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.