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The Ultimate Backpacking Guide To Ghana

Picture of Kwame Aidoo
Updated: 8 May 2018
Ghana opens a window of sunlight over long lines of beachfront, a rich coastal patch where history merges with the present, music weaves into patterns of tradition all the way to green mountains bursting with youthful waterfalls and Saharan shea-dominated shrublands up north. And backpacking is totally recommended for the Black Star country’s diverse and dazzling landscape.

A growing middle class and politically stable, as well as terrorism-free atmosphere means tourism gains for the West African country.

The backpacker scene

Ghana has a bit of everything, from the social to the ritual spiritual, the high-end party style to the grassroots raw experience, the clean-cut cosmopolitan to the colorful traditional. It doesn’t take much to get acclimatized, since the journeys and destinations are always refreshing and the people are naturally warm to encounter. Keep note that yellow fever vaccination is required for travelers.

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Early breakfast at the beautiful Waterfall Lodge in Wli | © Stig Nygaard / Flickr

You might want to start from Cape Coast and Elmina, where Ghana’s colonial history leaves castles and forts sprinkled along the clean beaches. Kakum is a thorough natural experience, with a canopy walkway and tree houses looking over virgin evergreen forests. Maybe the most intriguing bit could be canoeing through Butre’s mangroves and experiencing living on water at Nzulenzu, or surfing at Busua. Also, eating fufu with the natives in Yaa Asantewaa’s Ejisu on the way to Kumasi before jumping to the dancing and drumming meet-ups in Koforidua, Ho, or Sunyani might just do it for you. Or perhaps you prefer to go mountain climbing in the Volta and wake up at Mole to a gathering of elephants and antelopes.

You can also choose to simply take it easy by lodging in the stone buildings at Asutsuare, or watching the Boti Falls course down into the memorable abyss of time. If your sociable bug hits, you might want to get into conversation with fishing and farming families in Sehwi, or drink into the night at Osu or Kokrobite. Let’s break down how exciting the Ghana backpacking life can get from here.

Making the most of it

What, where, which and why

There are hundreds of ideas all over the internet which could suit your tastes if you’re traveling alone or not. Ghanaians are super-friendly and willing to help you put your schedule together even before you ask. SIM cards are super-cheap on every street corner, and they come with mobile data. If it’s your first time, you might want to package your own food or order warm from restaurants for the road since cold street food, especially in unkempt neighborhoods, might be a bit tricky for your stomach.

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Make smiling a part of your backpacking plans | © Borja Lestón / Flickr

Explore outside the norm

Usually visitors aim their compasses at direct post-colonial structures, for example Cape Coast castle, but there’s much more to Ghana. Depending on your itinerary, there are engaging activities and spaces that will leave indelible memories on and off the coasts. English is widely spoken, and Pidgin (broken form of English with local languages sprinkled in) is also very popular. Other major languages include Akan, Ewe, Ga and Hausa.

Find the magic as you go

Cheap gem experiences are available on the street, on the road, and online. Transportation is easy to set up by picking taxis or trotros running on almost every street corner or connecting to the few mobile apps, especially in the major cities.

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Haduwa is a local and international artists’ space in Apam | © Culture Trip / Julien lanoo

Safety

It’s mandatory for all foreign nationals resident in Ghana to register with the National Identification Authority (NIA) and get a non-citizen Ghana card. Local travel in Ghana is generally safe and there are barely any records of assaults on tourists, but in places with thick human traffic you’d have to keep an eye on your phones and laptops if you’re not intending to give it out to a ‘second owner’ adept in bag snatching, petty theft, or pickpocketing. Be ready for vehicular traffic, especially in the city center. Localized outbreaks of civil unrest can occur at short notice in the north, but local police impose curfews to contain such situations.

Food and accommodation

In central cities, booking.com can be helpful with recommendations but usually with touristic lodging. Away from the guidebooks, beach huts are available at beach resorts. In the streets and on intercity buses, if you ask around, you’ll always find the most appealing family-run guest houses or less costly nature-intimate settings. The Ghana Tourism Board runs the grading system from hotels to inns. Camping is possible, but local support goes a long way.

Making friends

You might need a log of local phrases for your tongue to roll better in Ghana, and an attitude for bargaining keeps your wallet from losing weight. Also, fellow backpackers, an adventure-loving spirit and group activities might spice up the happenings, as such the importance to make friends. Here are a few popular words and phrases that you are bound to hear when in Ghana: 18 Twi Phrases and Words to Know When Visiting Ghana.

Money, money, money

Currency

There are a number of interesting things to shop for in Ghana. The local currency is the Ghana cedi ($1USD equals 4,5 Ghana cedis). Cash goes around here and mobile money is common. Cards on the other hand are accepted in just a handful of larger outlets. Do your foreign exchange in Accra or the regional capitals, otherwise it might be difficult to find someone to exchange your money elsewhere.

Costs

Here’s a breakdown of what you should expect to pay:

1 meal ($1–$5USD)
1 beer ($1–$2USD)
1 night at a backpacker hostel ($10–$20USD)
1 cheap mode of transport for inner-city travel (e.g. trotro, motorbike taxi, taxi) ($1–$3USD)
1 hygiene/medical essential (at a local shop) ($5–$10USD)
1 affordable experience ($5–$10USD)

Where to go

Mole National Park

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Meet the elephants of Mole | © Stig Nygaard / Flickr
The 1,213,782 acre reserve area of Mole is home to large mammals, reptiles, birds, and rare vegetation. Flights and buses run the Accra–Tamale route daily. If you’re not driving, taxi cabs and buses load from the Metro Mass Station to Larabanga, the gateway town to Mole. Backpacking is fun from the famous ancient mosque to Mole National Park, where they serve warm continental food. The Jeep safari is an interesting experience that goes through the forest. Hiking, especially in the morning at Mole, is when you find bushbucks, elephants, and warthogs up close. Another fun thing to do is the canoe safari near the Mognori village. Mole incorporates villages and farming communities as part of its inclusive sustainable tourism program. In the evenings, the sunsets and sky full of stars are some of the most spectacular things.
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Kakum National Park

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Canopy Walkway Kakum National Park | © Stig Nygaard/WikiCommons
Canopy walkway, Kakum National Park | © Stig Nygaard / WikiCommons
From Cape Coast Castle, where the shoreline leads to fun beach spot Oasis Resort and extends to Elmina Castle, backpacking can be so much fun. Usually, at the entrance of Kakum is where a really good palm wine tapper has his shed to replenish your thirst. Forest Coolers Restaurant is where you can get some good meals at the premises of the tropical rainforest. Kakum is the place to see wildlife, tops of trees and experience the long canopy walk for a Canopy Walk Completion Certificate. There are two well-stocked craft shops, as well as many miles to cover here.
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Shai Hills

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Baboons are not shy at Shai Hills | © Rene Mayorga / Flickr
Shai is made up of five rocky hills including Hioweyo and Sayu, shrublands, forest, and savanna regions where diverse species can be found. The numerous baboons who bask in the streets sometimes greet you as you enter the reserve. Tourists and backpackers hike the Obonu Tem and Se Yo caves, where relics can be seen from 19th century Shai settlers who also dug tunnels and formed defense architecture out of the natural environment to deter other ethnic groups and colonial forces from engulfing their territory. A hike to Dodowa where the 250 Tsenku falls can be found is highly recommended.
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Accra Plains

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The estimated terrain elevation above seal level of Accra Plains is 21 metres. The grassy and scrubby coast goes for miles, then rises with jutting hills, for example Mount Krobo. It’s a great place for off-trail hikes and backpacking on the vast savanna terrain. The grassland, thicket, and forest vegetation of the Accra Plains comes with 350 species of vascular plants with floristic distinctness. Also, there are hundreds of bird species. Although the majority of species are of Guinean affinity, the plant communities of the Accra Plains are unique in the context of African tropical vegetation.
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Atewa Range Forest Reserve

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Brown-crowned Tchagra at Atewa Reserve | © Francesco Veronesi / Flickr
The Atewa Range Forest Reserve, measuring 58,472 acres, is being considered for the status of national park by the government and wildlife parties. It is one of two of such forests left remaining in Ghana, also providing the headwater for three major river systems, the Ayensu, Densu and Birim rivers. As part of the Upper Guinea biodiverse ecosystem, it is one of Ghana’s 30 Globally Significant Biodiversity Areas, and in 2001 was listed as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International. Atewa is home to the critically endangered frog species Conraua derooi, whose presence in Atewa may represent the last viable population in the world.
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Bucket list experiences

Experience Jamestown’s beach barter and bliss

The expanse of Jamestown—the first settlement built in Accra—is memorable. The Atlantic shore, dotted with traditional fishing boats without radars and a beach packed with squid, barracuda, mackerel, flounder, and bass-filled pans and smiles is heart-warming. The shacks, murals, and Bukom boxing gyms are unforgettable things Jamestown has to offer.

Trek to the heart of Volta’s summits

Volta’s peaks average 1,500 feet, continuing eastward to the Niger River. The Togo precipices to Atakora in Benin are just magnificent highlands. The most thrilling part is to visit spots where the Volta river cuts through the green lands all the way to waterfalls at Wli.

Make symbolic prints with Ntonso’s Adinkra

In the Kwabre East district in Ashanti Ghana, visual symbols that represent concepts or aphorisms are popular and impactful. Experience how Adinkra, used extensively in fabrics, tattoos, and pottery among the Ashantis of Ashanti Kingdom of Ghana and Baoulés of Cote D’Ivoire can be stamped with calabash and natural dye.