10 reasons to visit Ghana, Africa

cape coast castle When planning a vacation, it isn’t too often you hear people choosing Ghana as their must-visit destination. In reality, there are many unique and worthwhile experiences to be had in this African country. Before I visited, I was unsure what to expect, as I didn’t know anyone who had ever been there. However, the friendly people, unique foods, and culturally immersive experiences made me fall in love with the country. To give you a better idea of what I’m talking about, here are 10 reasons you should add Ghana, Africa, to your bucket list.

Rich history

There are many fascinating museums and historical sites to visit in Ghana. If you want this to be the focus of your trip, I would recommend making a stop in the city of Cape Coast. This is where you’ll find Cape Coast Castle (pictured above) and Elmina Castle, two castle museums that were stops on the trans-Atlantic slave trade. While hard to stomach, a tour of these castles will give you an important lesson in history as you are shown dungeons, slave vessels, old cannons and secret chambers while hearing stories of the past. There are also numerous forts, like Fort William and Fort Victoria, which were used as lookout points to protect the city from Ashanti attacks in the nineteenth century.drums and music Lively drum and music culture

Everywhere you go in Ghana, you will find locals dancing to drum beats and listening to upbeat sounds. Even walking down the street in the capital of Accra, I felt like the sound of the Djembe drum was the soundtrack of my life. Nevertheless, this made it impossible to ever feel unhappy. When I was in Kokrobite, my friend and I took drum lessons on the beach from the boys at the local Berlin Drum School. It was amazing how they were able to create such intricate rhythms using just one drum. We also got to see the drummers put on an impromptu reggae dance show, which seemed to happen a lot in Ghana.

Budget-friendly

No matter what you’re financial situation is, it’s always nice to save money, especially on an international trip. Although in Ghana you will rarely find anything that’s free – I even got scolded for trying to use a Porta-Potty without paying the necessary fee. You will usually be paying less than you would at home for the same things. For example, a ride on the local bus (tro-tro) will cost about 15 cents, an ice cream pop, about 35 cents and a hostel bed about $6. I actually shared a clean and comfortable hotel room with two friends in the Volta Region that ended up costing us only $6 each, per night. Moreover, remember the first price you’re told in markets, small shops and when taking a taxi is the “oburoni price” (foreigner price), which is usually at least three times as much as a local would pay. Because of this, it is important to bring your best bartering skills and act confident that you know the local exchange, even if you don’t.

volunteer Volunteer opportunities

While Ghana is a great place to visit, there is no denying the country needs much help. According to UNICEF, in 2009 there were about 230,000-260,000 individuals living with HIV/AIDS, and because of this, millions of children are left orphans. Furthermore, pollution, child labor, and education are all areas that need improvement in the country. When I visited Ghana, I did orphanage work at the Achiase Children’s Home through International Volunteer Headquarters (IVHQ). It was an unforgettable experience as I not only got to help children, but also live with locals and really experience their way of life. IVHQ is one of the more affordable organizations around, and also features teaching, agricultural, medical and sports education programs. If you’re interested in helping with domestic abuse and women’s empowerment projects, Global Volunteer Network might be of interest to you. Additionally, SE7EN is a network of free and low-cost volunteer opportunities that can help you find a project without paying a middleman.

Friendly people

The people of Ghana are probably the friendliest people I have ever met. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are or what you’re doing, the locals want to talk to you. Even at 6:00 a.m., when I would go running, locals would stop their cars or turn from their market stalls and try to talk to me. Remember that in Ghana greetings are very important. Locals tend to say hello to strangers, so be polite and wave back. As a visitor, you will constantly hear the word “oburoni” (foreigner) being shouted at you. While this may seem offensive – it took me a bit of getting used to – the locals are just trying to get to know you. Take the opportunity to have a conversation with someone new and learn something.

ghana Natural experiences

Although Ghana is not a safari destination, it still has plenty of opportunities to experience nature and wildlife. Along with the many beaches and parks around the country, the city of Cape Coast offers the chance to trek over a swinging canopy bridge suspended high over the trees of Kakum National Park. The city also features a crocodile pond at Hans Cottage Botel where you can pet and sit on crocodiles.

My favorite location for natural experiences was in the Volta Region, specifically the secluded town of Wli-Afegame, located right outside HoHoe. Here, you will be immersed in mountain scenery, lush flora, and beautiful waterfalls. You can choose to hike to the top of Wli-Falls or Mount Afadjato, the tallest mountain in Ghana. Other nearby natural experiences include visiting the majestic Volta Lake and feeding monkeys in the jungle at the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary (pictured above).

Beautiful beaches

Ghana is home to some excellent beaches, and along with lying in the sun there are usually local artisans, fishermen and drummers giving the, usually lazy, experience a cultural touch. I loved chatting with the craftsmen as they made bracelets and art, and listening to the fishermen sing as they pulled in their nets. Even when these interesting locals aren’t around, the beaches in Ghana offer a refreshing and picturesque retreat from the more chaotic streets of the cities.

ghana food Unique foods

While you’ll always find ethnic foods when you travel to a foreign country, there is often an overlap of ingredients between those and the foods you are used to at home. In Ghana, however, there are many foods that I had never seen before in all my travels, like the root-based dishes fu-fu, banku, and kenkey. Furthermore, a lot of their soups have a rich and spicy peanut base, something I was not used to but fell in love with. With fruit, I became obsessed with the evo, a giant, prickly, melon-looking thing with a fluffy and fizzy inside. It has a sweet yet sour taste that reminds me of Pop Rocks or Sour Patch Kids.

Laid-back villages

In Ghana, you’ll find many bustling cities to explore; however, nearby you’ll almost always find a laid-back village to retreat to. These easy-going regions usually take on a Rastafarian-vibe, as there are many Ghanian locals who live a full-on Rastafarian lifestyle. These quieter areas are where I found it easiest to interact with locals on a more personal level, which was helpful for learning about the culture. My favorite laid-back village in Ghana was Kokrobite, accessible by tro-tro about 45 minutes outside Accra. Here, both locals and tourists congregate at Big Milly’s Backyard, a beachfront backpacker hostel with tiki-style accommodations, art fairs, live music, delicious food and reggae festivals.

art in ghana Handicrafts and art

Art, beads, pottery, weaved clothing and woodcarvings are very important in Ghana culture and can be found anywhere you go. When browsing the art, you’ll probably notice certain symbols and images that come up repeatedly. Through these depictions, you’ll be able to learn a lot about societal themes and beliefs. Whenever I was in an art market, I enjoyed talking with the artists and asking them about the stories in their pieces. You’ll also find many carved masks and statues, each holding their own special meaning. If you’re a female and want a unique souvenir, buy a long, thin strand of beads, which is tied around the hips and known as “Ghanian lingerie.”

Destination spotlight: Cape Coast in Ghana, Africa

cape coast in ghana, africaOne reason that many people decide to travel to Ghana in Western Africa is to learn about the history of the land and people. While there are many worthwhile areas to visit in Ghana, those looking to learn about Ghana’s past, as well as experience some nature and adventure, should head over to Cape Coast.

Depending on what type of atmosphere you are looking for, two popular accommodation options include the Oasis Beach Resort and the Hans Cottage Botel. If you’re looking for something right on the beach, in the heart of the city, and near great shopping markets, Oasis is the way to go. This hotel/hostel is also within walking distance to Cape Coast Castle. However, if you want something in a more rural setting and closer to the major tourist attractions, such as Elmina Castle, Kakum National Park, and the crocodile pond (on site), then the Hans Cottage Botel is for you.

So what should you do to make the most of your time in Cape Coast? Here are the top picks:

  • Elmina Castle- This castle was first built in 1482 and was the first trading post built on the Gulf of Guinea. It acted as a trade settlement until it later became a stop on the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade route. This is the bigger of the two slave castles and is a must-see for travelers in Cape Coast, as you will be taken on a guided tour and learn about the history of the slave trade. Moreover, Elmina Castle is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Cape Coast Castle- Cape Coast Castle, while the smaller of the two, is still definitely worth the visit. Originally built to be used as a trading post for timber and gold, it later become part of the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade route. A tour of the castle gives visitors insight into the slave trade’s past, as well as a look at the dungeons and Door of No Return. Visitors will also be able to see the plaque dedicated to President Barack Obama from when he visited the site in 2009.
  • Fort William and Fort Victoria- These forts were once lookout posts used to protect Cape Coast Castle. Both are replacements for Smith’s Tower and Phipp’s Tower, respectively. While they are not in use anymore, visitors can still visit the forts for a small fee.
  • Kakum National Park- This park is one of the most famous national parks in Ghana and is comprised of mostly untouched rainforest. While there is supposedly 40 species of mammals, I did not see much aside for some birds. The real highlight of visiting the park is the canopy walk, which allows hikers to traverse over a swinging bridge suspended high over the trees. At times, you actually feel as though you are going to fall over the edge, making it quite scary (yet fun!). While the activity costs 30 Ghana Cedis, bring a student ID (or something that looks like it could maybe be a student ID) and receive 50% off. In terms of getting there, if you are staying at Hans Cottage Botel you will be able to hire a taxi that will take you round-trip for 40 Ghana Cedi (although, I was able to talk my driver down to 30 Ghana Cedi).
  • Crocodile Pond-Located on site at Hans Cottage Botel, there is a pond surrounding the hotel restaurant that is filled with crocodiles. It is pretty wild to see, and some people even pet and sit on them (although, I will admit, I didn’t try this). When I asked a worker at the hotel if people are really allowed to sit on the crocs his response was, “Yes. As long as the crocodile is not hungry, he will not bite you.”