Lomé: the City of Thousand Contrasts
You might have never heard anything about Lomé. And I would not blame you because I think I would not know anything about the place if I haven’t lived there during my childhood.
However, according to my opinion Lomé is definitely worth a visit if you are traveling in sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, it is the capital of Togo, one of the smallest country of Africa and is located next to Bénin and Ghana, and below Burkina Faso. Despite a population of 6 million inhabitants, Togo rarely gets any media coverage in Europe, probably due to the country’s relative political stability. However, with its exceptional landscapes’ diversity, ranging from mountain views, arid grounds, green valleys to coastal areas, it has a lot to offer.
The capital Lomé is situated along the coast, which is its first advantage and is very enjoyable during the hot and dry season. The constant sea-breeze will always refresh you and make you able to spend endless times in the depths of the city.
You will certainly start your journey at the big market (‘Grand Marché’) to be introduced to the heart of the city. At that place, the visitor will instantly feel the African vibe. Indeed, the ‘Grand Marché’ is where everything takes place. Bordered by multiple small stalls, the streets are super crowded and there is of course always a baking sun. The main merchants are female, run their businesses brilliantly, and are called the ‘nana-benz’. You will find everything at the ‘Grand Marché’: fresh vegetables and fruits, spices, colorful loincloths, dry fish, medicinal plants and suitcases. There is also the big cathedral in this area, the cathedral ‘Sacré-Coeur’which deserves a visit. If you’d like to buy some artisanal products, there is a beautiful local production of jewelry, wooden masks and pieces of decoration, paintings and textile bags next to the Palm Beach Hotel on the Boulevard de la République.
There is another big market of a total different style – the ‘Akodésséwa’ market. I’ve never been to this one because I have a weak stomach. Indeed, it is the market where the fetishist-healers get their provisions- here you can find cats’ heads, goats’ hoofs, animals’ skulls and other unidentified substances and objects. This market is therefore not recommended to the fainthearted.
After this visit, if you want to have a blast of fresh air, just take a ‘zémidjan’ (moto-taxis) which will drive you to the harbor area, riding along the coast on the ‘Marina’. Be prepared to have a sportive trip – the Togolese driving-style is very … specific. Traffic lights work (or don’t work) but in any case it won’t change anything. The game is to move forward before the others. The harbor area is less crowded and offers a few restaurants where you can savor fresh fish dishes. Some of them also have a private beach, where you can enjoy the sun, have a wonderful view on the coastline with its coconut trees and the large waves of the Guinea Golf. However, be cautious because the water flow is very powerful and even an excellent swimmer would not be able to reach the coast again.
If you prefer enjoying the beach in the city-center, you should definitely be in Lomé on a Sunday. Indeed, it is the weekly resting day and the Togolese people like enjoying the sunset at the beach. From the middle of the afternoon till the sun sets, people dance on typical African music, drink beers on improvised tables, play games, sing. You will easily find drinks and snacks among the numerous street vendors. You might try a ‘Fan Milk’ ice or juice. They are very sweet but also quite enjoyable.
Last but not least, try to make a visit to the peace dove ‘Colombe de la Paix’, and try to have a look on the CASEF area, where official administrative buildings are located and dominated by the 2nd February Hotel, a 102 meters building mainly used for African summits and meetings.
In short, if you have the opportunity to visit Lomé, don’t hesitate for one instant. The city has the potential to seduce all types of visitors. However, I would definitely suggest you to take the time to travel to other regions of the country because Togo has a lot of different wonderful places that you must see. As an example, on your way to the Togo Lake (‘Lac Togo’), you’ll see lots of small villages and smiling children, while on your way to the north of the country, such as Kpalimé or even Kara, you will have the chance to observe the Togolese landscapes’ diversity.
Text & Photo: Lauranne Beernaert