Les Cascades de Man
From my very first week here, my students, colleagues, and friends would constantly tell me about one of Côte d’Ivoire’s greatest natural beauties: the waterfalls of Man. From the way they talked about it, I always assumed it was relatively close to Abidjan. I was very wrong.
Man sits in the mid-western part of the country. Despite its popularity as a tourist destination, the unmaintained roads make it about a ten-hour drive from Abidjan. Personally, my knees can’t handle that, so I assumed I’d never get to make the trip. But the photos and description of Man seemed ethereal and the flight is only an hour long, so in my second to last week, my friends and I took a three-day trip to Man!
I’ll start with what we did and then close with logistics for anyone who’d like to visit!
The key to great waterfall views is going during the rainy season. But this comes with drawbacks. On the first day, rained cats and dogs, so my friends and I sat on the patio and journaled. With only two weeks left in the fellowship, it seemed fitting to write a letter to my future self. The rain was therapeutic and left me feeling cleansed of my anxieties about the future.
When it cleared up, we went on a two-mile walk around town. I always appreciate getting a window into regular people’s lives when I’m visiting a small town, and try to keep an eye out for any signs of unwelcome. Two girls followed us down the road and asked for our numbers. After that, we met up with some friends of a friend, had dinner and drinks, and made it back to the hotel by midnight. I went to bed pretty content.
The next day, we got up bright and early for our adventure.
Although the waterfalls are Man’s selling point, it was not the main focus of our trip. We decided to hike Le Dent de Man as our main activity, go to the grand waterfall, and then a monkey forest to close out the day. It was a packed itinerary, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Le Dent de Man is a steep mountain maintained by Man residents. As we worked our way up, our guide constantly pointed out different crops and forest projects like palm wine harvesting and palm oil creation. The paths are narrow, made for single file, and for the first hour, you’re likely to run into locals tending to their crops. Some even gave us palm wine for strength. A chorus of du courage followed us up the mountain.
I have never seen such a wonderful balance of maintaining local practices and accommodating visitors. Man is a beautiful example of prioritizing preservation over tourism. While we were welcome, our little hiking adventure was not the priority, and that's great. From the nature of the trails to the absence of Western-style hiking accommodations, it was refreshing to experience Le Dent de Man in a form relatively undisturbed by people.
This preservation could also be due to the nature of the hike.
I consider myself a semi-experienced hiker. Every year for the past decade, I’ve done a large hike, several day backpacking trips, and have even led trips for my friends or campers. Even with this, Le Dent de Man was hard. A part of it comes from the preservation-based maintenance aspect of the mountain – there are no ropes, objective, easy markers, nor typical hiking aids (like Karens or unnatural resting spots) on the way up. I was on my hands and knees on the way up and slid my way down half the mountain.
Another element is gear and timing. While it's best to go during the rainy season for the waterfalls, this also means the mountain is incredibly muddy. I wore regular running sneakers (which I almost never do in the states) and seriously struggled to get up and down the mountain. When I wasn’t slipping, I was fighting to maintain my balance. The summit is quite steep and my guide often had to climb a rock first and then lend a hand to help me up.
Despite the challenges, I LOVED the hike. I have never been in such a low-level disrupted forest in my life, and I enjoyed the personal challenge of navigating the environment while minimizing my impact. There are several natural stopping points, each with incredible views of the town and the surrounding mountains. As you look around, there are deep green mountains everywhere. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it. Every opportunity we got to gaze out at the horizon felt like an ephemeral gift. It was literally breathtaking.
I should also mention that without a guide, it is impossible to do this hike. I don’t care if you’ve climbed Mt. Everest, get a guide to hike Le Dent. It’s only about 5-6 hours, but I cannot imagine anyone doing it alone safely.
It is a priceless privilege to have the opportunity to be immersed in nature - to stand atop a mountain and look out at the horizon. I am incredibly grateful for our tour guide for leading us up there, my body for getting me through the hike, and the locals who allowed us into the space they clearly care so deeply about.
After the hike, we taxied over the Grand Waterfall, which was a perfect way to cool down. I rinsed my hands, feet, and face in the running water, and splashed around for about forty-five minutes. It felt like an upscale NYC fire hydrant summer.
Close to the waterfalls, there is a small monkey forest where you can pay 2,000 XOF to feed some monkeys and take a picture with a baboon. Personally, I don’t trust monkeys so I watched from a distance, but my friends really enjoyed this close to our day.
We got some coconuts, taxied home, ate, and enjoyed the rest of our night in the hotel. It was honestly the perfect day.
Getting To Man
There is one flight in and out of Man via Air Côte d’Ivoire once every other day. It’s best to visit Man during the rainy season, but it also means that your flight and trip and likely to be delayed due to storms. After sitting in the tiny domestic terminal for a while, we boarded the plane, and within an hour, we landed at the Man airstrip and the tiniest airport I’ve ever seen in my life.
The Man airport is minuscule. It can’t be any bigger than a small house; I’m pretty sure the coffee shop I’m writing this from is bigger. It’s surrounded by lush trees and stunning mountains, but it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere.
This is important because if you plan a trip you should understand that there are zero taxis or public transportation from the airport when you arrive.
We got lucky. A driver from Hôtel Beau Sejour poached us from our original hotel by offering to drive us there as he dropped off visitors with a reservation. But on the ride there, we decided to swap to Hôtel Beau Sejour because the ride is complimentary for hotel guests and we could find more info online about it than our original plan, Hotel Vei.
I cannot express how great of a decision this was. Although Beau Sejour is more expensive, it is absolutely worth it. The guide the front desk recommended ended up being cheaper than our original guide, we ate at the restaurant regularly, and because it is at the entrance of Man, on our first day, we walked around town to explore a bit and were able to see parts of Man that aren’t shown on an average tour. I cannot recommend this place enough.
Man should be on your CDI bucket list if you are in the country for more than a month. It was the perfect way to close out my program and I hope to visit again someday.