How to ride the tro-tro in Ghana, Africa

how to ride the tro-tro in ghanaWhen 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.tro-tro in ghanaPaying 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.

10 important phrases to know before going to Ghana, Africa

10 important phrases to know in ghana africaLearning a foreign language can be difficult. And, for people traveling to Ghana for only a short amount of time, trying to become fluent in Twi, the principal native language of the country, may be a bit farfetched. However, learning some important phrases before you go can help prepare you for a more comfortable experience.

Eti sen?
How are you?

In Ghana, the people are extremely friendly, and everyone, even complete strangers, are going to ask you this. Greetings are very important in Ghana, and if you don’t want to be seen as impolite then be sure to learn this phrase and use it as much as possible.10 important phrases to know before going to ghana africaEh ya.
I’m fine.

When someone asks you how you’re doing, this should always be your response, even if you’re having a terrible day. If Ghana, people don’t share these troubles in response to someone greeting them, so no matter how you are really feeling, just say you’re fine.

Ye fro wo sen.
What is your name?

When you meet new people, make sure to ask them their name, even if just to be polite. It is more than likely that you will also be asked what your name is many times throughout your stay in Ghana, so knowing this expression ahead of time can be helpful.

Maa chi/Maa ha/Maa jo.
Good morning/Good afternoon/Good evening.

Politeness goes a long way, and when locals see that you’re making an effort to learn their language and greet them, they’ll respect you more and not look at you as a lost and confused foreigner. It’ll also help you immerse yourself in the culture that much more.

Oburoni.
Foreigner.

This is an expression you will hear a lot. And, when I say a lot, I mean at least 20 to 100 times each day. While it may sound offensive, as in many Western cultures shouting “foreigner!” at someone is taken rudely, in Ghana they mean it in a friendly manner as a way to say hello and try to get to know you. Even if you don’t want to respond to the shouts of the locals, it is nice to know what exactly it is they are yelling at you.

Wo bay jay sen?
What is the fare?

As a visitor to the country, you most likely aren’t going to have a car (and once you see the crazy drivers, traffic congestion, and pothole filled roads in Ghana, you won’t want one). Therefore, taxis and tro-tros (kind of like a packed out mini-van) are going to be your transportation options. If you are traveling locally by tro-tro, you can almost bet that the fare will be under 1 Ghana Cedi. However, if you are taking a taxi it can be helpful to know how to ask how much the trip will cost.

Te so.
Reduce it.

On that some note, as an “oburoni” you will undoubtedly be charged the foreigner price, sometimes as much as four times what the locals pay. Don’t feel bad about bartering the price down. And, once the taxi drivers hear you speaking the local language, they will be more likely to give you a fair price.

Wa ye sen?
This is how much?

Just like with taxi fare, be prepared for hawkers and market salespeople to charge you a higher price than the locals. When shopping in the markets or buying food and other items on the street, politely ask how much something is. Then, go back to the prior phrase of “Te so”, and ask them to reduce it.

Koo se.
Sorry.

As a foreigner, it is inevitable that you will make mistakes along the way. If you find you have made a cultural faux pas, just be polite and apologize.

Me daa si.
Thank you.

The people of Ghana are very friendly and will often help you figure out your way around the area and local customs. Whether someone points you in the direction of the nearest public toilet, serves you a delicious meal, shows you the local beaches, or takes you on a guided tour of one of the historical castles, show gratitude and thank them.

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.”

Destination spotlight: the Volta Region, Ghana, Africa

The Wli Waterfalls at the Volta Region in Ghana, Africa. When people think of where they want to go on vacation, Ghana isn’t usually the first place that comes to mind. There are actually many good reasons to visit this African country, including an excellent exchange rate on the dollar, an experience rich in culture, and areas of untouched, natural beauty. These things and more can be found in the Volta Region in Ghana.

While many areas in Ghana have a chaotic, diesel-fueled city feeling, that all goes away as you experience the natural wonders and peaceful calm of the Volta Region. A great home-base to explore this area is Wli-Afegame, a small village outside of HoHoe, which can reached by tro-tro (think small, packed out mini van). From HoHoe, take a taxi to your hotel in Wli-Afegame. Some good ones are the Wli-Water Heights Hotel and the Wli Waterfall Lodge, which is right next to the Wli Waterfalls. For the rustic traveler, there is a hut-type accommodation with outdoor showers and toilets called Ras Madesko’s, which you can reach by having your taxi driver stay on the main road of town and drive up a mile past the waterfalls. Ras’s Rastafasian-style accommodation will be on your right, with a red, yellow, and green wooden guitar sign out front.Feeding monkeys at the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary in Ghana, Africa in the Volta Region.To explore the sites of the Volta Region you have a few options in terms of transportation. Your first and cheapest option is the tro-tro, which will save you money, but will also add hours to your itinerary and can be unreliable in this area. Your second option, and the most expensive choice, is to have a taxi drive you around. While this is convenient, it may end up costing you quite a bit (although don’t forget to bargain the price, as foreigners are often charged 3 to 4 times what locals pay). Your third option, and the one I would recommend, is to hire Ras Madesko (his real name is Stephan) to drive you around. Whether you are staying at his hostel or not, he will give you an affordable deal and will take you to all the major sites of the area. For example, I stayed at the Wli-Water Heights Hotel, and he charged three friends and I 40 Ghana Cedis total (about $25) for a few hours of touring.

So what should you see while in the Volta Region? Here are the top picks:

  • Volta Lake– This is what the entire region is known for, so it should definitely be on your to-do list. It is the largest reservoir by surface area in the world, and the fourth largest by water volume. Behind the lake are mountains that make for a great photo backdrop, while in front of the lake there are many tiny fishing boats along the shore. There is also a large market here that sells food, drinks, clothing, jewelery, and more.
  • Tafi-Atome Monkey Sanctuary– For a small fee (discounts for students and volunteers) you will be taken on a guided trek into the jungle and will learn about the monkeys that live there as well as the nearby cultural villages and how they value these monkeys. The best part is that once you find a pack of monkeys in the forest, the tour guide will give you bananas to feed to them. What they do not warn you about is that the monkeys will literally jump down from the trees onto your head to get the bananas. While it takes a few minutes to get used to, the monkeys are really sweet and it’s fun to get them to come to you.
  • Wli-Waterfalls– This is my top pick for Volta Region activities, as there are so many options of how you can spend your day here. For those who aren’t really into hiking and just want to see the waterfalls up-close, a guide can take you along a flat road for about 30-40 minutes right up to the falls (you can even swim in the water!). For those who want a challenge, there is an option to hike to the upper-falls that takes about 3 hours (or more, depending on your fitness level). The entire trek goes up an extremely steep, rocky path and, while they give you a walking stick, can be dangerous at times, especially on the way down. There are many look-out points and photo opportunities along the way, as well. This option is great for those who want to experience a challenge in the outdoors. When you are leaving the falls, you will be able to walk through the forest and see the various fruits and plants of the region in their natural habitat. Visitors can also explore a market filled with carvings, paintings, jewelery, and food at the entrance.
  • Mount Afadjato– This is a must-see, as it is the tallest mountain in Ghana. Visitors are not allowed to trek it alone, but may hire a guide to take them to the top. An information center with exhibits and photos are also at the base of the mountain.
  • Cultural Villages– There are many cultural villages bordering Wli-Afegame, and it is worthwhile to explore some of them just to get a sense the architecture and lifestyle of the people. If you see any hawkers selling fruit, make sure to get some bananas, as they are native to the area, and an evo, a large-green fruit a little bigger than a mango that you break open with your hands. The inside is sweet and fizzy, kind of like a candy-flavored root-beer.

How to eat fufu in Ghana, Africa

fufu, chicken, and groundnut soup in ghana in africa When traveling, experiencing the food of a culture can be one of the most exciting parts of the journey. Not only can you learn a lot about a group of people by their dining etiquette, but eating itself is fun.

Recently, I was lucky enough to take a trip to Ghana in Western Africa where dining rules and the cuisine itself differ greatly from that of Western culture. One specialty that is a local favorite, as well as a dish on every visitor’s list of foods to try, is fufu.

At first glance, fufu looks just like a lump of mashed potatoes sitting in some kind of soup. In your head you may picture yourself picking up a spoon, dipping it into the soft, creamy mound, and putting it into your mouth without a care in the world. Possibly it will taste buttery, and maybe there will even be some onions or chives in there.

If this is what you’re thinking, then you have never actually experienced fufu.

Fufu is a cassava-based dish. Basically, the root-based plant is boiled in water then pounded down with a mortar and pestle. What you have now is a thick dough-like mixture that needs to be ferociously stirred, which usually takes two people, one pounding the fufu with the long, wooden pestle and the other reaching in and moving it around in between the pounding. As an outsider, I always found this a bit hard to watch, as it always looked like the person moving the fufu around was moments away from losing their arm.Once the mixture is completely smooth you shape it into smaller balls, which are usually put into a soup and served with meat. Each time I had fufu, it was served with fried chicken in groundnut soup, a spicy broth made with a peanut base.

As most people who travel to Ghana will have their fufu made for them at a restaurant or someone’s house, the real task is knowing how to eat it. It is important to realize that in Ghana, eating with the left hand is considered extremely disrespectful. In this country, and many other Africa countries, your left hand is used for cleaning yourself (i.e. when you use the toilet) and the right hand is used for eating and handing things to others. Moreover, while Western dining etiquette places an emphasis on silverware, fufu, like much of the cuisine in Ghana, is eaten with the hands (the right hand, to be specific).

Before dining, two bowls filled with water will be placed in front of you, one for washing your hands before the meal, and one for washing your hands after. To eat this dish, break off a small piece of the fufu and make a small indentation in it. Use this indentation to scoop up some of the soup, then place it in your mouth, and, without chewing, swallow. Yes, I said without chewing. I found this concept very difficult to grasp for some reason, as instinct tells most of us to chew our food. However, my Ghanian companion would scold me, saying, “You don’t need to chew it, it’s already soft!”

The texture is a lot like gum, as there is a stretchiness too it, but also a bit more doughy. While a bit flavorless itself, dipping it into the soup gives it a spicy peanut flavor while adding some consistency to the meal. Once you remember the etiquette and get used to eating soup with your hands, it becomes quite simple to enjoy this local Ghanian favorite.

Check out this video on how to make fufu: