Ghana Dec/Jan 2018-2019, Trip Report

Jan 30th, 2019, 10:03 AM
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Ghana Dec/Jan 2018-2019, Trip Report

We returned Jan 12 from a 16-day trip in Ghana. We made our trip itinerary with Easy Track Ghana and overall felt like it was a great trip. We hit all the major sites and areas that interested us and had a fun time.

I'll post more details about our itinerary, hotels, and activities later on but wanted to give some of my overall impressions initially.

My husband and I travel a lot, we are 38 years old and avid hikers and will gladly travel anywhere that is safe. Ghana felt completely safe. I am sure you can find dangerous situations there if you want to but for general tourist experiences, we never felt like there was any risk. Also, compared to a lot of other places we have been, there was much less of being hassled by vendors and such (with a couple exceptions in the more touristed areas like Elmina).

Ghana is also considerably less touristy than almost anywhere we have ever been. This has its pros and cons. The pros are that tourists have opportunities to enjoy attractions that are not overly busy or which are busy only with locals. The cons are that you don't have the benefits of tourist infrastructure--few restaurants and such. It also meant that in smaller towns and villages, once we had done the tourist activity for the day, that was all there was to do--there isn't a lot of tourist-level shopping, walking around, cafes, restaurants, museums, points of interest, etc. You can walk around and take in the vibe of the location but that's the extent of it.

Food-wise we had a great experience. There were plenty of new-to-us foods to try and many opportunities to try them. We ate most of our meals in hotels. Sit-down restaurants are not super common; there are plenty of fast food stalls and vendors but, unfortunately, due to dietary restrictions and preferences we couldn't give most a try). Every meal we ate was fresh and prepared to order. That meant that every meal we ate also took a very long time to be served. But the trade off of having exactly what we wanted and being able to specify that we wanted something vegetarian (me) or without carrot (husband's allergy) made the wait worthwhile. We loved the local dishes we tried and I am going to give a few a whirl in my own kitchen (I loved red-red and also a refreshing ginger drink). And we were already peanut soup fans but I got some ideas of ways to change the prep a little bit that I will put into action at home.

People in Ghana were friendly and welcoming. We read that Ghanaians are known as particularly friendly. While that was true, the Ghanaian notion of hospitality is different from our own (we're from the USA). For instance, there was not any particular interest in seeing to our needs when we were dining (more on that later in the report), or making sure we had what we needed in a hotel room (we often had to request a top sheet, towels, toilet paper, or even a lightbulb), and we had some indifferent guide experiences (which was particularly disappointing at the Elmina slave fortress).
schlegal1 is offline  
Jan 30th, 2019, 10:15 AM
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As I said, I contacted Easy Track Ghana to put together an itinerary that encompassed our interests and below was our plan. A few things had to be tweaked as we went along on the trip but mostly it went according to the itinerary.

Day 1: Arrival and transport to mid-range hotel in Accra

Day 2: Visit to Kwame Nkrumah Monument, Independence Square, Makola Market, Jamestown Port, W.E.B. Du Bois Center, fashionable Oxford Street in Osu.

Day 3: Biking at Shai Hills Wildlife Preserve, visit to Handmade Bead Factory

Day 4: Adomi Bridge, Mount Afadjato, Wli Falls

Day 5: Scenic ride to Amedzofe, the highest village in the Volta Region. Hike to t Ote Falls or campus of a teacher's college. Atimpoku Motorboat the Volta River from Atimpoku to the Akosombo Dam

Day 6: Akaa Falls, Techiman Food Market

Day 7: Rooftop Homes, Historic Mosques

Day 8: Hippo Sanctuary, Lobi Tribe, Mole National Park

Day 9: Mole National Park, Mognori Cultural Village, Larabanga Mosque

Day 10: Boabeng-Fiema monkey sanctuary , Ashanti Craft Villages (kente cloth weaving, adinkra stamping, carving), Butterfly Sanctuary, Adanwomase Home Stay

Day 11: Slave Cemetery, Elmina Castle, Posuban Shrine, Ft. San Jago

Day 12: Canopy walk in Kakum National Park, Crocodiles, Cape Coast Beach

Day 13: Posuban Shrine, Kokrobite Beach Village, Culture Performance T

Day 14: Beach morning, Bawjiwase Orphange, West Hills Mall

Day 15: Coffin Shop, La Pleasure Beach,

Day 16: Airport Drop-off
schlegal1 is offline  
Jan 30th, 2019, 10:58 AM
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schlegal1 is offline  
Jan 30th, 2019, 05:38 PM
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Thank you for sharing. I look forward to more.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Jan 31st, 2019, 07:27 AM
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Our itinerary involved a lot of driving around. It was necessary in order to see all the different areas of the country but it also meant we spent a lot of time in the car. Luckily, we Easy Track Ghana set us up with a nice, large SUV which Jesse, our guide, kept clean both inside and out. There were two days where the air-conditioning stopped working, which was pretty unpleasant. We stopped to have it fixed in Kumasi (which was its own experience, I have to say) and then we had about a half day where it didn't work driving from Krokobite to Accra and it was fixed in Accra (without us needing to wait or be there for that).

Also, December/January are during the dry season so the weather was very hazy most of the time we were there and it was quite dusty. This meant we did not have too many nice vistas, which didn't matter except perhaps in Shai Hills and on our climb of the tallest peak. The locals I talked to all indicated that the rainy season is their favorite time of year so it might be worth considering that if you plan a trip.

Here are my thoughts on the various activities. We enjoyed most of them. My perspective may seem worldweary or a bit cynical--I enjoy travel very much and am grateful for every adventure we take. But we have traveled a lot and so things that might be big cultural differences to a novice traveler (e.g. big outdoor food markets) generally don't get our attention they way they once did.

Day in Accra (Kwame Nkrumah Monument, Independence Square, Makola Market, Jamestown Port, WEB DuBoise center, Oxford St):
This was a good, full day where we hit all the highlights of Accra. The Nkrumah monument and the DuBois house were especially interesting. The Jamestown port was interesting from a historical perspective and it was interesting to see how people are living and working in it currently. The market was like a lot of other markets we have seen around the world but those are always fun to walk through anyway.All in all this day was about like any tour in a major city to see highlights. I wouldn't go out of my way to get to any of the sites we visited but they were all worthwhile while in Accra.

Shai Hills Reserve:
We were supposed to bike here, which would have been nice but didn't happen. I had read up about this reserve when it was on our proposed itinerary and I was not all that enthusiastic about going there based on the reviews I read. There isn't a ton of wildlife and the park is on the small side. However, we love to bicycle so I thought that would be an enjoyable way to visit. Unfortunately, although the agency said they booked the biking the bike guide was not there when we arrived. He apparently had had a family emergency in Accra and was not there and had not told anyone he wouldn't be there. That was disappointing because we wouldn't have made the stop if we weren't going to bike. But since we were there we did the "Bat cave" walk and also went to the area where puberty rites of local girls were historically conducted our guide was lovely. He had plenty of good information about the area and the park and had a real love for wildlife. We saw the penned zebras and ostrich and then outside the pens we saw quite a few baboons and antelope. As I mentioned, December was very hazy so we didn't have nice vistas. I would have skipped it if we knew we weren't going to bicycle.

Mr. Cedi's Handmade Bead Factory:
Terrific stop. Mr. Cedi demonstrated and explained the bead making process to us and then has a lovely shop with reasonably prices bead items for sale. We bought a bunch of souvenirs here as they were quite nice. Mr. Cedi is well-known and internationally respected--he recently gave a talk at the new(ish) Washington DC Museum of African American History and Culture. He is a good host and good at explaining the bead making.

Adomi Bridge:
It's a walk across a fairly short bridge and the only suspension bridge in Ghana. I was mostly happy to do it because that very activity had been mentioned in the mystery novel I was reading that was set in Ghana (called Wife of the Gods by Kwai Quartey). Otherwise unremarkable.

Hike Mount Afadjato:
This was one of our favorite activities. This is the highest peak in Ghana but it is short and easily hiked. It was filled with Ghanaians as well as a few non-Ghanaian tourists making their way to the top. There aren't really switchbacks like there would be on a USA trail so it's a quick, steep climb so everyone chats with each other, encouraging them to "keep going, it's not that far" and similar. There are even signs along the way (1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 marks) providing encouragement. So it was a fun atmosphere and nice time. We had a guide but you don't really need one as the path is clear. When we got to the top some enterprising young people had trekked up with cold waters and with frozen yogurt bars. We bought some of the froyo for 2 cedis each (which is 1 cedi over the store price and still a bargain since they did all the work of carrying them!). There were no real views due to the haze. It was disappointing how much trash is along the path and at the top. The young people who sold the goods at the top gathered the trash back from buyers but then I saw them simply throw it down the mountainside so I held on to our trash to dispose of later.

Wli Falls:
Again a great stop filled with a mix of tourists. The path to get to the falls is quite easy and short. The falls are beautiful. Even though it was dry season it was a completely impressive site. We did not swim there though others were picnicking and swimming. It's probably even more impressive during rainy season.

Hike to Ote Falls:
Very nice little hike. It's steep down and so, of course, steep coming back up but the walk is a short one and the falls are lovely. We had them to ourselves. Again, we had a guide but wouldn't have needed one as the path is obvious.

Atimpoku Motorboat the Volta River from Atimpoku to the Akosombo Dam :
The dam is a very important feature in Ghana. Unfortunately, it is an environmental disaster and has not been so great for people, either. The info we got from our guide was the Ghana-propaganda version of how great it is; that version is also historically inaccurate. But it provides power to Ghana and surrounding countries and is important so it was worth the short boat ride out to see it while we were in the area. I wouldn't go out of my way to see it.

Akaa Falls:
Pretty little falls down a very short and easy hike. We had it to ourselves and went without a guide. Loved it and would have loved to use it as a picnic spot had we been on our own with more time to spare.

Techiman Food Market :
Billed as the largest food market in Western Africa this was an interesting walk-through. There aren't things for a tourist to buy (unless you are going to do your own cooking at some point) but it's about seeing how people here shop for food from the stalls and how the market is divided up by type of food, etc. No one here hassled us to buy as it was obvious that we were just there to take in the atmosphere.

Rooftop home/mosque in Bole, 15th C. mosque and visit with chief at Nakori:
We didn't get to do any of this. These were short activities meant to break up a very long day of driving. Unfortunately, the day became even longer because we had made good headway on the drive only to learn while gassing up that a bridge on the route was out and we needed to backtrack and go all the way around. Credit to Jesse, he just sucked it up and got it done (more compliments for him later when I review Easy Track Ghana).
schlegal1 is offline  
Jan 31st, 2019, 08:08 AM
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Weichau Hippo Sanctuary,:
Loved it. This is a community sanctuary that protects hippos and the Black Volta river that is their environment. We went out in our boat with our guide and luckily saw two hippos out of the water eating---they quickly slid into the river and then we observed them lolling around in there. We found more hippos in another area of the river as well. The river was lovely and clean and we had a break from the haze so this was a banner day and activity! Apparently one can stay the night at the sanctuary and there are some other activities in the area--it's probably worth considering if you want to go to the sanctuary.

Lobi Tribe
Just a little drive up from the hippo sanctuary we were given a tour of a typical Lobi home and learned how they subsist and farm. It was interesting.

Mole National Park
The jewel of the trip, really. This national park is huge, beautiful, and abundant with wildlife. We did two walking safaris and one driving safari. We saw elephants. So many elephants. So close while we were on foot that I nearly screamed with excitement. There are also loads of birds if you are keen for birding. We also saw antelope of all kinds, monkeys, baboons, and crocodiles. We had two half days and one full day in the park and that was plenty.

Mognori Cultural Village:
Lovely stop full of lovely people. They did a drumming and dancing demo that we were invited to participate in. They do these regularly so we fully expected to see people totally annoyed at performing yet again but it actually seemed like a pleasant community event that people enjoyed doing. We also learned about Shea butter here in the village from a woman who makes it (and would have bought some from her if we had not just literally bought a big jar in Larabanga).

Larabanga Mosque:
Sudanese style mosque which is the oldest in the country. Non-muslims may not enter but we had a nice tour of the outside from the imam's grandson. The community was also slaughtering a cow while we were there which made for an interesting side spectacle. Our guide also showed us about shea butter and took us into a structure that is built in the historical style so we could see what it was like. They asked for donations at the end toward their community well and education fund.

Boabeng-Fiema monkey sanctuary
Despite the "Do Not Feed the Monkeys" signs, we were advised immediately to buy peanuts and bananas to feed the monkeys, which we did. My husband then immediately had the peanuts stolen right out of his hands by a sneaky monkey, which was really funny. He was getting ready to take a photo and the monkey sprang upon him and snatched the bag of peanuts. We still got to feed them bananas. The sanctuary is a fun way to get up close and personal with Mona monkeys and to see colobus monkeys. The guide that took us on the walk through the sanctuary gave us the history of the sanctuary and showed us the monkey cemetery, which is an interesting aspect of the site. There was a nice shop in town full of local crafts where we bought a few souvenirs.

Ashanti Craft Villages (kente cloth weaving, adinkra stamping, carving):
Good stops. The stamping was our favorite because they have an option to pay for a cloth to stamp yourself after you learn about the process. The kente cloth weaving was a little similar to other styles of weaving we have seen demonstrated but the additional historical and cultural information about it differentiated it to make it worth learning about. The carving was just wood carving shops, no demos or anything, which was fine. We actually were particularly interested in the carving as we have a specific type of souvenir we collect wherever we go and had no luck getting one so far--we commissioned one here with our guide's help and it was delivered to us via bus 4 days later.

Butterfly Sanctuary
I have zero idea why this was on our itinerary. It was a dud of a stop. Apparently it is lovely during butterfly season. It was not butterfly season. It was not a convenient stop (we drove probably 30 min each way to get to it) and the tour guide was sick when we got there so his young (maybe 10 years old) son just walked us around the paths and read the signs that labeled the trees on the paths. It was underwhelming to put it mildly. If you want to include this on your itinerary, make sure you are going during butterfly season.

Adanwomase Home Stay:
The other dud of the trip. This was not a home stay. This was a very cheap guesthouse. It is, from what they later said, the only "homestay" opportunity Easy Track offers and it is nothing of the sort. We didn't experience any aspects of local culture, we didn't meet a family or stay with them or take a meal with them. We stayed in a hot, run down room in a multi-room guesthouse which had no food available for dinner or breakfast. I had specifically asked about a homestay while planning and noted that if that was not part of the culture then we understood; I was assured in return that it was part of their offerings and would involved local interactions and experiences. So this was a disappointment.

Assin Manso,/Elmina Castle:
Incredibly moving sites. Assin Manso especially so. We had one of the best local guides of the whole trip here (he went by Kofi). He began our tour with a moment of silence for those who had been lost to the genocide of slavery. He gave a thoughtful and moving tour of the former slave market-prep area. We were the only ones at this site and enjoyed having some quiet time to reflect.

This was in contrast to the guide at Elmina castle who was, hands down, the worst guide I have ever had at any site anywhere in the world. He literally just took us from room to room reciting what the room was used for. If a fourth-grade child gave a tour, this is what it would have sounded like. We were in a slave fortress where people's lives were lost, where they were terrorized and parted from their families and their land, where they were tortured, where they last touched their home-country's soil. And this guy just took us around telling us, "Now we will go to the officers' banquet hall. Ok we are in the officers' banquet hall. This is where officers ate." There was also some joking around that I found upsetting --e.g. we were "closed" into each of the holding cells in the fortress (one for slaves, one for soldiers) and the guide joked about leaving us in there. I would have preferred an interpretive tour that acknowledged the horrors of the site and brought some dignity and gravitas to the tour. We felt a particular connection to the slave sites we visited as we are from Virginia, USA, a place where slavery flourished and with a direct connection to the sites we visited in Ghana. This site is not to be missed, of course, even if your guide doesn't really cut it. The most moving moment was when some young men on another floor burst into "Lift Every Voice and Sing" a capella; it was beautiful and haunting and brought tears to my eyes. I wanted to go watch them but it turned out it was just an impromptu moment from other tourists. It would be incredible if the fortress offered performances like that or remembrance services or ceremonies.

Elmina City Tour including Posuban Shrines and Ft. San Jago:
Top notch tour with a top notch local guide. We walked around Elmina with an enthusiastic and knowledgable guide. It was a fabulous way to experience the city and to learn more about the culture. I highly recommend doing something like this and not just hitting the Elmina Castle and moving on.

Canopy walk in Kakum National Park:
We've done some adventurous sports on trips (e.g. ziplining, canyoning, rondonee skiing, hiking volcanoes) so I wasn't sure how exciting this would be and I was pleasantly surprised. It's not a big adventure but it's a nice small adventure. I am afraid of heights so perhaps more of an adventure to me than to others but even my husband, with no fear of heights, agreed it was a nice activity and sufficiently different from others we have done to put it on a must-do list. We had a nice time and the park is nice. They have some nice souvenir shops inside as well.

Crocodiles and Weaver Birds at Hans Botel:
Like the butterflies, but less out-of-the way, this stop could have been skipped based on the time of year we were visiting. It was nesting season and there were no crocs in sight. There were some nice birds, including the weaver birds. Actually, our hotel in this area had a croc pond so we still saw crocs. I think this is just a convenient stop relative to Kakum but there was no need for it.

Gari Making
Unplanned stop that we loved. Our guide was literally just buying gari for his family and we stopped at the roadside stand and watched how they made it. It was fascinating. They let me stir the gari over the fire! Very cool and a good local experience that was different from anything we have seen or done.

Cape Coast Beach
A clear and nice view of the other slave fortress. We didn't swim but we hung out at the beach hotel and had some lunch.

Last edited by schlegal1; Jan 31st, 2019 at 08:13 AM.
schlegal1 is offline  
Feb 3rd, 2019, 08:11 PM
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We stayed in a hot, run down room in a multi-room guesthouse which had no food available for dinner or breakfast.

LOL, I've had experiences like this. Live and learn.

Lovely photos, especially the elephants and those baby warthogs. And just reading your description of Assin Manso and Elmina Castle brought tears to my eyes. Okay, maybe not your description of your guide at Elmina Castle, but your visit and what you got out of it.

Thanks, schlegal!
Leely2 is offline  
Feb 4th, 2019, 04:34 AM
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ekscrunchy is online now  
Feb 4th, 2019, 11:09 AM
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Hi Leely and ekscrunchy and tripplanner, thanks so much for reading and looking at pics (The baby warthogs made me want to bundle them up and sneak them home they were so cute). I know Ghana isn't on too many travel bucket lists but I thought that my report might help a few people out. And I love the Africa board and still have fond memories of all the help from the folks here when we went to Tanzania back in 2005. Rwanda is on for us for 2020 so I should be here a bit more, too.

The remainder of the activities:
Posuban Shrine in Mankessem - We'd seen a number of these shrines in Elmina. This was in the same vein. Someone local explained the significance of all the figures on the shrine to us. It was kind of cool but also kind of weird and hard to follow.

Culture Performance at Big Milly's- My favorite activity by far. This was a professional drum and dance performance that was simply wonderful. Full of spirit and beautiful music and incredible dancing.

Bawjiwase Orphange - We've never done an orphanage visit in any of our travels for a variety of reasons. But this seemed worthwhile and the orphanage has recovered from a scandal a few years ago so we felt like it was ok to make the stop and the donation. We met wonderful people and a few of the lovely children and the experience was one we appreciated having.

West Hills Mall - Just a mall. Nothing exciting and it was just to demonstrate that Ghana has a mix of both modern and not-so-modern places to shop, eat, etc.

Coffin Shop - Pretty cool stop to see the unusual coffins that the Ga people sometimes get. It's the most-asked-about thing from people who hear about our trip.

Largely unremarkable. We stayed in budget and mid-range and they were generally fine and usually about the same level as a down-at-the-heels US chain hotel. The notable exceptions were:

The Royal Senchi, Akosombo
Total luxury place. They opened a fresh coconut for each of us to drink upon arrival and that set the tone for a wonderful and relaxing stay. Beautiful pool, beautiful grounds, generally good staff (although the dining staff hospitality was kind of "meh" for a luxury place). The room was lovely and comfortable and we just loved this place. They have kayaks and paddle boats that are available as part of the stay. The room minibar fridge (sodas, water, coffee, tea, beer) is included in the stay as is a wonderful breakfast. We cut down on other hotels to add this as a splurge and we were glad we did. I love staying at a place like this and where the guest is not nickel and dimed for every convenience--just build it into my room price and let me enjoy myself!

Coconut Grove African Village, Elmina
Not the full luxury of the Senchi but very nice, nonetheless. We were in the budget area of the hotel, which is a teensy walk down the road from the main area but which provides access to all the amenities anyway (except in-room wifi, we had to go to the main area for wifi access). We had a nice, comfortable stay here.
We also had an experience while dining/at the bar that typifies what we experienced a few times in various hotels/restaurants: I order a cider at the bar, they are out of it (I had had one just the day before at this bar); I order something else, nope, all out; I ask what they have and he offers a "Cosmopolitan" and I agree--what I get is not a Cosmopolitan but is tasty so I order a second one, nope, they are out of the ingredients now. Just the kind of thing you laugh off and it's fine but it's puzzling that a higher-end hotel has this much trouble meeting guests requests. Similarly, one night we ordered dinner and a starter salad to share, after the long (by-now-totally-normal-to-us) wait for dinner our entrees arrive and the woman comes over and says they are out of the ingredients for salad. It's fine, but we wondered (as we also wondered other times something nearly identical happened) why they didn't tell us right away that something we ordered was not available.

The other places we stayed are unremarkable. I will probably post about them on TA under this same screenname if anyone's curious and planning a trip:
Okera Inn, Accra
Waterheights Hotel (near Wli falls)
Uplands Hotel, Wa (best wifi of the trip)
Mole Park Lodge (The budget option of the two in-park lodges--surprisingly nice)
Premier Palace, Techiman
Big Milly's (the cutest of the mid-range places we stayed)
schlegal1 is offline  
Feb 4th, 2019, 05:40 PM
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Hi schlegal,

For some reason, and this may be a function of where/when I grew up, Ghana has always seemed a fairly popular post-college destination to me. In fact, I had no idea there were wildlife activities on offer, as my post-collegiate buddies all went very low-budget on their West Africa trips.

Your photos are really lovely, and the glitches in service are...funny but not shocking, as I'm sure you are aware.

I was in Rwanda in 2010. If I ever get enough time off (and $) to get back to sub-Saharan Africa, Rwanda is high high high on my list. It is an amazingly gorgeous country, and of course then there are gorillas! I hope you love it as much as I did. And I hope things have improved and continue to improve for the Rwandan people.
Leely2 is offline  
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