Birding West Africa – What It Is Really Like

I recently discovered Mr Currie’s YT channel and really love his filming style as he shows the whole experience and what it is really like to go birding in various locations.  While it doesn’t seem  that he has been to Ghana, he has been to Sierra Leone which has many of the same birds you would expect to find in West Africa such as the Picathartes, Senegal Parrot, Pin-tailed Whydah and more!   The topography between the two countries is also very similar and it seems that Mr Currie also struggled to get clear shots of the birds. Sadly, Sierra Leone is off limits until the ebola crisis is over but Ghana remains a safe place to see many of these species.

West Africa is a location where you will SEE a lot more than you will be able to PHOTOGRAPH because the foliage is so thick and the birds are more shy of humans (for good reason).  The glimpses of the towns his Rockjumper group pass through are equally fascinating and familiar to me from my Ghana experience except for the money changer.  What I really loved was the enthusiasm of the local guide who genuinely cares about the birds.  I don’t know if he is a former poacher turned into a guide but I have seen this attitude many times all over the world, where the birds cease to be just a means of getting money and the person comes to genuinely appreciate them for the wonderful little creatures they are and cares about their welfare.

Enjoy the video!

Birds of Western and Central Africa: (Princeton Illustrated Checklists)

This book may be an older version but the countries it covers are pretty amazing!  The territory covered is vast–nearly 2,500 miles down the coast and over 1,000 miles inland, including not only Senegal, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo but all or part of Benin, Burkina, Cameroon, Cape Verde, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Príncipe, São Tomé, Sierra Leone, and Togo.

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Getting To Ghana & Other West African Countries With Airline Miles

I will be using Accra’s Kotoka International Airport as an example because that is where I went and also because Ghana is in my opinion the best country in West Africa to go birding.

The first step is to identify which airlines that participate in one of the 3 alliances serve the airport in question.  You can do this by looking the airport up in Wikipedia and making a note of which airlines fly there and cross referencing with my guides on Star Alliance, OneWorld Alliance and SkyTeam.  The main airports of interest to birders will be Accra, Dakar, Banjul, Abidjan & Freetown (if ebola crisis is over).  Lagos, Nigeria and Douala, Cameroun could also open up to birders if the security situation improves.

This is what you are looking for and I have highlighted all alliance members in yellow.


Star Alliance rules Africa in general and for most people, these are the miles you want if you are going anywhere in West Africa.  Egyptair, Ethiopian Airlines, Lufthansa, TAP Portugal, Turkish (which the Wiki forgot) and South African Airways all fly here.  Most people will be using United Airlines miles for their trip although Australians may be using Singapore Krisflyer miles.  I advise using United or possibly Avianca Lifemiles to avoid YQ fuel surcharges.  Here are some typical routes and costs with United, all are quoted as one-ways so double it for a round trip.

Traveling from the USA or Canada will cost 40k economy or 80k business class.

UA Ghana1

From the UK or Europe you will pay 30k economy or 55k business class.  Watch the high airport tax from the UK!

UA Ghana2

From Australia or New Zealand you will pay 50k economy or 85k business class.

UA Ghana3

If you need intra-Africa flights, these are a bargain at  17.5k economy and 35k business class.

UA Ghana4If you are using Singapore Krisflyer, the miles are reasonable but the YQ surcharge is insane!

SQ Africa

Seriously?  Over $500 AUD for the YQ surcharge!!!


Only 2 OneWorld Airlines serve Accra – British Airways and Iberia.  Both attract YQ surcharges (BA is higher than IB) so these routes will not be most people’s first choice.  Due to routing restrictions, you will need to redeem 2 awards if you are coming from Australia/New Zealand – Singapore/Bangkok – West Africa.

AA Ghana

If you are flush with Avios from a credit card bonus, they are an option but please note the YQ surcharges!

Avios Ghana1 Avios Ghana2SKYTEAM

Accra is served by 4 Skyteam partners – Delta, Kenya Airways, KLM and Middle East Airlines.

Delta has surprisingly good availability.  They no longer publish an award chart so I did a few examples.  From the USA/Canada mileage starts at 40k economy & 90k business class and goes up depending on saver availability.

Delta1 Delta2 Delta3

Notice how much higher the YQ surcharges are for these examples for Sydney and London!

Delta4 Delta5 Delta6


Using Flying Blue miles on Kenya Airways can be good for hopping around Africa and they do add certain destinations like Madagascar that Star Alliance can’t provide.  For more information on using Kenya Airways, see my Madagascar post.


If you want to go to West Africa, collect United Mileage Plus!  Chase is your friend!