‘What’s it like’ is a mini-series of blogs answering the burning questions about African countries which don’t enjoy a huge amount of good publicity in the world of travel and media.
Beautiful, modern and tourist-friendly, Ghana is Africa for beginners, a place where everyone speaks English, corruption is rare and the music isn’t loud enough until glasses are rattling off the shelves in the next village. Want to ease yourself into the African way of life? Ghana is the perfect place to start.
Where is it?
Ghana shares its borders with Côte d’Ivoire to the west, Togo to the east and Burkina Faso in the north. You’ll find gorgeous beaches from Axim to Cape Coast, soaring desert temperatures in the north, and refreshing waterfalls in the mountainous east.
What can I see there?
Heaps. Ghana is the most visited West African country (by non-Africans) by a long shot, it’s teeming with German volunteers and Americans finding themselves, as such there are plenty of well set-up tourist attractions. Unlike many West African countries, where tourism is a bit of a D.I.Y experience, there are excellent visitors centres at popular spots, and there are often guides available.
You can sip a cocktail under the palms at Elmina, and learn about Ghana’s slave trading history at Cape Coast Castle. Shop for gorgeous, multi-hued traditional West African fabrics at Accra’s sprawling Makola market, and go for a casual wander around Jamestown, a coastal fishing village with vibrant street art, ramshackle wooden bars and a pretty lighthouse.
Want to head off the tourist trail? Head to the Kane Kwei Carpentry Workshop in Teshie, the original home of Ghana’s weird and whimsical hand-carved coffins, or simply pull up a chair at a small local chop shop, you’ll find yourself deep in conversation with the locals in no time.
The Volta region is Ghana’s crowning glory. It’s clean, green and home to wandering roadside baboons and misty mountain ringed villages. Take the winding road to head to Ghana’s highest settlement of Amedzofe, a picturesque and prosperous village where you can take in the view from Mount Gemi or descend the precarious rocky slope to Ote Falls.
In Wli you can take an easy unguided walk to bathe under West Africa’s highest water falls as tens of thousands of bats circle overhead (go at the right time and you’ll have the whole place to yourself) or take a guide and make the two and a half hour climb to the top.
To the north, you’ll find the bustling Ashanti city of Kumasi, and Mole National Park, one of the cheapest wildlife parks in West Africa which is home to elephants, leopards and rare birds.
Are the people nice?
Yes! Open, honest and friendly, it’s super easy to strike up a conversation with a Ghanaian, and you can learn a lot about local politics and religion.
Ghana is overwhelmingly Christian, with churches representing every possible denomination scattered across the country. Allegiance to Jesus is plastered on every car, bus and shopfront, and businesses have names like ‘By His Almighty Grace Kitchen Supplies’, and ‘Jesus is my C.E.O Plumbing’. Ghanaians love to celebrate life, and even death – funerals are often vibrant, raucous affairs, with mini street parades, deafeningly loud music and dancing. If you go for a weekend drive you’ll invariably see huge marquees set up for either funerals or weddings, where the music will be pumping until the early hours. There’s a bit of a technique to the Ghanaian hand shake, which is punctuated by clicking your fingers with the other persons. It’s not a proper handshake until there’s a loud snap, and you’ll have people in fits of laughter if you can’t get it right after a couple of go’s.
One down side to the tourism in Ghana is the persistent begging, which is often more accurately described as ‘demanding’.
Cries of “money, give me some!” and “lady, you buy me food now!” come thick and fast in some areas, and children as young as two are trained to wave and chant “MONEY” at passing tourists. Handing out cash to everyone who asks isn’t doing anyone any favours, so use discretion, be jovial but firm, and you should get through without any major problems.
Is the food good?
YES. And the tastiest grub is found at little street-side stalls and chop shops, so you won’t even have to set foot in a proper restaurant for a good feed. You can pick up an overflowing tray of fried chicken, jollof rice and thick slabs of fried yam for 10 cedi ($2.80/1.65 euro), or get your fingers dirty with a bowl of kenkey and fried fish for even less. Meals like kenkey (ground corn dough) and banku (corn and cassava dough) are eaten with your fingers so there are often bowls of water at tables for washing your hands, don’t confuse this for drinking water, or you’ll be the laughing stock of the village for quite some time.
If one of your guilty pleasures is a big ol’ dirty bowl of Indomie noodles, a la high school lunchtimes, rejoice! Ghanaians are obsessed with Indomie, and you can pick up a pre-cooked bowl with sides in just about any town or village you’re likely to pass through.
Is it safe?
Absolutely. Begging is the only hassle you’re likely to endure in Ghana, and given it’s usually teenagers trying their luck, things are unlikely to get tense. The police and military are generally professional, and serious crimes like kidnapping are practically unheard of.
Where should I stay?
Unlike other parts of West Africa, where budget options are few and far between, there are plenty of places to stay in Ghana that are both comfortable and easy on the wallet. In Elmina, the beachfront paradise of the Stumble Inn provides bungalows, camping spots and plenty of shady areas to rest with an ‘African mojito’. The breakfast menu is spot-on, so you can start your day with French toast and grilled pineapple or chocolate and banana pancakes for as little as 15 cedi ($4.20/2.50 euro). In Accra, you’d be hard-pressed to find a friendlier spot than the Sleepy Hippo, a three storey hostel with a rooftop terrace, a fantastic restaurant and ever-smiling staff. There are also plenty of gorgeous campsites in Wli where you can pitch your tent or park your car for a pretty reasonable price.
VERDICT: Should you go? “Yes, my sistah/brothah!” *enthusiastic hand clap & snap*
PS: You can check out our visual diary from Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana here.