Long before I started documenting my travels in blog form, I went to Ghana. I was volunteering with a charity called Thrive Africa, putting libraries in schools and working with orphans and abandoned children. It’s been several years since I spent my summer journeying the country from south to north and back down again, so for the purposes of this post you’ll be pleased to know I’ve done some fact-checking with a Ghanaian friend to make sure everything is up to date.
If you’re wondering why some of these photos are a bit grainy, the answer is ‘because cameras were still made of pebble in 2012 and not everyone had a smartphone yet’. Deal with it. Ghana is beautiful, and hopefully that will still be evident in spite of some of these photos being a little scratchy. I’ve ordered destinations from south to north, so switch that around if you’re entering the country from Burkina Faso or starting at the top for any other reason!
Makola Market, Accra
Chances are if you’re flying in, the first place you’re going explore in Ghana will be Accra. Accra is awesome, but very very hectic – and Makola market may be one of the most hectic spots of all. You can book walking tours of Accra’s markets, but if you like getting lost in new places then I’d recommend just ambling in and spending a few hours checking out the wild variety of stuff on sale.
There are reams of fabric in every loud, bright pattern you can think of, herbal remedies, fresh food, household goods and handmade jewellery – to name a few things. Sections of the market where fish and meat are prepared can be, uh, fragrant? But for the most part the scent on the air is sugary tropical fruits, with your view of the meat stalls usually obscured by towering stacks of pots and pans, bracelets, shampoos and books.
Some of the sellers can be a little pushy, but haggling is welcome and it’s not hard to get a good deal when everything is cheaper than expected anyway. Fresh produce comes in from the countryside regularly, as organic as you can get, and it only costs pennies to stock up. As far as crowded marketplaces go, it’s certainly one of the most characterful places I’ve experienced.
The Cape Coast & Its Castle
An easy journey from Accra, the Cape Coast area is seriously chilled-out, housing a combination of Rastafarian-run beach cafes and cosy restaurants along the seafront. I stayed at Oasis Beach Resort after my volunteering was over, in a simple but gorgeous beach hut where the porch was only a few metres from the sand, and it’s still highly recommended by travellers passing through. There’s a great little bar, and it’s very easy to while away an afternoon in the sunshine there.
The beach here is a working beach, so you’ll see fishing boats come and go and the occasional pig being herded along the shoreline, but it’s all hot sun and sweeping palms, all the time.
Cape Coast Castle is an absolute must if you’re in this area. A legacy of the brutal slave trade, taking a tour is emotional, honestly a little uncomfortable, but very much worthwhile. The views along the coast are stunning, but inside you’ll see where slaves were kept in their final days before being shipped off around the world, hearing harrowing tales of exactly what went on. Walk through the Door Of No Return, and be prepared for a deeply haunting feeling.
Once you’ve had your history lesson, seek out a pick-me-up at Baobab House restaurant and guesthouse. It’s all veggie, a mixture of local favourites like redred and fufu alongside Western dishes like carbonara and sandwiches, and it’s run by a non-profit who support disadvantaged children in the area. They also have a shop where you can pick up handmade batik, pottery and other crafts.
Also – if you happen to see a smoothie and breakfast shack run by a Rasta named Stonez, let him serve you up some magic. You won’t regret it.
Kakum National Park
I’m trying to do these in a logical order, people, and I hope you appreciate that. 20 miles North of the Cape Coast, you’ll pass Kakum National Park before reaching my next recommendations and if you stop off, you can see bongo antelope, forest elephants and Diana monkeys (among other things). Open Monday-Saturday from 6am until sunset, the fees vary but currently for a non-Ghanaian adult to enter and take part in a treetop walk it’s 50 cedis – just under £8.
It’s the chance to walk through the treetops that draws most people here, with views over the rainforest from 100ft in the air. Those without a head for heights are best to stay on the ground, as the walkways are… pretty wobbly, even in still air!
Three different varieties of pangolin are known to live in this area, though I’m sad to say I didn’t see any – but the area is so biodiverse it’s impossible to spend a day at Kakum and not see at least half a dozen animals you won’t cross paths with anywhere else.
Asante Palace Museum, Kumasi (Via Lake Bosomtwe)
The next stop on the south to north tour of Ghana has to be Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city. It’s a four hour drive north from Kakum and chances are it’s going to be a very bumpy, hot ride – if you can, stop at Lake Bosomtwe en route for a cool-off swim and a photo opportunity. There are little boats you can float around on for added serenity vibes, and a changing room (in the loosest sense of the term) if you want to go the whole hog and dive right in.
Once you arrive in Kumasi, make a beeline for the Asante Palace Museum. This is where you’ll get your next dose of Ghanaian history, learning all about the Asante / Ashanti Nation and its kings and queens. It doesn’t have the levels of excessive grandeur that Buckingham Palace in London has, but when you’re done educating yourself in Ghanaian cultural history you can at least admire the former king’s crystal minibar set before you head to the gift shop for postcards and keyrings.
(There’s also plenty of incredible handcrafted gold-work made by the Asante people throughout history, which my guide felt was not as interesting as the minibar.)
The grounds of the palace are home to strutting peacocks and the occasional stray goat, and make an excellent place to stop for a picnic if you’ve been sitting in a cramped bus for ages to get here.
Boabeng Fiema Monkey Sanctuary
Prepare yourself for another long journey – and the roads are only going to get bumpier as you head further north. Rather than head straight for Tamale or Bolgatanga, break up the epic journey from Kumasi by stopping off at the Boabeng Fiema monkey sanctuary on your way.
It’s about a four hour drive from the city centre, for much of which you’ll be getting bounced around so much that any hope of sleeping en route is far more than wishful thinking. You aren’t going to get to the rest of this list any other way though, so you might as well see all the good stuff as you go.
There is a guest house if you want to stay the night, and you’ll find this little slice of paradise in the Nkoranza North District of Brong Ahafo – Google maps knows. Of the two monkey species you’ll see roaming wild here, the mona monkeys are the bravest. Hold out a handful of peanuts and keep your fingers tight around them, and they’ll nudge you off finger by finger until they can get their prize.
There are also black and white colobus monkeys roaming around, as this is one of the only places left in the world where you can see these guys in the wild. They aren’t quite so keen to hang out as the monas, but it’s still pretty awe-inspiring hearing trees full of them calling out to each other to pass on the word that you’re approaching, and seeing packs of them scampering up dirt tracks and jumping from branch to branch.
Speaking of trees – the forest here is abundant in parasitic ficus trees, a variety of plant which survives by sucking the life out of other trees, and encasing them in the process. They look like something out of Lord of the Rings and make a fun photo opp to get inside, although you should keep an eye out for creepy crawlies if you do.
If you’re in the area as a volunteer, mention it when you’re paying to venture in and you’ll get a decent discount.
Half an hour north of Boabeng is Kintampo, and near Kintampo you’ll find the Kintampo Waterfalls. Nice and logical. Forming part of the hilariously named Pumpum River, these are some of Ghana’s highest waterfalls, and they’re a pretty nice spot to stop for a swim when you’re feeling hot and sticky this close to the equator.
When I went, the route down was so steep and uneven that it was safer to go barefoot than in flipflops for those without proper footwear, but you’ll be pleased to hear that access to the falls has now been upgraded to some genuinely quite snazzy stairs. Proper ones, with handrails and stuff. This is not to be taken for granted, and was literally done with ‘tourists who want to take selfies’ in mind.
A new changing room has been built at the nearby roadside and washrooms have been upgraded, so while this is no longer an ‘off the beaten track’ stop off, it is at least a pretty safe and comfortable one.
If you swim up to the base of the falls, with a bit of determination you can pull yourself through the flow and up onto the rocks to take in the view from behind the water, which is pretty neat.
Mole National Park
Pronounced moe-leh in the manner of Austin Powers, Mole National Park is where several members of my group had their bags snatched and emptied onto the floor by a pack of baboons. Baboons have pretty big sharp teeth that really make you want to not try and retrieve your bag, but they are also an animal that mostly only cares about food, so once they’ve got your crisps they will piss off and leave you alone.
I loved Mole, partly because it’s where I found myself standing only a hundred metres or so away from a group of wild African elephants who were enjoying a leisurely afternoon of devouring whole trees.
I went trekking, with a guide who made us all wade through a river we could easily have walked around just because he could, and it was brilliant. There are leopards here, though we didn’t see any, and kob antelope, warthogs… and 90-something other species of animal. I think there’s something like 300 species of bird in the area too.
Often cited as being quite possibly the cheapest place to safari in all of Africa, you can do a driving or walking safari by day or venture out by jeep at night when the hyenas are out to play. Walking safaris are 5 cedis per person – just under 80p. The rangers who guide you and tell you about the animals are armed, but ours said he’d only ever had to fire a shot once, and only as a warning, so don’t be put off the chance to make the tour on foot.
There are guest rooms at Mole, and a restaurant – I’m told the service is just as bad now as it was when I visited, but that’s all part of the fun!
Tengzug (Topless) Shrine
The last on my list! A rural spot not far from the town of Bolgatanga, as far north as you can get before entering Burkina Faso, the Tengzug Shrine is a truly one-of-a-kind destination.
For a start, there’s the village beneath the shrine, in the Tongo Hills. Unlike much of Ghana, where the population are Christian or Muslim (with a sprinkling of Rastafarians) when you get here you’ll realise that voodoo and sacrificial offerings are still the flavour of the hour for the local Talensis people.
A far cry from the bustle and commotion of Accra and Kumasi, the Tongo Hills are as quiet and remote as they come – the only noise you might hear is something being sacrificed. I’m not saying that’s great (my vegan ways prevent me from taking part in ritual sacrifice) – but it’s a hell of an experience.
The Tengzug Shrine used to be a hideout for slaves escaping their captors, but now the Talensis use it as a place to sacrifice animals as an offering to their ancestors. You’ll need to be comfortable with a few things to get here.
Firstly, the climb up to the shrine gets steep, and this is no tourist destination – if you slip, you could fall a pretty long way. Secondly, you have to be topless to enter. Yup. I won’t post the photo of my volunteer pals with their tops off waiting to be allowed in, but if you’re travelling with friends consider yourself warned!
Witnessing an actual sacrifice is not obligatory, but it is possible if you’re into that sort of thing. If you’d rather avoid death, don’t visit in October or November, when the Bo’araam Festival calls for … well, quite a lot of death. Donkeys, goats and chickens do not have a great time in this part of the year.
Anywho, this concludes my gargantuan post about things to see and do in the beautiful country that is Ghana. I like to think that by covering the whole length of the country I’m giving you plenty of choice for if you make a trip – and there’ll be additional Ghana info coming soon.
If you’ve been and there’s anything awesome that I’ve missed, please do let me know so I can add it on!