List of Countries in West Africa and the Major Landmarks they are Famous For

Just like the term implies, the countries in West Africa form a region that is located in the westernmost part of the African continent. The region is currently made up of 16 countries according to the United Nations. Some of the countries in West Africa are among the most populous in the entire continent estimated to be about 381 million people, and of course, the number keeps increasing every year.

Some of the countries in West Africa are among the hottest in the world with very warm temperatures. The region not only has some of the richest countries in Africa but the West African countries are also rich in history and have several famous landmarks that have attracted different tourists from all over the world over the years.

Benin

Facts You Should Know

  • The country, Benin, is a tropical nation that is highly dependent on agriculture.
  • The largest religious group is Catholicism.
  • It is hailed to be one of Africa’s most stable democracies.
  • The country was formerly known as Dahomey.
  • The nation of Benin is where the voodoo religion originated from.
  • Benin is reported to have the 10th youngest population in the world.

Countries In West Africa
The royal compound in Abomey

Major Landmarks In Benin

Royal Palaces of Abomey

The Royal Palaces of Abomey are among the most revered landmarks in Benin. They are actually made up of about 12 palaces which are interestingly spread out across an area of 40 hectares located at the heart of the Abomey town in Benin. Interestingly, the palaces used to be the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Dahomey which was founded in 1625 by the Fon people.

Today, the palaces remind the people of Benin about their history and also attract tourists all over the world to the point that the palaces have been inscribed on the List of World Heritage Sites in Africa by UNESCO.

The Great Mosque of Porto-Novo

The Great Mosque of Porto-Novo is a very important mosque in Benin. The mosque is located in Porto-Novo, Ouémé Department, Benin, and is one of the oldest monuments in the country. The building of the mosque began in 1912 before it was completed in 1925. Because of its significance for the Benin people, the mosque has been recently declared a historical monument by the Porto-Novo city government.

Other important places of interest in Benin include:

  • La Porte Du Non Retour
  • Place des Martyrs
  • Musee Honme (Palais Royal)
  • Cathedrale Notre Dame de l’Immaculee Conception
  • Agongointo-Zougoundo subterranean village

Burkina Faso

Facts You Should Know

  • There are about 59 native languages spoken by the people of Burkina Faso.
  • Burkina Faso was previously called the Republic of Upper Volta from 1958 to 1984 when it was renamed by President Thomas Sankara.
  • The nation is landlocked
  • The name “Burkina Faso” is a term that translates to “Land of the Honest (Incorruptible) Men”.
  • The people who hail from Burkina Faso are known as Burkinabe.

Countries In West Africa
Archeological excavations at the ruins

Major Landmarks In Burkina Faso

The Ruins of Loropéni

The Ruins of Loropéni are held in very high esteem in Burkina Faso and is a very ancient heritage site that is located near Loropéni, a town in southern Burkina Faso. The ruins actually date back to at least a thousand years and span 11,130 square meters. Today, they attract many tourists every year and have also been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The Ancient Ferrous Metallurgy Sites of Burkina Faso

Ancient Ferrous Metallurgy Sites of Burkina Faso are another set of very important landmarks in the country. The sites comprise about fifteen standing, natural-draught furnaces as well as many other furnace structures and mines that date back to the 8th century. They have also been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List and are regarded as the oldest evidence of iron production development in Burkina Faso.

Other places of importance to visit in the country are:

  • The transnational W-Arly-Pendjari Complex
  • National Museum of Music
  • Fabedougou Domes
  • Maadaga rock paintings
  • Bourzanga necropolis

Cape Verde

Facts You Should Know

  • The country is officially called the Republic of Cabo Verde
  • It is an island country
  • Regarded as one of the most developed and democratic countries in Africa.
  • Cape Verde boasts several great coastal spots for tourists

Countries In West Africa
Monte Fontainhas

Major Landmarks In Cape Verde

Monte Fontainhas

Monte Fontainhas is a volcanic mountain in Cape Verde, located in the middle of Brava island. It is also the highest point of the island nation rising about 976 meters from the ground.

Cidade Velha

Cidade Velha is the oldest settlement in Cape Verde and is historically important to the people there. Founded in 1462 and is located in the southern part of the island of Santiago, Cape Verde. Cidade Velha is so historically significant that in 2009 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Other important sites in Cape Verde include:

  • Neve Canyon and Neve Falls
  • Nova Sintra
  • Nossa Senhora da Luz church in Vila do Maio
  • Palácio do Povo
  • Cova Rodela dragon tree

The Gambia

Facts You Should Know

  • The Gambia is the smallest of the countries In West Africa in terms of area
  • The country is officially known as the Republic of The Gambia
  • During elections, voters in The Gambia don’t use ballots, instead, they cast their votes in by dropping marbles in iron-made drums.
  • The country has a national sport which is a form of wrestling known as ‘Borreh’.

Countries In West Africa
Tourists with crocodiles at the Kachikally crocodile pool.

Major Landmarks In The Gambia

The Kachikally crocodile pool

The Kachikally crocodile pool is a very popular tourist attraction in The Gambia located in the heart of Bakau. It is regarded as very sacred and is also used as a site for fertility rituals. Crocodiles are seen roaming freely in the pool and visitors are even allowed to touch the animals.

Kunta Kinteh Island

Kunta Kinteh Island is an island in the Gambia River, originally known as James Island and St Andrew’s Island. The site is of high historical value and is revered for its significance to the beginning of the slave trade and its abolition. It is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Other important sites in The Gambia include:

  • Abuko Nature Reserve
  • Albert Market
  • Kiang West National Park
  • Pirang cotton trees
  • Lamin Kotu stone circle
  • Six-Gun Battery
  • Maurel Frères Building

Ghana

Facts You Should Know

  • The name Ghana translates to “Warrior King” in the Soninke language.
  • The nation is a unitary constitutional democracy and has a president who is both head of state and head of the government.
  • It is the very first country in sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence.
  • Ghana is the largest producer of gold in Africa.
  • The record for the fastest run backward is held by a Ghanaian called Ferdie Ato Adoboe who set it in 1991.
  • The country is home to the largest artificial reservoir in the world – Lake Volta.                                                               

Countries In West Africa
Barack Obama seen during a visit to Cape Coast castle in 2009.

Major Landmarks In Ghana

Cape Coast Castle

Cape Coast Castle used to be a slave castle that was built and used by European traders. The castle was established in 1555 and is actually one of about 40 other castles that were used in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Lake Volta

Lake Volta is a lake in Ghana that is located behind the Akosombo Dam and has a surface area of 8,502 square kilometers. The lake is known for being the largest artificial reservoir in the world based on surface area and it attracts curious tourists every year.

Other important sites in Ghana include:

  • Kakum National Park
  • Mole National Park
  • Elmina Castle
  • Labadi Beach
  • Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park & Mausoleum

Guinea

Facts You Should Know

  • The nation of Guinea is officially called the Republic of Guinea
  • The country has twenty-four ethnic groups.
  • Their religion is mainly Islam and as a matter of fact, Muslims represent an amazing 85 percent of the entire population.
  • Guinea is the world’s second-largest producer of bauxite and is home to the fourth-largest mosque in Africa.

Countries In West Africa
Fouta Djallon

Major Landmarks In Guinea

Fouta Djallon

Fouta Djallon is a highland or mountainous region located in west-central Guinea. Fouta Djallon which covers an area of 30,000 square miles, is known for its many attractive trenches and gorges as well as its stepped sandstone plateaus.

Îles de Los

Îles de Los is an island group in Guinea. They are located off Conakry, the capital and largest city of Guinea. The Îles de Los islands are popular with tourists because of their fine beaches and forested interiors.

Other main tourist sites in Guinea include:

  • Mount Nimba
  • Ditin Falls
  • Case de Palabre
  • Dame de Mali
  • Pic de Fon forest

Guinea-Bissau

Facts You Should Know

  • The nation of Guinea-Bissau was once part of the kingdom of Kaabu and the Mali Empire.
  • People from Guinea-Bissau are called Bissau-Guineans not Guinea-Bissauans
  • The country is officially known as the Republic of Guinea-Bissau.
  • The per-capita gross domestic product of Guinea-Bissau is one of the lowest in the world.
  • No elected president has served a full term in Guinea-Bissau since independence from Portugal in 1974 because of its history of coups.

Countries In West Africa
Cacheu River

Major Landmarks In Guinea-Bissau

Cacheu River

The Cacheu River, which is known as the Farim has a total length of about 257 km and its headwaters are near the northern border of Guinea-Bissau. The river holds some historical value because it served in several military operations during the Portuguese Colonial War; the Guinea-Bissau War of Independence.

Orango National Park

The Orango National Park is a protected area in Guinea-Bissau which has an area of 1,582 km2. The Park which was established in 2000 is partly covered by mangroves and is known for playing an important role in the reproduction of sea turtles, molluscs, and fish.

Other places of interest in Guinea-Bissau include:

  • Cufada Lagoons Natural Park
  • Bubaque
  • Rubane
  • Corubal Falls
  • São José da Amura

Ivory Coast

Facts You Should Know

  • Ivory Coast has two capital cities – Yamoussoukro is the nation’s political capital while Abidjan is its economic capital and the largest city.
  • The country is the leading producer of cocoa beans in the world.
  • The founder of Ivory Coast is said to be the warrior queen, Queen Abla Pokou.
  • The largest church in the world, Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, which covers 323,000 sq ft, is in Ivory Coast

Countries In West Africa
Grand-Bassam

Major Landmarks In Ivory Coast

Grand-Bassam

Grand-Bassam is a town in Ivory Coast that is of great historical value. The town, which is located in the south-eastern Ivory Coast, was once the French colonial capital city from 1893 to 1896 and maintained its significance as a key seaport until the growth of Abidjan from the 1930s. Grand-Bassam was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012.

Comoé National Park

The Comoé National Park is a Biosphere Reserve in Ivory Coast that is revered for being the largest protected area in West Africa. The park which was established in 1983, is known to be the home to a large array of habitats with a remarkable diversity of life. It has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, due to its unique biodiversity.

Other places of great interest include:

  • Taï National Park
  • Parc National du Banco
  • Assagny National Park
  • Ahouakro
  • Kaouara Mosque

Liberia

Facts You Should Know

  • Liberia is one of two countries in Africa along with Ethiopia, that is considered by scholars to have never have been colonized.
  • The first woman to ever emerge as an elected head of state in Africa is from Liberia – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
  • Liberia the first and oldest modern republic in Africa.
  • The country has the world’s second-largest maritime registry.
  • The nation produced one of the greatest African footballers of all time, George Weah.

Countries In West Africa
Sapo National Park

Major Landmarks In Liberia

Sapo National Park

The national park which was established in 1983 is the largest protected area of rainforest in Liberia. It is reported to contain the second-largest area of primary tropical rainforest in West Africa.

Cape Mesurado

Cape Mesurado is a popular headland on the coast of Liberia located near Monrovia, the capital city. Cape Mesurado used to function as a base for the slave trade.

Other sites of importance in Liberia include:

  • Bernard’s Beach
  • Cape Palmas
  • Kpatawee waterfalls
  • The National Museum of Liberia

Mali

Facts You Should Know

  • Mali is the third-largest producer of gold on the continent.
  • It is the second-largest country in West Africa with a landmass of 1.24 million km²
  • The richest man to have ever lived, Mansa Musa, is from Mali. He was king of the Mali Empire from 1280 to 1337.
  • According to the International SOS Travel Risk Map, the nation of Mali is among the 10 most dangerous countries to visit in the world.
  • The country is reported to have the world’s fourth-highest fertility rate.

Countries In West Africa
The Great Mosque of Djenné

Major Landmarks In Mali

The Great Mosque of Djenné

The Great Mosque of Djenné is a very huge adobe building that is highly revered in Mali. The building which is located in the city of Djenné is considered by architects to be one of the greatest achievements of the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style and is said to be the world’s largest mud-brick building. The mosque dates from 1907 and is designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Tomb of Askia

The Tomb of Askia is a burial site in Mali that is of great significance. The tomb is believed to be the burial site of Askia Mohammad I, one of the most prolific emperors of the Songhai Empire. The tomb, which was constructed at the end of the fifteenth century, has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Other important sites in Mali include:

  • Timbuktu
  • Mali Nationa Park
  • Grande Mosquée de Bamako
  • Arch of Kamadjan
  • Gouina Falls

Mauritania

Facts You Should Know

  • The nation of Mauritania is officially known as the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.
  • It is the eleventh largest sovereign state in Africa
  • Two species of gerbils and six species of scorpions are so rare that they are found only in Mauritania.
  • Mauritania was the last country in the world to abolish slavery officially, ending the act in 1981.

Kediet ej Jill

Major Landmarks In Mauritania 

Kediet ej Jill

Kediet ej Jill, a very popular mountain in Mauritania, is located in Tiris Zemmour, and is the highest peak in Mauritania rising about 915 m (3,002 ft) above the sea level. The mountain is famous for often disrupting navigational compasses because of its magnetic properties.

Richat Structure

Richat Structure is a popular circular feature in the Sahara’s Adrar Plateau. The structure is located near Ouadane, west-central Mauritania, and is reported to be the place where exceptional accumulations of Acheulean archaeological artifacts have been discovered.

Other important sites in Mauritania include:

  • Aicha monolith
  • Maghrouga cliff formations
  • Hartéga Guelta waterfall
  • Hartéga Guelta dwarf crocodiles
  • Amogjar rock art

Niger

Facts You Should Know

  • Niger has been nicknamed the ‘Frying Pan of the World’ because it is very hot and can get dizzyingly warm at times.
  • The name of the country actually comes from the Niger River which flows through the west of the country.
  • Nigeriens have lived under five constitutions and three periods of military rule since their independence in 1960.
  • Interestingly, over 80% of the land area in the Niger Republic lies in the Sahara Desert.
  • With a land area of almost 1,270,000 km2 (490,000 sq mi), Niger Republic is the largest country in West Africa.

Assodé

Major Landmarks In Niger

Bura archaeological site

The Bura archaeological site is a historical site located in southwest Niger, specifically in the Tillabéry Region, of the Tera Department. Lots of excavations have been done at the site which is made up of several individual necropoleis with coffins that are crested by unusually-distinctive terra cotta statuettes.

Assodé

Assodé was an ancient town located in the northern part of Niger that was called the Aïr Mountains. The town is now in ruins but it was the most important Tuareg town at the peak of its popularity after being founded in the eleventh century. The site has attracted so many tourists over the years.

Other important sites include:

  • Yamma Mosque
  • Agadez Palace
  • Madarounfa Lake
  • Tunguma Stone
  • Fachi fortified village
  • Gadoufaoua
  • Dabous giraffe carvings

Nigeria

Facts You Should Know

  • Nigeria is the most populous country on the African continent with more than 200 million people
  • The economy of Nigeria is the largest in Africa.
  • The richest man in Africa, Aliko Dangote, hails from Nigeria.
  • Lagos, the largest city in Africa, is located in Nigeria.
  • Nigeria has the fifth-largest Muslim population and the sixth-largest Christian population in the world.
  • The Jos Plateau Indigobird, a rare species of birds, is found only in Nigeria, specifically in Plateau state.
  • A small, special bird of many beautiful colors called the Anambra waxbill, is found only in Southern Nigeria and nowhere else in the world.
  • Nigeria’s incredible mangrove forests are also the very largest in Africa and the third largest on earth.

Zuma Rock

Major Landmarks In Nigeria

Zuma Rock

Zuma Rock is a large natural monolith in Nigeria that happens to be one of the most recognizable sites in the country. Often referred to as the ‘Gateway to Abuja from Suleja’, Zuma Rock towers about 300 meters from the ground. A national treasure, the rock is depicted on the 100 naira note. Some reports say the rock was used as a defensive retreat by the Gbagyi people during the era of inter-tribal war.

Yankari National Park

The Yankari National Park is a very popular large wildlife park in Nigeria. The park which is located in the northeastern Nigerian state of Bauchi is home to so many natural warm water springs and keeps attracting tourists every year. In fact, the park which was created in 1991, is considered to be one of the most popular eco-destinations in West Africa.

Other very interesting tourist sites in Nigeria include:

  • Chappal Waddi
  • Bar beach
  • Aso Rock and Caves
  • Gurara Falls
  • Benin Moat
  • Olumo Rock

Senegal

Facts You Should Know

  • The nation of Senegal owes its name to the Senegal River
  • Senegal has an island that is made entirely of seashells.
  • The nation of Senegal is one of the few African states that has never experienced a coup d’état.

House of Slaves

Major Landmarks In Senegal

House of Slaves

The House of Slaves is a museum in Senegal that also serves as a memorial or tribute to the Atlantic slave trade on Gorée Island which lies about 3 km off the coast of the city of Dakar, Senegal. The building has a door called ‘Door of No Return. It was this door that served as the exit point of the many slaves from Africa.

Lake Retba

Lake Retba is a popular lake in Senegal. Located at the north of the Cap-Vert peninsula of Senegal, the lake was named Lake Retba because of its pink water which is turned pink by Dunaliella salina algae. It is known for its very high salt content.

Other curious sites include:

  • Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary
  • Fadial baobab
  • Dindéfello Falls
  • Tomboronkoto Caves
  • Cekeen Tumulus
  • Enampore

Sierra Leone

Facts You Should Know

  • The nation of Sierra Leone has had an uninterrupted democratic government from 1998 to the present day.
  • Sierra Leone has one of the world’s largest rutile deposits and is a major producer of gold, diamonds, bauxite, and titanium.
  • The country suffered through a 10-year civil war from 1991 to 2002.

The cotton tree

Major Landmarks In Sierra Leone

The Cotton Tree

Also fondly known as a kapok tree, the Cotton Tree is a very popular tree in Sierra Leone that serves as a historic symbol of Freetown, the capital city of the nation. The Cotton Tree is actually the oldest cotton tree in Freetown as it is known to have existed since 1787 and was the place where former African American slaves first converged after they gained their freedom.

Bunce Island

This is a very historic island in the Sierra Leone River. The Island, which has a castle in it, was the place where thousands of African men and women were shipped to America to work as slaves.

Other places of interest in Sierra Leone include:

  • Fourah Bay College
  • Bunumbu Rock Shelter
  • Charlotte Falls
  • Freetown Martello Tower

Togo

Facts You Should Know

  • Togo is one of the countries with the narrowest boundaries in the world, having a width of less than 115 km (71 mi). This makes it one of the smallest countries in Africa as it covers just 57,000 square kilometers.
  • Togo and its surrounding regions were nicknamed the ‘Slave Coast’ because it served as the major trading center for Europeans to purchase slaves.

Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba

Major Landmarks In Togo

Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba

Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba is a very important cultural landscape located in northern Togo. The traditional mud houses found in Koutammakou are actually known as a national symbol of Togo. The place was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.

Lake Togo

Lake Togo parted from the Atlantic Ocean only by a narrow coastal strip and has become a popular location for water sports and the largest part of a lagoon in the country.

Other important sites include:

  • Akloa Falls
  • Namoudjoga cave art
  • Bopak caves
  • Faille d’Aledjo
  • Woold Homé

What Is West Africa Famous for?

The countries in West Africa are home to some of the most influential people on the African continent whether it is in politics, music, film, or sports. Some of the richest persons on the continent are also from this region.

The West African region is also famous for its cultural diversity and rich history as well as its pristine stretches of sand and beaches. Tourists from all over the world are not only drawn to its hot weather but also to some of its important landmarks including memorials of the slave traded areas.

What Were the Major Empires of West Africa?

Before contemporary countries in West Africa were formed, the region was made up of some thriving empires that established their own influence before the influx of European conquest. It is a known fact that West Africa has been home to some really powerful empires and kingdoms that held sway at the peak of their powers.

Some of these empires include:

The Ghana Empire

This was one of the most important empires in ancient times. The empire, which derived its power from the control of trans-Saharan trade, particularly the gold trade, was located in the area that is now known as southeastern Mauritania, eastern Senegal, and western Mali.

The Mali Empire

The Mali Empire held its own for a long time at the peak of its powers, The empire lasted from 1230 to 1600 and was so influential that it greatly impacted the culture of its region through the spread of its laws, language, and customs.

The Songhai

The Songhai Empire was one of the largest states in African history at its peak. The empire ruled the western Sahel in the 15th and 16th centuries. At first, the great empire was ruled by the Sonni dynasty. However, it was later replaced by the Askia dynasty which ruled from 1493 to 1591.

The kingdom of Ife

The Ife empire gained massive strength in the 600s. The kingdom, located in the area which is now Nigeria, developed in the rainforest in the 600s and spread its tentacles around its neighboring cultures. In fact, the art and religion of the Ife Kingdom greatly influenced the culture of Benin, which began in the 900s.

The Asante Empire

The Asante Empire was a West African empire and kingdom that reigned from 1701 to 1957. It was located in a region that is now known as modern-day Ghana. The people of ancient Asante made waves through their incredible work in gold.

Which Country is the Safest in West Africa?

Many of the countries in West Africa are generally deemed to be safe, however, the safest country in the West African region is Ghana. Ghana was ranked as the most peaceful country in West Africa in 2020. In fact, it was also ranked as the third most peaceful country on the entire continent in the 2020 Global Peace Index report.

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