Travelling across West African cities is a challenge. Tickets costs are too high, and much of the routes are nonsensical. Can you believe that flying between Dakar and Accra may require a layover in Morocco or Portugal? It is more expensive to fly between African cities than to fly from West Africa to Southern Europe. To top it all off, West African airlines don’t really have the best reputations. Train connections are nearly non existent. That said, one super cheap and overlooked way to travel between major West African cities is by car.
Travelling around West Africa by car is in my opinion the most affordable way of travelling in the region. There are organised buses travelling between major West African cities. They go as far as from Dakar (Senegal) to Niamey (Niger) and Dakar (Senegal) to Cotonou (Benin)! Who would have thought! The options for travelling by land across West Africa are; a shared taxis / sept place, car rapide / tro tro, a proper bus, or a private taxi. The cheapest, and most “reliable” option, in terms of frequency has to be the car rapide/tro tro.
A tro tro is basically a mini van which fits anywhere from 11 to 25 people. It is the cheapest and most reliable option (in terms of frequency) out of all of these. Most of the times, public transportation in West Africa doesn’t operate on a schedule. Cars basically show up whenever and wait to fill up. With that logic in mind, basically the vehicle requiring the least amount of passengers fills up the quickest and therefore travels more frequently. Taxis and tro tros tend to fill up the quickest. Buses fill up the slowest, and therefore leave less frequently. On the other hand, buses are often in very good shape and the safest option of travel. Most international buses only travel once a day, very early in the morning (around 5 a.m).
Tro tros, buses and taxis tend to leave from the same stations. Most public transportation stations or stops are organised according to their destination. They also quite often leave from the area where local merchants trade, as they are the ones who use these services the most. You should always inquire from locals which stations you can get an international bus from at least a day before your journey.
I would strongly advice against taking a 42 hour bus ride straight from e.g. Cotonou to Dakar. What I suggest is to rather break down the travels into 10h bus rides of 4. So say you are leaving from Cotonou, you take a bus from Cotonou to Accra for about 36€ for a seven and half hour journey. Spend the night in Accra, then leave on an 8 hour journey to Abidjan, spend the night in Abidjan and then to Conakry spend the night, and then try with the final stretch to Dakar. Obviously, this way is very long long and will probably end up costing 250€, but it is still at least half the price of the flight.
The most important thing to keep in mind while travelling across West Africa is that you are allowed to be vocal. The cultures of West Africa are among those with a strong verbal and communal culture. It is perfectly acceptable to go to strangers to ask for help. Of course you have to be careful from whom you seek help and what kind of help you ask for. However just be mindful that you are never alone when you are in West Africa, you are a part of a community.
Below is a list of buses departing from Dakar travelling across West Africa with prices and duration. This should help you gauge prices according to distance in West Africa. If you are curious about what a long haul bus ride is like, you can read more here.
Bus Operators and their telephone numbers
Falona +221 77 536 08 94
TA Express +221 77 570 63 61
Africa Star +221 77 673 23 44
Banny Transport +221 77 607 94 27
Benso Transport +221 77 531 73 64
Gana Transport +221 77 625 86 66
Nour Transport +221 77 380 04 41
Sonef +221 77 292 46 70
Micky Trans +221 77 018 98 00
You should make sure that you have all the documentation needed to cross any borders before attempting to cross them.