Waterfallls and Villages: Hiking the Fouta Djallon

Fouta Djallon

The Beautiful Fouta Djallon of Guinea

Before getting to the story… I’m in a bit of a pickle (not a real one because that would be delicious rather than a problem), and I decided to let the world decide how I get out of it.  I have to head to Cote d’Ivoire and the options of getting there right now all kind of suck.  So please, take the time to vote and make this decision so I don’t have to! Vote here.

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There I was, I had somehow I found myself in Paris, France; the most unlikely of destinations for a traveller such as myself.  I love the city, but even amidst its physical beauty and romantic atmosphere I found myself drifting away to a more exotic, less explored, part of the world.

From my street side café table I flipped through the pages of a French-language travel magazine and was stopped by a spread of beautiful green landscapes of which stunning red rock presses through and tremendous waterfalls tumble.  The title of the article quickly found its way on to my list of things to do in West Africa: trekking the Fouta Djallon.

Hiking the Fouta Djalon

Stunning landscapes of the Fouta Djallon

Today, I’ve arrived in Labe, Guinea some four months after reading about this magical place.  I’ve arrived a little battled and bruised.  A stretch of tough roads, heavy rains and a mild bout with malaria have gotten the best of me over the past few weeks. But my spirits are reinvigorated by the friendly smiles and beautiful vistas of Labe.

As I meet my guide Cellou he immediately tempers my expectations while heightening them all at the same time.

“It is the heart of the rainy season, so we can’t get to the biggest waterfall,” he says in strongly accented French with a hint of an apology traced across his face. “But, the good news is that the two waterfalls we will see should have more water running through them than ever.”

Fouta Djallon, Guinea

A couple kids along the way

After a series of taxi rides we arrive at a village that marks the end of the road and the true start to our adventure.  We are immediately contronted by the warmth of rural Guinea; each person we pass shares a warm “Yarame”, a smile, and a welcome.  The truth is that whenever I’ve found myself in these really rural parts of Africa, be it in Mauritania or here, I’ve only ever found friendliness accompanied by a dose of curiosity.

As we trek further and further from modern comforts the trail dissipates to a mere path of ankle-deep water trough waist-deep grasses.  The occasional rocky outcrop gives us some semblance of reprieve, but the truth is that once you’re wet there’s hardly a reason to try to stay dry.

Fouta Djallon

Water racing through a river after the rains

A rush of water can be heard off in the distance.  Amidst the heavy rains that are now falling, if it weren’t for the steady nature of the sound, it could almost be mistaken for thunder.  As we step up a patch of loose stone and a wave of misty air hits me in the face there is no doubt the force is coming from an impressive amount of water flowing from a black rock cliff.

Fouta Djallon Waterfall

This waterfall was much more powerful than the photo shows…

I will spend the next three days trekking to waterfalls like this, but in the end its not the water nor the beautiful landscapes that have captured my affection, but the people.

The villages are dominated by round mud huts capped with impressive thatched roofs.  Kids run and laugh through the walkways, racing hand-pushed homemade model cars and old motorcycle tires.  They can’t help but come up to me, shy as can be, and ask for me to take their photo; I oblige.

Fouta Djallon Village Kids

Some kids in the Fouta Djallon

Women dominate town life as most of the men have moved on to the city.  They work in the fields pulling rice from the damp soils, they ground nuts, they wash clothing in the river, and the mind the handfuls of children who race off an complete chores for them on command.  Whenever a new person walks by there is always a welcome, a handshake, and a smile to accompany them.

Typical Fouta Housing

As we leave the Fouta Djallon and make our way back to the city, I can’t help but be excited to explore more of rural West Africa.  So far it is the city that has gotten the best of me.  But at the same time I need the city as it’s really been the only place to access the internet.

The digital age means kids are no longer afraid of the camera, but dying to pose for it!

It’s finding that balance between struggling through the cities to get work done and getting out of them to find grounding that is so difficult to find.  I guess at the end of the day, everyone struggles with that, regardless of what they do for work; and I truly believe that finding that balance is the true key to happiness.  We need to work to earn a living, but also to lead us to appreciate these moments of peace and serenity a little bit more.


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: Brendan van Son is a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. He has visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than he has the desire to count. Check out his profile on . for a little bit more about him.

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11 Comments

  1. Looks like a dream hike. I love the photos. You’re off any kind of normal path. It can’t be easy. It’s.refreshing to have come across your blog just now.

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    • Thanks Mike – Stunning hike… there’ll be a video coming fairly soon. Yeah, I don’t really do the normal path very well! haha

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  2. Looking at the greatness of the waterfall on my laptop is astounding! I can only imagine it’s power and strength standing next to it!
    Of course I love the shot of you and the little posers! Kid’s are fantastic!

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  3. Hi Brendan – just came across your blog.Great stuff indeed. We are heading to West Africa in a couple of weeks – Gambia, Senegal then Guinea with canoes and hiking. Just wanted to find out if you had problems bring your camera gear and computer, sat phone etc in to Senegal and Guinea?
    many thanks
    Jason
    florio@floriophoto.com
    http://www.floriophoto.com

    Post a Reply
    • Hey Jason – Nope, no problems at all. Just bring silica packs to help with the humidity a bit. Also, in Guinea there may or may not be a law about taking photos (aka it’s illegal), but the truth is as long as you don’t take photos of military instillation or people you’ll be fine.

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  4. Hi Brendon thanks for the reply – one more question – would you mind giving me the contact information for your guide as a back to the guide we plan to use. Also – how much did you pay your guide ? Many thanks ! Jason

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    • Hey Jason… It was really the only trekking agent out there. It’s called Fouta Trekking and their website is http://www.foutatrekking.com and they are based in Labe. I had a guide named Cellou who was awesome. Just a note that they’ll likely only speak French… I’m not sure if you can request an English-speaking guide.

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  5. Hi Brendan .. I did check out Fouta Trecking a while back – glad to hear you had a good experience . The guide we plan to use speaks English – my French is OK but need someone to translate for interviews etc. How much did you pay your guide ?
    Really enjoying your blog and FB videos ! Many thanks Jason
    florio@floriophoto.com http://www.floriophoto.com

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  6. It’s looking very beautiful..I love those sceneries and the water-falls are very beautiful. We feel very pleasant atmosphere at that water-falls.The photography was really nice..

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  7. Brenda van son, its really cool seeing my village, its brings me back some old memories back when I use to live to their.

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    • Wow, that’s very cool! Some amazing people in those villages. Shame the military still has such an oppressive grip on that country,

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