Situated between Togo and Sierra Leone in southern West Africa, Ghana enjoys relative political stability and economic prosperity. It is rich in gold and other natural resources, and its geography is dominated by the massive Lake Volta, into which flows the Black and White Volta Rivers. Ghana was of great interest to the competing European powers, including the Dutch, Portuguese, Prussians and finally the British who colonised the area, naming it the Gold Coast, in 1874.
Ghana in many ways has been a pivot of African history. It is from here that millions of African slaves were transported in horrific conditions to the West Indies and Americas to work on the plantations. The dungeons in the forts and castles that are now UNESCO world heritage sites stand testament to that shameful episode of human history. However, Ghana was also one of the first African nations to achieve independence from European Empire, in 1957 it shrugged off British rule and the Republic of Ghana was formed.
One of the legacies of the British Empire was to bequeath English as a language of government and administration. Most Ghanians in cities and of the middle classes will speak English, although it is likely to have an element of Pidgin English. In central Ghana the Ashanti people talk dialects of the Twi language, which is full of proverbs, the use of which indicates wisdom and worldliness. There are around 40 other languages and dialects spoken in Ghana.
The Cedi replaced the pound as Ghana’s unit of currency in 1964. As of the 16th of October 06, 1 Euro will buy 12,095.7 Cedi, 1 Pound Sterling will buy 18,042.6, and 1 USD buys 9,647.50. You will occasionally be able to spend dollars in hotels and restaurants, although Euros are more commonly accepted. It is very difficult to change traveller’s cheques outside of the Accra, the capital city.
The oppressive heat that stultifies much of equatorial Africa is much milder in Ghana. Temperatures fluctuate between 21 and 32 degrees Celsius. The rainy seasons are from April to June and from September to November. The amount of rainfall the country receives during these times fluctuates yearly, ranging from 30 to 80 inches. The harmattan, a dry desert wind, blows from the Sahara from December to March. This makes the days hotter and the nights cooler, and reduces the relative humidity.
The Kakum Nature Park has been open to the public since 1994, and is composed mainly of undisturbed rainforest. You can take canopy walks through the forest, crossing suspension bridges and spotting the various rare species of flora and fauna found in the reserve. If you have a particular interest in bird watching, you can take the Sun Bird Trail, which is a guided tour through three types of ecosystem, giving you an opportunity to spot the 400 species of bird in the park. Throughout the park, there is an emphasis on learning about the delicate balance of the rainforest environment, and visit to the learning centre is required before taking any of the tours.
The Boaben-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary is a unique kind of nature park. For centuries the two villages have lived in harmony with the 200 Colombus and 500 Mona monkeys in the area. Local folklore holds the monkeys as sacred and sees the villagers as their protectors. They have even passed a law that forbids causing harm to the monkeys. Because of the special relationship the locals have with monkeys, you can observe them interacting almost as fellows, the monkeys are completely comfortable around humans, it is not unusual to see monkeys in gardens or even in people’s homes.
The National Museum is worth a visit for those who wish to learn something about Ghana’s rich cultural heritage. The majority of this collection is dedicated to the Ashanti people, a powerful tribe of central Ghana who resisted the British rule through several years of war. Ashanti chiefs are renowned for their elaborate dress and decoration, examples of which can be seen in the museum. Colourful robes and glittering golden jewellery are on display together with artefacts and sacred objects such as ceremonial masks and weapons.
Ghanaians do their shopping in open-air markets that are usually open for one or two days a week. There are permanent markets in cities such as Accra, but to get a real sense of the Ghanaian lifestyle, you should visit a village market and try bargaining with the vendors. It is their instinct to charge travellers more, but after a little bargaining you should be able to secure a good deal. However, bear in mind that the difference between a couple of Cedi is going to be amplified for the market trader, and you should always give them a fair price. The Ashanti are known for their skill and crafts, and produce fine examples of Kente cloth and woodcarvings.
Accra has a good variety of bars, many catering to the European ex-pat taste. Bywels is a popular jazz club that has a friendly atmosphere and is popular with locals and travellers alike.
The condition of the roads in Accra is generally good and they are considered safe. Driving in the north of the country is difficult, and should not be attempted in the wet season without a 4x4. The drink-driving limit is 0.08% blood alcohol content.
Food and Drink
Fufu is a popular national dish. It is made of made of balls of yam served in a stew with goat or fish. There are also a wide variety of rice dishes available from street vendors, often for as little as 20 or the 30 pence. Drinking tap water is not recommended, especially for western visitors. Cheap bottled water is widely available and a safe alternative.
- Ghana Tourist Board, Accra:
- +233 21 222 153