How to ride the tro-tro in Ghana, Africa

When traveling through Ghana, Africa, one thing that is inevitable, at least if you don’t want to go broke wasting all of your money on taxi fare, is that you will have to ride the tro-tro. The tro-tro is kind of like a bus system, although a bit more confusing and with a lot less personal space once on board. For first time users, it can be quite daunting trying to hail one (not going to lie, it took me a few days to work up the courage to figure these things out). However, once you learn how to use the tro-tro system, it’s fairly simple (and extremely budget-friendly).

Hailing a tro-tro

There are various tro-tro stops located around each city, and even if you’re not near one, you can often just wave one down on the side of a main road. Often if you look lost or like you want to go somewhere (or even if you don’t), the tro-tro drivers will ask you where you are going. People in Ghana are extremely friendly and helpful, so don’t be afraid to ask someone where to get a tro-tro to a certain destination. When traveling through Ghana, I never actually saw a posted bus route, so I found it helpful to carry a notepad and pen and write down the destination name when I wanted to ask how to get somewhere. From there, people would tell me where to pick up the correct tro-tro and where to switch lines, if need be. If you are traveling to another city, for example, from Accra to the Volta Region or Swedru to Cape Coast, you will need to go to a major station or bus depot to catch the tro-tro.Paying for the tro-tro

If you are traveling within the city, you pay once on board. You can usually assume the fare is less than 1 cedi, and you can always try to peek at what other people sitting in front of you are paying. I wouldn’t recommend letting on that you don’t know how much it is, because while the tro-tros are a lot less likely to rip you off than the taxis are, it still happens. If in doubt, hand the person collecting the money either a 50 pesawa coin or 1 cedi and hold up 1 finger to indicate that you are paying for just yourself (if you’re paying for you and a friend, hold up 2 fingers).

If you are traveling out of the city, you usually pay for your ticket before you board. There will either be signs posted for ticket booths or you will hear someone shouting the name of the destination. If you have bags, the tro-tro drivers may try to charge you a fee if you want to keep them in the back. While I have seen locals refuse this fee, I usually just paid it, as it was a always only 1 or 2 cedis, which I didn’t think was worth the hassle. However, that is up to you.

Departure times

With local travel you can usually expect to leave momentarily after boarding. However, if you are traveling to another city, the tro-tro will not leave until it is full. You have to remember that you are on what many people refer to as “Africa Time” in Ghana, so there is no set schedule. For example, when taking the tro-tro from Swedru to Cape Coast, it took about 10 minutes for the van to fill up. However, when I took the tro-tro from Accra to the Volta Region, it took 3 hours for the van to fill up, adding a large amount of time to an already long ride (5 hours). To put it bluntly, bring a book, because you may be waiting awhile.

Using the toilet

There are no toilets on board, which can be scary for long journeys. However, there is one option. You can tell the driver that you “have to urinate”. From there, he will pull over and you can go on the side of the road. This may sound funny now, but during a 5 hour tro-tro ride in which you you had to wait 3 hours for the vehicle to leave, it won’t be so funny.

Food and drinks

While you shouldn’t expect an on-board dining service, you don’t need to worry about going hungry or dying of thirst. Whether you are parked or moving, there will be hawkers on the side of the road banging on your window and calling for you to buy their goods. Some treats you can purchase from the window of your tro-tro? Plantains, nuts, fried yam and fried chicken, chicken fried rice, Fan Ice (kind of like an ice cream pop), bananas, water bags, apples, snail kebabs, meat pies, biscuits, and more.

What to expect

For one, don’t expect to have very much space. Usually, the tro-tros will try to pack as many people into one van as possible. Once, on a short ride (thank goodness!) from Kaneshie Market to Tema Station, I was so squished in to the tro-tro that I literally couldn’t bend my arm to get my money out of my purse. Also, don’t expect your seat to be firmly locked into place unless you are on a newer tro-tro. There will be a lot of bouncing going on. Make sure you’re aware of your personal belongings at all times. While I didn’t have too many problems, I once had a hawker try to reach in and grab my camera. And lastly, be prepared for anything. I’ve taken simple tro-tro rides where I’ve sat next to friendly locals who would ask me about myself and tell me about life in Ghana. I’ve also taken some more chaotic tro-tro rides with sermons going on, people singing gospel music, salespeople shouting product pitches, and loud music blasting from the speakers (in Ghana, the stereos are often on at ear-bleeding volumes).

Overall, tro-tros are a safe, cheap, and convenient (though sometime unreliable) way to travel around Ghana, and can often provide you will cultural insight and interesting travel stories to remember even after your trip has ended.