2019 marks the 400th anniversary since the first slave ship left the coast of Ghana for the Transatlantic Slave trade. It is a very important albeit painful history for Ghanaians and West Africans as a whole. But we are taking something good out of it. President Nana Akufo-Addo, the current president of Ghana, is calling 2019 “The Year of Return”. This means, if you have thought about visiting, now is the time!
I had the opportunity of taking 48 hours off work to go round the city of Accra. It may seem like a short time but there is so much you can do and see with proper planning. From the boat cruises to the monumental sites, to the cocktails and nightlife, here are ten things you definitely want to cross off your checklist when you are in Ghana.
Visit a castle
Ghana has 11 standing slave castles in all the major regions. They used to be over 40 but only a few are left after 400 years. If you are in Accra, you can visit the Fort Christiansborg (also known as the Osu Castle) which temporarily served as the seat of government.
If you are visiting Cape Coast, the Elmina Castle, the Fort Cœnraadsburg and the Cape Coast Castle should be top on your list. The last one mentioned is the holy grail. It is the Grand Canyon of Ghana, the Eiffel Tower of the Cape Coast Region.
The castles give you great insight as to how life was pre-colonialism. Many of the castles have a gate fee for tourists ranging from about 20 to 40 cedis. It is a lot cheaper if you can prove Ghanaian nationality.
Visit a landmark
If you are in Accra, the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum is a good place to start your tour. Then just a few minutes away is the biggest National Park in Ghana, comprising of the Black Stargate and the Independence Arch. It is a must see. Other landmarks outside Accra are the Lake Volta, Wa Naa’s Palace, Lake Bosumtwi, Kingampo waterfalls.
Be one with nature
Ghana is very tropical. It is blessed with a diverse and amazing natural environment that has been maintained with great care. The best way to experience it would be through the National parks. Visit the Kakum National Park, the Mole National Park or any of the other eight depending on what part of the country you would be staying in.
Take a walk through James town
The walls have ears, they say. And I’m sure James town must have heard enough to put elephant ears to shame.
Walking through James Town is like walking through years and years of history. You can’t miss the red and white lighthouse that lets you know you have arrived at James Town. It is the oldest part of Accra and remains a thriving fishing community and tourist site to date.
Eat local food. (aka the chop bars)
You can’t really partake in the Jollof wars if you eat Ghanaian Jollof in some extra fancy place with napkins and pretty waiters, can you? Try out the local Jollof, extra spiced with the smell of the charcoal and firewood used to prepare it. Have a steaming plate of banku and tilapia for lunch. Or a full plate of Waakye with Shitan sauce for dinner and then you can come back and have a say in the matter.
Experience the nightlife
Ghana’s nightlife is a thing of great tales and you don’t want to miss out on it. From the luxurious lounge on the tallest building in Accra—the Skybar, to the club beaches like Labadi Beach club there’s a variety to choose from.
Go to a beach
You didn’t go to Ghana if you didn’t go to the beach. And that’s that. The majority of the inhabitants of the country live along a vast coast of the Atlantic. Beaches are literally everywhere you go. I found myself walking along the shores of two different beaches in less than 24 hours. It really is that popular.
The water’s blue and it goes as far as the eyes can see. You can literally see the sky kissing the sea. It’s poetic.
Enter a tro-tro
A tro-tro is a bus with a capacity of about 14 people that conveys passengers to and from their destinations. It is the Lagos version of the yellow “danfo”. It may not be the safest or most exciting experiences but it is one of the few I will never forget. The sights and smells of the people are as real as it gets. And for a short time in the tro-tro, I was not a fancy tourist with a camera. I was one of the people. One with them.
Visit the Arts Market
There are so many littering the corners but the most popular in Accra is the Crafts Village where you can buy colourful kente fabric and local art.
Go home with a souvenir
My Igbo people have a popular saying that translates to, “Go back to the market (or farm) if you did not bring anything from it.” Grab something from the craft village and take home. You may not always be physically present in the country you once visited, but you can always have something to remind you of the short and magical stay.