Lying on what’s known as the Gold Coast of Africa, located between the Ivory Coast and Togo is the enthralling country of Ghana. Hailed as the most developed nation in Western Africa with a growing economy, easy transport and stable democratic government Ghana has become known as “Africa for beginners”.
When you imagine Ghana, you might not imagine crystal-clear, golden-sand beaches, surf, and Rastafarians- but that’s exactly what you’ll find if you explore the expanding coastline. Inland, the vegetation is green and luscious, with hidden waterfalls and beautiful hiking tracks, and north of Volta lake you will find one of the oldest mosques in Africa nearby a desert-like national park. Combine this with fascinating history, rich culture and warm hospitality, there really is something for everyone here.
Initially only planning to stay for three months, the natural beauty of Ghana completely took me by surprise and I ended up changing my flight to spend a total of six months while doing some volunteer work in the education sector. I spent most of my time spread between two different regions of Ghana, and travelled through the country as much as possible.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to share with you the inside knowledge I gained during my time there through a serious of blogs detailing the best of three different regions; The Volta Region, The Western Region and the Northern Region. Part one is a bit of general information of all the things you need to know about Ghana.
– For most countries a visitors Visa is required to be able to enter Ghana. You can find out more about visas here.
– Make sure your vaccinations are up to date. A yellow fever vaccination is required in order to enter Ghana and you must bring your vaccination passport with you to prove this. Talk to a travel doctor to find out what other vaccinations they recommend and make sure you get a supply of anti-malarial tablets.
Ghana gave me the biggest culture shock out of anywhere I had ever travelled to. Mainly because so many things are so unimaginably different to what we are used to in the western world.
Here’s a few things I wish I knew:
Hissing– A “SSSSTTT” through the teeth is a common way to get someone’s attention. In my culture, this is something you would NEVER do, however in Ghana it’s used frequently and very efficiently. It took me some time to get used to this but by then end of my stay I was a pro.
Right hand only– Shaking, passing objects (especially money) and eating should be done with your right hand. The left is considered dirty and generally used for cleaning your bum.
There are over 40 different languages in Ghana– Although English is the official language in Ghana, many regions and tribes have their own dialects. The Akan languages of Twi, Ashanti and Fante are the most common and it’s worth learning a couple of words in each.
If you’re white skinned people will yell “white” at you- While walking down the street, especially in smaller villages, it’s not uncommon for children to yell “Yavu” or “Obruni” at you, or for adults to say it to your face. It’s not an aggression thing, for most people it’s just observing a skin colour, and for many in smaller villagers it will be a rare occasion that they see someone with white skin so the children tend to get a little excited. Replying with smiles and waves is the best way to approach this.
Corporal punishment still exists– If you do plan on doing any work in the education sector, something huge to keep in mind is that although now illegal, corporal punishment still exists in many schools and homes. Which means it’s not unusual to see children be hit with sticks or hands of adults :/.
Public urination is no big deal – It’s totally common for your form of public transport to pull over on the side of the road for everyone to pee, sometimes there will be a private spot but often not. Men and women, way you go!
Religion is very important here–
Churches go all out with any celebration, they are loud and crazy and have fake exorcisms. You will bump in to people preaching and praying on public transport and people will often ask you “if you have found God” or what your religion is. They don’t seem to mind what God you pray to, they just want to make sure you have one. It insured a lot of uncomfortable conversations for an atheist like myself. It eventually got to the point where I just started saying I was Christian to avoid the 20-question game.
Say goodbye to your luxuries– Small villages and most budget accommodations don’t have running water (or electricity). You will most likely have a large bucket of water in your bathroom used for washing yourself. Use the smaller bucket provided to dip in to the large bucket of water and pour this over yourself to rinse and wash.
If you’re lucky to get toilet paper– Do not put it in the toilet. Ghana’s plumbing systems are not strong enough for toilet paper so bins are provided for this.
It can be a little overwhelming– If this is your first time in Africa, and certainly your first time in a developing nation, be prepared for a sensory overload. Especially in Accra, it is hot, loud, smelly (both good and bad), there are people everywhere and it is a lot to take in. You will probably be exhausted just by getting from A to B because it is hard work. This is partly why Ghana moves it such a slow pace. The main slogan for Ghana is “there’s no harry in life” (yes- harry with an A). Take deep breaths (when possible), take your time, and do my favourite thing, people watch. It’s a truly fascinating place.
It is hot and humid– and you will have strangers sweat on you.
Although not very safe, the most popular form of public transport in Ghana is by far the tro tro- which is basically some form of (generally run-down) minivan.
Here’s how it works;
Food in Ghana is generally very heavy, and cooking involves a lot of palm oil, root plants and occasionally goat. My favourite thing about eating in Ghana was the insane amount of delicious fresh tropical fruit available everywhere.
Now you’ve gotten to know Ghana a little better, make sure you sign up to receive new blog posts by email and keep an eye out for posts in the next few weeks about my favorite regions in Ghana!
Eat well, live well, travel well,