Folks, it’s time to turn the focus of my ‘Essential Tips’ series to West Africa, and the focus of today’s post will be on the incredible destination that is Ghana, the former ‘Gold Coast’, a country with a sad history of being the starting point for the boats taking slaves away to the new world, yet one with a refreshingly positive outlook, incredibly friendly people, a mix of nature and history and a country that can undoubtedly be incredibly rewarding for the traveller.
Basically the Basics
Ghana is a country in West Africa below Burkina Faso and with Cote D’Ivoire to its west and Togo to its east. It’s one of the larger countries in the region, and has a population of just over 30 million people. It’s a former British colony which has resulted in English being the official language along with other native languages. Just over 238,000km2 in land area. It’s a very hot country with a tropical climate in the south and more of a dry, hot climate in the north. Accra is the capital, in the south, and has a population of around 2.6 million people.
Visas are required for a number of nationalities including Americans and Australians, and the visas aren’t cheap – $140AUD for Aussies for example! Not sure of the price 100% for Americans but looks like around $60USD, which is not so bad. Looks like it’s via a consulate you need to go to get your visa, although it MAY be possible to get one on arrival, check the situation thoroughly though before relying on this, frankly I wouldn’t risk it. Even for UK citizens a visa is required, 60 pounds for a single entry tourist visa, and again it’s quite expensive. Still, visas are just a part of travel!
Getting to Ghana and transport
West Africa is not blessed with great air connections to Europe or beyond, but it’s not too bad. Emirates is the airline that got me there so there are direct flights from the Middle East, which is always handy for connections. You also have Etihad, and to Europe there’s flight Via British Airways, Air France and TAP Portugal. Turkish Airlines, which boasts an incredibly extensive network, also flies there from Istanbul, and Royal Air Maroc is another airline that services Ghana from Casablanca, and they prove very handy in connecting people to West Africa with a good range of destinations and their hub of Casablanca is not as far away as the Middle East or London, or indeed Istanbul for connections.
Ghana’s coast is on the underside of the west African bump, if you will. It sits there between Togo and Cote D’Ivoire (also known as Ivory Coast) and to the north borders Burkina Faso. All borders are open, Togo being the easiest to cross (and the only one I’ve crossed). Very simple crossing, but no buses to Lome, so you have to take a tro-tro (common form of West African transport, basically a tightly squeezed mini-bus) to the border and cross. Once you have crossed, which didn’t take long in my case at least, you are in Lome. You can hop on the back of a taxi-motorbike (moto) into the centre which is only 1-2km away.
Cote D’Ivoire and more recently Burkina Faso have had their internal struggles. But people report crossing the borders without much issue. There may direct buses into Burkina Faso, I am not sure, I don’t believe there are to Abidjan, the biggest city in Cote D’Ivoire. Anyway you try it, anything you try to do, West Africa is a serious kind of adventure when it comes to road transport. You’ll love it or hate it, or like me, both at pretty much the same time!
Once in Ghana, you’ll find a few options to get around. Transport is not fast, the roads are clogged but in decent condition for this part of the world. Some might say great condition for West Africa! You have buses, you have tro-tros, and there is even a train travel, but I’m not sure of its status at the moment. I think when I was there the only passenger train ran from Kumasi, inland but still in the southern third of Ghana, to Cape Coast or that area. The interweb tells me for the past three or so years they have been working to bring back passenger trains to the south of the country, connecting Kumasi to Accra and creating a sort of U-shaped network with a secondary line connecting more towns between Accra and Kumasi.
For now it’s mostly buses though. I never got on one with air conditioning, but keep an eye out for ‘VIP’ buses which should be better than the local ones I used. They crammed as many across as they could and it was rough going. Consider a tro-tro, a little more comfortable, but also much quicker. Sunday morning and I took a tro-tro Cape Coast back to Accra. It was quite an experience. It’s a typical vehicle where you wait for it to fill up before it leaves. Sunday is a quiet day. But there was a sort od service held in the tro-tro before leaving!
Share taxis are also an option, I took one to the border with Togo. Head out into the wilds of northern Ghana and I expect they are the main form of transport. If you have the money, you may be able to hire a taxi for yourself. Generally, if you get any sort of transport with air conditioning, you have done incredibly well!
Africa is not a cheap continent, as some people may expect before going there. Some countries are actually as expensive as some of the most expensive places on the planet – Angola being a prime example of this. Thankfully, Ghana is not one of the most expensive countries in West Africa, in fact you can do quite nicely there on a moderate budget, although it’s not ‘cheap’ either.
Accommodation is your biggest cost once you’re in Ghana, and it’s worth spending a bit more in Accra for a nice room with air conditioning. I stayed in the cheapest place I could find, a place with many positives, but with constant power outages and little ventilation, coupled with day time temperatures of 36 degrees and 90% plus humidity, as well as nights that didn’t get much under 30 degrees, it meant I barely slept in Accra. Unfortunately I had a tight budget and it didn’t extend far enough. But if I went back I would hunt out a place with air conditioning. I’m sure for under $50USD you could find something decent in Accra, less outside.
Whereas Ghana’s neighbours all use the CFA – the WEST Africa France, Ghana was not colonised by the French and its currency is unique to Ghana. It is called the Cedi. 1USD is worth just under 6 Ghanaian Cedis. The US dollar is still quite useful too, Euros less so. As you might guess, cash is still pretty valuable and the easiest and most preferred way to conduct transactions in Ghana.
Prepare for the Weather and Mosquitos!
I didn’t realise it but I headed to Ghana at the hottest time of year, January. As Ghana is in the northern hemisphere, I didn’t expect it to be so, but as I said earlier the heat was stifling as it built up to the rainy season. There was just no relief. I think that if I had headed to the north of the country, it would have been a lot better. Once I left the tropical area of West Africa and made my way to Niger and the Shaharan areas, I found the heat, though hotter, much more tolerable.
July sees the temperature down to maximums on average of 28 degrees, which seems a kit more manageable. June is the wettest month with over 200 mm of rain, but July it’s only around 70mm which isn’t too bad.
And you’ll also need to be vigilant on the mosquito front too. West Africa is as bad as anywhere on the planet for malaria, which is passed on through mosquito bite and kills around 400,000 in a year (from 229 cases). Trust me from someone who’s had it, you don’t want it!
Research malaria prevention and make a choice, doxycycline is what I go for as Larium (mefloquine) has some bad psychotic side effects – in a very select few it should be said. Cover arms and legs with not just clothes but DEET filled repellent. It’s extremely common and I saw loads of travellers in the region who had it.
Well, now you are a little prepared, why go? Well, for adventure! For cool people and a unique experience. The people are so very friendly, it’s a great introduction to the area, oh and did you know it’s basically the birthplace of the African Independence Movement? Kwame Nkrumah lead the charge and in the 1960s Ghana became one of the first African countries to achieve independence from its colonial overlords. He has a small museum and memorial in Accra, and is one of Ghana’s most famous people as he had lot to do with other countries also achieving independence.
It has amazing coastline and the towns of Cape Coast and Elmina have amazing fort you can visit and see the beautiful seaside regions, where admittedly the waves are a bit fierce. Accra has a number of interesting buildings, some colonial, and a vibrant and fun-to-explore market which is recommended to visit. Go north of Accra and you’ll find national parks and animals, although the wildlife in West Africa doesn’t rival that of the east or south. And if you head to Kumasi, there is a HAT museum! What more could you ask for?
Thanks for reading today, hope you are doing well wherever you may be and whatever you may be doing, and May the Journey Never End!