Ahhh Accra. Like a pie in the face, it hits you with some serious humidity not dissimilar to Bangkok. I challenged myself to go to West Africa, and despite reservations (mostly revolving around diet) I ended up getting there for the first time in 2006. I’ve been back to the region twice since and back to Sub-Saharan Africa three times.
So, I must have loved it all on first sight, or first ‘taste’, right? Wrong! Dear God, the first few days were a sort of spinning craziness. Let’s see why I chose Accra as my first port of call. Well, they speak English in Ghana, that was probably the most important thing. It was the start of a trip where French would be the main language of the countries I visited, with the exception of Ghana. It also seemed the cheapest, so I hoped to be able to be doing well with the budget whilst I was there.
Instead I was dismayed at the price into town from the airport. The airport itself was chaos, they gave us the wrong the immigration forms so many lined up and when they got to the front of the line they were given the correct form and had to start again. There was no air conditioning. It was all a bit mad really. Small airport, people sort of pushing in and no real lines.
Then into town in a suburb where the hotel I wanted had been pulled down. I was actually taken there to see it as I suspected some sort of scam. But I checked the address, and it was just a vacant lot. I ended up at the Date Hotel, which I’ve talked about before. It wasn’t that cheap, and was very dirty (yes, rats! Spiders and more) and with constant power cuts the fan didn’t prove very effective. There were a number of Nigerian prostitutes staying there – nice girls mostly, sharing one room between about five or six, and it was significantly more than it was worth. I think I was paying around $20 a night for it. For $15 or less I got a really nice room in Cape Coast, for some perspective. But some capitals are like that. Try finding a bargain room in Douala!
But it was also friendly, had a bar and lots of soccer to watch. It wasn’t all bad and I went back there because it was the only place I knew of that suited my budget at all. The city is not really full of stuff to see and do. I spent the first couple of days sorting out visas for other countries and walking a fair bit. I didn’t eat much at all, I relied on snack food from a good supermarket there (Koala Supermarket) which got me by (honestly, I was terrified that anything I might eat would have peanuts or peanut contamination).
Sooooo. I hated it right? Well, I guess I did in a way. But I also met a whole bunch of people and got to chat, and when I returned from Cape Coast I had a much better time of it all. I visited the Kwame Nkrumah Museum, got to see some of the buildings, played Ludo for hours with people in the market. And after Ghana, I had a better adventure too. The French-speaking countries were really interesting and I have to admit, had much better food!
Accra as a first taste? Look I think the key with West Africa is to not go there alone. Company is of great help when the heat, poverty and culture shock are getting at you. When I went back to Africa in 2007, 2009 and 2011 I didn’t go it alone, and it was a great decision. Accra I think is actually not a bad spot to start for all the reasons I chose it in the first place. Find a decent room with air conditioning, you will really be thankful of that whilst in Accra. And one with a backup generator too!
Ghana itself is a pretty interesting place, and I hope one day that I can make it back there because I planned to see so much of it and yet once there I only got to see basically Accra, Cape Coast and Elmina.
The people are actually quite friendly, transport is uncomfortable but an adventure, and you’ll be in a part of the world that doesn’t see throngs of tourists.
Take care for now, and May the Journey Never End!