March 11, 2010

Ghana Highlights Part 1: Accra to the Central and Western Regions

Ghana Highlights Part 1: Accra to the Central and Western Region, or the coast.
I’ll cover major attractions in each part. After I have posted each part, I’ll provide a few simple itineraries in a fourth post. Click here for all the Ghana Highlights on one page.

In Ghana, every region has something to offer. Culture, history, beaches, flora and fauna, you can sample it all over the country, from the tropical jungles of the south to the savannah plains of the north. If you’re a beach or history lover, you’ll enjoy this tour along the coast.

Accra. Historical monuments; Shopping

Intro: Unlike many capital cities, Accra is missing a ‘focal point’ which can make it difficult to know where to head first. It is more like a cobbled-together series of districts in which there may be something of interest in each, but no one area that stands out above all the others. Tourists tend to frequent Osu and its main street running from Danquah Circle all the way towards Ministries (where government buildings are) area and seeing a few highlights is a twenty minute taxi ride from here.
My highlights:

Nkrumah Mausoleum
National Cultural Centre which is somewhat underwhelming, located in a dusty field on the ocean. They sell a good range of arts and crafts but the hassle factor is extremely high. However, you can find some interesting surprises in the small shops behind the main shed including intricately carved camel bone beaded necklaces and other crafts from all over West Africa.

Global Mamas shop beside Koala in Osu is good for souvenirs and Christmas gifts that make a direct difference to the women producers.

Osu Castle. You can’t go inside, as it’s the President’s official residence, and photography is forbidden, but it’s worth passing by if you’re interested in historical monuments.

Greater Accra. Chilling out.


Aburi: About an hour north of Accra by trotro is Aburi Botanical Gardens. Aburi is a great day trip from Accra or a good weekend away. The day I visited was overcast and drizzly which was perfect. The gardens were misty and magical; you could almost imagine fairies hiding beneath the ferns and behind hundred year old towering trees. It’s a great respite from the bustle of Accra. There are plenty of places to sit and have a picnic. We stocked up at Max Mart near 37 on Lebanese bread, hommus, falafel, cheese and other goodies and had ourselves a feast. You can catch a trotro from 37 directly to the town and walk 5 minutes to the entrance from there.

Cape Coast. Beaches; Historical monuments.


Fanti name: Ogua Koto. Koto means crab, appropriate for this fishing town, and you will probably pass the crab statue on the main road at some point.

Intro: The crumbling gelato-coloured decaying colonial facades give this regional capital character.
My top choices:

Anomabo Beach. This fantastic beach is half an hour from Cape and great for a day trip. You pass the turn off to Anomabo as you arrive in Cape from Accra. From Cape, catch a Mankessim trotro from Kotakoraba taxi station (Cape’s main one) and hop off at the Anomabo junction.

Cape Coast Castle: Located at the ocean, or southern, end of the main street, this UN-listed historical monument, the former British trading stronghold, is not to be missed if you only have a day or two in town. See Elmina below.

Global Mamas workshops: They offer half-day batiking, cooking, and drumming and dancing workshops in town. Book at the shop which is located up the hill from Melcom on Jackson Street, or the road that runs perpendicular to the main road at the one traffic light. The Global Mamas shop is worth visiting too. Incidentally, there is a FOREX in the same building as Global Mamas.

Baobab Café: On the main street serves real plunger coffee. Ask for it strong. Their banana or coconut muffins, and their wholesome pizzas, are a welcome change from rice and beans. And it’s for a good cause.

Black Star Bookshop: Next to Baobab and a minute from the castle. English, French, Dutch and German second-hand and new titles. I found several gems here.

Kakum Canopy Walk: You’ll be disappointed if you’re expecting ‘forest elephants’ or even monkeys, but if you’d like to know how it feels to sway in a rainforest canopy, it’s worth a trip. If you have limited time, don’t worry if you miss it.

Elmina. Historical monuments; Beaches.

Fanti name: Edina. The name Elmina came from the Portuguese for 'the mine' because of the abundance of gold they found traded here.

Intro: A town alive with colour and bustle that often frightens first-timers. But it’s worth walking through. And check out the market: step inside the corrugated tin doorway, opposite the castle, and meet brightly-dressed women sitting on upturned crates around platters of fish in every stage of guttedness: an alley cat’s dream. And buy a bag of rock salt for 5 pesewas.

Elmina Castle: I felt more awed by Elmina Castle than any other in Ghana. Also a UN-listed
historical site, it has the distinction of being the oldest standing European building in sub-Saharan Africa. It was built in 1482, but it has been built on many times over the years. The pillars still standing in the sand in front are what remains of the pier that ships used to moor to. Fort St Jago, a smaller fort built by the Dutch in 1665 to protect the castle against an ambush, sits on the hill behind. The Dutch, you see, ambushed the Portuguese from that hill to take control of the castle in 1637. It was in the late eighteenth century that the British acquired the castle from the Dutch in a monetary exchange.
Brenu Beach: Only twenty minutes from Elmina, this is one of my favourites for a day trip. Just catch a trotro or a share taxi heading towards T’di. Get off at the Brenu junction. Catch a share taxi from there to the beach. You only need pay 50 pesewas to enter the beach area for the day (although it might have gone up). The meals are very good. Return the same way, but don’t leave it too late as it’s tough to get one back late at night.

Ko-sa Beach Resort: This laid-back, German-owned establishment has a fantastic menu. Take the same turn-off that takes you to Brenu. I stayed four days here; I didn’t want to leave and ate my way through the best yam balls and stew (aside from Eli’s), lobster in tomato and garlic sauce, delectable salads with olives and Balsamic, pancakes and coffee…the beach is good too and you can take walks to Brenu beach from there.

Coconut Grove Resort: If you want to spoil yourself, stay a weekend here. It’s in the same price range as Elmina Beach Resort and ten times lovelier. Swim all day in the pool or on the beach. Rooms have scalding hot water, air-con and satellite TV. Food is ok (hotel resortish), but Ko-sa’s is better.

Past Takoradi. Beaches; Nature.


Intro: If you keep heading west past Elmina you hit the twin cities, Sekondi/Takoradi, capital of the Western Region. I didn’t find much to excite in T’di itself, but the area past here, all the way to the border, is fantastic. You only need to head another half hour by tro to get to Busua Beach, Butre Beach, or Green Turtle Lodge. You change tros in T’di. From its main station catch the one heading to ‘Agona’ Junction. This junction connects you to all these beaches. Busua is easiest to get to. Catch a share taxi from the junction straight to the beach. For Butre, ask for the Butre tro. For Green Turtle take a tro heading to Akwida. It can take a while to fill up, but it only takes twenty minutes to get there.

Butre Beach. The place to stay is Ellis Hideout. You get there by walking through town and crossing a small river by canoe and walking along the beach for about fifty metres. The beach is all yours for miles.

Busua Beach
. I liked staying at the old backpacker favourite, Alaska. Rudimentary rooms in a concrete thatch hut: bed and net were about 10 Cedis a night. And, best part, it’s a ten metre walk to the beach from your front door. But there are about a dozen guest houses to choose from so go check them out. The beach here seems to be safer than many others, perhaps because of the cove at one end. Kids playing soccer on Busua Beach.

Green Turtle. Almost always booked out so book far in advance. Very similar ambience to Ko-sa. Food-wise, Ko-sa wins. Beach-wise and cocktails-wise, GT wins. I love the set up under the main hut in the sand and all the areas to hang out—and the shower under the palms! They also have eco-tours in a canoe along a river and seeing turtles lay eggs and hatch.
Sleeping on the beach at Green Turtle.

Further past T’di. Beaches. Nature. Culture. Historical Monuments.

Intro: The area makes a good weekend trip from Cape or Elmina, or even Accra, if you’re tough!
Axim Beach Resort: This is my
favourite for beach, location, and views in Ghana. If it had Ko-sa’s food, I’d never go anywhere else. And, it’s owned and run by a Ghanaian man called Jonas. His story is unique: he saved money teaching English throughout Asia which he used upon his return to build Axim, and he’s done an amazing job, seeming combining some of the best characteristics of South East Asian guest houses with African style. Situated on a hill overlooking a rocky beach to the west and the Awangazule Beach to the east, what I love most is that there is a range of accommodation and room styles to cater to all budgets, but you don’t feel as if you’re roughing it even in the cheapest room. The décor and even bathrooms are quirky with seashell mosaics and tiles adorning almost all walls.

I spent many a weekend chilling out on the beach. There is a great restaurant and bar on the beach, a park area, BBQ, and even a flying fox! There is another restaurant on the hill by the guest rooms with several tiers of tables down the hill. Breakfast is a spread of eggs, toast, lemon grass tea, the usual Nescafe/Lipton/Milo, and fruits and is included in accommodation. The main menu has fresh fish, plenty of good Ghanaian dishes, and good drinks. And there is even an internet room with about 5 computers and a decent connection.• Fort Sao Antonio is the second oldest fort in Ghana after Elmina and worth a walk into Axim town, reminiscent of Elmina, to visit if you have a free half day. Umbrellas along the beach at Axim.

Nzulezo Stilt Village. This is one of my Ghana highlights, an experience in itself. This village, as the name suggests, is built on bamboo stilts and sits entirely above the lake in the Amansuri wetlands. There is even a school room on stilts at the edge of the forest. The one-hour canoe trip to and from the village, across lilly-pad studded waters, and through jungle growing in the wetlands, is quite special. I stayed overnight there and swam (brave or stupid—both I think) in the lake with the locals. Staying overnight, I sensed how life is in this isolated, secluded village.

One family had a generator and what was everyone gathered around one TV watching? Football, of course. It occurred to me then that the kids who lived there had no where to play football. They would have to canoe the hour to land to play. When I arrived it was Friday afternoon and school had ended. There were about a dozen kids each in their own canoe, still in uniform, spread all over the lake gazing into the dead still water, looking for fish. Most people visit for half a day from Axim Beach or even T’di. If you’re staying in Axim, ask the staff how to get here as it can be tricky. Otherwise, check the Bradt Guide or its web site for latest updates. It lies along a long dirt road off the main road between T’di and Elubo. I advise getting a trotro or share taxi from the junction to Nzulezo.


Tipping guides: I have learnt that guides don’t get paid a salary for guiding at most attractions. They survive on tips. That includes Cape Coast Castle, Elmina Castle, Nzulezo canoeists, and, in Part 2, Wli Waterfalls. Keep in mind the minimum wage is 2.65 Cedis a day. I tip commensurate with the effort made—great, average, bad—and what I gauge they might make that day. I’d probably tip 2 Cedis at the Castles if it was an informative tour and I could hear their voice because they’re likely to do a couple of tours a day and have more than one person on it (I’ve done about 5 tours of Elmina castle and the guides varied greatly). I’d tip more for the canoeists as they might do that one tour a day, likewise the Wli Waterfalls.

For what it’s worth, most drumming and dancing groups don’t get paid by the venue for their performance, including at 5-star hotels. They also survive on tips so when they hand around a hat, it’s good form to tip a Cedi or two if you enjoyed the performance.

 

Next: Part 2: Accra to the Eastern Region, Brong Ahafo and Volta Region, or the mountains and lake. Following: Part 3: Accra to Kumasi and the three northern regions, or the savannah.
Final, Part 4: Itineraries for short and long trips.

3 comments:

  1. You're a born tour guide Gayle!!! By the way, did Jonas at Axim tell you about his lovely German wife who also contributed to the development of the resort?? Her name is Manuela - I understand she is busy back in Germany teaching now...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey, Thanks! I had no idea. They did such a great job together. And it just keeps getting better. I love that place.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hello !

    Do you know Busua Inn, one french guesthouse and Ezile bay, lovely places run by one french couple ? They are very friendly and relaxing place !

    ReplyDelete

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