Photo: DepositPhotos Map of West Africa showing the names of countries

Africa is home to fifty-four countries and 16 of those countries make up West Africa. This article is an introduction to West Africa’s 16 countries, each captivating in their undiscovered beauty, people, places, cultures and traditions.

In West Africa, the old stands alongside the new in a region of Africa forged by coastlines, beaches, mountains, hills, valleys, lakes, rivers, deserts, and grasslands.

While you won’t see herds of animals that many travelers associate with Africa such as zebras, elephants, lions, cheetahs, hippos, giraffes, etc., seen in large numbers in East and South Africa, West Africa does have its share of abundant and varied wildlife. Plant life is just as diverse.

West Africa’s unmatched and greatest appeal, by far, is its astonishing diversity of people, and the richness of the vast array of cultures and traditions. From languages to cuisine, to religion and so much more, there is so much to see, do, and discover in West Africa.

Introducing West Africa’s 16 Countries

As it was, and as it is now, West Africa is enchanting, mesmerizing, thought-provoking, challenging, enigmatic and home to some of the world’s friendliest and most welcoming people.


  • Formerly known as the Republic of Dahomey
  • Capital city:  Porto-Novo
  • Most populous city:  Cotonou
  • National Languages: French, and local languages including, Fon, Bariba, Yoruba, and Dendi

Main Attractions:

Python Temple (Temple des Pythons)

Voodoo Culture and Traditions

Voodoo Festival (January 10)

Slave Route (Route des Eclaves)

Ganvie Stilt Village

Royal Palace of the Ancient Kingdom of Dahomey

History and Art Museums



Burkina Faso

  • Formerly known as Upper Volta
  • Area of ancient kingdoms and empires
  • Capital city: Ouagadougou
  • Most populous city: Ouagadougou
  • National languages:  French, Mossi, Peul, Mande

Main Attractions:

Geologic limestone formations


Grand Mosque

Village life

Moro-Naba Palace

Royal Court

Sukhalas (traditional painted houses)

Desert architecture

Cabo Verde

  • Island country consisting of 10 islands and several islets off the coast of West Africa
  • Capital city:  Praia
  • Most populous city: Praia
  • Main island:  Santiago
  • One of the smallest countries of the world (about the size of Rhode Island in the USA)
  • National languages: Portuguese, Creole

Main Attractions:


Colonial era architecture

Volcano landscapes

Walking and hiking trails

Water sports

Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

  • Capital city:  Yamoussoukro
  • Most Populous city:  Abidjan
  • National languages: French and over 70 African languages including Baoule, Diola, Dan, Anyin, Cebaara, and Senufo

Main attractions:

International cuisine

Art galleries

National Museum of Costumes

French colonial architecture

Royal Palace

Crocodiles at Lac aux Caimans

Mountains and waterfalls

Houphouet-Boigny Peace Foundation

Basilica of Our Lady of Peace

The Gambia

  • Continental Africa’s smallest country (double check this)
  • Surrounded by Senegal on three sides
  • Capital city:  Banjul
  • Most populous city: Banjul
  • National languages:  English, and several African languages including Mandinka, Pulaar, Wolof, Soninke, and Jola (double check)

Main attractions:


Fishing villages

Kunteh Kinteh Island (UNESCO World Heritage Site)

Wassau Stones (part of UNESCO World Heritage Site, Stone Circles of Senegambia)

Kachikally Crocodile Pool

Birdwatching sites

National parks


  • One of the most visited countries in West Africa
  • Capital city:  Accra
  • Most populated city:  Accra
  • National languages:  English, and many local languages including Twi, Fante, Ewe, Ga, Dagbani, Gonja, and Hausa

Main Attractions:

Slave Castles and Dungeons (World Heritage sites)

Asante Traditional Buildings (World Heritage site)


Paragliding festival (Easter)

Manhyia Palace at Kumasi

Tafi Monkey Sanctuary

Lake Volta

Seasonal festivals

Nzulezo Stilt Village

Larabanga Mosque

Shea butter country (Tamale)

Mountains, hills, and waterfalls


  • One of West Africa’s least visited countries
  • Capital city:  Conakry
  • Most populous city: Conakry
  • National languages:  French, English, Mandinke, Fulani, Arabic, Pular and many other local languages

Main attractions:


Hills and waterfalls

Village life

Nature reserves



  • Sometimes confused with the country of Guinea
  • Capital city:  Bissau
  • Most populous city: Bissau
  • National languages:   Portuguese, English, French, Creole, Arabic, Balante, Fulani, and many other local languages

Main Attractions:


Sacred saltwater hippos

Historical buildings


  • Africa’s oldest republic
  • Although originally inhabited by Africans, Liberia is said to be founded by freed American and Caribbean slaves
  • Capital city:  Monrovia
  • Most populous city:  Monrovia
  • National languages:  English and more than 20 Liberian languages including Kpelle, Bassa, Grebo, Dan and Kru

Main Attractions:

Mountains and waterfalls


Water sports



Providence Island (World Heritage Site)

Former slave settlements


  • Situated in the Sahel
  • Capital city:  Bamako
  • Most populous city: Bamako
  • 8th largest country in Africa
  • Ancient center of Islam and learning
  • National languages:  French, Bambara, Fulani, Songhay, Malinke, Tuareg and several other local languages
  • Unfortunately, as of this publication date, travelers are advised to avoid traveling to Mali due to crime, terrorism, and kidnapping, according to the U.S. Department of State travel advisory for Mali.

Main Attractions:

Great Mosque of Djenne and Dogon Country

Bandiagara Escarpment

Timbuktu UNESCO World Heritage Centre

Desert landscapes and architecture


  • One of Africa’s largest countries
  • Capital city:  Nouakchott
  • Most populated city:  Nouakchott
  • Most of the country lies in the Sahara Desert region
  • National languages:  Arabic, French, Wolof, Pulaar, Soninke, Zenaga

Main Attractions:

Desert landscapes

Desert architecture

World Heritage Site (Parc National du Banc d’Arguin)


Port de Peche (fish market)

Camel market


  • Capital city:  Niamey
  • Most populated city: Niamey
  • Over two-thirds of the country lies within the Sahara Desert
  • National languages:  French, Arabic, Buduma, Hausa, Kanuri, and many other local languages

Main Attractions:

Desert landscapes

Desert architecture

National parks

Giraffe reserve

Sultan’s Palace


  • Capital:  Abuja
  • Nickname: “Nollywood”
  • Most populated city:  Lagos
  • West Africa’s most populous country, in terms of number and diversity of people
  • National languages:  English, and more than 500 Nigerian languages, including Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo

Main Attractions:

Art and culture galleries


Lagos nightlife

Freedom Park

Zuma Rock



Film industry



Emir’s Palace

Business opportunities


  • Capital city:  Dakar
  • Most populous city: Dakar
  • Home to seven UNESCO World Heritage sites
  • National languages:  French, Wolof, Serer, Fulani and many Senegalese languages

Main Attractions:

National Parks

Goree Island

Bird sanctuaries

Wildlife sanctuaries


Jazz Festival (April)

Sine Salaoum Delta

Pink Lake (Lac Rose)

Fishing village

Touba Holy City




Senegalese cuisine

Sierra Leone

  • Capital city: Freetown
  • Most populous city:  Freetown
  • National language:  English, Krio (Creole), Mende, Temne and other local languages

Main Attractions:

Chimpanzee Sanctuary



Wildlife (including pygmy hippos)

National parks

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade History


  • Capital city:  Lome
  • Most populous city:  Lome
  • Small narrow country squeezed in between Ghana and Benin
  • National languages:  French and several local languages including Ewe and Kabiye

Main Attractions:


Mountains and hills

Traditional mud tower homes and architecture

World Heritage site at Koutammakou

Art Centre

Traditional villages

Slave House

Learn More About World Heritage Sites in West Africa