Cote d'Ivoire travel guide
A tradition still practised in much of West Africa; mask dancing is probably easiest experience in Côte d’Ivoire. Each region has its traditions, symbolisms and taboos surrounding the practice, which the dancers are happy to explain to visitors. Unless you happen to run across a ceremony by accident, dance performances will likely have to be arranged through the local department of the Ministry of Tourism. Certain dance troupés have performed their art in Europe, however, there are distinct differences between these shows and the sacred dances carried out at ceremonies. If arranging a dance performance, it's worth checking which of the two kinds of dance the masks will perform. Also worth inquiring about is the traditionally held taboo against women attending some dances, as there are masks designated men and women specifically.
A common joke in West Africa and Côte d’Ivoire goes: "50 % of the population are Christians, 50 % are Muslims and 100 % are animists." It's not completely wrong, as animist influence is high even in the most Christian or Muslim of towns. Most common is, probably, the use of sacred forests, and almost every town and village have one. A sacred forest is, simply, a forest where the town's ancestors' spirits live. Therefore, it's forbidden to go inside these woods, fell their trees or collect its fruits. Given this off-limit nature of sacred forests, their tourist value might not be the greatest. However, due to the lack of human disturbance monkeys and other animals often live in the forests. These animals are also considered sacred, and in some places, they've even been habituated to human contact. Most famous is Le Forêt Sacrée de Gbêpleu in Man, where – if you bring some bananas – a group of Mona monkeys will be more than happy to help you devour the spoils.
The only primary forest left in West Africa. That neatly sums up why Taï National Park has earned an inscription on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites. Nowhere else in the region is a forest where humans haven't logged or introduced new plants – such as coffee or cocoa trees – on such a scale that the original Eco-system has remained intact. Today, a French-run research and conservation NGO administrates visits to the park. A campsite in the middle of the forest ensures easy access to ranger-guided walks to see flora and fauna, which includes mangabey and red colobus monkeys as well as some very elusive pygmy hippos. Here are also chimpanzees, but these will not be ready for tourist visits until 2019, at the earliest. As a bonus, the NGO is also able to arrange other activities, including homestays in the villages surrounding Taï.
West Africa offers few leisures for train enthusiasts. Most railways were built during colonial times and weren't maintained after decolonisation, resulting in the cancellation of almost all of these lines though a few have been limited to suburban commuter trains. The exception is the 1,150 km long line running from Abidjan to Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. The scenery is rather bland, and the ride isn't particularly interesting, so the journey is probably for train enthusiast only. The whole trip is supposed to take twenty-eight hours, but expect it to take much longer due to delays. When boarding the train, your choices are between the hard, blue plastic seats in second class or the comfier aeroplane seats in the air-conditioned first class section. Suck up on supplies before you set off. While there is a small restaurant aboard, most passengers prefer to limit their purchases to the restaurant's bar.
Not many people get to build their own city. One of the few to get this opportunity was Côte d'Ivoire’s first president, Felix Houphouët-Boigny, who followed his engineering dreams by constructing a new capital city from scratch. Before this, Yamoussoukro where just in a small village in the central region of the Côte d'Ivoire, where Houphouët-Boigny happened to have grown up. The construction began back in the 1960s, shortly after independence, and didn't finish until the big man's death in 1993. Almost surprisingly he named the city in honour of, not himself, but his aunt, Yamoussou. Yamoussoukro thus means the city of Yamoussou. Among the most remarkable architectural wonders are a five-star hotel, a peace and conference centre, and the world's largest Catholic church (no, really). Besides the prestige projects, however, Yamoussoukro quickly comes off as a vision unfulfilled, with broad empty boulevards and broken street lamps.