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Formerly a colony known as the British Gold Coast, Ghana became the first black African nation south of the Sahara to achieve independence in 1957. It is a relatively small country on the west coast of Africa, situated between Togo and Côte d'Ivoire, and remains a somewhat unexplored tropical gem. This untapped destination abounds in history, culture, wildlife and beautiful scenery, and has a wide variety of tourist attractions. Throughout Ghana's 10 regions, visitors will be greeted with the warm-hearted smiles of its welcoming people.
Nature has been extremely generous to Ghana and the country's large national parks and reserves provide a sanctuary for the native flora and fauna. The grasslands of Mole National Park in the north are home to a variety of large animals, while birds and butterflies are particularly numerous in Ghana's forests. Rainforests such as that of Kakum National Park in the southern central region, where there is a canopy walkway and wonderful nature trails, provide a haven for eco-tourists. Miles of unspoilt beaches, waterfalls, rolling forested hills, rivers and lakes complete the portrait of a country that is a nature lover's delight.
The diverse ethnic groups of Ghana and the ancient traditions of its people have shaped one of the richest cultural environments in Africa and a holiday in Ghana might well include wonderful traditional festivals, dancing and music, and a wide variety of arts and crafts. The cultural heartland of the country is the Ashanti region, home to the nation's dominant tribe, the Ashanti, who are most famous today for their craftwork and ancient artistry in fabrics, particularly the colourful cloth.
Ghana's vibrant capital city, Accra, is the gateway to the country for tourists and is located in the smallest, yet most populated region on the Gulf of Guinea. This modern city is becoming increasingly popular with expats and has excellent accommodation, restaurants and nightlife, and colourful markets. It's also a good base from which to explore the Atlantic coast west of Accra, which boasts many fine palm-fringed beaches, resorts, ancient forts, castles, and fascinating fishing villages. The forts and castles along the coastline date back to the 15th century and have an intriguing history of European occupation, fierce battles and slavery. The Cape Coast Castle, Fort St Jago and Elim Castle are recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Monuments.
Ghana is a beautiful country, often affectionately called 'Africa for Beginners' because of its friendly locals and comparative stability and prosperity. It is the ideal destination for first-time travellers in Africa. However, this does not mean that travel in Ghana is always without complication, particularly as the tourist infrastructure is only well developed in certain popular areas.
Visitors tend to spend their time in the capital city, Accra, the historic royal stronghold of Kumasi (traditional home of the Ashanti people), and in various picturesque coastal villages. One of the best ways to enjoy Ghana is to explore the coastline, which boasts both incredible tropical beaches and a number of historic colonial forts, many of which are UNESCO-listed.
There are two alluring National Parks in the country, where visitors can seek out Ghana's wealth of wildlife. Kakum National Park is a rainforest reserve with some amazing canopy walkways suspended above the forest, while Mole National Park is a massive wildlife reserve, consisting mainly of savanna, and containing more than 90 mammal species.
Visitors should note that in the rainy season, between April and October, many roads in Ghana become so muddy and flooded that they are impossible to traverse, making some attractions, like the national parks, very difficult to access.
Located in the northwest of the country, Mole National Park is Ghana's largest reserve and the best place to do some game viewing. The terrain is mostly flat savanna, which is ideal for spotting animals. Visitors are likely to see baboons, hippos, monkeys, warthogs, buffalos, crocodiles, elephants and assorted antelope, among other animals. Indeed, the park is home to more than 90 mammal species. Predator sightings are rarer, though visitors may encounter hyenas, leopards and lions. Travellers should note that the park's infrastructure has never been developed for tourism, and they should not expect much in the way of amenities. That said, a trip to Mole is still very much an adventure. The best time to visit is in the dry season between November and April. Rainy season travel is less appealing, as rain often makes roads impassable, and wildlife more difficult to track down. The best spots to find animals during the long dry season are the watering holes left behind when the park's ephemeral rivers slowly dry up. The park entrance is close to the town of Larabanga.
Kumasi is the traditional home of the Ashanti people and is a rich cultural centre. Some call it 'The Garden City', in recognition of its diverse flora. Historically speaking, this old and proud African city rose to prominence in 1695, taking on the British in several Anglo-Ashanti wars. It has an active king to this day. Travellers will find many cultural and historical attractions and landmarks in the city and some great traditional markets to explore. The Manhyia Palace is well worth visiting. Built in 1925, it was used as a royal Ashanti residence until 1974 and now houses an interesting museum. It still contains the original furnishings and a collection of royal artefacts. The National Cultural Centre Complex is set in lovely grounds and includes a model Ashanti village, craft workshops where visitors can watch local artisans at work, an art gallery, a souvenir shop and a number of other small attractions. The Armed Forces Museum in Fort St George (1820) is a delight for those who like military history and paraphernalia. The massive Kejetia Market is a must for visitors, but they should go prepared for an overwhelming ocean of colour and commerce. Other attractions include the Okomfo Anokye Sword, the Asantehene Palace and St Peter's Cathedral.
Ghana is blessed with hundreds of miles of pristine coastline and the country's beaches are some of its greatest attractions. Some of the best beaches can be found at Busua and Dixcove, two rustic fishing villages conveniently close to Accra. The beaches are long and sandy, great for walking and swimming and sometimes even suitable for some decent surfing. The Ghanaian coastline is also notable for the historic colonial forts that dot its shores. They're reminders of the region's onetime importance as an outpost in the slave trade. Nowhere is this more evident than in the former British colonial capital of Cape Coast, a now flourishing modern town that was once the largest slave trading centre in West Africa. It contains the massive Cape Coast Castle. The first lodge built on the site was erected by Swedish traders in 1653. The Cape Castle and its spooky dungeons, where thousands of slaves were locked away in terrible conditions, were restored in the 1920s and are now a UNESCO-listed tourist attraction.
The castle houses a moving museum detailing its brutal history. Eleven of the colonial forts and outposts in Ghana have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Fort Coenraadsburg and Elmina Castle in Elmina, Fort Metal Cross in Dixcove, and Fort Amsterdam in Kormantin. Tourists exploring the coast can therefore enjoy stunning equatorial beaches as well as some fascinating historical sightseeing.
Accra lies just above the equator, and therefore enjoys a typical tropical climate. The only marked season is a rainy season. Temperatures in the country are constantly high, ranging from a low of 70°F (21°C) in the coolest month of August to a high of 100°F (38°C) or more in March. Humidity adds to the discomfort during the rainy season, which is in April, May, June, September and October. The 'harmattan', a dry desert wind, affects Accra in January. The best time to visit Accra varies depending on desired activities, but generally speaking the dry months between November and April are the best because they are slightly less hot and humid, the roads are in better shape, and there are fewer mosquitoes. During these months the harmattan may blow but the wind helps reduce humidity which can be a relief.
Accra lies just above the equator, and therefore enjoys a typical tropical climate. The only marked season is a rainy season. Temperatures in the country are constantly high, ranging from a low of 70°F (21°C) in the coolest month of August to a high of 100°F (38°C) or more in March. Humidity adds to the discomfort during the rainy season, which is in April, May, June, September and October in the north of the country, and is felt most in the months of April, May, June, September and October in the south. The harmattan, a dry desert wind, affects northern Ghana from December to March, lowering the humidity and creating hot days and cool nights. The harmattan is felt in the rest of the country in January. The best time to visit Ghana varies depending on desired activities and region but, generally speaking, the dry months between November and April are the best because they are slightly less hot and humid, the roads are in better shape, and there are fewer mosquitoes. During these months, the harmattan may blow but the wind helps reduce humidity which can be a relief.
The official currency is the Cedi (GHC), which is divided into 100 pesewas. Foreign currency can be exchanged at any forex bureau as well as at some commercial banks; banks and foreign exchange facilities are available at the airport and in all major towns. It is advisable to keep currency exchange receipts in order to be able to re-exchange when departing. Banking hours are usually from 8.30am to 3pm Monday to Friday, and most large commercial banks have ATMs located outside, although only limited amounts of Cedis can be drawn at a time. The most widely accepted credit cards are American Express, Diners and Visa, and cards can be used for payment at major hotels and shops, although this can be risky as credit card fraud is very common. The best currencies to bring are US dollars, British Pounds or Euros as other currencies exchange at poor rates. Travellers should be aware that larger Cedi notes can usually only be used in larger establishments such as hotels and restaurants as smaller enterprises will often not have change.
English is the official language, but many other African languages are spoken including Twi, Fante, Ga, Ewe, Hausa and Dagbani. French is spoken in the north.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Both round and flat three-pronged plugs are commonly used.
US nationals: US citizens must have a passport that is valid upon arrival in Ghana. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival with prior arrangement.
UK nationals: British citizens must have a passport that is valid upon arrival in Ghana. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival with prior arrangement.
CA nationals: Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid upon arrival in Ghana. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival with prior arrangement.
AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid upon arrival in Ghana. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival with prior arrangement.
ZA nationals: South African citizens must have a passport that is valid upon arrival in Ghana. A visa can be obtained on arrival for South African citizens.
IR nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid upon arrival in Ghana. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival with prior arrangement.
NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid upon arrival in Ghana. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival with prior arrangement.
All foreign visitors to Ghana must hold a return or onward ticket, as well as the necessary travel documentation for their next destination; or a letter from their employer guaranteeing repatriation. If passengers do not have these documents, then they are required to make a deposit, with the Immigration Office, equal to the amount of a return fare. The citizens of most countries can obtain visas on arrival, but most nationalities have to apply for pre-approval to gain these visas upon entering the country. Consent must be given by the Director of Immigration, a minimum of 48 hours before arrival in the country; travellers must ensure they print out their visa-on-arrival approval document and that it contains their passport and visa numbers, as well a copy of the bio data and photo page from their passport. Applications can be made by the visitor's host, business, or sponsor; or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Visa exemptions apply to holders of Dual Nationality Cards issued by Ghana. Note that a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter Ghana.
It is highly recommended that travellers' passports have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from their travel destinations. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Health regulations in Ghana require that visitors be in possession of a current medical vaccination certificate for yellow fever. Prophylactics against malaria are recommended for all regions and travellers should protect against waterborne diseases including cholera, especially during the rainy season. Visitors are advised to buy bottled drinking water, which is widely available. Vaccinations are recommended for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid. A meningococcus vaccination is also recommended if visitors are there in the dry season (November to June). If they are going to be spending a lot of time outdoors and may be at risk of animal bites, a rabies vaccination may also be a good idea.
Decent medical facilities can be found in major cities and towns, but facilities outside main urban areas are poor and emergency services are limited. Comprehensive medical insurance is advised and should cover medical evacuation. If visitors need certain prescription medication, it is advised that they take it with them, along with a signed and dated note from their doctor explaining what it is and why they need it.
A service charge is rarely added to restaurant bills and tipping for quality service is only expected in restaurants (usually about 10 percent). For other services, tipping is discretionary but note that if someone offers to help, whether it is with directions or to carry a bag, they usually expect some kind of payment.
Safety in Ghana is generally not too much of a concern but it is wise to be vigilant in public areas, particularly in and around Accra, and to avoid walking at night and travelling in taxis alone after dark. Visitors should avoid carrying large sums of cash or valuables on them and be vigilant when drawing money from ATMs. Theft of luggage and travel documents has occurred at Kotoka International Airport. Visitors should also be vigilant in and around Tamale and Kumasi, where there has been an increase in crime including muggings and attacks on foreigners. There is a potential for outbreaks of violence between rival political factions, fighting between ethnic groups and civil unrest; travellers are advised to stay up to date with daily developments and to avoid protests. Visitors to the Northern Region should be alert to the possibility of renewed outbreaks of inter-ethnic fighting. When travelling along the Ghanaian coastline, travellers should exercise caution given the occurrence of strong tidal waves striking the coast.
Ghanaians are generally a conservative people and visitors should respect local customs, traditional courtesies and dress codes, particularly in the villages. Ghanaians do most things with their right hand, including eating, touching food, taking and receiving things, waving, shaking hands etc. The left hand is used for 'dirty things' and it is regarded as rude to use the left hand for the aforementioned things. If in doubt, visitors should use the right hand. Greeting is an important social function and handshakes are common. There is no particular dress code, but women will be expected to cover up in the north of the country. No civilian may wear camouflage clothing as it is reserved for the military. Visitors to remote villages, shrines or palaces should visit the local elder or priest and take a small gift such as a bottle of local schnapps, gin or money. Travellers should always seek permission before taking photographs of people; it is not permitted to take photographs of military institutions or the airport. Homosexuality is illegal.
Ghana is a very relaxed and friendly country; however, in business, a formal dress code is expected, and punctuality is essential. The exchange of business cards is common. It is important in all meetings to greet and shake hands with each person and acknowledge their presence. The person is to be addressed as Mr, Mrs, or Ms, followed by their surnames, unless otherwise specified. Gifts are unnecessary though greatly appreciated. Business hours are generally 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday, with an hour taken for lunch.
The international dialling code for Ghana is +233. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0027 for South Africa). Accra's area code is 21. The telephone system is relatively reliable, but most people use mobile phones. Local prepaid SIM cards can be purchased as a cheaper alternative to using international roaming. Most major hotels also have business centres, which provide secretarial and courier services. Free wifi is available in many hotels, restaurants, and cafes in tourist areas.
Travellers to Ghana over 16 years do not have to pay customs duty on 200 cigarettes, or 50 cigars, or 250g of tobacco, or a proportionate mix of these items; two litres of wine and one litre of spirits; and 50ml of perfume and 250ml eau de toilette. Gifts and souvenirs are subject to duty.
Ghana Tourist Board, Accra: +233 302 682 601 or www.touringghana.com
Embassy of Ghana, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 686 4520.
Ghana High Commission, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 20 7201 5921.
Ghana High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 236 0871.
Ghana High Commission, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6290 2110.
Ghana High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 342 5847.
United States Embassy, Accra: +233 30 274 1000.
British High Commission, Accra: +233 30 221 3250.
Canadian High Commission, Accra: +233 30 221 1521.
Australian High Commission, Accra: +233 30 278 7657.
South African High Commission, Accra: +233 30 274 0450.
Taxis are plentiful in Accra and can be hailed directly from the street. They're unmetered, so travellers should be prepared to negotiate the fare before getting into the vehicle; taxi drivers are notorious for trying to overcharge foreigners. Shared minibus taxis (tro tros) travel along set routes around the city. They're the cheapest and most popular means of getting around Accra, but not always the safest due to poorly maintained vehicles and erratic driving habits. Tro tro drivers will usually have an assistant who will yell out the destination as the tro tro approaches a stop. Car hire is available at the airport, and it's possible to hire a vehicle with a driver, which is often the best way of travelling around the city.
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