Ghana Highlights Part 3: Accra to Kumasi and the Brong Ahafo.
We’ll introduce the attractions for these locations and a few insider tips too. I’ll explain how to get there from Accra/Takoradi/Cape Coast and Kumasi towards the end of the post. You can read about how to get there from the Volta in the third of the Ghana Highlights posts.
As I said in Parts 1 & Parts 2 (click here for all the Ghana Highlights), every region has something to offer travelers in Ghana: culture, history, arts, crafts, drumming, dancing, weaving, monkeys and elephants—you can sample it all over, from the jungles and beaches of the south, mountains of the east, to the savannah plains of the north.
Highlights we’ll cover in Part 3.
• Ashanti: The National Cultural Centre
• Kejetia Market (a link to a bit of a long article I wrote for Boots n All on Kejetia Market)
• Bonwire weaving village
• Lake Bosumtwi, less than an hour from Kumasi
• Brong Ahafo: Baobeng Fiema Monkey Sanctuary
• Operation Hand In Hand, Nkoranza
Note: I usually quote prices as ‘about’ because the cost of fuel increases by around 15% a month, routinely increasing prices for goods and services across the country, especially transport. All costs have doubled since I first came in 2005. But I traveled extensively this and last year and I’m estimating based on increases on those prices. I attempt to over-estimate so you don’t get a shock, in case something has increased more than expected, which occasionally happens.
A note on language. In Kumasi, Twi is the major local language (and also the official Ghanaian language of Ghana. EDIT: I was quite misinformed about this. There is no official local language of Ghana. I believe Twi is the most widely spoken of the dozens of Ghanaian languages). It’s not that difficult. Almost everyone in Kumasi speaks some English. In the Brong Ahafo, Bono is widely spoken (not the rocker)--a bit like Twi but not quite.
Kumasi and the Ashanti Region: If Kumasi had an official adjective, it would be ‘chaos’ a.k.a.: ‘Maxwell Smart Territory’. But don’t let that put you off, like it almost did me. If you’ve been to Rome, imagine an undeveloped version and you get downtown Kumasi, especially Kejetia station where a thousand trotros pass through its one entry/exit daily.
I lived in Kumasi for 4 months while I volunteered at a primary school just outside the city central. I hated it to begin with; I loved it by the time I left. What happened? It has a way of getting under your skin. I think the sense of achievement I felt when I finally braved the market alone and came out alive and where I wanted to be, or finding the right tro at night, had something to do with it. And then there were the kids at school—but that’s another story.
Overall, the atmosphere is more aggressive around town than anywhere I’ve been in Ghana. Street vendors will shout at you in Twi and literally push or pull you at times. A lot of first-timers have the same initial reaction as I: get me out of here NOW! But it’s worth hanging in there. While more in your face than Accra, Kumasi is compact, easier to get around, and is unmatched for energy and vibrancy.
You ought to know about The National Cultural Centre. Aside from being a centre for culture past and present, its sprawling, grassy, shaded grounds provide a haven from the hassle. There is no entry fee and the gates are open seven days a week, but the shops aren’t open on Sundays. You will not be hassled at all if you decide to have a picnic or just sit under the trees and read. There is a library too. You can join or you can hang out.
An excellent, unique batik cloth producer sits right at the back of the grounds if you’re coming from the main gate and have passed all the other craft shops on the right, first. The designs and colours are quite beautiful and different from anything I saw elsewhere.
The other shops offer a selection of high quality arts and crafts, including wood, brass, gold, beads, leather, and cloth from all over Ghana. There is a fair trade beadmaker whose shop sits on the other side from the main row of shops.
The Ashanti’s have an awe-inspiring history and if you want to know more you can pop into the Prempreh II Jubilee Museum in the grounds itself for about 4 C. No photos though.
You could spend anything from an hour to half a day here. There is a small café inside the grounds too serving cold drinks and basic local dishes.
To get to the Cultural Centre: All taxi drivers know it and a dropping from anywhere in the Adom area should be 1.5 C max. From Kejetia: 1 C—it’s just 5 minutes with no traffic. It’s also easy to walk from Kejetia. Exit Kejetia on the Prempreh II/Adom area side (ask anyone there to point you towards Adom or even the shop Melcom, which is on that side, and follow the stream of people heading out onto the main road). When you exit the station turn right. The traffic is coming downhill here from the right. You’ll walk up the hill (and if you’re still on the right-hand side of this road you’ll be able to see down into the chaos of Kejetia station when you get up top—see my photo posted). The main road (called Bantama Road but no one knows the name of it so there’s no point asking for it) curves around to the left. You may want to cross to the other side before it curves left, and keep following it around to the left. Or, you can stay on the right side, but you’ll have to cross a major intersection. Soon, a colourfully painted wall appears on the right when you begin curving left and still walking uphill. After a few minutes you’ll see the large gates for the cultural centre on the right.
Bantama Road: If you keep heading about 5 minutes along Bantama Road from the cultural centre, you’ll hit Bantama proper and a strip of fun, al fresco ‘spots’ where Ghanaians congregate and you can sample plenty of chilled beer and dance on the pavement if you wish. It’s hopping on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, but it has become a bit rowdy in recent times and there’s been some robberies. Just be careful. From here, it should be no more than 2 C dropping to the STC or the Presby.
Kejetia Market: There was a huge fire there earlier this year but the market has recovered and is as chaotic as usual. When you’re in Kejetia station, just ask anyone for the market. It’s five minute walk ‘left’ across the station if you’re facing the Adom area. You’ll see the Asanti stool monument and a Maggi Billboard sign to know you’re heading in the right direction. It scared me at first, but it’s worth it. Just keep wandering along the aisles. There are several rows of great cloth vendors selling mostly wax print cloth.
Where to stay: I stayed at the Presbyterian Guest House several times and it was perfect: simple, clean, well-located and inexpensive. Double rooms are 14 Cedis a night. Its large garden also offers respite from the chaos. There is a restaurant downstairs serving good, inexpensive local dishes and the ubiquitous omelette/tea/milo/Nescafe breakfast. Once, when we rocked up at 1 a.m. and had nowhere to stay, the security man let Godwin and I sleep on the verandah when they were full. It’s just around the corner from the banks (Barclays) in Adom area which is uphill from Kejetia station. More simply, it’s right around the corner from the STC: literally, right once you’re out of the main STC gate, right again around the corner onto a factory-lined main road, and right again at the first corner and up the slight hill on the right. If you arrive late or have to leave very early, it’s convenient. PHONE ahead to reserve a room and tell them if you’ll be late: 051-26966. While STC is around the corner, Kejetia is down the hill from here.
If you’re craving western (or Indian) food, Vic Babboo’s café is also in this area (in front of Barclays). Their lassies or curries (they’re Indian) are very good. Pizzas are also great but the burgers not the best. Use Barclays as a landmark—ask anyone in the area—and navigate downhill (from the roundabout) a couple of corners: it’s two minutes down from Barclays. It’s also an unofficial tourist hub. Ask here for African Rainbow’s flyer or check out other flyers. Ask about local taxi drivers and guides—they’ll be able to set you up.
Loads of rastas hang out in front. ‘Prince’ is a decent guy, and he may well still have some ‘obruni how are you?’ t-shirts for sale. If you don’t want any hassle, just ignore them and mosey on in to the café.
If you’re walking from the Presby to Barclays, you’ll pass the British Council at the junction from the lodge. There is a decent internet café, with a toilet, next door.
Lake Bosumtwi: I love this place. The word here is ‘peace’ (after you pass the initial hassle when you hop off at the lake shore—more below). It’s my ‘Mountain Paradise’ (see Part 2) of the Ashanti Region. I visited on three separate occasions over 4 years. The first two were day trips and each time I wished I could stay longer. So, on the third we spent a few nights at the African Rainbow Lodge. GO THERE! It’s worth it.
While the lake is huge, you can see the far side of this lake. Once you view it yourself, you will see that the landscape was formed from a meteor that made a really big dint, creating the surrounding mountains and a perfect lake. Here, people survive on fishing and cocoa/cassava production. If you stroll outside African Rainbow, you’ll find dozens of cocoa trees along the lake’s shore. Perhaps because there’s no need to worry about waves, the ‘canoes’ are slabs of log that float just above the surface. Dozens of men dot the lake, sitting with their feet in the water, paddling or shifting nets and pulling in their haul all day. You can hike around the lake, take canoe trips for a small fee, and generally hang out and do nothing.
African Rainbow is a foreign/Ghanaian partnership. While we were there (and we were the only guests mid-week!) the foreign half was elsewhere and the Ghanaians were doing a great job in every respect: service-wise, food-wise, and generally being friendly. They have various levels of accommodation, but if you have the money, the lake-view lodges are worth it. About 25-40 C per night. Call 0243 230 288.
Getting to the lodge. It’s a few kms from where you alight at the lake shore. You can cross by motorboat which is usually waiting at the lake shore, the easiest option—it takes about 15 minutes and is about 5 Cedis. Or, you can hire a taxi to take you from the alighting point to the lodge by a bumpy dirt track for 10 C (but it’s hard to find a driver to agree to this). Or you can walk, but it’s about 1.5 hours walk up and down small hills. The boat seems easiest, but we did haggle a driver to get us there. It took about 20 minutes.
If you go for a day trip--it only takes an hour or so from Kumasi--you could still head over to African Rainbow. Otherwise, the amazingly accommodating staff at the Lake Paradise Resort will let you hang out in their grassy, shaded garden on the lake bank all day as long as you buy drinks or food; their meals are good quality. You find the resort easily (and with a tinge of adventure) like this: Once you alight (and about ten old men approach professing to be the local chief and asking for money—politely say no) walk down to the lake and turn right. Just keep walking right along the shore for about 15 minutes and over a small wooden bridge. On the other side you’ll see a fancy resort. This is the Lake Paradise Resort where many day-trippers hang out. You might want to stay here too. Be respectful, don’t litter, and pull up a place on the grass or a deck chair. Sleep, read, go for a hike. They have nice toilets up behind the hotel car park. Just ask them.
Getting to the lake from Kumasi: If you tro, head to Asafo station, about 10 minutes from the centre of town: 2 Cedis max. for a dropping. You can tro either direct to the lake: ask for Lake Bosumtwi—about 2 C. Or you can head to Kuntanase: 1.5 C, a major stop on the way, and change for a share taxi to the lake: 1 C. The Kuntanase tro is faster than the former and they both leave from Asafo. Note: Whether taxi or tro, before hitting the lake, and after Kuntanase, you’ll encounter a ‘road-block’ where non-Ghanaians are forced to pay a ‘toll’ for the ‘betterment’ of the area. It’s a scam but since you’re captive and there’s no other way to get there, and the drivers won’t budge until you pay, I found it easier to pay. If you want to argue the point, you’re welcome. It was 1 Cedi per foreigner.
If you tro back from the lake, don’t wait until sun down, head off by about 3. You’ll have to wait for a taxi or tro—whichever comes first—back to Kuntanase. If you’re lucky, a tro might go all the way to Kumasi. In Kuntanase, change for a tro to Kumasi—that won’t take too long.
If you taxi, you can negotiate one from the Presby or Vic Babboo’s to the lake for about 60-70 Cedis. If it’s a day trip, the driver can hang out there and bring you back in the afternoon. Note: He will be reluctant to take you to African Rainbow from the lake shore because of the bad track. You’ll probably have to haggle more for that or catch the motorboat across.
Bonwire: If you want to see Ashanti-style Kente weaving in action, you might like to take a day trip or overnight visit to Bonwire, about 30 minutes outside the city. I didn’t visit, but I heard very good things from those who did. The hassle factor was not as bad as they had expected, however, price-wise, you’ll pay at least twice that for cloth here than you would in the Volta, such as at Kpotoe, the village outside Ho I mentioned in Part 2. When you arrive, as with many tourist ‘hot-spots’, boys will approach to guide you. In this case, it’s ok to be guided because it’s difficult, otherwise, to find everything. Tip them, say 2 Cedis, if they’ve spent a few hours with you. If it’s all day, 4 Cedis would be fair. Get there from Kumasi by taking a tro from Manhyiya (‘hy’ is pronounced ‘sh’: Man-shiya) station, in the Ashanti-hene palace area. If you hired a taxi it should be something like 15 C each way.
Getting to Kumasi: It’s Ghana’s second most populous city and it’s also in the middle (west) of the southern half of Ghana, so it’s a major point for vehicles from all over the country and, therefore, easy to get to. Where ever you are, if you ask for Kumasi you can get there.
From Accra: Several options. STC from Kaneshie leaves several times a day and costs about 13 C. Tros leave regularly from Kaneshie for around the same price range. The trip can take anywhere from 4-7 hours due to Accra and Kumasi traffic. Try not to hit Kumasi between peak hours of 7-9 am or 5-8 pm. Whenever I plan itineraries for people, I try to get them to Kumasi from anywhere but Accra, and to arrive by 3 or 4 p.m.
From T’di you can get the STC or a tro. The STC stops to pick up passengers in Cape if they have spare seats. So, if you’re in Cape, you cannot buy a ticket until the STC has departed T’di. They will call ahead and let the Cape office know how many tickets are left and then you can buy one. This is why I generally tro-ed from Cape to Kumasi.
From Cape: You can get a tro from Tantre station behind the Kotakoraba/Hacienda area. Turn at the crab statue and take the first (curving) road to the left. Go straight ahead for 10 minutes and it’s just part the first junction on the right. Ask anyone there. From Kingsway to Tantre it’s 1.5 C max dropping or 15 minutes walk. Tros depart regularly all day to Kumasi. It’s about 6 C.
(They also depart from Tantre to Accra and Tema. For your info, the Accra tros only go as far as Kaneshie, but the Tema tros pass right through Danquah circle and drop you virtually outside Koala supermarket in Osu. It’s more economical doing this. However, I’d only recommend the Tema tro if the vehicle is more than half full because it can take hours to fill up. If it’s not very full, take the Accra tro—unless you’re ok with waiting—and change at Kaneshie.)
Incidentally (and this will be covered in Part 4) an STC leaves T’di at 7 a.m. and Cape at 9 a.m. every Friday morning straight up to Bolgatanga, with rest stops in Kumasi, Kintampo, Techiman and Tamale. It takes about 12 hours and I recommend this if you want to travel to Tamale or Bolga. From Bolga, it’s much easier planning your trip south at all the stops on the way, and negotiating the terrible Tamale timetable to Mole—without having to overnight in Tamale (you leave Bolga on a tro by 8 a.m. and you’ll be in Tamale by 11 latest in time to buy tickets and leave that day for Mole). Frankly, Bolga is much more attractive and welcoming (with plenty more to do) than Tamale so it’s worth spending time here and just using Tamale to get to and from Mole. Sorry Tamale, but if you lift your game my opinion might change. More in Part 4, later this week.
Brong Ahafo: Most travelers only step off the bus for 10 minutes at Techiman and Kintampo on the route between the south of Ghana and Tamale. If you have time, however, I thoroughly recommend hanging out at Operation Hand in Hand in Nkoranza for a day or two and using it as a base to see the monkey sanctuary. Alternatively, you could see it on the way down from the north by catching a tro from Tamale to Techiman direct (about 4 hours) and 10 minutes on to Nkoranza in another tro. Or catching the STC to Kumasi (paying the full fare) but getting off early at Techiman. From Kumasi, it’s 3 hours north on a trotro from Kejetia.
Operation Hand in Hand is a Dutch-managed orphanage with a good restaurant and guest accommodation that is on par with the likes of Green Turtle/Ko-Sa for appearance and quality. By staying there you help fund their program and you benefit by getting a first-hand view of, arguably, the best-run orphanage in the country (I’ve visited many and they usually remind me of the awful footage from Romanian orphanages that hit the headlines some years back), and economically priced accommodation in a delightful setting—a springboard for the monkey sanctuary. It overlooks a valley and has the feel of an oasis in the jungle.
Want to meditate? For something quite unique, try their Hermitage room which is inside a spacious rock cave on the escarpment among huge trees. One wall is covered in net and overlooks the plantation below. Inside the cave is a simple double foam mattress on a natural rock dais. It’s brilliant.
The orphanage is for mentally handicapped children who have been orphaned or, more commonly, abandoned by their family and community because of beliefs that their handicap may curse others—or there is just not enough money to care for them. Ignorance about mental and physical disabilities is still pretty high in much of Ghana. Some children are immobile, others quite mobile and alert, especially the Downs Syndrome children.
They also run a volunteer programme so you’re likely to come across people from all over helping out. They run a bead workshop where the older, mobile teens, mostly those with Downs, create truly attractive beaded jewelry for sale. They export it to fair trade shops in the Netherlands. The orphanage is operated with the expectation that the children/grown up children will live here for the rest of their life unless their families or communities agree to take them back.
Baobeng Fiema Monkey Sanctuary: I heard great things from those who visited here. From OHIH you can get a share taxi on to the sanctuary, about a half hour trip each way. Just ask at the orphanage for their help in directing you. It’s an easy day trip from the orphanage. Monkeys galore.
When to visit Kumasi/Ashanti and Brong Ahafo: It’s fine all year round and, in what seems like a counter-intuitive phenomenon, it is cooler in Kumasi during the hot months of January and February than it is on the coast, possibly because it’s a bit higher above sea level.
I hope this helps. If you have any questions, please let me know.