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: Kokrobite, Ghana, Africa

kokrobite ghana africaFor those traveling in Ghana who want to get out of the big, noisy capital city of Accra, Kokrobite is a beach paradise located less than an hour away. The village is easily accessible by tro-tro from Tema Station, Kaneshie Market, or anywhere else you see people hailing a car. Kokrobite can provide both a perfect day trip or an enjoyable weekend stay.

Where to Stay

Whether you plan on actually spending the night or just the day, Big Milly’s Backyard is the ultimate backpackers haven on the beach. While that might sound like a marketing ploy, I mean it to the fullest extent. Big Milly’s is just as well known as the village of Kokrobite itself and is the place where backpackers and locals both come to hangout, party, eat, and relax. Room styles range from single rooms to suites to dorm-style huts to outdoor tents. The property of the accommodation fills with marketers during the day selling clothing, paintings, toys, accessories, and more. A bar, multiple outdoor restaurants, hammocks, picnic tables, and an ocean breeze add to the relaxing and idyllic atmosphere of Big Milly’s.Where to Eat

While Big Milly’s is a bit pricier than the other restaurants and road-side stalls in town, you will still most likely pay less than you normally would at home. For example, a spinach tagliatelle made with vegetables, cheese, and white wine sauce costs 12 cedis (about $7), mixed roast vegetables with couscous will cost 11 cedis (about $7), and huge plate of vegetable fried rice will cost you 8 cedis (about $5). They also have a snack stand that sells biscuits, crackers and toffee (candy).

If you would like to try something traditional, in town there is a small structure called the Broken Chair Bar. If you go inside, it appears to be the home of the woman who runs it. You can have an authentic Ghanian meal here for extremely cheap. Try the fufu in ground nut soup (a cassava-based dough ball in a peanut based soup) with fried chicken or the jollof rice (rice that is cooked in red, spicy sauce), both about 3 cedis (less than $2).

Culture

Many of the people, though not everyone, who inhabit Kokrobite follow a Rastafarian lifestyle. Walking around the village, there are many small shops and bars that cater to this lifestyle. One fun and unique place to try is Cafe des Artes, an outdoor venue that plays Bob Marley-type music all day long, is decorated with funky beads, and serves fresh palm wine (you can purchase a whole soda bottle full for about 6 cedis, which is about $5). Don’t be alarmed that the wine doesn’t come in a wine bottle, it usually comes in a soda bottle or plastic gas-tank style containers no matter where you buy it.

Drumming is a large part of Ghanian culture, and is something enjoyable to experience for yourself, especially on the beach in Kokrobite. Visit Berlin Drum School and ask them for a lesson on the beach. The cost is supposed to be about 25 cedis (about $15), although with the help of a local friend I was able to get the lesson for 5 cedis (about $3). The boys will create beats for you to mimic, teach you how to properly hold and hit the drum, and will even dance for you.

On Friday and Saturday nights, Big Milly’s hosts cultural shows that bring the laid-back atmosphere of the village to life. Friday nights feature BBQ and bonfires while live cultural acts, such as drummers and dancers, perform live. On Saturday nights, reggae shows and highlife bands take the stage as the dance floor (beach) becomes packed. Beers cost about 2 cedis (about $3), while cocktails are about 4 cedis (about $2.50).

For a video tour of Big Milly’s Backyard, check out this video: