Top Ten Things to Do in Ghana: Multi-Regional Edition
4 April, 2019: Here’s a little bit of geo-historical context to start off this guide on the top ten things to do in Ghana, West Africa: Ghana is the first sub-Saharan country to gain independence from colonial rule. It achieved this sovereignty in 1957, upon which it changed its name from the “Gold Coast” to “Ghana.” Here is a quick video sketch of Ghana’s history over the last 400 years, and another interesting video explaining the historical precedent for the choice of the name “Ghana.”
The Republic of Ghana borders the Gulf of Guinea at the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean and comprises 10 distinct and culturally diverse regions. The national capital, Accra, lies in the Greater Accra Region. The city of Cape Coast, a formal national capital, is the capital of the Central Region, which is the western-bound neighbour of the Greater Accra Region. And the other 8 regions of Ghana are the Western Region, the Eastern Region, the Brong-Ahafo Region, the Volta Region, the Ashanti Region, the Upper East Region, the Upper West Region, and the Northern Region.
Because of its rich culture and history, there are more ways to spend your time in Ghana than could ever possibly be summarized here. This article will therefore be limited to providing you with some highlights of some of the most culturally and historically interesting things to do in Ghana. Highlights in Accra, Greater Accra Region, have already been covered in a separate article here. You can also catch a quick snapshot video of the national capital here.
Top Ten Things to Do in Ghana, Beyond the National Capital Region
1. Visit Aburi Botanical Gardens, Eastern Region. The town of Aburi is located in the Eastern Region of Ghana and lies 1,200 feet high atop the Akuapim hills. It benefits from temperate weather due to its high elevation, but more importantly is home to a splendid Botanical Garden that boasts 64.8 hectares of diverse flora and attracts local and international visitors all year round. The Aburi Botanical Gardens can be reached by car (35 minutes) or by public transportation (1 hour), and offers bicycle rentals and bike trails for self-guided tours. There are also tour guides available for explorations by foot. Here is a quick video with drone footage of the gardens.
2. Visit Kakum National Park, Central Region. Kakum National Park is a great ecotourism destination in the Central Region. It is a tropical rainforest and national park covering 375 square kilometres of park ground and renowned for its popular canopy suspension bridge. Its canopy walkway is 350 metres (1,150 feet) long and provides visitors with privileged views of both the park’s lush flora and various endangered species of fauna, including the Diana monkey, giant bongo antelope, yellow-backed duiker, and African elephant. The park also has a bird sanctuary with 266 species of birds, including eight endangered species (eg, white-breasted guinea fowl), nine species of hornbill, and the grey parrot. The park is home as well to a large butterfly population. Kakum National Park is on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Get a glimpse of the park through this quick video.
3. Visit Wli Waterfalls, Volta Region. The Wli Waterfalls are the highest waterfalls in West Africa and are located in the municipality of Hohoe (20 km from downtown Hohoe), in the Volta Region, home to the Ewe people of Ghana. The falls are known locally as the Agumatsa waterfalls, and have two sections—the upper falls and the lower falls. The upper falls (80 metres high) require an hour’s to two hours’ trekking, and the lower falls (50 metres high) require 40-45 minutes’ trekking. Reaching the waterfalls involves hiking through a semi-deciduous tropical rainforest and wading across the shallow waters of the Agumatsa river. Needless to say, since you’re visiting a waterfall, be prepared to get wet. And bring your bathing suit. A popular tourist activity is to splash around in the wading pools at the foot of the waterfalls. Lonely Planet offers an organized tour to the fall, but I would recommend planning your own trip (to Wli and to other parts of Ghana) and just hiring a tour guide at the Visitor’s Centre to take you to the falls. Here is a beautiful and very quick video of Wli Waterfalls and Mount Afadzato, the mountain surrounding it.
4. Visit Boti Falls, Eastern Region. Boti Falls is located in the village of Boti, within the Manya Krobo district of the Eastern Region. It is a 17 km drive northeast from Koforidua, the regional capital. Similarly to Wli Waterfalls, the Boti waterfalls comprise an upper fall and a lower fall. The two falls are described as twin falls during the rainy season when the water level is high, the two falls meet and appear to be twinning in what locals like to call a mating ceremony. The falls are 30 metres high and reaching them involves climbing down 250 steps, so get your stair-climbing game on before you visit. Wading is allowed in the pool surrounding the waterfall. For more information on waterfalls in Ghana, click here. For a quick impression of the falls, watch this 1-minute video.
5. Visit Nzulezo Stilt Village, Western Region. Located 90 km west of Takoradi, the capital of the Western Region, is Nzulezo, a special little village built on stilts in the Tandane Lake. The Nzulezo Stilt Village is only one of 2 stilt villages in all of West Africa (the other one being in Benin) and is on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The village was erected 500 years ago and has a population of about 600. Its early settlers, as folklore goes, were led there by a snail, and the snail has therefore become a revered animal in the village. The village is ruled, as is traditional in Ghana, by a chief and court of elders who adjudicate both civil and criminal cases. For a quick peek at this village, watch this video.
6. Visit Kente weavers, Ashanti Region. Kente cloth, which internationally has become a symbol of Black pride and African heritage, is actually a fabric that originates from Ghana. Kente weaving is a tradition associated with the Akan people in the Ashanti Region of Ghana (though there is some contestation from the Ewe people of the Volta Region), and it is practised to this day on traditional looms in the Bonwire, Adanwomase, Sakora Wonoo, and Ntonso areas of the region. The word “Kente” originates from the Asante word kenten, which means basket and reflect the woven nature of the fabric. The Akans locally refer to Kente as nwentoma, which means woven cloth. Kente comes in different colours and patterns found in the lengthwise (warp) threads which identify the cloth under different names that are assigned based on proverbs, historical events, important chiefs, queen mothers, or plants. Historically, Kente was a cloth worn only by very important people, such as chiefs—essentially royalty. Although in modern times Kente cloth can be worn by anyone, it is usually only worn on important occasions. A cheaper version of Kente cloth, made out of wax print, is also popular in stores and replicates the colours and patterns of traditional Kente cloth. You can watch a quick video of Kente cloth being woven here and a very educational but slightly longer one showing weavers at work and different varieties of Kente products here.
7. Visit Elmina Castle, Central Region. Elmina Castle is the biggest and the oldest of about 40 castles built along the coast of the colonial Gold Coast (modern day Ghana) which traverses the Volta, Greater Accra, Central, and Western Regions (see the map of Ghana, above). Elmina Castle was erected by the Portuguese between 1482 and 1486 and originally named São Jorge da Mina Castle, or simply Mina or Feitoria da Mina. First established to benefit the gold trade, Elmina Castle later converted to further the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Elmina Castle, as well as each of the 40-odd slave-trading castles, has a “door of no return” that represented the last exit threshold crossed by slaves before boarding slave ships. Approximately 30,000 slaves passed through Elmina Castle’s dungeons and into slave ships each year, until the abolishment of the Dutch slave trade in 1814. Elmina Castle is located in the town of Elmina in the Central Region of Ghana and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with all the other slave-trading castles and forts lining the coast of Ghana. Read more about Elmina Castle and the slave trade here For a visual overview, here’s a quick flyover video of the castle grounds.
8. Visit Cape Coast Castle, Central Region. Cape Coast Castle is the second largest slave-trading castle lining the coast of Ghana. When the trading of gold, mahogany, and other commodities at Cape Coast Castle turned into the trading of humans, dungeons with the capacity to hold as many as a thousand slaves were dug beneath the castle. The darkness, terror, beatings, and death rampant in the dungeons bore stark contrast to the luxurious lives of European occupants in the castle’s living quarters above ground. Cape Coast Castle has changed hands between European owners several times throughout its history due to competition from other European countries for a foothold in the slave trade. As with other slave castles, the heart-wrenching history of Cape Coast Castle lives on to this day in memoriam, as its grounds have been converted into a museum. You can take a tour of the castle grounds through this very quick television feature video or this much longer (45 min) tour-guided narrative.
9. Visit a beach, all coastal regions. Being a coastal country, there are scores of beaches to explore in those regions of Ghana that hug the Gulf of Guinea—namely, the Volta Region, the Greater Accra Region, the Central Region, and the Western Region (from east to west). Popular beaches along the coast of Ghana include Kokrobite Beach, Ko-Sa Beach Resort, Butre Beach, Busua Beach, Anomabo Beach, and Axim Beach resort among many, many others. Click here for inspiration. Note that, culturally, Ghanaians don’t really wear bathing suits to go the beach. They wear regular clothes, and organize group outings with friends and family to the beach, where they might throw a party, have a barbecue, or play volleyball, in between casually treading water at the tide’s edge. If you want to be brave and don’t mind people staring at you, by all means put on your bathing suit or swim trunks at the beach and do your thing. Who’s judging? Of course, if you’re staying at a beach resort full of foreign tourists, it’s likely you’ll be in good company.
10. Visit Mole National Park, Northern Region. Mole National Park is the largest national park and wildlife refuge in Ghana, elevated to a height of 150 metres and covering an area of 4,577 square kilometres of grassland savannah. It was also the first national park to be established in Ghana in 1971. Ghana’s response to the safari experience popular in Eastern Africa, Mole National Park boasts more than 93 mammal species, including 600 elephants, 2,000 antelopes, 3,000 hartebeests, 4,000 waterbucks, 5,000 buffalo, 6,000 warthogs, and uncounted lions, leopards, hyenas, and various other primates that roam freely in the grasslands. It is also home to 742 species of flora, including more than 20 endangered species. Mole National Park and game reserve is crossed by the Lovi and Mole Rivers, whose banks are covered in forest woodlands and attract water birds and woodland species. The park is accessible by public transportation from Tamale, the capital of the Northern Region. And its entrance lies in the town of Larabanga, which is home to another tourist attraction—an ancient mud-and-stick mosque (featured below). If you’re ready to go on virtual safari, watch this medium-long video for an idea of what Mole National Park is like. For more on Mole National Park, read my previous article on Ghana ecotourism destinations here.
I hope these top ten recommendations for things to do in Accra, Ghana, become your go-to reference for future trip-planning. These top ten things to do in Accra are not your run-of-the-mill touristy traps but represent the most important and effective ways to travel Accra, Ghana, with the appropriate cultural and historical sensitivity to appreciate a place that is so deeply and richly layered in millennia of history, demographic and political change, crushing tribulations, and hopeful celebrations. Don’t just visit Ghana with wanderlusting blinders on and mechanically check targets off your list. Visit with your eyes and ears and hearts open and listening and watching for all the subtle and not-so-subtle undercurrents that make this nation, as the national anthem proudly proclaims, so “great and strong!”
Here’s a visual summary of where all 10 recommendations, above, are located in the country:
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