10 incredible things to do in Ghana

There is so much to see and do in this chilled-out West African country, writes Lulama Njapa

07 October 2018 - 00:00 By Lulama Njapa
Independence Arch in Accra, Ghana, is on Independence Square, also known as Black Star Square.
Independence Arch in Accra, Ghana, is on Independence Square, also known as Black Star Square.
Image: Lulama Njapa

Ghana's 61-year-old independence from British colonial rule is a beautiful story that Africans love to tell. As one of the few democracies on the continent that are stable and without civil war today, it remains a shining star.

The West African country's peaceful demeanour is certainly one of the reasons to visit, but the nation formerly known as The Gold Coast has a lot more to offer besides.

Recently, I fulfilled a long-held dream by taking an eight-day trip there, where I enjoyed its broad range of historical, coastal, environmental and cultural tourism. Here are some of the highlights.

1. LEARN ABOUT THE SLAVE TRADE AT CAPE COAST CASTLE

Visit the Cape Coast Castle before you do anything else in Ghana.

It was built by the Swedes in the early 1600s for the timber and gold trade and was later turned into a "slave castle" during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

It still stands in its daunting glory, overlooking the Atlantic. The difference is that it is now bustling with school tours, international tourists and Ghanaians themselves.

Cape Coast Castle is where captives were loaded on ships and sent to the Americas as slaves.
Cape Coast Castle is where captives were loaded on ships and sent to the Americas as slaves.
Image: Lulama Njapa

Prepare for a lot of lump-in-the-throat, surreal moments as your tour guide takes you to the dungeons where men and women were kept before being dragged off to the slave ships. They will switch off the lights to give you a clear picture of the living conditions.

And finally, they will show you to the door of no return, which was the last thing the slaves would see before getting onto the ships.

2. WALK IN THE CANOPY OF KAKUM NATIONAL PARK

The Kakum National Park, famous for being established at the initiative of the local people and not by the government, is in the Central Region of Ghana, about 30km from Cape Coast.

It is only one of three locations in Africa with a canopy walk.

The national park sits on an area of about 375 square kilometres. A grueling hike will take you up to the canopy walkway, where you will see the mostly undisturbed rainforest below.

There are seven connected bridges, which together are 350m long. Whether you are into nature or not, you will enjoy this walkway because of the exhilarating energy of being at such a great height.

While you walk, you will hear the echoes of terrified screams and victorious shouts from walkers ahead of you. Just remember to keep your belongings safe because if you drop anything into the dense forest, it will be lost forever.

3. STROLL INDEPENDENCE SQUARE

Independence Square in Accra, also known as Black Star Square, was commissioned by Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first prime minister and president, to commemorate the visit of Queen Elizabeth II in 1961.

It is home to the famous Black Star Gate and the Independence Arch (above), and is the site of Ghana's annual Independence Day parades on March 6.

Before you can even reach the square, you'll see the enormous black star on the monument. As you get closer, you'll see Ghanaian flags flying with pride. The square is open 24 hours a day.

4. PAY YOUR RESPECTS AT THE KWAME NKRUMAH MAUSOLEUM AND MEMORIAL PARK

Still in downtown Accra, not far from Independence Square, you can experience not only the rise but also the fall of Ghana's founding father.

When you walk in, you are greeted by the majestic bronze Nkrumah statue, with his finger raised high, pointing towards the future.

Nkrumah Memorial Park.
Nkrumah Memorial Park.
Image: Lulama Njapa

It's a beautiful feeling just seeing the statue, but behind it is the mausoleum which contains Nkrumah's remains.

There is also a museum with Nkrumah memorabilia. Outside the museum stands a beheaded Nkrumah statue, which is different because it tells the story of the coup that saw the end of Nkrumah's rule.

5. PICK UP GIFTS AND SOUVENIRS AT THE ACCRA ART CENTRE

Also in downtown Accra, this spot is home to vendors, whose wares include clothing created in African print, particularly Kente cloth (which comes from Ghana), beaded jewellery, wooden carvings and the masterful artwork of visual artists.

6. GO SHOPPING AT MAKOLA MARKET

Walking through Makola Market is an experience that will awaken all your senses. The vendors here sell everything from live crabs to shea butter to black soap. You will find beautiful African fabrics at reasonable prices. You can also try out your haggling skills. This is a busy, colourful market with sellers all trying to get your attention. It is loud and alive with opportunity. You have to experience it.

7. DANCE YOUR HEART OUT AT A FESTIVAL

Ghana has a vibrant cultural history, which could not be completely wiped out by colonisation. Because of the cultural diversity, there are many celebrations throughout the year. Most festivals are celebrated by specific tribes to commemorate past victories.

I was in Ghana in August, during the Chale Wote Street Art Festival. This is an urban experience that brings art galleries and museums onto the streets of Jamestown, the oldest district in Ghana.

Jamestown is a fishing community that is in a state of neglect, but when Chale Wote comes to town, the walls are dressed with images of expression. Imagine a never-ending street filled with rhythmic African sounds, soul food for your taste buds, and all the art and fashion your eyes can see. This is Chale Wote Street Art Festival.

8. PARTY IN ACCRA

Accra has lively nightlife with a big selection of spots to choose from. Whether you want to sit and have dinner, catch some live jazz, or dance the night away, you will find a place. Some venues play international contemporary music but it's a better idea to find a spot that plays African sounds and immerse yourself in the culture.

9. SAVOUR THE LOCAL CUISINE

Of course you have to try some local food. One of the best dishes is Jollof rice, which is full of flavour and considerably spicy, but it will awaken your taste buds. You can have it with chicken, beef or tilapia fish, a Ghanaian favourite. Also, make sure you try some plantain. Whether it's deep-fried or dried, it is delicious.

10. WIND DOWN AT THE VOLTA DAM

The Volta Dam, also known as the Akosombo Dam, is in Akosombo in the Eastern Region of Ghana, an hour's drive from Accra.

The dam was built between 1961 and 1965 with the purpose of providing electricity for the aluminium industry. It now provides power to Ghana and its neighbouring countries.

Fishermen on the Volta Dam.
Fishermen on the Volta Dam.
Image: Lulama Njapa

If you are looking to wind down and relax, take a scenic boat cruise and let the captain give you some fun facts about the dam. The main attraction here is the Adomi Bridge, which is also a legacy of Nkrumah's government.

NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

  • One Ghanaian cedi will cost you about R3, but goods are still affordable, and shopping or eating out won't break the bank. You can buy a meal for 50GHS. Although some shops and restaurants have speed point machines, it is advisable to carry cash.
  • Public transport is easily accessible and reliable. eHailing services such as Uber and Taxify are available in Accra.
  • English is the official language so communication is easy.
  • My trip was R7,800 (excluding flights), arranged by Afrokulcha Travel, which organises packages for solo and group travellers in Africa and abroad.  

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