Hailed as West Africa's golden child, Ghana deserves its place in the sun. One of Africa's great success stories, the country is reaping the benefits of a stable democracy in the form of fast-paced development. And it shows: Ghana is suffused with the most incredible energy.
With its welcoming beaches, gorgeous hinterland, rich culture, vibrant cities, diverse wildlife and easy transport, it's no wonder why Ghana is becoming a popular destination.
Whether it's for a week or a month, no trip can be complete without a visit to Ghana's coastal forts, poignant reminders of a page of history that defined our modern world.
Travel north and you'll feel like you've arrived in a different country, with a different religion, geography and cultural practices. The beauty is that this diversity exists so harmoniously, a joy to experience and a wonder to behold in uncertain times.
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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Ghana.
Cape Coast’s imposing, whitewashed castle commands the heart of town, overlooking the sea. Once one of the world's most important slave-holding sites, it provides horrifying insight into the workings of the trade. Staff conduct hour-long tours, during which you’ll visit the dark, damp dungeons, where slaves waited for two to 12 weeks, while contemplating rumours that only hinted at their fate. A visit to the dungeons contrasts sharply with the governor’s bedroom, blessed with floor-to-ceiling windows and panoramic ocean views.
From afar, the Kejetia Market looks like an alien mothership landed in the centre of Kumasi. Closer up, the rusting tin roofs of this huge market (often cited as the largest in West Africa; there are 11,000 stalls and at least four times as many people working here) look like a circular shanty town. Inside, the throbbing Kejetia is quite disorienting but utterly captivating.
Jamestown originated as a community that emerged around the 17th-century British James Fort, merging with Accra as the city grew. These days, Jamestown is one the poorer neighbourhoods of Accra – full of beautifully dishevelled colonial buildings, clapboard houses and corrugated iron shacks – but it remains vibrant. For a great view of the city and the busy and colourful fishing harbour (haze and pollution permitting), climb to the top of the whitewashed lighthouse.
St George’s Castle, a Unesco heritage site, was built as a trading post by the Portuguese in 1482, and captured by the Dutch in 1637. It was expanded when slaves replaced gold as the major object of commerce, with storerooms converted into dungeons. The informative tour (included in the entry fee) takes you to the grim dungeons, punishment cells, Door of No Return and the turret room where the British imprisoned the Ashanti king, Prempeh I, for four years.
It's not everywhere you can get up close and personal with bus-sized elephants. Face-to-face encounters with these beasts, plus roving gangs of baboons, warthogs, water bucks and antelopes – 90 species of mammals in total – are possibilities at this national park, Ghana's largest at 4660 sq km and best as far as wildlife viewing goes. The park consists for the most part of flat savanna, with gallery forests along the rivers and streams. Walking and jeep safaris take place daily.
There is no front door or welcoming sign to the Makola Market. Before you know it, you've been sucked in by the human undertow from the usual pavements clogged with vendors hawking food, secondhand clothes and shoes to the market itself. For new arrivals to Africa, it can be an intense experience, but it’s a fun – if, perhaps, a little masochistic – Ghanaian initiation rite.
This arts institution, which takes its name from the word 'grandmother' in Akan, was founded by Ghanaian art historian, writer and filmmaker Nana Oforiatta-Ayim and has just opened a well-curated permanent space for exhibitions and screenings, including a workshop and library. Time your visit for one of the weekly events that focus on a deeper look into the current exhibition.
Ghanaian photographer Francis Kokoroko and his friends regularly host cultural events and art talks at this tiny, unbranded studio on the top floor of the Forico Mall in Osu. A young, stylish and interested crowd shows up when documentaries or discussions are hosted about such things as the rise of Hip Life music or how Ghanaian film posters developed their very own style.
This museum may be small but the personalised tour included with admission is a fascinating introduction to Ashanti culture and history. Among the displays are artefacts relating to the Ashanti king Prempeh II, including the king's war attire, ceremonial clothing, jewellery, protective amulets, personal equipment for bathing and dining, furniture, royal insignia and some fine brass weights for weighing gold. Constructed to resemble an Ashanti chief's house, it has a courtyard in front and walls adorned with traditional carved symbols.