A Ghana Travel Guide
To set foot on Ghana is to be immediately aware of what the African continent is all about. There is no denying that for any European, American or any other national for that matter, Africa would be the terra firma that proclaims a big difference.
Call it the ‘Ocean resort destination’ because Ghana is a panorama of unspoiled sandy Atlantic beaches along a coastline of somewhat around 540 kilometres (336 miles). Dense and dark, aquamarine in hue and rich in aquatic life. The waves of the Atlantic can take your breath away. Shimmering in the noon heat like a spreadsheet of ever so many diamonds. The waters glisten around the horizon in the backdrop of tall coconut trees bathed in the saltiness of warm tropical winds.
To speak of a visit that evokes fervent memories that’s cherished in the penumbra of my heart today. That brings to mind a host of perceptions as thoughts that ride a pen on paper.
Where do I begin?
For those in the dark, Ghana is a small nation governed by a constitutional democracy that’s located on the West Atlantic coast. Flanked by the Gulf of Guinea right below, Ghana has Burkina Faso to its north and Cote d’Ivoire to its West and Togo to the East.
Lying on the latitude 4 – 11.5 north and longitude 3.11 west and 1.11 to the East, Ghana for one, lies on the legendary Greenwich Meridian
Ghana was once upon ‘The Gateway to Africa”.
Better known as the Gold Coast or the ‘Gateway to Africa’, Ghana was once the arterial hub for trading. Living testimonies to this are the many castles or monuments that line the shores of Ghana, many of which have been recognized as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. And it’s not without good reason. For the story of Ghana is the poignant story of how trading in goods and commodities gradually metamorphosed into trafficking in human beings or simply put ‘slavery’. But more on that a little later, my friend.
Welcome to Accra
Disembarking onto Ghana’s Kotoka International airport at Accra is a cool, fast and breezy experience. Good organization, systematic and fast clearances greet you everywhere. Just as much as ‘Akwaaba’ the all too familiar Ghana word for ‘Welcome’.
‘Akwaaba’ then to the land of roasted groundnuts and banana chips. Akwaaba to the land of succulent mangoes and papayas. To the land that’s a treasure trove of resources as in gold, diamonds, cocoa, dark chocolates and timber as in Ebony. That Ghana today exports cocoa, gold, and diamonds among much more is an old hat.
Welcome to the land of people who are oh so very polite and patient. So suave and simple, a land of people you’d be hard put to find!
And so homing into the Ghana Capital Accra – the political and commercial hub today. Getting into your car and kianescing through Accra’s broad road lines is a smoothie to ride today. Cleanliness and tidiness greet you everywhere. But sooner than you can say gee whiz, you’ll tend to jam and lunge forward into a deluge of trafficking vehicles swarming around you. Hawkers abound your vehicle windows. Displaying wooden carved handicrafts, fruits and more. Ghana’s laid back, quiet and peaceful disposition simply takes you in.
The Burial Place of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah
He believed in, “We face neither East or West. We face forward.” The words of the very first president to be elected as the head of the free Republic of Ghana on the 1st of July 1960. A statesman known for his latitudinarian views, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah stood at the vanguard of Pan African politics.
Chief among a slew of his contributions is his unflagging efforts for the fight for independence from the British. And then again, he was the veteran who fought for emancipation from slavery.
From his struggle against racial discrimination to being the architect of the African Union. Because it was he, who worked relentlessly for the formation of the African Union – all of around 32 countries during his time – 1909 to 1972. For those in the dark, there are around 53 countries in the African continent today.
Saint George’s Castle at Elmina
The Origin of Slavery
Call it a significant landmark in the very evolution of humanity. But have you ever heard of the macabre ‘goings-on’ at the Saint George’s castle – several hundreds of years ago – that stands washed by the Atlantic waves at Cape Coast of Ghana? For the spirits of the humans who endured insufferable tortures of slavery have a story to tell you.
A story that would have you tingling in a pound of goose flesh. Just as the tour around the castle reveals a telling story of how ‘The Trans Atlantic slave trade’ came to be born in Africa. For the castle is the originating point that served as the commercial hub for trading and auctioning of slaves.
The captured people, who were made slaves, had to endure living conditions so alarming in huge unventilated dark dungeons in the castle. The Elmina Castle or Saint George’s castle today stands testimony in everlasting memory of the ancestors of the African people, who were forcibly captured and transported to the Americas as slaves.
And how did it all begin?
It was in the summer of 1481 that the Portuguese bought the castle. What served as warehouse rooms initially, for goods being traded in at the time as in gold, spices, and articrafts. Soon started serving as dark, dank dungeons without ventilation what so ever. Used more as cells, which were host to captured African slaves, who were abused while waiting to be sent on board slave ships, bound to the Americas.
The Elmina castle is the largest and oldest castle connected to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade among many more in Ghana. A trade that triggered off when the Portuguese captured ten Africans in 1510 to be taken to the Americas to work on the plantations there. A trade that degenerated further when female slaves were captured to be sexually abused by the Portuguese and Dutch governors, who were resident at the castle.
It was a business that was later taken over by the Dutch who went on towards perpetrating evil. Bringing in Africans from all over the continent to Elmina for trading in them. Pushing them into dungeons, big and small. While there were dungeons demarcated especially for female slaves, some for male slaves the castle also had the spookiest of dungeons with a door that read, ‘the door of no return.’
Gate of no Return! Because once sent into this last little dungeon, the captured slaves were sent out through a very narrow ‘door of no return’ onto slave ships anchored at the shores of the Atlantic. It was their final exit from their grassroots and their soil, never to return back home again. It used to be the dungeon wrenched with tears and agonizing pain. It used to be from here that the slaves clambered on to ships, which were then bound for America.
And soon the trade bound to America also evolved routes bound to other parts of the world. “This then explains the reason for the spread of Africans to many parts of the world,” shares our tour guide of the Elmina castle.
The monument today stands as a telling poignant reminder to humanity: “Humanity should never again ever, perpetrate such injustice against humanity. So that ‘we the living of today’ can uphold this with contrition and pray for the souls who left their grassroots forcefully. May their souls rest in peace today where ever they are.” Somewhat thus, read the touching words on an engraved stone – a kind of tombstone but without any tomb – placed on the wall of the caste at the exit.
A guided tour around the castle is a revealing horrifying tale of goose flesh and goosebumps even as you are caught in a time warp of the moribund happenings.
As we walk towards the exit of the castle at the end of the guided tour, it seems the time to simply pause. To reflect. For time stands still here.
It was in 1872 that slavery finally came to be abolished. What a relief!
To deconstruct the meaning of the place – ‘Elmina’, which means ‘gold mines’. It was a fabulous wealth of gold that was picked up by the Portuguese and the Dutch, who ruled the roost at Elmina for eons in recall today. It’s ironic to think that a place so rich in natural resources gave into the worst kind of human decadence.
The Kakum National Park
It’s an experience of a different kind slipped in with oodles of excitement and fun. Nature buffs have a world to experience and explore at the Kakum National Park.
Driving down around 170 kilometers (106 miles) from Accra, Kakum Park is slipped in along the Cape Coast region. Call it unspoiled virgin territory, for the myriad kinds of fauna that fills up the spaces, are of the likes of the leopard, bango, yellow-backed duiker and elephants to mention just a few. Boasting of over 200 species of birds and different kinds of reptiles and amphibians with over 400 species of butterflies to boot.
And if you’re game for some exciting thrills then just clamber onto the suspended walkway, up somewhat at a height of around 40 meters (132 ft). Peer down below – all of 200 meters (656 ft) and what you have is a spectacular view of an engaging green forest spanning the horizon. Pause. Stand and soak in the panorama of a heady nature experience. Inhale the waft of the fresh humid air suffusing the ether. For the place is all that it takes a rain forest to be.
If you’re an entomology buff, then there’s even more for your eyes to feast upon. Just tune into the silent world of grasshoppers, moths, butterflies, caterpillars, and centipedes among much more. What a difference it is out here my friend. Far from your own, that’s filled with the din of cellular rings, electronic note pads, IPods and what have you!
Travel to Ghana
Gearing up for Ghana!
Sodden inherently in tropical climes, the temperatures here hover around 21 degrees to around 32 degrees Celsius (70 to 90 F). So what you’d have to gear up for are light casual clothes suited best to take on high temperatures and a pair of cool goggles. Throw in a big water bottle, a straw hat and a pair of casual floats as footwear and you’re ready to head for Ghana.
For those avid water drinkers, the mantra to follow would be the ‘bottled mineral water’. Or, better still, take a go at tender coconut water, which you can simply buy off the beach shores from many a hawker. While the fresh tender coconut pulp taste brings on a smacking relish, the water slakes your thirst on the sunny sands.
Ghana’s primary lingua franca is ‘Twi’ and the twenty-seven odd ramifications of ‘Twi’ as in the likes of Ewe, Ga, Dagbani or Hausa. But for any foreigner, you could very well manage your way around in good spoken English and expect good courtesy as well in return.
From English then to what could be had to call a gourmet’s appetite. There’s plenty to pick from a wide range of international restaurants, especially at Accra and Kumasi. Despite the international flavor that keeps doing the rounds, what’s recommended is a taste of the delicious, spicy Ghanaian foodie that’s available at all local restaurants. For, if you don’t have a taste of them, you wouldn’t really have experienced the Ghana palate at all!
If you are looking at entertainment, there’s a lot to be had what with the metro centers pulsating in the evenings. From cultural entertainment to theatre and cinemas. From clubs and discos to pubs and casinos. The best bet would be to ask your hotel reception and make your evening plans in advance.
Entry to Ghana
But at the most basic level, what exactly would be your entry requirements? Besides a valid passport, visas are of course mandatory for non-residents. While residents of the ECOWAS are exempt, all others would need to consult the Ghana mission or the nearest Consular office or the Ghana Immigration service for additional information. Add to this the ‘Yellow fever Vaccination’ required by all.
Card or Cedis?
Moving into what makes your trip or not, is the crucial component of Forex. Money changing offices abound the International airport on arrival. If you’re not in tune with Ghana Cedis, the most widely accepted credit cards are Visa, American Express and Diners. Your card could be used for payment at leading hotels, airlines and supermarkets.
If being at the steering is your fancy, make sure that you come in as a visitor with an international driving license and insurance. Vehicles driven across the borders require a special permit. Night driving is not recommended because of poor road conditions outside the major cities.
If a taxi service is your preferred option, there’s plenty to take from the city centers to the suburbs. Or if you’d like the company of other touristy folks then share taxi services are on at cheaper fares.
If you are on a lower budget there are the less expensive yet fun-filled mini buses – trotro – that ply the cities and towns. Besides licensed car rental services both of the chauffeur-driven and self-driven kind, there are the air-conditioned tourist coaches at reasonable rates.
Where to stay?
Which then brings us to the inevitable question as to what the best retreat for the night would be? Boarding on to a hotel simply depends upon what you desire. So your choice pick could run the gamut from the five to the one star, being the minimum in international quality. Add to these a plethora of local budget hotels slipped into the marquee.