to the fishing town of Jamestown, the oldest part of Ghana. It's an active fishing center but it's not on typical tourist itineraries because it's not been restored for tourism. Find a local guide (the people are friendly and will be happy to guide you or point you to a guide) and have him take you around the neighborhood, to the beach where the catch comes in early in the morning, the old stone houses, and then to local community halls where the youth have azonto battles. Ask the locals if you can watch live, and you may find yourself invited to a party where there will be azonto on the menu. The chances of this happening on a weekend are greater.  

2. Hiplife Clubs

Head to one of Accra's many hiplife clubs and pubs and you're likely to find the big azonto numbers playing and the locals dancing away to them. You can join in of course, and there's no better way to experience the dance than being a part of it. Check out the video above and you'll see that live music spills out onto the streets and if it's azonto, you'll find people dancing for sure.

Check out any of the pubs which have live music and dance floors; most of these are around Oxford Street, Osu or the Nkrumah circle. Also try Boomerang nightclub, full of middle class Ghanaians, no ex-pats. Here's a review:

Boomerang Night Club: Situated in the Caprice building in Kpehe not far from Kwame Nkrumah Circle. Packs a good crowd on Fridays and Saturdays with a good mix of Accra's affluent youth. Music style is a mix of R&B & Hip life for Friday and Saturday and Francophone mix on Thursday.

Another option is:

Paddy's Niteclub: Located at Botwe, in the East Legon neighbourhood. It has a large complex that serves various classes of people. It has a main hall, a VIP room and a private room (Zero Room) which provides a lot of exclusivity for patrons. Check out the open house on Saturday. Local artist pass through every now and then to perform.

3. Big Six Tour

There are several hiplife singers and musicians who have put Azonto on the global dance floor and are constantly belting out new numbers. You may just be lucky enough to catch a concert by any one of them when you visit. Follow news for the Big Six Tour (http://www.ghanacelebrities.com/2012/04/02/the-big-six-d-black-sarkodie-edem-kwaw-kese-dr-cryme-el) which will be a series the concerts that will run from September to November and will feature E.L, Sarkodie and other hiplife artists among the performers.


Lagos By Anonymous
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Anonymous wrote:  

Can you please check about Lagos? Basically there is this place called the NEW Afrika Shrine, and the great afrobeat musician Femi Kuti plays there Fri/ Sat, when in town. He's actually having a BIG celebration in Oct. Check the FB page:https://www.facebook.com/pages/THE-NEW-AFRIKA-SHRINE/113890378637826

While I do know that Lagos is 'unsafe', there may be a way to stay safe - hotel-wise go a bit upmarket, and arrange transport to and from the shrine on a Fri/ Sat, assuming Femi is in town.

Hence I land in Lagos, just do a 1N stay and leave for Accra next afternoon.

This has been a dream of mine, so it's been on my mind, and I'm ok with a bit of risk if it's been accounted/ planned for.

Aashish Gupta wrote:  

Here is a detailed assessment of the security situation there: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/travel-advice-by-country/sub-saharan-africa/nigeria

Of course, this is written with British travellers in mind and they are at a greater risk for kidnappings, etc. than us brown-skinned folks. But it's still worth assessing the risks for yourself. Let me know once you've decided and then I'll go ahead and do the research. Also, if you do decide to do Lagos, will that be within the same 2 weeks (in which case we'll need to skip something else to make room for it) or will it be an additional day?

Anonymous wrote:  

Well, they also have similar warnings for India, so I'm not sure how seriously to take them.

Anonymous wrote:  

Are there other sources?


Flight schedules By Aashish Gupta
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Aashish Gupta wrote:  

I've updated the Transport tab with a table of all the internal flights. We can use that to draw up the whole plan.


Safety issues in Lagos By Aashish Gupta
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Aashish Gupta wrote:  

Coming back to the Lagos discussion, the level of the warnings for India isn't quite the same. Also, from some of the guidebooks I'm reading about Nigeria, it appears that armed robberies and carjackings are common at night in Lagos. Even a TripAdvisor search for hotels shows a big red sign at the top saying "TRAVEL ALERT: SECURITY CONCERNS" - http://www.tripadvisor.in/Hotels-g304026-Lagos_Lagos_State-Hotels.html

Here is another discussion thread, though about 5 years old:http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=1465890

Of course, most of the time you'll hear from folks who had safe and uneventful stays. As a professional, I have to advise you against going, but the decision is of course yours.

If you go, here are some things to keep in mind:

- keep time on the road to a minimum at night and do not go around the city alone.
- avoid the following neighbourhoods: Alimosho, areas close to the border with Ogun State, Ikeja (actually the New Afrika Shrine nightclub is in Ikeja - it is a semi-upmarket area but with frequent crime), Alausa, Fadeyi, Onipanu, Somolu, Mushin (do look these up on Google Maps).
- After dark stick to the upmarket Victoria Island or Ikoyi neighbourhoods in Central Lagos, if venturing outdoors.
- Arrange for airport pickup and drop with your hotel.
- If stopped by "Area Boys" (mugger gangs), do not object or put up any resistance. PS: it is rare for them to mug or attack foreigners as it invites unwanted attention by the authorities. Tourists need to be more wary of terror outfits looking to kidnap or petty "unorganized" criminals looking to snatch a camera or a wallet.
- Inform a close friend/relative of your contact information so that in case you can't be reached, they can raise an alarm with the Indian High Commission at these numbers :-
    High Commission of India, Abuja (Nigeria)
    (i)         Mr Suresh K. Makhijani          E-mail: couns.abuja@mea.gov.in
    Counsellor                               Mobile: 08128308701        
    (ii)        Mr S. Mahesh                          E-mail: cons.abuja@mea.gov.in
                Attache                                    Mobile: 08128308708
 
    Office of High Commission of India, Lagos (Nigeria)
    (i)         Mrs. Rani Malick                    E-mail: fs1@hcilagos.org
    First Secretary  (Consular)    Mobile: 08128308751
    (ii)        Mr R.K. Sharma                      E-mail: hoc.lagos@mea.gov.in
    Second Secretary                    Mobile: 08128308752


Now, given that you want to minimize time on the road, it makes sense to stay in Ikeja - close to the nightclub (and the airport). But you must know that it isn't as safe an area as Victoria Island and Ikoyi.The Lagos Airport Hotel (http://www.lagosairporthotelltd.com), though a bit run down is the closest decent place to New Afrika Shrine (2.8 km). The hotel has an in-house car rental service - ask the hotel reception staff to recommend a reliable driver, negotiate a per-hour rate and pay only after they drop you back to the hotel at night.

Also, in the guidebook I have, it says that Femi Kuti plays at the Shrine on Sundays. So it might be worth checking with them when he's likely to play.

About the rest of the itinerary, it may make sense to drop Gambia since the flight schedules are making it hard to fit in.

Anonymous wrote:  

Thanks. This is handy.


Femi Kuti's performance schedule By Anonymous
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Anonymous wrote:  

Can you check when he is likely to perform at the venue in Lagos?

Anonymous wrote:  

Never mind. I found out from their site.

Aashish Gupta wrote:  

Cool.


Cape Verde By Anonymous
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Anonymous wrote:  

Is it worth going here? If it's mostly beaches and folk music, I'm not very interested. I'm more interested in pop music scene and live music.

Aashish Gupta wrote:  

Yes, it is mostly that. So in that case we can skip it and add The Gambia instead - you'll find that place a lot more interesting.


Accra hotels:

Osu is easily the most happening area in Accra and I strongly recommend staying in a hotel here, even though the prices they command are a bit higher than the rest of Accra. The two best choices Byblos (rooms starting at $65) and Frankie’s (starting at $59) for good combination of location, budget and comfort (mainly location closest to the best nightlife).


If being centrally located isn’t a primary concern, then I recommend staying at the Afia African Village. It has a beachfront location, spectacular views and a pretty garden. Rates start at $35.

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Kokrobite Beach:

Any of the beachside hotels will work. If you're picky, Big Milly’s is a good budget option.

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The Gambia:

For a great combination of comfort and budget, choose Luigi’s in Kololi. It is a stunning complex with three restaurants and attractive lodgings set around a pool and jacuzzi. Room rates start at about $48. If this doesn’t appeal to your taste/budget, I can recommend a few other places as well.

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Dakar hotels:

Auberge Marie-Lucienne is about 1.2 km away from Thiossane and is a good choice. Here’s what Lonely Planet West Africa has to say about it:


“A bit slow and a bit grumpy, this large guest house doesn’t really try to charm its guests but yet it’s usually full. Rooms are much prettier than the dark corridors would have you expect, the unfussiness turns out to be quite pleasant, and proximity to the university and music clubs means that you often bump into interesting guests - from visiting lecturers to jazz bands on tour.”


Rooms start at about $57.

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Casablanca:

Hotel Maamoura has rooms starting at around $53 and is one of Casablanca’s best value hotels.

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Marrakech hotels:

Although the nice hotels in Guéliz and Hivernage offer more facilities and are sometimes better value for money and closer to the nightlife, it's only by staying in the medina that you can truly experience this ancient and exotic city. I recommend Dar Vedra. In mid-season (Nov) you will pay 60 Euros for a single room, with breakfast included. If you prefer staying closer to the nightlife, then Hotel le Caspien in Gueliz is a good choice for about 42 Euros, breakfast not included.

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Fez:

Dar El Hana is quite simply the best value in town. Rooms start at 66 Euros.

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