We have just returned from a five-week tour of Ghana, where we used your guide extensively. It was an invaluable key to points of interest and to practical necessities (e.g. It’s very late – where can we find a guest house near the bus station?). Occasionally, though, the description in the guide seemed out-of-date, so we would like to offer feedback on the places we visited – the highs AND the lows. Hopefully this will make the experience better for those who follow us, and reward the Ghanaians who are making a strong effort to provide service for tourists.
To understand our comments, it’s useful to know our perspective. We are both teachers, one a botanist and the other an environmental planner. One of us is a council member in our local city government. Among other things, we teach courses in Conservation Biology and Ecotourism, so we are acutely sensitive to protection of natural ecosystems and tourism as a form of development. We are both accustomed to traveling with backpacks and are not offended by inconveniences such as intermittent electricity (although we appreciate a hot shower, a clean beach, and a firm, level mattress as much as anyone). We travel with our children, so our patience is not unlimited.
The guide’s positive outlook is appreciated, but should not be allowed to obscure real problems. At certain points we felt that the guide was not sufficiently frank about the drawbacks of some locations. For example, Dreamland Lodge (Ada Foah) is NOT actually on the beach. The beach at Ada Foah is pretty in prospect but has substantial amounts of plastic rubbish and human excrement – beaches in the East are not of the same quality as those in the West. Take note of the negative points in the comments below – they will save another traveler grief in the future.
It is worth noting that rangers in parks are primarily trained as guards, and have little experience in visitor services. Although friendly, they will often not take the initiative to set up activities. You need to have a clear idea of what you want to do at a park, and discuss it with them early and patiently.
Most of Ghanaian society has little experience with tourism, and hence little understanding of tourist needs and expectations (this includes many people working in hotels, parks, and restaurants). Travel requires patience, good humor, and prior notification (e.g. ‘We would like to join you for dinner this evening – may we order ahead?’). Calling ahead to make reservations is important even if it only gives rhetorical leverage when you show up. It is worth investing in a cheap cell phone (the whole country runs on cell phones).
We cannot emphasize enough the old advice: Learn a few words of Tri! Trying to speak the language shows that one are willing to come halfway to meet the local people. It breaks through their shell of suspicion. As often as not, it will lead to effusive generousity and boundless good will.
Accounting skills are generally weak – know prices ahead of time and check your bill. Although we rarely felt we were being short-changed, it was common to find mistakes in simple arithmetic on the bill. One frequent source of confusion was prices cited in old cedi (before devaluation in 2009).
Several times the Bradt guide description seemed to be based on plans that have not been realized and self-descriptions in advertising which is not accurate. For example, Shai Hills Resort does not actually have a swimming pool. The Luxury Safari Experience at Gbele Game Preserve was never fully realized.
Specific observations (* are good; # are bad)
La Paradise Inn, Accra * – Although the guest house is pleasant enough within its walls, the surrounding neighborhood is an unattractive urban area with little to interest a traveler. Although only 150 m from the ocean, access is difficult and the beach is trashy and dangerous.
Stumble Inn, Elmina ***– A pleasant lodge on the beach with landscaped grounds and well-maintained, comfortable Africa-themed lodging. Very friendly and accommodating for families. The beach is clean – a great place to play. We really enjoyed SI, and plan to use it when we return with students.
Cape Coast Castle ***- An important historical landmark well maintained. Our guide was amiable, open minded, and well-informed. Note also, there is a good sampling of craft shops in the outer courtyard.
Cape Coast ** – A charming old town with a colonial district in good repair. Very lively fish market. Recommended for strolling.
Kakum National Park *** – The rainforest is in reasonably good condition (to my eye as a forest ecologist), although it has clearly experienced human disturbance. Easily accessible. A good interpretive display, convenient dining area, and competent guides. The canopy walkway has been overplayed – one sways and bounces on the walkway but the guide gave no ecological interpretation of what we saw. All in all, the walkway is probably not worth the very high price. Little wildlife visible from the main trails (bushmeat hunting?). Warning: the park dining area closes at 3:30 PM. If you are staying in the park lodge (below) order dinner in early afternoon and collect it when the dining area closes.
Kakum National Park Lodge * – A utilitarian lodge within the park and ca. 200m from the dining facility. Plumbing, television, locks, etc. were in poor repair. In its favor, it was clean, cheap, and very close to the park headquarters. Not to be confused with the private lodge ca. 5 km south of the park entrance.
Ezile Bay Resort **** – A beautiful sweep of clean beach in a little cove beside (but isolated from) a fishing village. Restful lounges and tables under shady palms. Meals, reading, lounging in a comfortable open-air pavilion. A varied interesting menu (including very fine local lobster). Rooms were basic, but easily excusable considering the other amenities. The resort is operated by (and managed from) the Busua Beach Resort. As a result, there are no managers in Ezile Bay – we sometimes felt like none of the staff had any authority to make decisions. The chief drawback is the 13 km of rutted muddy road after one leaves the paved road to Busua. Our taxi driver demanded (and received) extra payment above the agreed fare. Contrary to some descriptions, this resort is NOT surrounded by rainforest – to the landward side there are nothing but oil palms.
Cape Three Points ## – Billed as a tourist activity from Ezile Bay, above, this turned out to be a five-hour slog down a sun-blasted service road through the oil palm plantations. Drive to Cape Three Points – don’t walk. The light house itself is quaint, on a breathtaking headland. Outbuildings are in poor condition. There is some disagreement as to what it costs to visit the lighthouse – everyone seemed to want a few Cedis (I ended up paying 7 Cedi).
Akwidaa Forest Reserve ** – A relatively undisturbed patch of rare coastal rain-forest within 1 km (i.e. an easy walk) of the Ezile Bay Resort (not to be confused with the small patch of rainforest at Cape Three Points). Jimmy is a capable guide, to found through the resort.
Akobra Beach Resort ** – A well-maintained resort on a pretty sweep of beach. Nicely landscaped grounds, professional staff, and excellent food. The new management have put their effort into the dining and sleeping facilities; the beach area is a little run down. The management is currently opening a trail to the site of a colonial fort on the bluff behind the hotel. This is one of the most expensive places we stayed. Although comfortable, it had neither the friendly atmosphere of Stumble Inn nor the breathtaking beach of Ezile Bay. The coast road to Axim is un-drivable – collapsing due to undercutting by the sea.
Axim ## – A seaside slum in which we did not feel safe. Axim has a fort and a historic district like Cape Coast, but the individual buildings are collapsing, the streets are dirty, and the inhabitants seem surprised to see tourists. We felt like intruders. Technically it is possible to walk into Axim from Ankobra Beach Resort, but we do not recommend it.
Ankasa National Park *** – An excellent example of tropical rainforest – probably the best ever-wet forest in Ghana (the others are only seasonally wet). Like other national parks, Ankasa has a system of trails and guides, but the reception facilities are not well developed. As far as we could tell there are no dining or lodging facilities. The park is isolated, nearly in Cote d’Ivoire, and the access road is not passable in the rainy season (we had to walk the last 3 km to the gate). The park is administered through an office in Elubo which is difficult to contact (no response to emails, mail enquiries, telephone), and seems out of touch with the rangers who are actually at the park.
Melody Hotel, Takoradi # – A cheap, functional hotel whose main virtue is its location across the street from the STC station. When we visited, the energy-saving light bulbs were so dim that we didn’t believe the establishment was open at first. We could barely see our food and used flashights in our rooms.
Treasureland Hotel, Kumasi * – A business-oriented hotel in an unappealing part of town. The hotel has rather pretentious fittings (and a higher price to match), but the service was only fair, and locks, plumbing, etc. often malfunctioned. There seemed to be no manager – none of the young staff had the authority to make decisions. The nominal “supervisor” did not seem to care about us – quite unprofessional. The chief virtues of this hotel were cleanliness and proximity to the University.
KNUST Botanical Garden, Kumasi ** – A peaceful oasis of tropical vegetation in the chaos of eastern Kumasi. Very fine displays of bamboo and flowering trees. Many labeled specimens. Beautiful butterflies. Like most botanical gardens, it was almost deserted.
Ashanti Cultural Center, Kumasi ** – A collection of craft shops, a museum, and a reasonably good restaurant. The many shops had craftsmen actually weaving, carving, casting brass, etc. while we watched. Most were happy to talk about their work. Because of the slowness of the restaurant, we didn’t actually get to see the museum. The urban surroundings are chaotic.
Kumasi Trotro Station ## – People, densely packed, flying in every direction. A vision of hell!
Adanwomanse Community Cooperative *** – A guide explains kinte weaving and cocoa production, and leads you around the village. Very patient, engaging, and low-pressure. A great contrast to Bonwire, where our taxi was mobbed by touts.
Owabi Wildlife Sanctuary ** – A plaeasant forest reserve with interesting examples of wetland habitat. The forest has an obvious (to a forest ecologist) history of human disturbance, but still has much natural vegetation in a functioning forest ecosystem. Beuatiful lakeside. The guide was patient and knowledgeable. We were not able to see the monkeys.
Bobiri Forest Reserve *** – A quiet guesthouse surrounded by a high-quality example of tropical seasonal forest. Birdwatch from your armchair on the porch! At least one of the guides (Jonathan) is a professional botanist, providing excellent guiding. Edna is a highly efficient house-manager overseeing several good cooks. She overcharged us, but went to elaborate lengths to track us down and reimburse us when she discovered the error. Some of the other guides are less knowledgeable.
Boabeng Fiema Monkey Reserve ** – An excellent chance to see two monkey species at close range, and to roam around a village. The elderly guide ran out of patience with our monkey fascination (tourists are supposed to have only a superficial interest). Lodging is simple but adequate and cheap. Food was primitive and expensive. All-in-all it was a good example of a community-run conservation & tourism enterprise.
Kintampo Falls, Techiman # – A nice waterfall surrounded by over-used, trash-filled grounds. And we paid 20 cedi for the privilege of viewing it!
Wechiau Hippo Reserve ### – One of the worst experiences of our trip. The receptionist/guide was drunk. He was barely able to go through the motions of registering us, getting us fed, and performing the guide services. He insisted that we rise at 5:45 AM to see the hippos, but showed up himself at 6:20, tucking in his shirt tail. Then we spent 40 minutes driving around to locate a canoe, a paddle, and a boatman. We spent four hours in a canoe in the blazing sun, and saw no wildlife at all. Nevertheless, the guide kept insisting that we go on. At the end, he demanded to be paid for all that time (I suspect he was looking for money, not for hippos).
Mole National Park **** – Sensational. Easily viewed wildlife in their natural setting. Accessible natural forest. A comfortable lodge (with swimming pool) in the evening. Highly efficient staff and a knowledgeable guide. Our only quibble is the length of time required for food preparation – a common complaint.
Gbele Wildlife Sanctuary * – A comedy of errors. Despite phoning ahead and receiving confirmation from the office in Tumu, we were completely unexpected when we arrived. The six armed guards/guides had no idea how to handle guests (“If they are not poachers, what do we do with them?”). The “Luxury Safari Accommodation” turned out to be four large wall tents on concrete pads. The kitchen area wasn’t functional, the administration building was closed, and the primitive toilets had not been cleaned recently. We went on an early morning guided walk, but saw no wildlife – apparently this area suffers very severe poaching. It was interesting to talk to the guides about the practical business of running a reserve, however. We speculate that the much-heralded lodge fell victim to the economic downturn of the late 2000s when it was half finished. Guides were barely literate, and had difficulty drawing up the bill.
SWOPA Sirigu Women’s Cooperative *** – A mature, intelligent guide took us to see several family compounds, answering all our questions about construction, family structure, diet, agriculture, etc. equally well. The staff served us an excellent lunch.
Comme Ci, Comme Ca Hotel, Bolgatanga * – Simple, functional lodging. The management seems to be building a new set of rooms with interesting village-inspired architecture, and landscaping the grounds. The restaurant, much praised in the Bradt guide, produced adequate food, but very slowly. In fact it took more than an hour and twenty minutes for our food to arrive (it appeared after I walked into the kitchen and asked – I know this is bad form but I was exasperated). The wait-staff seemed even less interested in customers than the usual.
Bongo Hills *** – A random group of men and boys gave us a delightful walking tour of the hills and discussed farming and the local community. We then went into the village and made a contribution to the gruff old chief.
Tongo Hills ### – The other worst experience. After charging us 40 Cedi admission, the young guide immediately asked us for a tip. We balked. Perhaps because of this, we were given a perfunctory tour of the village and rocks nearby. He seemed to know nothing about geology or plants. Several times, the guide stopped to chat on his cell phone. We were not taken to the hills, which we explicitly asked to see. We were introduced to the chief, who tried again to extract money from us. We politely declined.
Catholic Hostel, Tamale * – Cheap, functional lodging. Nicely landscaped grounds and a pleasant thatched pavilion serving beer.
Kyabobo National Park ** – We didn’t go deep into the park, so we can’t really give it a fair evaluation. The guide took us on a walk to two hills nearby which were supposed to have undisturbed forest. In fact, most of the forest was disturbed by small agriculture. Nice views from the hill top. Again, no wildlife. The guide seemed dutiful but uninformed (“It’s like that because God made it”). The park lodges outside of Nkwanta were nicer than usual, fairly new and most of the appliances worked. Staff seemed to have difficulty drawing up the bill – a common problem. We had a good meal one evening at the Gateway Hotel in Nkwanta. The food was good, and promptly served. Grounds were pleasing, although half the site seemed to be frozen in the process of construction.
Wli Waterfall *** – A pleasant short walk through the forest to view a spectacular water fall. Massive amounts of water generated its own wind and spray. Good views of thousands of fruit bats.
Waterfall Lodge ** – A clean, nicely landscaped lodge with an attentive elderly host. Good food served in a thatched pavilion. Beautiful views of the falls. And quite cheap.
Mountain Paradise Inn ** – Mr. Tony runs the lodge as part of a rural improvement project. Despite the appearance of naturally forested mountainsides, most of the landscape is highly impacted by small cultivation. There is a little semi-natural forest along the stream, and some good swimming holes at beautiful waterfalls. Access is difficult – one needs to be fit to negotiate the steep trail. Food was good, and service was generally professional, but there were some communication problems. Staff gave Glenn misinformation about trail locations resulting in a needless five-hour walk along the road up Mt. Gemi. Indeed the staff seemed more interested in the business of running food and lodging than about advising guests on activities like hiking. Note: this seems to be one of the only places in Ghana where one can hike without a guide.
Traycourt Liesure Centre Hotel, Kpong * – This was cheap, functional accommodation efficiently delivered. The hotel seemed to cater to church groups. The cheerful manager made sure we had the taxi we needed.
Ayles Bay Liesure Spot, Akosombo * – We only had lunch here – the lodge was apparently filled by weekend guests coming up from Accra (there is a noticeable halo of tourist demand extending ca. 100 km radius around Accra). The view of the river and bridge were pretty, and we took a canoe ride while we waited for our food (which was very long in coming).
Kpong Somanya Road ## – We tried to drive through this string of villages on market day with some (light-skinned) friends. Traffic was paralyzed for the whole distance, and we sensed some real hostility from the people on the street. You MUST have a Ghanaian driver.
Dreamland, Ada Foah # – A pleasant but cramped beach lodge oriented to backpackers. Contrary to advertising, the lodge is not on the beach – the shadeless, litter covered beach is 200 m away. We scouted the lodges at the mouth of the Volta but found two of the three to be closed. The third lodge seemed to be running a 24 hour reggae festival. Beaches were pretty viewed from a distance, but covered with broad swathes of plastic rubbish stretching hundreds of meters. Local villagers seemed to be using the beach as a toilet very casually. Expensive vacation homes are being built on the river side, but the town in general is rather rundown. Again, tourists seemed to be viewed as intruders. We left after one night.
Sealane Hotel, Prampram * – The beach at Prampram was cleaner than Ada Foah, but nowhere near as clean as the western beaches. Rocky reefs and ship wrecks give visual interest. This was the best seashell collecting location of our trip. The hotel was professionally run. On the downside, the hotel was far from the beach. The landscaped grounds described in the Bradt guide have all been sacrificed to build more rooms – we stayed in a construction site! Access to the beach was 700 m down a side road through a bier garten which seemed to be functioning as a brothel. We concluded that the towns of Ada Foah and Prampram are not oriented to ecotourists and foreigners, but cater to other forms of tourism originating in the nearby cities.
Shai Hills Reserve ** – A good example of southeastern savanna habitat – open forest, grassland, and scattered rock outcrops. We took a 3 km walk (66 cedi!) with a knowledgeable guide in the blazing sun. The walk was punctuated by explosions at the nearby rock quarries. Baboons were abundant at the entrance, but we saw no other wildlife.
Shai Hills Resort, Shai Hills * – Across the road from the reserve. Grounds are forested, providing pleasant shade (necessary after the hot walk in the reserve). The rooms are above the normal standard, with air conditioning. Most appliances worked. Once again, the resort seems to be run by youths – no one has any authority, and you can wait a very long time for something as simple as a receipt. Contrary to the hotel’s own advertising, there is no swimming pool.
Aburi Botanical Garden ** – Cool, shady grounds with a breeze and a view out over the plains. There is a charming group of old colonial buildings in varying stages of decay. Excellent restaurant, good food promptly served! The botanical collections are only so-so, and not very well labeled.
Aburi Craft Market ** – One of the best places we found for wood carvings and baskets. Unfortunately the market is strung along a major road, making us worry about the children.
Glenn and Christine