Akwaaba! Welcome to Ghana
Ghana is an exotic, colourful and challenging destination … offering the perfect holiday for type-A personalities and other stimulation junkies. By Denise Slabbert
If Nigeria is the rebellious teenager of Africa, then Ghana is the kind older brother. Wherever you go in this crazy country, there is a sense of tolerance towards all and sundry (although I have a sneaky suspicion that foreign tourists do get a little bit of extra-special attention). Many refer to Ghana as the armpit of the world. I like to think this has less to do with Third World conditions and more to do with its position on the African continent. Sitting snugly between Togo and Cote d I’voire on the Gulf of Guinea, Ghana is one of the most exciting destinations in West Africa.
One arrives to a friendly welcome at Ghana’s Kotoka International Airport. ‘Akwaaba!’ is the standard greeting and the airport officials seem like a carefree bunch – they don’t even get annoyed when you refuse to throw in a few extra US dollars for that stamp in your passport. However, arriving in Ghana is the easy part. Travelling around the place is another story altogether. One should be warned at the outset – travelling around Accra (and, for that matter, the rest of Ghana) could be a hair-raising experience. Take the Rescue Remedy along and ask your guardian angel for some extra-special attention. As they say, Africa is not for sissies. Once you accept the frenetic activity on the potholed roads and Accra’s famous peak-hour traffic jams, what you’ll witness from the window of your hired taxi is a sight to behold.
Accra’s main streets are moving, thriving bazaars. Think nothing of buying underwear, fresh fish, children’s puzzles, wall maps, bathroom taps, hula hoops and potato crisps from the car window while you sit and wait for the traffic to sort itself out. For most people staying over in Accra for a night or two, the Labadi Beach area is the place of choice. Labadi boasts a number of excellent hotels and a few great beaches that are excellent for a lazy sundowner (while listening to a djembe orchestra in the background). However, modest accommodation is also available further along the coast.
The Next Door Beach Hotel and Restaurant along Beach Road in Teshie (not far from Labadi) is a great choice. Situated right on the ocean, this modest hotel/motel offers a comfy bed for the night (with hot running water and a decent sized en-suite bathroom). The Next Door Beach Hotel restaurant is the perfect place to hang out and snack on fresh fish and plantain chips as the waves crash dramatically on the rocks below. From here, access to Accra’s city centre is pretty easy as long as your timing is right (forget about moving anywhere during peak hour). A good starting point is the Arts Centre Market (aka the Centre for National Culture). Here, beaded masks, kente cloth, African artworks and creative curios are all on sale. Haggling is the order of the day, so get used to it (in a hurry).
It’s important to note that the taxi drivers in Accra are also pretty clued up on showing people around their city, and for a few extra cedi they will be happy to explore places of note, such as Independence Square and Osu Castle, Makola Market, Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and the WEB Du Bois Memorial Centre for African culture. They’ll also know all the hot and happening live music venues and jazz bars on the main drag – definitely worth a visit after the sun goes down. It’s probably a good idea to spend two to three days in Accra because there is so much on the go.
However, one cannot visit Ghana without exploring further. Places like the Cape Coast, the Ashanti region and even trips to the Lake Volta region are all worthwhile. The Cape Coast is generally first on the itinerary – the famous slave forts are found along this coastline. Getting away from the urban buzz of Accra opens up a whole new world. Tropical forests hug the main roads and there are little villages and rural dwellings everywhere. God is certainly alive and well in this part of the world. As you travel, you see a multitude of references to the Almighty and every second shop is called after something religious (i.e. Blood of the Lamb Carpet Cleaners, God is Good Textiles, Anointed Barber and Hairstylists … etc).
Along the Cape Coast, Kakum National Park (on the way to Elmina) is an exciting stopover, especially for nature enthusiasts. The 350m rope and cable canopy walk over the forest is one of only five in the world. Kakum is beautifully kept and the bird and animal life are abundant in this green lung. The canopy walkway, about 30m above the forest floor, has seven viewing platforms linked by swaying bridges. Visitors can also take a guided walk through Kakum National Forest, with the guided night walk being a major highlight.
The area of Elmina, close to Kakum, is home to the notorious St George’s Castle & Fort St Jago (known to many as ‘Elmina Castle’). This melancholy monument to slavery is a must on any traveller’s itinerary and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its historical value. From the castle, the views of the harbour and the town are pretty breath-taking. The Gold Coast is a popular tourist area (with a growing market of African-Americans arriving in search of their roots) and there are a number of good hotels in the area. Ghana is recognising the value of Slave Trail Tourism and there are a number of packages available that retrace slave history in this part of the world.
On the other side of the spectrum, tourists have really not exploited Ghana, which means there are a number of beaches that are yours for the taking. Winneba Beach, as well as Gomoa Fetteh Beach, offers some of the best beaches around. At Winneba, the beach stretches on for miles and miles, framed by clichéd palm trees stretching on beyond the horizon. A day trip to Kumasi, home of the Ashanti Kingdom of Gold, is another major highlight on any trip to Ghana. If you’re very lucky (as we were), you may catch a glimpse of the King of Ashanti in all his golden regalia. The Manhyia Palace Museum and National Cultural Centre in Kumasi are also worth exploring.
Ghana has really woken up to tourism in a big way and there is something for every traveller, from arts and crafts tours to gourmet cuisine safaris (learn to cook fufu, fried yam balls and palava), slave tours and batik workshops. If you’re looking for something completely different then arrange a drumming and dancing weekend on the Gold Coast with Ghana’s only female master drummer. For those who are more community-minded, there are a number of grass roots adventures available, including staying with the local people at a fishing village. For the sporty types, there is a canoe trip through the mangrove jungle of the Ankobra River or the super-fit can go on an endurance nature tour (biking through towns and villages, canoeing on rivers, etc).
The Volta Lake Cruise sounds like another exotic option, as does the Volta Eco Adventure tour, on which you hike through the Agumata Forest Reserve to the Wli Water Falls, followed by an early dawn visit to the monkey sanctuary at Tafi Atome. So, if you’re looking for an enlightening and exciting holiday adventure, go and experience Ghana for yourself. As the Ashanti saying goes, ‘Only when you have crossed the river, can you say the crocodile has a lump on his snout.’
GHANA ESSENTIAL INFO
Ghana offers a holiday for the more adventurous traveller. This is not your average sun, sea and sand destination, although all three are thrown in for a good measure.
Highlights at a Glance:
- Accra’s nightlife – particularly live music venues
- Kakum National Park
- Elmina and other slave trade sites
- The Cape Coast
- Ashanti Kingdom
- Winneba Beach
- Shopping up a storm at the local markets.
- Learning to cook traditional Ghanaian fare.
- An Upper Volta Cruise
- Wildlife: visit the elephants at Mole National Park, the hippos at Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary and the monkeys at Tafi-Atome Monkey Sanctuary.
- Tasting fufu for the first time … or not.
Taxis are pretty inexpensive and the drivers often moonlight as tour guides. Note that many of the car-hire companies don’t hire out vehicles unless you hire a driver as well.
Accommodation in Ghana ranges from B&Bs to guesthouses at very reasonable rates and four- and five-star hotels. For information on:
- Elmina Beach Resort on the Cape Coast, visit: www.gbhghana.com.
- Next Door Beach Hotel, visit: www.next-door.com.
Ghana and all its offerings, visit its tourism website at: www.ghanatourism.gov.gh
Image by Depositphotos