November 21, 2017

Ghana Highlights Part 4: Accra/north to the three northern regions

Welcome to what sometimes feels like ‘Far, Far Away Land’—the three northern regions of Ghana—which occupy about half of Ghana’s land mass. But they needn’t seem so far. I’ll give you a couple of tips (see *** below) about how to negotiate this region as easily as possible on public transport.

Since there is little by way of up-to-date information for these areas online, other than the standard guide books, I’ll attempt to pass on what I know from living up here for the last 10 months and traveling to Mole or the Upper East on four other occasions so you may travel more comfortably than I once did.

As I said in Parts 1, 2, and 3 (read all the Ghana Highlights by clicking this link), every region has something to offer travelers, volunteers and workers in Ghana: culture, history, arts, crafts, drumming, dancing, pottery, weaving, monkeys and elephants—you can sample it all over, from the jungles and beaches of the south, mountains of the east, to the dry, savannah plains of the north.

Indeed, the plains and their massive baobabs, standing like fat scarecrow soldiers on guard, start appearing a couple of hours after you pass Kintampo heading to Tamale. The northern half of Ghana is all wide, open spaces, grasslands, termite mounds, desert palms, and baobab’s.

Because there are as many ways to get here as there are towns, and there is no definitive guide on how to do this, choosing the simplest route can be challenging.

I’ll address how to get here by focusing on the main tourist attractions and towns. I’ll outline the easiest ways to get between them (knowing what I know now)! This will be longer than usual, but it’s worth taking the time to read through if you’re planning on heading north on public transport. If you have your own transport (lucky you!), you won’t so much hassle.

Three amigos on the escarpment outside Mole Motel as sun sets

Let’s say Mole is what you’re aiming for. Here’s how most travelers do it. They leave somewhere in southern Ghana in the morning and arrive in Tamale in the evening. You have no option but to go to Tamale from where the public bus leaves to Mole.

Because the Mole bus is scheduled to leave Tamale station at 2 p.m. (although it’s often late), you will miss that day’s service. You must stay over night and buy tickets in the morning, wait around all day, sometimes until 6 p.m., then depart to Mole. It takes 4 hours to get to Mole. By the time you get there it will have been about 36 hours since you left the southern point. Essentially, most travelers on public transport from the south end up over-nighting in Tamale because they have no choice.

If you leave Accra by 6/7 a.m. you’ll get to Tamale around 7 p.m. if you’re very lucky. More likely by 10 p.m. You would leave from Accra STC (shortly before Lamptey Circle/Kaneshie area on the western side of Accra) at 5 or 6 a.m.—the timetables change regularly so check the day before—or Tema STC at 8 a.m. The Tema service actually goes on to Bolgatanga, arriving around midnight-2 a.m.

To clarify: STC stands for State Transport Company and is the name given to the green/white coloured coaches you’ll see zooming along highways all over Ghana.

You can also get tros from Nkrumah ‘Circle’ Station in Accra to Tamale. It’s hell, but you can do it.

Takoradi (T’di): There is a daily STC service to Kumasi in the morning. (Incidentally, T’di services to Accra leave daily, every hour, from 8 a.m.)

Cape Coast: STC option: If you're waiting for the Takoradi service via Cape, you could wait at Cape STC to see if there are seats for Kumasi after the service leaves T’di station—they pass through Cape. There may be seats left, but you have to wait until after the coach has left and then the Cape office will let you know (you have to hang about the ticket selling window) if there are seats. Keep in mind that services are often late. So if the service is supposed to leave T’di at 5, you should be waiting at Cape STC from 5 to get a ticket. But it might not leave until 7. So you’re waiting for 2 hours and you still don’t know if you get a ticket. I never did this. Instead I caught a tro to Kumasi from Tantre station in Cape. By the time you’ve waited to get a ticket for the STC, you could be half-way to or almost in Kumasi.

Unless you’re leaving T’di or Cape on Friday morning (best option, see *** below), it’s easier to start the journey from Cape on a tro and work out the next leg from Kumasi on either a tro or the STC. Alternatively, you could travel to Accra and buy an STC ticket direct to Tamale or Bolga from there. It’s just that the Accra-Kumasi leg is painful. If you’re already in Cape, Cape-Kumasi (while a bit bumpy in parts) is better than Accra-Kumasi. (Careful readers will have noted by now that I do everything to avoid the Accra-Kumasi highway). Contrary to what you might imagine, that highway, and the bit of highway directly north out of Kumasi are slow and unfinished—still. The major roads in the three northern regions (except to and from Wa), even to Bawku, are quite good.

***Alternatively, you could leave Cape the afternoon before, overnight in Kumasi at the Presby around the corner from the STC (see Part 3), and leave on the 7 a.m. STC service in the morning. This is a lot less stressful and less expensive than going to Accra since over-nighting in Kumasi is about 12-14 C and over-nighting in Accra (unless you know someone) is at least 20, plus taxis.

Kumasi: Kumasi’s 7 a.m. If it leaves on time and doesn’t break down, the STC service to Tamale can get you in just before the official 2 p.m. Mole bus leaves. The Kumasi-Tamale service is a major service in Ghana so try to buy a ticket from the STC the afternoon before, if not go very early (5 a.m.), to buy a seat that morning. If you’re lucky (which I was once), you might arrive in Tamale in time to get a ticket for that day’s bus to Mole. Since the Mole bus is usually late, this will probably work.

Techiman/Kintampo: If you’re in Techiman or Kintampo, you’d catch a tro to Tamale around 6/7 a.m. in the morning and you’re likely to get to Tamale in time (11/12) to buy a ticket for that day’s service.

The orange metro mass buses also leave from Kumasi to Tamale and Bolga but the Kumasi station is my idea of hell: There are no queues and no communication about when buses will arrive or depart. Go there if you have no options. The station is on the northern side of the city, about 10 minutes or 2 Cedis dropping out of town. Just ask for Metro Mass bus station.

Remember, you could break up the leg to Tamale by, instead, traveling 3 hours north to Techiman from Kumasi, staying at Operation Hand in Hand in Nkoranza (15 mins from Techiman) for a day or two, and then heading to Tamale in the morning from there and still get to Mole that night.

Sunset over the plains below looking from the escarpment out front of Mole Motel

There is a trotro to Tamale from a small station in Kumasi called “Dr Mensah” on the opposite side of Kejetia station from Adom, a little outside the station. Taxis know “Dr Mensah”. Try to be there by 9, but we once got one as late as 2 p.m.

*** This is my make-life-easier tip: Like ripping off a Band-aid/plaster in one go, if you’re coming from Accra or the coast, go directly to Bolga on an STC service. The stress of the public transport to Mole could be reduced by going directly to Bolga, spending time here, and then heading to Tamale (2.5-3 hours south by tro) on the morning you intend to go to Mole, and then you can stop at the major points heading south.

*** Alternatively, you could slowly work your way north—Accra/Cape/Kumasi/Techiman—Nkoranza/Tamale/Bolga—and then STC back from Bolga or Tamale south. Anyway, I’ll cover route options in Part 5.

I mentioned the STCs from Accra and Tema.

***But, an STC service for Bolga departs from Takoradi at 7 a.m. on Fridays. It passes through Cape, departing at 9 a.m. It arrives in Tamale between 10-midnight and Bolga around midnight-2 a.m. If you’re in Cape, you cannot buy a ticket until the bus has departed T’di and the sellers know how many seats are left. So you wait at Cape STC from 7 a.m.—be really friendly with the ticket sellers. Both times I tried this, I got tickets. Other passengers will be waiting and hoping too. These people are most likely from Bolga and, rather than competing with them for tickets, work together in Cape (it’s obvious who they are as they’ll be hanging about the window asking about the Bolga service and you just strike up a chat—which is what I did), they’ll help you out when you get to Bolga. You’ll stop for half an hour in K’si, and again in Techiman, Kintampo and Tamale. More on arriving in Bolga at midnight below.

A note on languages. In a nutshell, Hausa is most widely spoken across the three northern regions and, irrespective of ethnicity, almost all Ghanaians who grew up here can speak a few words of Hausa, if not be conversationally fluent. It’s a pretty simple language. Dagbane is spoken by the Dagombas who live across the entire breadth of the Northern Region (which is what you’ll hear around Mole). In the Upper East Region, Frafra is spoken by Frafras who live mostly in Bolgatanga and Bongo (I find this language difficult). Kasim and Nankani is spoken in Navrongo. In Bawku, Mampruli is spoken by the Mamprusis and Kusa by the Kusasis. Moshis speak Moshi and Bisas speak Bisa. In the Upper West Region, Wale is spoken in Wa and Lawra/Nandon.

English is less widely spoken outside the main towns in the north. You’ll notice this in markets, but you can always get by (speak clearly-no slang) and find someone to help.

Northern Region: capital Tamale; Upper East: capital Bolgatanga; Upper West: capital Wa.

Elephants grazing at Mole in late December.
Highlights we’ll cover:

Northern: Mole National Park (Link to a good Wiki.)

Buy the ticket to Mole in the morning at Tamale’s main bus station. It’s right next to the STC and the seller is towards the rear of the station. It’s 2.5-3 Cedis for a ticket to Mole. Warning: the bus trip is pandemonium in motion. My Italian mate got ‘seasick’—in his words.

Mole’s attractions are well-documented elsewhere. What most people rave about is getting up close to elephants in the wild. We were able to sit by the lake/dam and watch them frolicking for hours. The baboons around the motel are more than naughty and will steal your food right from your hands if you’re not careful. Give them a wide berth. There are plenty of monkeys too. I love the trotty wart hogs that may cross your path around the motel or out on the walk.

Service-wise, Mole Motel made Fawlty Towers look five star. It still is my worst experience, service-wise, in Ghana. The motel is expensive and food is way overpriced. You can eat more cheaply at the park rangers’ quarters. Just ask. Book your room in advance and try to say your name clearly as they may well mess it up or just lose your booking full stop. Order your main meals at the meal time before—eg. Order dinner at lunch time so they can prepare it in time for dinner. This is a good system and ensures you’ll get meals during meal times.

You do have to pay an entry fee to the park—that’s not a scam. If you’re a student, you need a valid student ID to get a discount. Likewise, volunteers. You also have to pay for the tour in addition to the room cost.

Many choose to stay at Larabanga, where the mud mosque is, at the Salia Brothers because it’s way less expensive and they (according to all accounts) are excellent hosts. If so, email them ahead and they’ll meet you on arrival. It’s 5 kms before Mole. The hassle factor in Larabanga is apparently extremely high. Some love it, some hate it. Those who stay at Larabanga get up early and go for the 7 a.m. walk in Mole, hang out all day by the pool (yes Mole Motel has an inground pool from which one friend watched a thirsty elephant once drink), and return in the evening to their lodgings. You can bike between. You could get a car for 2 Cedis each way. The road is known for robberies so be careful if walking alone or in pairs.

NOTE: I know two groups who hopped off the main highway junction to Tamale from Kumasi that branches left to Mole, hoping to get a tro (or any lift) to Mole from there instead of going to Tamale and doubling back on the bus the next day. It didn’t work. They got stuck there and ended up having to go to Tamale anyway. By the time any vehicle gets to that point it’s usually full. It is possible to negotiate an empty tro for hire around Tamale station to Mole but it will obviously cost more.

Likewise, it’s almost impossible getting out of Mole on anything but the public bus. The bus out of Mole still leaves at 4-5 a.m. getting you into Tamale around 8. On the upside, it’s easy to continue a journey from Tamale to anywhere in Ghana that day.

NOTE TO ENTREPRENEURS: The person who starts a bus service between Accra/Cape and Mole, direct, will surely reap rewards. Travelers to and from Mole are aching for this: Arrive while it’s still light and leave at a decent hour like 10 or 11 a.m.

• Tamale Central Market

If you do overnight in Tamale and have the morning to fill while waiting to go to Mole later that day, there are plenty of good internet cafes close to the bus stations on the main road—just ask. The Tamale Central Market, adjacent to the STC (2 minutes from the bus station), sells a variety of northern-style and Malian cloths and crafts. If you have no chance to visit any other market in the north, then see this market.

Where to stay in Tamale. Bradt Guide listings are OK, but the Hamdallah Hotel, Kukou area, is a gem. It’s a few kms out of town (not its sister branch on the main road which is more expensive). The Kukou branch is a 5 minute dropping (2 Cedis)—drivers will know it. You can get a huge double bed room that looks like a modern Sydney apartment, sparkling clean tiles, DSTV, air-con, and a shower with a bath tub for 18-20 C per night. Omelette/toast/tea breakfast is included. It’s mostly patronized by in-the-know Ghanaians. Ask the security people to find a taxi heading back to town from there. We easily picked one up on the road around the hotel.

Photo of "Bolga baskets" courtesy of Oxfam Australia's Summer 2009 Catalogue

• Upper East:

When I first came to Bolga last year, after having been to Tamale/Mole twice and never making the journey further north, I thought: I missed out! It is like being in another country (and 30 minutes to Burkina, it almost is). It’s very laid-back, like a large Australian country town, frontier-ish, and has a happy vibe. I’ve been getting emails from readers about it too. Marie, who was once in Peace Corps Togo and recently journeyed around Ghana, wrote: “Even though my stop in Bolga was ever so brief, I liked the ambience of the place. Hope I get a chance to return some day and spend more time there.”

It’s subjective, of course, but I feel Bolga has more to offer than Tamale, the hassle factor is virtually nil since few tourists pass through—although I see some virtually every time I go to town now, people are friendly, and it’s easy to get around. Pottery, cloth weaving and basket-making traditions flourish in this area. You can find balls of shea butter in the market for 10-30 pesewas—the same market that sells the cloth below (just ask someone and they’ll direct you). Navrongo’s mud cathedral and Sirigu pottery and arts are easier to get to than Kakum is to Cape. You could easily spend 3-5 days here, but you can see some highlights in 1-2 days. Of many volunteers and travelers I spoke to, quite a few said they would have given up Mole for Bolga (especially if they’d been on safari elsewhere), so there you are.

Arriving at midnight-2 a.m. Trusted taxis that work with the STC are waiting for the service to arrive late at night. Also, those who arrive on the STC are almost always locals and, if you ask nicely, they’ll help you out. At night, whatever you do, DO NOT try to get a taxi outside the STC on the highway (everyone will warn you against this) because they are waiting for naïve travelers to do just this and then rob them. The ones inside the STC are there for a good reason—they’re known and trusted. You’ll pay about 2.5-3 Cedis for a dropping into town (about 5 minutes). Once you know it, it’s very easy to walk back to the STC. If you arrive during the day, it’s quite safe to get a taxi from the road, just not at night.

Best places to stay. In town proper, and walking distance to the market, tros and main road, is St Joseph’s Hotel, 072-23214, next to the stadium. It’s 17/22 Cedis a night for double room (fan/air-con) and it’s a clean, airy place. Otherwise, the inexpensive Catholic Social Centre which sits behind the SSNIT building (in which there is a decent internet café) is 10 GC a double. While in a nice space, Sand Gardens is over-rated at 30 GC for a plain double—their food is also over-rated. For a similar price, SWAD food (near SSNIT) is best: curries (6 GC), pizzas (10 GC) and really good red-red and banku (4-5 GC). See Best secret food spots in Ghana post for more details.

There are 3 internet cafes along Commercial Street, the main road of Bolga, which runs south from SSNIT or north from the Zuarangu Road (one road in and parallel to the Bolga-Navrongo road).

NOTE: Bolga Crafts Village only sells crafts. There is no demonstration of craftsmen or women at work here, a missed opportunity, really. For craftspeople in action head to…

Photo courtesy of Marie McC at Travels in Ghana which is an excellent source of photos and recent information about Sirigu, Tamale, and Bolga--and an excellent photo of Elmina Castle across the page header.

• Bolga market for smocks hand-woven cloth. Read Marie's excellent post on that here.

The weaving part of the Bolga market is in action every day, although sparse on Fridays and Sundays—religious days. Get into that part of the market simply from the Zuarangu Road. If you’re in Commercial Road (the main road) you turn left at its southern end at the T-junction into Zuarangu Road. Or, you might know it as being main road heading to Bawku. Either way, as soon as you turn left out of it, you pass the police station on your right and Goil/Shell further ahead on your left. About then, ask for the market and weaving. It’s just ahead on the left behind a two-storey salmon-coloured building. You can wander around between dozens of stalls where men are weaving and selling cloth. You can buy a waist-length men’s woven top for 30-40 GCs in a complex mix of colours. It takes one person two weeks to weave the cloth for this and a taylor then to sew it. For one or two colours, the price will be a little cheaper.

I took this place for granted (because I have to pass through it every time I go to buy food) but when Marie sent an email I realised it should be shared too. She said,“You may not know that this is the type of thing that tourists might like to know about. As a tourist, I loved my visit there, and as a photographer it was a fantastic photo opportunity.” CHECK OUT HER NORTHERN PHOTOS HERE.

Shea Butter producers on the side of one of Bolga's main roads

If you want to buy shea butter (kamengbbo in Frafra), ask anyone around here and they’ll take you to a seller. A fist-sized ball is anything between 10-40 pesewas.

Weaving baskets in a village just outside Bolgatanga

• Market day and Bolga baskets.

Every third day is market day. If you’re planning a trip to coincide with it, call any hotel in Bolga and ask them when the next day is (or when the last one was); they’ll be able to tell you.

Learning to weave baskets is like Sydney-siders learning to swim; it’s more or less a given. And basket making is virtually unique to Bolga. You can find women, boys and girls weaving in many of the villages around the outskirts of town. I visited several and learnt that it takes one woman three days to make the large, traditional basket. Most middle-men pay the producer 5 Cedis a basket at a central warehouse point where you’ll see hundreds of sellers congregating on market day to sell their baskets. Note: The minimum wage is 2.65 C/day so, by rights, the middle-men should be paying at least 7.95 GC a large basket and perhaps about 5 for a small one. But, this is the poorest region in Ghana, people are desperate for income, supply is high, demand is relatively low, and it’s the informal sector so producers just manage to survive.

In case you should wish to buy directly from the producer on market day, the warehouse is located on the main road: Commercial Road (one road in from the highway—Navrongo Road) at the southern, STC end. When you turn into Comm. Road from this end, there is a grey-painted, enclosed canteen soon on the right called International Traveler’s Inn which serves great omelette and tea for 1.5 Cedis. Behind here (and you can’t miss it) is a block of warehouse buildings where producers sell to middle-men. If you come on a non-market day, you can haggle with the middle-men in the warehouse, probably from 15 down to 10-12 for a large basket. You’ll pay US$32-35 (GHC45-50) LINK for the same basket online. Somewhere, someone’s making money, but it isn’t the producer so if you get a chance to buy directly from them (and a fair price is around 8 GC for a large basket), it will make a difference to them.

You’ll know it’s market day by seeing people toting baskets (and chickens and goats and guinea fowl) along main streets everywhere from early morning.

• Navrongo’s mud cathedral

If you do stop in Navrongo, it’s worth checking out this striking, enormous mud cathedral on the southern end of town dating from 1920. Inside its walls are painted in old fresco style but it’s rarely open now. Seeing it from the outside alone was an experience but if you’re there on a Sunday you may get a peek inside.

Photo courtesy of flickr attribution licence by super.heavy

• Paga crocodile pond

About an hour and a half from Bolga or 20 minutes from Navrongo. Paga is where most cross the border to Burkina. ***By the way, you cannot get a visa at the border; you must have obtained it already at an embassy (in Accra or another country). It’s about 10 kms past Navrongo. You could go Bolga-Nav-Paga-Sirigu-Bolga in a day. Or any or all of those, depending on your interest.

I’ve seen a lot of crocs at home (Oz) so I’ve given this a miss, but you can sit on the croc and have your photo taken at the ecotourism project here. I’ve heard varied reports about the service. In Paga itself apparently you get similar hassle as Larabanga in terms of being pushed around for exhorbitant fees. To avoid this, get dropped before getting in to Paga central taxi station. Instead, drop at the visitor’s centre on the main road before town. One pond is right there at the visitor’s centre. A new building is now being constructed to improve the centre.

• Pikworo slave camp

During the slave trade West Africans from all over were brought here before the long march south to the coast and the castles. Like visiting the castles, according to all accounts it’s an emotional experience for those with ancestral connections. From Paga, get a dropping taxi directly to the visitor’s centre. Pay about 2-4 Cedis. Check in at the centre. Then you get taken on a tour which costs about 3 Cedis. Tip those who demonstrate the drumming where the slaves drummed on the rocks as they don’t get paid otherwise. Godwin visited here and said it’s fascinating and worth the tour. I hope to go soon.

• Sirigu arts and pottery

I’ve been planning this trip all year but Marie’s photo’s inspired me so maybe I’ll visit Pikworo and Sirigu together. Godwin has been here and has also been pushing me to go. Characterised by striking, geometrical designs in earthy-colours (reminiscent of Aboriginal Australian art), the Sirigu artists and potters are unique in Ghana. Whole houses are painted in this fashion and you can buy artwork and pottery too. It’s an hour from Bolga by tro from town—western side of the market area or just down the road from St Joseph’s hotel.

SWOPA guest lodging. Photo courtesy of Marie McC at Travels in Ghana which is an excellent source of photos and recent information about Sirigu, Tamale, and Bolga.

As a one or two day trip, you might want to go Bolga-Sirigu-Navrongo-Paga-Bolga and easily return the same day to Bolga. Or, Bolga to Paga-Navrongo-Sirigu. You can overnight at the SWOPA guesthouse in Sirigu and return to Bolga in the morning—half an hour away (and head on to Tamale to go to Mole!). SWOPA stands for Sirigu Woman’s Organisation for Pottery and Arts. Kofi Annan even paid a visit some years ago. Drop at SWPOA guesthouse. You can stay in a hut at SWOPA and do a guided tour for a small fee (3 GC).

Sirigu Women's Association of Pottery and Art. Photo courtesy of Marie McC at Travels in Ghana.

• Upper West: Wechiau Hippo sanctuary on border with Ivory Coast.

I haven’t been here yet, but Godwin has. Having said that, it was during the wet season and he didn’t see any hippos which is also what the Bradt guide warns. A friend who went during the dry season did see them.

Getting to Wa from Bolga is very difficult now. The road is reputedly terrible and it takes about 8 hours by metro mass transit, leaving in the morning. During the rainy season it’s impossible to get to Wa from Bolga as the bridge is down. Wa is cut off during this time. You can get there from Kumasi/Sunyani/Techiman on a tro. Apparently it’s easier to get a tro there from Techiman than it is from Tamale. Now this is a big but. But, highway robbery on those roads is increasing so please don’t take anything valuable if you do.

From Wa to Wechiau: you get a tro on market days, but non-market days you have to stay in town. It’s about an hour so you could negotiate a dropping taxi probably for 40-60 Cedis. Then at the visitor’s centre in Wechiau you pay a fee of about 15 per night inclusive of guide and accommodation which is another 25 kms from there. So, you hire a car to go to the sanctuary (about 45 minutes): at least 20 Cedis for a dropping. Same price coming back. When Godwin talks of this he says, ‘We suffered!’ The guide apparently ate their food after cooking it and not telling them it was done. Their roof leaked and they got soaked. They had no water to drink (were forced to drink beer and he doesn’t drink alcohol) and didn’t see any hippos. They ran out of money and had to hitch back to Wa on a truck—and pay for it! Then get money from an ATM in Wa and tro back to Cape!

The lodge in the sanctuary is a locally built mud hut with student mattresses. You can sleep on top of the mud houses at night if it’s too hot. They have a platform/watchtower where you can sit at night to watch the animals come out to graze. Food-wise, you have to buy and bring your own food and water for the duration. The guide you are allocated at the tourist centre will cook your meals on a coal pot for you (and maybe eat them) and he’ll come with you in the taxi to the lodge and stay the entire time. You’re unlikely to see hippos during the rainy season (May-Sep). From now (Nov) onwards until about May is the best time to visit. If you approach it as an adventure and don’t set a time limit, it could be worth the effort.

When to visit the three northern regions: It’s alright to visit any time of year but be warned: it’s insanely hot between February and May. To give you an idea: Kingsbite chocolate becomes soft and runny. The Harmattan has hit now and while fairly light, it will become thick in late December and throughout January, reducing visibility and making breathing difficult—not good for photographers or asthmatics. The photography thing applies to all of Ghana between December and February.

My favourite time of travel throughout the northern regions is June—mid-December. June—September is the rainy season. The temperature is cooler and the air is still relatively dry. One potential downside of the rainy season, however, is that vegetation will be high, possibly making it difficult to see the elephants at Mole.

Elephants swimming in the lake at Mole
Still, I went during this time on my first trip (August) and we not only found the elephants, but we sat on the edge of the rainy season lake and watched them playing in the water, about thirty metres away, for a good 2 hours. I also went in early January once and, while the lake had shrunk, we did get up close to the elephants. We saw other animals like antelope more clearly and, later, you could spot the elephants on the plains below, far into the distance. October—December see plants drying out and wide-spread burning begins; you can smell smoke hanging in the air. The temperature fluctuates between hot and mild days, but it will become cold at night from mid November (I need two sheets to keep warm now—yay!) to January.

***There is an immigration check point between Bolga and Tamale, just before you enter Tamale (for those coming from Burkina). If you happen to go/come from Bawku, there is also an immigration check point on the western side of Bawku (coming from Togo). You’ll be asked for your passport here like you would in that funny spot in the Volta (see Part 2). Again, there is no legal requirement to show it (just say you left it in Accra/wherever) but there’s no need to create a fuss about it. They’re just doing their job and Ghana immigration (aside from holding my passport for 8 months once) have never been unfairly difficult.

So this ends the highlights. Woohoo. Part 5 will cover sample itineraries.

Painted traditional house in the Upper East Region


  1. We rented a moto in Bolga and drove around to various villages(?) nearby and just visited with random people and drank pito from gourds it was awesome. We also walked around the field and looked at the outside of the traditionally built houses which are just amazing and were invited on to the roofs of some. Bolga was a fantastic place to visit.

  2. Hi Anon. Thanks for commenting about Bolga. Yep I love getting around on motos. It's liberating after being at the whim of taxis and trotros for so long. Yeah it's the kind of place where you can wander randomly and chat (although so is all of Ghana)! Anyway, I'm happy to hear you had a good stay. G.

  3. Hey Gayle,
    Thank you so much for all your insight, everything sounds great. just one question, getting from Mole to Wa, and then the hippo sanctuary, is it possible? and how? Not sure if it will be worth it, but thought we could give it a go. Love your blog, thanks for all the tips, cheers, Chelsea.

  4. Hi Chelsea,
    Thanks for the comment. You can, but we want to double check what's going on there at the moment. Will comment back here soon. Alternatively, also email me at if you read this and I don't post today. Thanks, Gayle.

  5. Hi, I will come to Bolga and the area in Oktober with around 16 people. they are sponsors of a NGO in Akropong/Akuapem ( Although this is my 23rd time to come to Ghana I never have been in the Bolga area. Is there any place to have accomodation for so many people? I will be very greatful, because beginning of February I am coming to Akropong again...hopefully I may call you if I get your telefonnumer.....thanks in advance....christine from austria

  6. Hi Christine,

    Thanks for writing. One of the most central places to stay that has plenty of rooms is
    +233-3820-23-214. 3820 is the Bolga area code so if calling from within Ghana, call 03820-23-214. Rooms are around 30 GHC a double. Good luck.

  7. I'd actually love to know the answer to that Mole to Wa question, if you could post the latest info on that! I'm planning a similar jump and wonder if it's possible to go to Wa via Larabanga, assuming I caught a ride from Mole to Larabanga.


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