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10 reasons to visit Ghana, Africa
There are many fascinating museums and historical sites to visit in Ghana. If you want this to be the focus of your trip, I would recommend making a stop in the city of Cape Coast. This is where you'll find Cape Coast Castle (pictured above) and Elmina Castle, two castle museums that were stops on the trans-Atlantic slave trade. While hard to stomach, a tour of these castles will give you an important lesson in history as you are shown dungeons, slave vessels, old cannons and secret chambers while hearing stories of the past. There are also numerous forts, like Fort William and Fort Victoria, which were used as lookout points to protect the city from Ashanti attacks in the nineteenth century.
Everywhere you go in Ghana, you will find locals dancing to drum beats and listening to upbeat sounds. Even walking down the street in the capital of Accra, I felt like the sound of the Djembe drum was the soundtrack of my life. Nevertheless, this made it impossible to ever feel unhappy. When I was in Kokrobite, my friend and I took drum lessons on the beach from the boys at the local Berlin Drum School. It was amazing how they were able to create such intricate rhythms using just one drum. We also got to see the drummers put on an impromptu reggae dance show, which seemed to happen a lot in Ghana.
No matter what you're financial situation is, it's always nice to save money, especially on an international trip. Although in Ghana you will rarely find anything that's free - I even got scolded for trying to use a Porta-Potty without paying the necessary fee. You will usually be paying less than you would at home for the same things. For example, a ride on the local bus (tro-tro) will cost about 15 cents, an ice cream pop, about 35 cents and a hostel bed about $6. I actually shared a clean and comfortable hotel room with two friends in the Volta Region that ended up costing us only $6 each, per night. Moreover, remember the first price you're told in markets, small shops and when taking a taxi is the "oburoni price" (foreigner price), which is usually at least three times as much as a local would pay. Because of this, it is important to bring your best bartering skills and act confident that you know the local exchange, even if you don't.
While Ghana is a great place to visit, there is no denying the country needs much help. According to UNICEF, in 2009 there were about 230,000-260,000 individuals living with HIV/AIDS, and because of this, millions of children are left orphans. Furthermore, pollution, child labor, and education are all areas that need improvement in the country. When I visited Ghana, I did orphanage work at the Achiase Children's Home through International Volunteer Headquarters (IVHQ). It was an unforgettable experience as I not only got to help children, but also live with locals and really experience their way of life. IVHQ is one of the more affordable organizations around, and also features teaching, agricultural, medical and sports education programs. If you're interested in helping with domestic abuse and women's empowerment projects, Global Volunteer Network might be of interest to you. Additionally, SE7EN is a network of free and low-cost volunteer opportunities that can help you find a project without paying a middleman.
The people of Ghana are probably the friendliest people I have ever met. It doesn't matter who you are, where you are or what you're doing, the locals want to talk to you. Even at 6:00 a.m., when I would go running, locals would stop their cars or turn from their market stalls and try to talk to me. Remember that in Ghana greetings are very important. Locals tend to say hello to strangers, so be polite and wave back. As a visitor, you will constantly hear the word "oburoni" (foreigner) being shouted at you. While this may seem offensive - it took me a bit of getting used to - the locals are just trying to get to know you. Take the opportunity to have a conversation with someone new and learn something.
Although Ghana is not a safari destination, it still has plenty of opportunities to experience nature and wildlife. Along with the many beaches and parks around the country, the city of Cape Coast offers the chance to trek over a swinging canopy bridge suspended high over the trees of Kakum National Park. The city also features a crocodile pond at Hans Cottage Botel where you can pet and sit on crocodiles.
My favorite location for natural experiences was in the Volta Region, specifically the secluded town of Wli-Afegame, located right outside HoHoe. Here, you will be immersed in mountain scenery, lush flora, and beautiful waterfalls. You can choose to hike to the top of Wli-Falls or Mount Afadjato, the tallest mountain in Ghana. Other nearby natural experiences include visiting the majestic Volta Lake and feeding monkeys in the jungle at the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary (pictured above).
Ghana is home to some excellent beaches, and along with lying in the sun there are usually local artisans, fishermen and drummers giving the, usually lazy, experience a cultural touch. I loved chatting with the craftsmen as they made bracelets and art, and listening to the fishermen sing as they pulled in their nets. Even when these interesting locals aren't around, the beaches in Ghana offer a refreshing and picturesque retreat from the more chaotic streets of the cities.
While you'll always find ethnic foods when you travel to a foreign country, there is often an overlap of ingredients between those and the foods you are used to at home. In Ghana, however, there are many foods that I had never seen before in all my travels, like the root-based dishes fu-fu, banku, and kenkey. Furthermore, a lot of their soups have a rich and spicy peanut base, something I was not used to but fell in love with. With fruit, I became obsessed with the evo, a giant, prickly, melon-looking thing with a fluffy and fizzy inside. It has a sweet yet sour taste that reminds me of Pop Rocks or Sour Patch Kids.
In Ghana, you'll find many bustling cities to explore; however, nearby you'll almost always find a laid-back village to retreat to. These easy-going regions usually take on a Rastafarian-vibe, as there are many Ghanian locals who live a full-on Rastafarian lifestyle. These quieter areas are where I found it easiest to interact with locals on a more personal level, which was helpful for learning about the culture. My favorite laid-back village in Ghana was Kokrobite, accessible by tro-tro about 45 minutes outside Accra. Here, both locals and tourists congregate at Big Milly's Backyard, a beachfront backpacker hostel with tiki-style accommodations, art fairs, live music, delicious food and reggae festivals.
Handicrafts and art
Art, beads, pottery, weaved clothing and woodcarvings are very important in Ghana culture and can be found anywhere you go. When browsing the art, you'll probably notice certain symbols and images that come up repeatedly. Through these depictions, you'll be able to learn a lot about societal themes and beliefs. Whenever I was in an art market, I enjoyed talking with the artists and asking them about the stories in their pieces. You'll also find many carved masks and statues, each holding their own special meaning. If you're a female and want a unique souvenir, buy a long, thin strand of beads, which is tied around the hips and known as "Ghanian lingerie."