Mary & Natalie’s Accra updates

Just had this very detailed email in, relating to the 4th edition rather than the 5th, but it seems worth reproducing some parts of it anyway

We really appreciated having your very helpful Ghana guidebook on our recent visit to Ghana. We wanted to give you a few suggestions for changes and updates, in case you haven’t already heard about these things:

-Despite it being more out of the way than we expected, we agree with the recommendation for Afia Beach Hotel. There are some quirks – for example, the level of friendliness from the staff varies drastically (there were some waiters and a front desk guy who we really liked and could chat with, but then other people including a front desk woman and the woman who works in the gallery were rather cold to us). But in general it is a really nice place and we would go back.

-We couldn’t find anything in the guidebook about drug laws (or drugs, or laws). People do offer drugs to tourists, so your readers should be informed.

-There is a decent restaurant right next to the Accra airport called Landings. It is kind of expensive, and we wouldn’t recommend the steak or other western fare, but they have a good selection of local foods – including an excellent gari foto special on Fridays for 18 cedis. We probably wouldn’t make a special trip out there, but readers may want to know a good place near the airport.

-The biggest omission that we noticed in the guidebook is Mercy Ocansey & Sons Batik shop. You go west on the street that runs just north of Frankie’s, and you go for about two blocks and it’s on the left. This place is amazing – they have beautiful batiks and fabulous tailors. We bought a bunch of wax print fabrics at Woodin (more on that next) and took them to Mercy’s shop, and a tailor measured us and then made us some beautiful, very professional clothing with a real eye for detail, for a very reasonable price. For about 100 cedis including tip, he made us three dresses, two vests, a pair of pants, a skirt, and two blouses. It takes a few days, so you have to plan ahead, but it is well worth it. After we saw our items, we wished we’d ordered twice as many things, but by then it was too late to get more before we had to leave. When we first walked in they had a few other customers there and the service seemed a little slow, but once the crowd thinned out, the customer service was fabulous – they got our somewhat complicated order exactly right and were very friendly (especially Mercy herself).

-Woodin (on the east side of Cantonments Road, maybe halfway between Frankie’s and Koala Market) is a wonderful, upscale fabric store that sells beautiful wax print fabrics as well as ready-made clothing. The prices are considerably higher than at a market stall, but the selection is bigger and you can browse in a pressure-free environment.

-We would not recommend Tip Top Chinese restaurant. They tried to pull a bottled water scam on us (brought us a bottle that was already opened and even had a cracked lid, which was probably a used bottle that they had simply refilled with tap water), and the food was not that great and not cheap.

-For fried chicken in Osu, we recommend Chicken Republic, which is on Cantonments Road a bit south of Papaye (on the same side of the street). The food is decent and cheap, the air conditioning is great, it’s clean, and they have one of the best toilets in the whole city.

-Just next to Chicken Republic is a friendly gelato and espresso shop called Arlecchino’s (674/2 Cantonments Road). The gelato and espresso drinks are good, and the pastries look nice too.

-The location of “Monsoon Restaurant and Nightclub” on the map is confusing because the (excellent!) restaurant/bar called “Monsoon” that is mentioned in the text is in the Osu Food Court a few blocks away on Cantonments Road.

-As an alternative to Monsoon (which is hard to get into without a reservation on weekends), there is a nice, upscale restaurant called Supreme just around the corner. If you are going north on Cantonments Road from the Osu food court (maybe Embassy Road?), you turn left down the first big street and then the restaurant is about a block down on the left. They have good Italian dishes, omelets and other breakfast items, and a very nice pastry case. They also have the best toilet in town!

-There is a great chop bar in Osu called Asanka Locals that has delicious redred and a big menu of many other traditional foods. They also have grass cutter (a.k.a. cane rat), a local game specialty that we didn’t see anywhere else in Accra. The place is bigger and cleaner than we expected from a chop bar. The prices may be a little higher than at a usual chop bar, but they were still reasonable for such good food. Asanka Locals is on a side street off of Cantonments Road (to the west), towards the south end.

-There is a nice gift shop on the road just behind Koala Market in Osu called “Global Mamas”. They sell all kinds of clothing and other products made with nice batik fabrics, jewelry, and gifts. It’s a fair trade shop, so the prices aren’t cheap, but they have some cool and unique things and convenient hours.

-The tip about using the toilet at a bank was really helpful. We were walking in the Ussher Town area and had to go really badly, with no restaurants or public toilets in sight, and I remembered that tip from the book and steered us towards a bank. Even though banking hours were over for the day, the security guard let us right in, and it was a decent toilet.

-I got laughed at when I mentioned “Makola market” to a local because apparently the “o” in Makola is really an “ↄ”, which I didn’t know because of the spelling in the guidebook. I did notice an occasional alternate spelling, “Makorla”, online and on some signs. I would suggest either using that alternate spelling or adding the “ↄ” symbol to your font. There must be other words and names in the book where this is relevant (same with the “ɛ” vowel).

-We strongly recommend that if people have time to go to Aburi, they should do all their craft/curio shopping at the roadside stalls there instead of at the National Cultural Centre/Arts Centre in Accra. The prices are drastically lower in Aburi, and there’s a lot less pressure and hassle. When we went to the Arts Centre, we let ourselves get pressured into spending literally every dime we had on us, and then later in Aburi we saw some similar items for a fraction of the prices we’d paid.

-Relatedly, I disagree somewhat with the discussion on p. 65 about bargaining. In several instances, especially in Accra, we felt that the opening prices offered by people at markets and roadside stalls were grossly inflated because we were tourists. We managed to negotiate them down a little, then later found out we’d still overpaid by 200-300% compared to the prices we got in Aburi when our driver came shopping with us. It is true that we had expendable income allowing us to be tourists in Ghana, but probably not nearly as much as the shop owners thought we had. We encountered plenty of wealthy Ghanaians who no doubt had lots more money than us (and were dressed better, too). So I don’t really think it’s fair to suggest to your readers that they just accept being drastically overcharged because of guilt over being a tourist in a third world country. The more your readers go along with this exploitation, the worse things will get for future tourists. And it really makes the trip less pleasant, feeling buyer’s remorse and feeling like you got suckered. This is especially true when you consider that most people on a trip to Africa will be burdened with requests for souvenirs from friends and family who don’t realize that it’s not a place where you can buy really nice things for dirt cheap.

-On p. 66 it says that for a charter taxi driver “at worst you should be looking at around US$25 daily, exclusive of extras such as fuel”. This is a low quote in our experience. I wouldn’t even want to venture an estimate, but for a full day it is probably a lot more than that. Plus the “extras” really add up – if you use a whole tank of gas it’s like $30 right there, plus then there are tolls, meals for the driver, etc. It is definitely worth hiring a driver for day trips, but readers should consider this when planning their budgets, and factor in at least $100 per day for the driver, fuel, etc.

-We also must take issue with the discussion of credit cards on p. 58, which says, “If you are spending one week only in Ghana, all in Accra, then you should be fine with a Visa card and nothing else.” This is totally false. Apart from our hotel, we did not encounter a single store or restaurant in Accra with a reliable Visa machine. 90% didn’t have a machine at all (even places like the Nike store in the Accra mall), and in the remaining 10% (e.g., Woodin) the machine wouldn’t work. Shoprite in the Accra mall claims to take cards, but for a credit card purchase you have to have a PIN, which I didn’t. Taxis and charter drivers don’t take credit cards, and obviously if readers are only eating street food (see earlier discussion) they will not be able to pay for that with a card. If we only had a credit card we would basically never have been able to leave our hotel, even for meals, and it would have been a miserable experience. We advise readers never to count on being able to use their credit cards for anything, and to withdraw cash as often as they can since you can never count on a working ATM being available either.

-The National Museum is disappointing. We still recommend people visit there, since they have an interesting collection and could probably use the admission fee money. But readers may want to prepare themselves to be depressed about how poorly the artifacts are being taken care of – many of them are just out in the open, and there’s no air conditioning or dehumidifier. The pieces also generally don’t have dates on them, so you miss out on a lot of vital historical context. And the gift shop is terrible – they even sell this nasty fake kente cloth printed on cheap fake silk (no doubt made in China). We certainly expected better from a museum gift shop.

We hope these suggestions will be useful to you for the next edition of the guidebook! Thanks for providing such a great resource.

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