Volta Region: Bordered to the east by Togo and to the west by the Volta River, this region stretches from the tranquil lagoons and long Atlantic beaches, up through tropical forest filled with the sound of rushing waterfalls, and up to the rocky fringes of the northern desert. Ghana’s highest mountain, Afadjato, is also found here, as are the Ewe people, famed for their riotous festivals and beautiful, handwoven adanudo cloth.
The serial volunteering offenders exist in Ghana: orphanage placements, short term teaching, building classrooms. While these often cause more harm than good, there are a number of “quieter” opportunities which have proven benefits. These include protecting sea turtles along the coast, and building compositing toilets – which boosts a family’s health, wellbeing and dignity, as well as protecting the land.
Borders are fluid in West Africa; culture is determined by ethnicity and language rather than national borders. The desert-like north, with its painted, mud-walled buildings, fearsome fetishes and rows of baobabs has far more in common with neighbouring Burkina Faso than with the lush south. Including it on your itinerary is a great way to explore more of this nation’s fascinating cultural and natural diversity.
Coastal Ghana is even more chilled out than the rest of the country, and spending a few days in the tropical beach surroundings of Axim gives the chance to meet local people from the Nzema tribe, eat fried fish at local restaurants, kayak along the coast and visit San Antonio Fort. Nearby, is one of Ghana’s last remaining tropical rainforests, and the Amamsuri wetlands are Ghana’s largest swamp forest.
Locals may tell you there is no such thing as “Ghanaian culture” – and as you travel around from the Ashanti stronghold of central Ghana, past the pretty mosques of the more Islamic north, through the traditional fishing villages of the tropical coast and into the mud-walled compounds of the desert, you’ll see why. Each region and tribe has its own identity, beliefs, chiefs and kings – and they are all worth getting to know.
The Ashanti are Ghana’s largest tribe and one of its most colourful and vibrant. Their chaotic capital, Kumasi, has a thriving market and cultural museum, as well as many smaller “craft villages” which reveal rural Ashanti life and art. Meet chiefs and the king, attend a funeral (yes, really) and join the Akwasidae Festival, held every 40 days, for a real immersion in this fascinating culture.
Facing up to the evils of the past is a necessary and moving experience in Ghana. The West African coast is littered with slave forts, through which over 6 million slaves were estimated to have been shipped. The events live on in the Ghanaians’ collective memory, brought to life by the dungeons, forts and “Gates of No Return”, and educating yourself is a way to understand Ghana, Ghanaians and the shadow that slavery continues to cast over many parts of the world.
While a number of large mammals live in Mole, including buffalo, hippo, hyena and numerous antelopes, visitors are drawn here by the elephants. See them on traditional game drives – or track them with a ranger on foot, for a fraction of what it would cost in the game parks of Southern or East Africa. Twitchers will be impressed with the 300 species of bird.
It is possible to go on game drives in Ghana, but this is no Serengeti – you won’t see the Big Five. However, don’t think of making up for this with a visit to the zoos in Accra or Kumasi. These tourist attractions contain some of Africa’s greatest wildlife (lions, chimps, monkeys and hyenas) looking pretty sorry for themselves in bare cages. Head to Mole to see wild elephants – or just save the wildlife for another African trip.
Ghana’s safety, stability and high number of orphanages has lured many well meaning travelers here over the years to volunteer with orphans. Parents die or get sick, can’t cope with all their children, or the children may be cast out as “spirit children”. However, inexperienced and unqualified short term volunteers do little to help – and in many cases make the situation worse. Look into other ways to help instead.
Ghanaians are welcoming, smiling and often colourfully dressed; in short, they are a travel photographer’s dream. But please don’t take photographs of people without asking permission, or that characteristic smile may quickly fade. The chances are, most people will be happy to pose – or will even spot your camera and ask for a “snap”. But it’s just a matter of basic respect to ask first.
Conveniently for Europeans, Ghana is in the GMT time zone, which means no pesky jetlag. Unfortunately, GMT has a second meaning down here: Ghana Maybe Time. GMT is the best way to sum up the way things happen in Ghana: they might, or they might not. The solution is simply to relax, and remember that GMT is just as much of a cultural experience as Ghana’s music, dance, festivals and food.
“Etesen?” “Me ho ye”– “How are you?” “I am well” (Twi)
“Akpe” – “Thank you” (Ewe)
“Tuma tuma!” – “Work work” , to greet someone who is working (Frafra)