Suffused with the most incredible energy, Ghana is one of Africa's great success stories, with welcoming beaches, gorgeous hinterland, diverse wildlife and vibrant cities.
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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. There’s also an excellent museum on the first floor, detailing the history of Ghana, the slave trade and Akan culture. First converted into a castle by the Dutch in 1637 and expanded by the Swedes in 1652, the castle changed hands five times over the 13 tumultuous years that followed until, in 1664, it was captured by the British. During the two centuries of British occupation, it was the headquarters for the colonial administration until Accra was declared the new capital in 1877.
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. There are foodstuffs, second-hand shoes, clothes, plastic knick-knacks, glass beads, kente strips, Ashanti sandals, batik, bracelets and more. Wandering around the market by yourself is absolutely fine: few tourists come here and shopkeepers will be pleasantly surprised to see you. Alternatively, go with a guide, who not only knows his or her way around but can also explain the more obscure trades and goods, and help you bargain and meet stallholders. Allow about C25 for a two-hour tour; contact the Ghana Tourist Authority or your hotel for recommendations.
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. There are several boxing gyms in Jamestown that have nurtured a long line of local kids into champions. You'll see plenty of posters around. For entertainment there's the excellent Jamestown Cafe and adjacent gallery.
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. Among the museum's intriguing photos is a rare one of the famous Golden Stool. The museum also contains the fake golden stool handed over to the British in 1900.
Independence Sq, also known as Black Star Sq, is a vast, empty expanse of concrete overlooked by spectator stands of Stalinesque grace. The square is dominated by an enormous McDonald's-like arch, beneath which the Eternal Flame of African Liberation, lit by Kwame Nkrumah, still flickers. It stands empty for most of the year, except for special commemorations. Super churches sometimes get the authorisation to preach here. Across the street stands Independence Arch.
This tranquil park is full of bronze statues, fountains and wandering peacocks, with the mausoleum of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first leader, at its heart. It's a pleasant enough place to wander around, but the park museum is rather dishevelled. It houses a curious collection of Nkrumah's personal belongings, including the smock he wore while declaring Ghana's independence, as well as copies of personal correspondence and numerous photos of him and various world leaders.