Off the beaten track in Ghana

by cathy.baldwin

If you're looking for a holiday that offers more than just sun, sea and sand (although you can expect plenty of those, too), head to Ghana, a little-visited gem on the west African coast

Nestled between Cote D’Ivoire and Togo in western Africa, Ghana isn’t the obvious choice for a holiday destination - which only adds to its charm. Visitors don’t have to tussle with other tourists to take a picture of the wildlife on safari in Mole National Park or get up at 8am to put their towel by the pool in order to get the top spot. Instead, it is easy to drift into the laidback attitude of the country and forget the pace and stresses of the western world.

Accra, the country’s capital, is the ideal base when travelling in Ghana. The beaches may not be the prettiest in the country, and the bustling, dusty city can seem overwhelming at first. However, the friendliness of the locals, the smell of frying plantain, the street traders’ cry of 'cocoa drink, cocoa drink' and seeing rush-hour traffic screech to a halt for a family of goats are sights, smells and sounds that stick with you forever.

Staying in Accra

For backpackers, volunteers or those on a budget, there is plenty of cheap accommodation in Accra. I stayed in the Crystalline Hostel, which I couldn’t recommend enough. For US$10 a night (14.30 cedis), the hostel’s owners, the Quaynors, welcome you into their home, providing hostel-price accommodation with a personal touch. The Crystalline Hostel may have the bunk beds of a typical hostel, but Naomi Quaynor’s mouthwatering African cooking, coupled with the family's knowledge of Ghana, allows guests to feel at home whilst arming them with an insider’s knowledge of Accra.

For those looking for more luxury and the opportunity to relax by the pool, Accra doesn’t disappoint, offering the La Palm Royal Beach Hotel and the Labadi Beach Hotel, where both Tony Blair and the Queen have stayed. As the names suggest, both hotels are on the beach and offer tranquil settings where guests can soak up the sun.

Shopping and eating

Bartering is a way of life in Ghana, so expect to haggle for everything from taxis to souvenirs. The National Culture Centre (often referred to as the Arts Centre) offers plenty of opportunities to barter for African tokens including bracelets, drums, batik wall hangings and carvings. However, wandering around the maze of stalls is not the most relaxing shopping experience, as all the shop-owners will try to entice you into their shops, some more forcefully than others!

If all the haggling makes you hungry, head to the Osu area of Accra, a popular destination for eating out, as there is plenty of choice and the standards are generally high. Monsoon (Oxford St, Osu, Accra), an upmarket restaurant on top of the Osu Food Court, offers a great lookout spot where diners can sip a chilled drink whilst watching revellers wind their way through the throngs of traffic to the overspilling bars. Monsoon offers a range of game meat (as well as vegetarian options) and a sushi bar. It also serves excellent cocktails and good (if very expensive) wine.

Nature and wildlilfe

For those who want to see the wildlife of Ghana, Mole National Park in the north of the country is a must. It is hard to get to – it is at least a full day’s travelling from Accra on bumpy, dusty roads. However, it is well worth the trip to see the unspoilt landscape and for an opportunity to get extremely close to so much wildlife. The motel in the National Park is basic, but the sight of usually shy warthogs snuffling on your doorstep or baboons congregating in nearby trees makes any yearning for fluffy pillows quickly disappear.

Another destination for nature-lovers should be Kakum National Park, where visitors can do the popular canopy walk on a 350m-long, 40m-high rope bridge separated into seven sections. The views of the rainforest below are breathtaking and it is a slightly surreal adrenaline rush swaying above the tree tops, trying to catch a glimpse of brightly coloured birds and butterflies.

Castles and more

If you have an extra day after Kakum, visit the nearby cities of Cape Coast and Elmina, both of which have castles once used in the slave trade. The history explained to visitors by knowledgeable guides is both fascinating and horrific at the same time, and the castles, with waves crashing against their whitewashed walls, are still strangely majestic.

Ideal for those who enjoy visiting new worlds away from the poolside, Ghana is well worth the trip before others discover the friendly, laidback country. Go armed with a mosquito net and open for an adventure away from the crowds, and you won’t be disappointed.

cathy.baldwin

I am an editor at Simonseeks and have worked as an editor and journalist in the north west for seven years. 

I first discovered my love of travel when I InterRailed around Europe on a minimal student budget. Trying to keep the costs down forced me to be more adventurous when choosing where to sleep and eat, and I ended up staying in the walls of the medieval city Montagnana and developing a taste for Limoncello in a backstreet trattoria.

Other travelling highlights include living in Ghana while working on a pro-government newspaper there, and helping to look after a three-week old monkey called Eric in Kenya.

No matter where I travel, I am always drawn back to the place I call home: Manchester. There is always something happening in the city, whether it is a food and drink festival or an international sporting event; the buzz of the place is addictive.

My Manchester

Where I always grab a beer/glass of wine: My local bar, Pi (99 Manchester Road, Chorlton, Manchester, M21 9GA), serves 12 draft and over 60 bottled beers, some great house wines and a good selection of pies (my favourite is the Heidi pie filled with goats cheese and sweet potato). The laid back and friendly atmosphere makes it a great place to sit, sip and relax.

My favourite stroll: I love temporarily escaping from the rush of the city in one of Manchester’s green spaces. Chorlton Meadows and Fletcher Moss Gardens in Didsbury are great places for walks and picnics.

The most breathtaking view: Visit Cloud 23 on the 23rd floor of the Hilton Manchester Deansgate and look at the whole of the city sprawling below you while you enjoy a cocktail.

The best spot for some peace and quiet: A friend recently introduced me to Marie Louise Gardens in West Didsbury. Just off the busy Palatine Road, this is a quiet retreat from the city that relatively few Mancunians know about.

Shopoholics beware! Where do I begin! Manchester is bursting at the seams with shopping opportunities – The Trafford Centre could easily swallow you up for a day, and Afflecks Palace offers plenty of quirky shopping opportunities. However, for me, the Exchange Square area is the dangerous place in terms of spending money. Here Harvey Nichols and Selfridges rub shoulders with smaller designer shops, plus the Royal Exchange Theatre Craft Shop (www.royalexchange.co.uk/craftshop/new/index.asp) – a great place for buying unique accessories – is just down the road.

City soundtrack: Manchester has offered up so much musical talent that my list of city soundtracks could be endless. However, Gomez’s ‘Whippin’ Piccadilly’ always makes me think of the city as does anything by Doves or the Stone Roses.

Don’t leave without...visiting Albert Square in the city centre and looking at the fabulous neo-gothic town hall. Sit on a bench in front of the impressive building and watch the world go by. If you visit the city just before Christmas, Santa will be perched above the entrance and a busy Christmas market will be in full swing outside.