The untamed lands of West Africa encompass beautiful wildlife and bustling cities. Though temperatures can be sweltering, and travelers will have to contend with crime, poverty, disease, conflicts, and poor infrastructure; those who do visit will also experience the rich traditions, welcoming locals and a land that is virtually untouched by travel.

From Ghana’s legacy of slave forts to the vibrant city of Dakar in Senegal, West Africa is not a place that leaves the visitor untouched. Over 40 different cultures coexist in the region, speaking Arabic, French and English as well as over 70 tribal African languages. As you walk the streets, evidence of these cultures and legacies intertwine, weaving themselves into one African culture, and leaving the visitor with a feeling of elation.

To the north of the region is Nigeria’s magnificent Tenere Desert, with the Saharan nomadic caravans of Mauritania. Mali is home to the Dogon people, who live in cliff side villages, and have maintained their ancient traditions. West Africa’s oldest mosque can be found here, as well as the eternal city of Timbiktu. Many travelers find Mali to be the most interesting of countries in the region. A boat trip on the Niger will show you mud bungalows along the banks, and hippos bathing in the river.

Home of voodoo, Benin is a hotspot amongst intrepid travelers, with its thriving market and Porto Novo’s stilted fishing villages. The quaint Cape Verde islands boast the UNESCO city of Cidade Velha and Burkina Faso’s Parc Nationale de la Pendjari national park is well worth a visit. For some incredible West African experiences, spend time on the stunning Ivory Coast or Guinea’s musical heartland, Conakry.

Undoubtedly the most visited country in the region, Senegal, is huge. With its French culture, it is still far from being cosmopolitan. A highlight is a trip to the Ile de Goree. The Gambia is a popular place to participate in some voluntary work, but those choosing to visit Crocodile Pool should walk with caution, as tourists have been known to trip over the creatures.

All in all, West Africa is neither the easiest nor safest place to travel, but for those who appreciate adventure, it contains some hidden gems. Despite being relatively costly, the region is well worth a visit.