It’s the sound of the ceiling fan flapping the mosquito net against the bedhead; it’s the refreshing temperature of the river water you wash with in the morning; it’s the early morning light highlighting the stuttering stream of families filling water in buckets, pans, bowls and jugs, loading them on their head and getting ready to start their day. It’s the little things that have stayed with me – the minutiae of daily life in Atsiekpoe, a small riverside community in Ghana’s Volta Region. The deep clunk of a blacksmith’s hammer striking through red hot metal onto an English-made anvil; the second basket an 11-year-old Moses made for us, determinedly making another after he deemed the first not good enough; my slightly embarrassing attempt on goal from a perfect cross on a dusty pitch. I spent 24 hours among the beautiful people of Atsiekpoe, and it became one of my top five Ghanaian memories. It may even be my favourite. From our hotel in Accra, we (me and my mum) jumped into a 1992 Nissan Safari with bull bars and a roof rack. At the wheel was James Amusu, an affable, kind-hearted man with beads on his wrist, an easy smile and a ready supply of jokes. He would be our driver and guide for the next three days, on behalf of Jolinaiko Eco Tours, a Ghanaian-Dutch-run tour company with a passion for eco-tourism and community development, such as in villages including Atsiekpoe. The itinerary ahead of us included a stay at Ghana’s highest village, an ascent of the country’s secon
Ghana's best tour companies
If you really want to push the boat out on a trip to the region, there are a range of public or private tours – many of them themed – that can make a visit to Accra, or any other part of Ghana. Highly recommended are Charles Sablah’s Ghana Nima Tour , Native Adventures and Global Mama’s. Abacar Tours Set up by a Ghanaian/French couple, this tour agency is recommended by the Ghanaian Tourist Board. Its main tours are either one- or two-week itineraries, although bespoke tours can be booked. The guides are also Francophone. 39 Bobo Street, Tesano, Accra (0249 574 691, www.abacar-tours.com). Adventure Junkies This is a well respected company offering tours to groups and individuals about Ghana, often, as you’d imagine, on the more adventurous side of things. There are day trips, weekend getaways, heritage tours and safari tours. 39 Bobo Street Apstar Tours Founded in 1987, Apstar is a member of the Tour Operators Union of Ghana (TOUGHA), and has a focus on history. There are standard day tours and bespoke longer tours for all group sizes. 36 Forest Road, Accra (0302 519 931, www.apstartours.travel). BLASTours A Ghanaian-owned tour operator specialising in cultural tours. It offers a bespoke service for tourists and business travellers and can organise transport, hotel accommodation, home-stays, guides and conference equipment for meetings. Sakumono, Tema (0302 404460, www.blastours.com). Ghana Nima Tours With his infectious smile and boundless sincerity
The best sights and attractions in Ghana
Kakum National Park
Half an hour’s drive from Cape Coast, Kakum National Park’s verdant slice of semi-deciduous rainforest offers a fresh green alternative to the bustling cities and stifling heat of the coast (033 21 302 265, www.kakumnationalpark.info, 8am-4pm). The 607 square kilometres (234 square miles) of protected rainforest are home to an assortment of wild residents, including forest elephants, giant hogs, flying squirrels, leopards and various species of monkey. However, with much of the elusive wildlife buried deep in the forest’s flora, there’s little chance of seeing anything more than a millipede or two unless spending a night on an organised camping trip. For those content with gazing at the greenery to a soundtrack of birdcalls, try the canopy walk (US$9). Elevated 40 metres above the forest floor, the 350-metre-long wooden walkway and various viewing platforms offer spectacular, if vertiginous, views of the park, although it is unlikely much wildlife will be seen. There is a simple but informative visitors’ centre, a café and gift shop administered by the Ghana Heritage Conservation Trust.
Big Milly’s Backyard
hose unwinding in Kokrobite can enjoy fresh and tasty meals at Big Milly’s onsite restaurant. The menu includes fresh seafood such as lobster and barracuda, as well as a wide selection of vegetarian options. It’s also open for breakfast. There’s good, basic accommodation here too. Double huts with a fan cost US$22. Single rooms are US$16 a night (US$27 with bathroom and AC), dorm rooms are US$7. Houses are available to rent for groups too.
Cape Coast Castle
You’ll most likely be aware of Cape Coast Castle already (Barack and Michelle Obama visited in 2009 to much fanfare), as it was here that some of the worst atrocities of the slave trade era were committed. The city was founded by the Portuguese in the 15th century, and the solid white bulk of the castle acted first as a fortified base for overseeing the export of gold and other goods before ‘market forces’ initiated a move into human trafficking. A tour of the site today makes for a harrowing, but undeniably salutary, visit. Thousands upon thousands of West African men and women were imprisoned within the castle’s scratched dungeon walls – in truly horrific conditions – before passing the ‘Door of No Return’ and being shipped off to the Americas, the majority of them not surviving to reach their final destination. To establish a clearer understanding of the crushing reality of the period, the 45-minute guided tour (included in the ticket price) comes highly recommended. There’s also a museum on site. The Castle is now listed as a World Heritage Site, and gazing down today from its old ramparts at the late-afternoon hubbub of fishermen and red-dust footballers, it’s hard not to be stirred by the human cost of its past.
From a historical perspective, Elmina Castle is a key attraction. Like its Cape Coast equivalent, it has strong links with the slave years and is registered as a World Heritage Site, although it tops Cape Coast Castle on age; founded in 1482, Elmina Castle (also known as St George’s) is the oldest extant European building in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s had a few facelifts over the years and little resembles the original structure, but still makes for a fascinating (not to mention hugely disquieting) tour. For GH¢8, plus a little extra if you’re taking photos, visitors can explore the dungeons and stairways of the interior (unlike Cape Coast Castle, guides here will ask for a tip of GH¢10). On a more upbeat note, the courtyard adjacent to the castle sees a local group going through drumming and dancing rehearsals each evening from around 5pm to 6pm – a diverting sight if you can make it.
First-time visitors pulling up to Bojo Beach’s powdery sands are oft taken aback that this easily accessed beach just 25 minutes’ drive from the frantically beating and dusty heart of Accra feels more like a remote stretch of the Caribbean. A meander through a couple of Accra’s sprawling suburbs and down a bumpy track or two is all it takes to reach this wide expanse at Bortianor, just off the Kokrobite Road. After paying an 8ghc entrance fee, beachgoers hop into little boats that glide across a small and flat stretch of water to Bojo’s gleaming strip of sugar-white sand. Thatched umbrellas stud the shoreline, looking out over the area’s characteristically crashing waves. Rustic to say the least, Bojo is a delightfully simplistic set up of sand, water and seating. The current here is a powerful one, however – there are lifeguards, but it is advised that only good swimmers go out of their depth in the hardy surf. But what appeals compared with the overall feel of city-front Labadi, is Bojo is well-maintained, clean, and the urban hubbub seems eons away. A large thatched shack is the only refreshment option, serving up average but edible snacks and a good selection of chilled drinks. During the week, and on the rare cooler day, the beach is a wonderfully tranquil haven, with oodles of space. Weekends and holidays tend to see a transformation into a bustling hive of activity, with locals and visitors alike enjoying a festive atmosphere, and participating in the likes of jet sk
Mr Bright's Surf School
British national Brett Davies (aka Mr Brights) has devoted his life to surfing. After leaving a top rung job at the head office of Rip Curl several years ago, he decided to take the plunge and open up his own surf school in Ghana (the second love of his life). A formally trained surf coach and lifeguard means surfers can’t be in better hands to try out Ghana’s exhilarating waves. Beginners to advanced are welcome, as are children, with boards and equipment naturally provided. The school has been so successful since its inception last year that Mr Brights is opening a second school in Accra at Kokorobite. Bookings are taken via the website with prices given in person. Kangaroo Pouch Beach Resort, Busua Beach (www.mrbrights.com). Open: everyday 6am to 6pm.
Ghana's best resorts
The Royal Senchi
The Royal Senchi Resort is a shiny new four star hotel situated on the west bank of the Volta River. It boasts 84 luxury guest rooms, infinity pool with pool bar, a fitness centre, upscale dining and competent, attentive staff. Rooms are tastefully decorated will all the mod cons, including 32 inch televisions. The conference centre is large and bright, mixing traditional touches with first class professionality. Beauty treatments in the spa include facials, hot stone massages, traditional back massages as well as salon treatments.
Elmina Bay Resort
A couple of minutes’ drive farther out of town lies the secluded new Elmina Bay Resort, not to be confused with Elmina Beach Resort. There are 26 rooms available for guests, notable for their cleanliness and bright style. All have sea views, DSTV, Wi-Fi, fridges and air-con, and beach access is excellent. There’s also a pool and a restaurant, making it the best bet around Elmina.
Aqua Safari Resort
We were rather taken aback by Aqua Safari. It faces out to the estuary of the River Volta, a mile or so upstream from the ocean. From an open-sided restaurant and bar you can see Ghana’s island-dwelling folk crab-fishing and clam-diving in the water. The forward-thinking owners offer guided tours to the islands for boat-building and basket-weaving workshops – there’s also a lot of water to play around in on a jet-ski or one of the pontoons. Game-fishing excursions can be arranged too. Best of all is the option to spend a lazy couple of hours exploring one of the most beautiful areas of Ghana by boat. The whole river environment gives a relaxing and slower pace of life; a stark contrast to Accra two hours away. The rooms are well-appointed, and large chalets all have sizable and impressive common areas and kitchens. There’s also a small pool if you don’t fancy a dip in the river. There’s a new, large conference centre with all the modern amenities you’d need.
White Sands Resort
Those willing to splash some cash for the millionaire treatment can stay at the deluxe private members White Sands Beach Club near Fetteh; slide into the infinity pool, sample the top-notch cuisine and enjoy some of the best service in Ghana. It’s exclusive enough to require you to email email@example.com before even seeing prices. However, non-members can visit between Mon-Fri.
Lansdown Ibru Heights
‘Hidden away’ doesn’t really do justice to the location here. This smart new villa complex in the lush folds of the hills around Aburi isn’t somewhere you’d stumble across – it’s only accessible via a long and winding road, and that’s just how the owners want it. Judging by the Range Rovers lined up outside, it’s pretty exclusive. It takes around an hour to reach from Accra (although road improvements mean this time will reduce), but it’s worth the drive. You’ll find eight villas, each with three bedrooms, a living area, jacuzzi and patio – they’re well-appointed and tastefully decorated. The property also has a conference suite seating around 24 (corporate groups being one of the main income streams here), and a gorgeous pool overlooking the valley. The open club house and restaurant above the pool are lovely spots to watch the clouds roll out in the morning, or listen to the sounds of the bush in the evening. It’s all built on a hill, so you’ll be working off the food from a menu that includes lamb tagine, T-bone steak, paella and traditional Ghanaian food. There’s a spa and a tennis court too.
Best Western Atlantic Hotel
There’s no missing the 100-room Atlantic Hotel, a huge white monolith overlooking the ocean around Takoradi. The rooms in the main building are modern and well-appointed – ask for one with ocean views. There are also 12 chalets, with single and family rooms among the leafy paths. The highlight, however, is the pool area – a ridiculously inviting sight on a hot day. Combine it with a seafood platter from the outdoor Canoe Bar and you have the makings of a lovely afternoon. The main Ocean View Restaurant & Bar offers a large buffet with the chance to try some flavourful Ghanaian cuisine. Like much in Takoradi, the hotel will cater mainly for the many oil workers who pass through the town – you can see one of the rigs being built in the Bay of Guinea from the terrace. There’s a vast conference and event suite, plus a smaller function space. A private golf course sits in front of the hotel.