Hailed as West Africa’s golden child, Ghana deserves its place in the sun. One of Africa’s great success stories, the country is reaping the benefits of a stable democracy in the form of fast-paced development. And it shows: Ghana is suffused with the most incredible energy.
With its welcoming beaches, gorgeous hinterland, rich culture, vibrant cities, diverse wildlife, easy transport and affable inhabitants, it’s no wonder Ghana is sometimes labelled ‘Africa for beginners’.
It’s easy to come here for a week or a month, but no trip can be complete without a visit to Ghana’s coastal forts, poignant reminders of a page of history that defined our modern world.
Travel north and you’ll feel like you’ve arrived in a different country, with a different religion, geography and cultural practices. The beauty is that this diversity exists so harmoniously, a joy to experience and a wonder to behold in uncertain times.
Ghana’s beating heart probably won’t inspire love letters, but you might just grow to like it. The capital’s hot, sticky streets are perfumed with sweat, fumes and yesterday’s cooking oil. Like balloons waiting to be burst, clouds of dirty humidity linger above stalls selling mangoes, banku (fermented maize meal) and rice. The city’s tendrils reach out towards the beach, the centre and the west, each one a different Ghanaian experience.
The city doesn’t have any heavy-hitting sights like Cape Coast or Elmina but it does have good shopping, excellent nightlife and definitely the best selection of eating options in Ghana.
Cape Coast Castle
Cape Coast’s imposing, whitewashed castle commands the heart of town, overlooking the sea. Once one of the world’s most important slave-holding sites, it provides horrifying insight into the workings of the trade. Staff conduct hour-long tours, during which you’ll visit the dark, damp dungeons, where slaves waited for two to 12 weeks, while contemplating rumours that only hinted at their fate. A visit to the dungeons contrasts sharply with the Governor’s bedroom, blessed with floor-to-ceiling windows and panoramic ocean views.
There’s also an excellent museum on the first floor, detailing the history of Ghana, the slave trade and Akan Culture.
From afar, the Kejetia Market looks like an alien mothership landed in the centre of Kumasi. Closer up, the rusting tin roofs of this huge market (often cited as the largest in West Africa; there are 11,000 stalls and at least four times as many people working here) look like a circular shantytown. Inside, the throbbing Kejetia is quite disorienting but utterly captivating.
There are foodstuffs, second-hand shoes, clothes, plastic knick-knacks, glass beads, kente strips, Ashanti sandals, batik, bracelets and more.
Wandering around the market by yourself is absolutely fine: few tourists come here and shopkeepers will be pleasantly surprised to see you. Alternatively, go with a guide, who not only knows his or her way around but can also explain the more obscure trades and goods, and help you bargain and meet stallholders.
Mole National Park
It’s not everywhere you can get up close and personal with bus-sized elephants. Face-to-face encounters with these beasts, plus roving gangs of baboons, warthogs, water bucks and antelopes – 90 species of mammals in total – are possibilities at this national park, Ghana’s largest at 4660 sq km and best as far as wildlife viewing goes. The park consists for the most part of flat savanna, with gallery forests along the rivers and streams. Walking and jeep safaris take place daily.
Other Places Of Interest
Jamestown originated as a community that emerged around the 17th-century British James Fort, merging with Accra as the city grew. These days, Jamestown is one the poorer neighbourhoods of Accra – full of beautifully dishevelled colonial buildings, clapboard houses and corrugated iron shacks – but it remains vibrant. For a great view of the city and the busy and colourful fishing harbour (haze and pollution permitting), climb to the top of the whitewashed lighthouse.
There are several boxing gyms in Jamestown that have nurtured a long line of local kids into champions. You’ll see plenty of posters around. For entertainment there’s the excellent Jamestown Cafe and adjacent gallery.
St George's Castle
St George’s Castle, a Unesco heritage site, was built as a trading post by the Portuguese in 1482, and captured by the Dutch in 1637. It was expanded when slaves replaced gold as the major object of commerce, with storerooms converted into dungeons. The informative tour (included in the entry fee) takes you to the grim dungeons, punishment cells, Door of No Return and the turret room where the British imprisoned the Ashanti king, Prempeh I, for four years.
The Portuguese church, converted into slave auctioning rooms by the Protestant Dutch, houses a museum with simple but super-informative displays on the history and culture of Elmina.
Bojo Beach is so clean and chilled out that you’d never guess it was such a short drive west of Accra city. On arrival there’s a small entrance fee to pay, and you’ll then be rowed across a clear strip of water to a pristine strip of beach, where there are sun loungers and refreshments. It’s a worthy alternative to hectic Labadi Beach. If you want to stay the night the Bojo Beach Resort has suitably swish rooms.