Getting to know Ghana.

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 a fascinating history, rich culture and warm hospitality, there really is something for everyone here.

Cape coast castle, Ghana.
Cape coast castle, Ghana.

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.

Volta lake- Ghana. Ainsley about the world.
Girl fetching water from Volta Lake, Ghana.

 

Before you go

– 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.

 

Sunset in Ghana. Photography travel Ainsley about the world
Sunset at Keta Beach, Ghana

 

What to pack

  • Your vaccination passport and malaria tablets.
  • Imodium and other basic first aid supplies & medicines.
  • DEET insect repellent- Potent but the best protection against mosquitoes and other nasties.
  • Mosquito net-  most accommodations will have them already, however some cheaper places do not provide them. Best not to risk it and to buy a treated one from an outdoors store.
  • Light cotton, well-covered clothing. Good to keep the sun off during the day and mosquitoes away at night, Lighter colours have also been proven to be less appealing to mosquitoes.
  • A headlamp-  vital for the many places that don’t have electricity or street lighting.
  • Your swimsuit!
  • Not too many clothes! It’s worth choosing some materials and getting things custom made there. There are endless amounts of tailors and stunning prints you can choose from. Contribute to the economy,  help a small business and create your own beautiful designs.
  • Sturdy boots for hiking
  • Face wipes- Ghana is dirty. Not only that things there aren’t the cleanest but you will be going through a lot of dirt roads and it seems to stick to you everywhere. Sometimes one of the best saviours is simply being able to wipe your face clean at the end of a journey.
Hiking in Ghana. Ainsley about the world
Make sure to pack your hiking boots!

 

Things to know

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

Religion in ghana. Ainsley about the world
Even the bread is religious.

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.

Stunning scenery of Wli Falls, Volta Region, Ghana
Stunning scenery of Wli Falls, Volta Region, Ghana

 

How to get around

Tro-tro’s

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;

  • Once you find the local tro station look for a sign at the front of the tro or someone screaming your destination. Sometimes you might get to choose between a flashier tro (clean with air-conditioning and your own seat), which you will pay a bit more for, or a regular dirt cheap tro. If you want the flashier one, ask the man yelling if it has air conditioning, if not ask him if there is one which has A/C and he should point you in the right direction.
  • If you’ve found your right tro, ask how much it is. Most destinations won’t cost you more than 5 dollars to get anywhere. Buy a ticket from the man with the tickets, hand over your bag to be put in the back and jump in the tro.
  • Whatever you do, try your best to get a window seat. Not only does this give you a fascinating view of the outside world, but in tros’ with no A/C, this will be your only saviour in 35-degree heat. This way you also have control over how much dust enters when travelling on dirt roads (there are a lot of them). It will also mean you will only have one person squished up next to you instead of two (It’s all about the heat). Sitting in the back means you get a few more bumps, however sitting up front means you witness more death-defying driving which I personally prefer to not see. Normally on shorter trips, the seat closest to the sliding door is reserved for the ‘mate’ who oversees opening the door/ taking the bags out and collecting the money, so don’t sit there.
  • Once the tro is full, they will probably fit a few more people/ goats/chickens in. It’s unusual to ever have a seat to yourself, as they will try to get as many people in as possible. Our record was 19 people in a 13 seater tro.
  • Tro’s only will leave once they are full, so you could be lucky and be the last ones on, our you could wait three hours for the tro to fill. Either way, “there is no harry in life”, so best to take a good book.
  • One of the great things about taking a tro is that if you do have to wait a long time there are hawkers surrounding the stations who will come up to you and offer you food or things to buy. You can stay sitting in your seat and buy sandwiches, boiled eggs, fruits, doughnuts and newspapers, all without leaving your tro.

 

Buses

  • There are several big bus companies operating between larger cities in Ghana. These are often cleaner and safer than tro tros and are more comfortable for travelling longer journeys.
  • At the station, you will normally have to go to a counter to buy a ticket. Unlike tros, buses leave at a scheduled time, however sometimes fill up very quickly so it’s best to get there with plenty of time to be ensured to get a seat. – One time, the demand for the bus was so high we had people sitting on plastic chairs in the middle of the bus aisle.

 

Moto

  • If you plan on staying a decent amount of time in Ghana and can ride a motorbike, this is a great way to get around the country as it gives you a lot more freedom. Do keep in mind however that roads are not always “roads” and involve a lot of misplaced stones, pot holes and dirt so probably best left to the more experienced riders.
Riding motorbikes in Ghana- Travel in Ghana. Ainsley about the world
Riding motorbikes in Ghana.

 

 What to eat

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.

  • Fou fou– The most popular dish in Ghana and honestly my least Delicious tropical fruit in Ghana.favourite of them all. Fou fou is a dough like blob of ground cassava, pounded and twisted until it resembles (and tastes like) a pale play dough. The saviour for this dish is normally the sauce which can be peanut or tomato based, sometimes with fish or meat.
  • Red red– One of my favourite dishes in Ghana. Red red consists of beans fried in a red palm oil served with fried plantain. It’s a mix of sweetness and savoury spice that makes it taste so good.
  • Fresh peanut butter – You may not know peanut butter originated in Africa. Ghana does the best freshly made peanut butter, often served on fresh white bread. It’s a good go-to snack and breakfast staple.
  • Yams– Yams are very popular in Ghana as they grow very well. Fried or boiled yams here are delicious.
  • Rice– Another staple of the Ghanaian diet,  is normally served with the same kind of soups & sauces as fou fou. Rice with peanut sauce is delicious.
  • Fish– Being a coastal country there is plenty of fresh fish to be eaten!
  • Fried tofu
  • Boiled eggs with chilli paste– A great street-food snack while waiting for that tro tro!

 

Fish is a popular food in Ghana. Travel Blog Ainsley about the world
Fish is a popular food in Ghana.
Making foufou in Ghana. Ainsley about the world
Making fou-fou

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 favourite regions in Ghana!

Eat well, live well, travel well,

xx Ainsley

Ainsley about the world- On Volta lake, Ghana
On Volta Lake, Ghana

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About The Author

Ainsley DS

Freelance photographer and blogger traveling the world. Blogging about both luxury and low-budget adventures. For those who like the best of both worlds.