November 29, 2009

Guide Book Writing: Inside the Rough Guide

We have a new site where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion. Read Guide Book Writing: Inside the Rough Guide there.

This is a 2005 article but I thought it worth a mention since most readers are probably using some kind of travel guide book too. The Independent on Sunday published an article entitled

Guide special: You can't believe everything you read.

In the article Andrew Spooner writes about the reality on the road.
"My fee to cover Turkey - roughly 2,000 miles in 20 days on spine-bending local buses - is £700 (£400 up front). For an updating job like this there are no royalties rolling in over the years and, apart from my flight - some publishers won't even stump up for that - I have to pay all my own expenses. My brief is to update information in more than 25 towns for several hundred restaurants, bars, nightclubs, hotels and guesthouses. Then I have to check local tour operators, bus services, maps and every other detail of the book. After that has been done, I must find new stuff and re-write the text.

In one of the guidebooks I worked on, details of a hotel that was set in a remote location hadn't been updated for almost a decade and four editions. The hotel's name, its owners, management, style, telephone number and every other conceivable detail had changed. But why would a jobbing writer who is earning less than £20 a day from which expenses have to be paid, want to travel miles out of their way for one line in an 800-page book?"
I've relied on a few guide books where it seems like no updates are done over several editions, the same contact numbers wrong every time. Now I have a sense of why.

Anyway, on a slightly different note, itineraries coming up shortly. I'm tweaking and adding a few places I hadn't originally planned to include. Until then...

November 21, 2009

Ghana Highlights Part 4: Accra/north to the three northern regions

Welcome to what sometimes feels like ‘Far, Far Away Land’—the three northern regions of Ghana—which occupy about half of Ghana’s land mass. But they needn’t seem so far. I’ll give you a couple of tips (see *** below) about how to negotiate this region as easily as possible on public transport.

Since there is little by way of up-to-date information for these areas online, other than the standard guide books, I’ll attempt to pass on what I know from living up here for the last 10 months and traveling to Mole or the Upper East on four other occasions so you may travel more comfortably than I once did.

Update: This was written before our Ghana guide which you can buy here! Well, actually, Ghana guide link here. Or, by clicking the buy now buttons on the top right of this site! Happy reading, G&G.

As I said in Parts 1, 2, and 3 (read all the Ghana Highlights by clicking this link), every region has something to offer travelers, volunteers and workers in Ghana: culture, history, arts, crafts, drumming, dancing, pottery, weaving, monkeys and elephants—you can sample it all over, from the jungles and beaches of the south, mountains of the east, to the dry, savannah plains of the north.

Indeed, the savannah plains and their massive baobab’s, standing like fat scarecrow soldiers on guard, start appearing a couple of hours after you pass Kintampo heading to Tamale. The northern half of Ghana is all wide, open spaces, grasslands, termite mounds, desert palms, and baobab’s.

Because there are as many ways to get here as there are towns, and there is no definitive guide on how to do this, choosing the simplest route can be challenging.

I’ll address how to get here by focusing on the main tourist attractions and towns. I’ll outline the easiest ways to get between them (knowing what I know now)! This will be longer than usual, but it’s worth taking the time to read through if you’re planning on heading north on public transport. If you have your own transport (lucky you!), you won’t so much hassle.

Three amigos on the escarpment outside Mole Motel as sun sets

Let’s say Mole is what you’re aiming for. Here’s how most travelers do it. They leave somewhere in southern Ghana in the morning and arrive in Tamale in the evening. You have no option but to go to Tamale from where the public bus leaves to Mole.

Because the Mole bus is scheduled to leave Tamale station at 2 p.m. (although it’s often late), you will miss that day’s service. You must stay over night and buy tickets in the morning, wait around all day, sometimes until 6 p.m., then depart to Mole. It takes 4 hours to get to Mole. By the time you get there it will have been about 36 hours since you left the southern point. Essentially, most travelers on public transport from the south end up over-nighting in Tamale because they have no choice.

If you leave Accra by 6/7 a.m. you’ll get to Tamale around 7 p.m. if you’re very lucky. More likely by 10 p.m. You would leave from Accra STC (shortly before Lamptey Circle/Kaneshie area on the western side of Accra) at 5 or 6 a.m.—the timetables change regularly so check the day before—or Tema STC at 8 a.m. The Tema service actually goes on to Bolgatanga, arriving around midnight-2 a.m.

To clarify: STC stands for State Transport Company and is the name given to the green/white coloured coaches you’ll see zooming along highways all over Ghana.

You can also get tros from Nkrumah ‘Circle’ Station in Accra to Tamale. It’s hell, but you can do it.

Takoradi (T’di): There is a daily STC service to Kumasi in the morning. (Incidentally, T’di services to Accra leave daily, every hour, from 8 a.m.)

Cape Coast: STC option: If you're waiting for the Takoradi service via Cape, you could wait at Cape STC to see if there are seats for Kumasi after the service leaves T’di station—they pass through Cape. There may be seats left, but you have to wait until after the coach has left and then the Cape office will let you know (you have to hang about the ticket selling window) if there are seats. Keep in mind that services are often late. So if the service is supposed to leave T’di at 5, you should be waiting at Cape STC from 5 to get a ticket. But it might not leave until 7. So you’re waiting for 2 hours and you still don’t know if you get a ticket. I never did this. Instead I caught a tro to Kumasi from Tantre station in Cape. By the time you’ve waited to get a ticket for the STC, you could be half-way to or almost in Kumasi.

Unless you’re leaving T’di or Cape on Friday morning (best option, see *** below), it’s easier to start the journey from Cape on a tro and work out the next leg from Kumasi on either a tro or the STC. Alternatively, you could travel to Accra and buy an STC ticket direct to Tamale or Bolga from there. It’s just that the Accra-Kumasi leg is painful. If you’re already in Cape, Cape-Kumasi (while a bit bumpy in parts) is better than Accra-Kumasi. (Careful readers will have noted by now that I do everything to avoid the Accra-Kumasi highway). Contrary to what you might imagine, that highway, and the bit of highway directly north out of Kumasi are slow and unfinished—still. The major roads in the three northern regions (except to and from Wa), even to Bawku, are quite good.

***Alternatively, you could leave Cape the afternoon before, overnight in Kumasi at the Presby around the corner from the STC (see Part 3), and leave on the 7 a.m. STC service in the morning. This is a lot less stressful and less expensive than going to Accra since over-nighting in Kumasi is about 12-14 C and over-nighting in Accra (unless you know someone) is at least 20, plus taxis.

Kumasi: Kumasi’s 7 a.m. If it leaves on time and doesn’t break down, the STC service to Tamale can get you in just before the official 2 p.m. Mole bus leaves. The Kumasi-Tamale service is a major service in Ghana so try to buy a ticket from the STC the afternoon before, if not go very early (5 a.m.), to buy a seat that morning. If you’re lucky (which I was once), you might arrive in Tamale in time to get a ticket for that day’s bus to Mole. Since the Mole bus is usually late, this will probably work.

Techiman/Kintampo: If you’re in Techiman or Kintampo, you’d catch a tro to Tamale around 6/7 a.m. in the morning and you’re likely to get to Tamale in time (11/12) to buy a ticket for that day’s service.

The orange metro mass buses also leave from Kumasi to Tamale and Bolga but the Kumasi station is my idea of hell: There are no queues and no communication about when buses will arrive or depart. Go there if you have no options. The station is on the northern side of the city, about 10 minutes or 2 Cedis dropping out of town. Just ask for Metro Mass bus station.

Remember, you could break up the leg to Tamale by, instead, traveling 3 hours north to Techiman from Kumasi, staying at Operation Hand in Hand in Nkoranza (15 mins from Techiman) for a day or two, and then heading to Tamale in the morning from there and still get to Mole that night.

Sunset over the plains below looking from the escarpment out front of Mole Motel

There is a trotro to Tamale from a small station in Kumasi called “Dr Mensah” on the opposite side of Kejetia station from Adom, a little outside the station. Taxis know “Dr Mensah”. Try to be there by 9, but we once got one as late as 2 p.m.

*** This is my make-life-easier tip: Like ripping off a Band-aid/plaster in one go, if you’re coming from Accra or the coast, go directly to Bolga on an STC service. The stress of the public transport to Mole could be reduced by going directly to Bolga, spending time here, and then heading to Tamale (2.5-3 hours south by tro) on the morning you intend to go to Mole, and then you can stop at the major points heading south.

*** Alternatively, you could slowly work your way north—Accra/Cape/Kumasi/Techiman—Nkoranza/Tamale/Bolga—and then STC back from Bolga or Tamale south. Anyway, I’ll cover route options in Part 5.

I mentioned the STCs from Accra and Tema.

***But, an STC service for Bolga departs from Takoradi at 7 a.m. on Fridays. It passes through Cape, departing at 9 a.m. It arrives in Tamale between 10-midnight and Bolga around midnight-2 a.m. If you’re in Cape, you cannot buy a ticket until the bus has departed T’di and the sellers know how many seats are left. So you wait at Cape STC from 7 a.m.—be really friendly with the ticket sellers. Both times I tried this, I got tickets. Other passengers will be waiting and hoping too. These people are most likely from Bolga and, rather than competing with them for tickets, work together in Cape (it’s obvious who they are as they’ll be hanging about the window asking about the Bolga service and you just strike up a chat—which is what I did), they’ll help you out when you get to Bolga. You’ll stop for half an hour in K’si, and again in Techiman, Kintampo and Tamale. More on arriving in Bolga at midnight below.

A note on languages. In a nutshell, Hausa is most widely spoken across the three northern regions and, irrespective of ethnicity, almost all Ghanaians who grew up here can speak a few words of Hausa, if not be conversationally fluent. It’s a pretty simple language. Dagbane is spoken by the Dagombas who live across the entire breadth of the Northern Region (which is what you’ll hear around Mole). In the Upper East Region, Frafra is spoken by Frafras who live mostly in Bolgatanga and Bongo (I find this language difficult). Kasim and Nankani is spoken in Navrongo. In Bawku, Mampruli is spoken by the Mamprusis and Kusa by the Kusasis. Moshis speak Moshi and Bisas speak Bisa. In the Upper West Region, Wale is spoken in Wa and Lawra/Nandon.

English is less widely spoken outside the main towns in the north. You’ll notice this in markets, but you can always get by (speak clearly-no slang) and find someone to help.

Northern Region: capital Tamale; Upper East: capital Bolgatanga; Upper West: capital Wa.

Elephants grazing at Mole in late December.
Highlights we’ll cover:

Northern: Mole National Park (Link to a good Wiki.)

Buy the ticket to Mole in the morning at Tamale’s main bus station. It’s right next to the STC and the seller is towards the rear of the station. It’s 2.5-3 Cedis for a ticket to Mole. Warning: the bus trip is pandemonium in motion. My Italian mate got ‘seasick’—in his words.

Mole’s attractions are well-documented elsewhere. What most people rave about is getting up close to elephants in the wild. We were able to sit by the lake/dam and watch them frolicking for hours. The baboons around the motel are more than naughty and will steal your food right from your hands if you’re not careful. Give them a wide berth. There are plenty of monkeys too. I love the trotty wart hogs that may cross your path around the motel or out on the walk.

Service-wise, Mole Motel made Fawlty Towers look five star. It still is my worst experience, service-wise, in Ghana. The motel is expensive and food is way overpriced. You can eat more cheaply at the park rangers’ quarters. Just ask. Book your room in advance and try to say your name clearly as they may well mess it up or just lose your booking full stop. Order your main meals at the meal time before—eg. Order dinner at lunch time so they can prepare it in time for dinner. This is a good system and ensures you’ll get meals during meal times.

You do have to pay an entry fee to the park—that’s not a scam. If you’re a student, you need a valid student ID to get a discount. Likewise, volunteers. You also have to pay for the tour in addition to the room cost.

Many choose to stay at Larabanga, where the mud mosque is, at the Salia Brothers because it’s way less expensive and they (according to all accounts) are excellent hosts. If so, email them ahead and they’ll meet you on arrival. It’s 5 kms before Mole. The hassle factor in Larabanga is apparently extremely high. Some love it, some hate it. Those who stay at Larabanga get up early and go for the 7 a.m. walk in Mole, hang out all day by the pool (yes Mole Motel has an inground pool from which one friend watched a thirsty elephant once drink), and return in the evening to their lodgings. You can bike between. You could get a car for 2 Cedis each way. The road is known for robberies so be careful if walking alone or in pairs.

NOTE: I know two groups who hopped off the main highway junction to Tamale from Kumasi that branches left to Mole, hoping to get a tro (or any lift) to Mole from there instead of going to Tamale and doubling back on the bus the next day. It didn’t work. They got stuck there and ended up having to go to Tamale anyway. By the time any vehicle gets to that point it’s usually full. It is possible to negotiate an empty tro for hire around Tamale station to Mole but it will obviously cost more.

Likewise, it’s almost impossible getting out of Mole on anything but the public bus. The bus out of Mole still leaves at 4-5 a.m. getting you into Tamale around 8. On the upside, it’s easy to continue a journey from Tamale to anywhere in Ghana that day.

NOTE TO ENTREPRENEURS: The person who starts a bus service between Accra/Cape and Mole, direct, will surely reap rewards. Travelers to and from Mole are aching for this: Arrive while it’s still light and leave at a decent hour like 10 or 11 a.m.

• Tamale Central Market

If you do overnight in Tamale and have the morning to fill while waiting to go to Mole later that day, there are plenty of good internet cafes close to the bus stations on the main road—just ask. The Tamale Central Market, adjacent to the STC (2 minutes from the bus station), sells a variety of northern-style and Malian cloths and crafts. If you have no chance to visit any other market in the north, then see this market.

Where to stay in Tamale. Bradt Guide listings are OK, but the Hamdallah Hotel, Kukou area, is a gem. It’s a few kms out of town (not its sister branch on the main road which is more expensive). The Kukou branch is a 5 minute dropping (2 Cedis)—drivers will know it. You can get a huge double bed room that looks like a modern Sydney apartment, sparkling clean tiles, DSTV, air-con, and a shower with a bath tub for 18-20 C per night. Omelette/toast/tea breakfast is included. It’s mostly patronized by in-the-know Ghanaians. Ask the security people to find a taxi heading back to town from there. We easily picked one up on the road around the hotel.

Photo of "Bolga baskets" courtesy of Oxfam Australia's Summer 2009 Catalogue

• Upper East:

When I first came to Bolga last year, after having been to Tamale/Mole twice and never making the journey further north, I thought: I missed out! It is like being in another country (and 30 minutes to Burkina, it almost is). It’s very laid-back, like a large Australian country town, frontier-ish, and has a happy vibe. I’ve been getting emails from readers about it too. Marie, who was once in Peace Corps Togo and recently journeyed around Ghana, wrote: “Even though my stop in Bolga was ever so brief, I liked the ambience of the place. Hope I get a chance to return some day and spend more time there.”

It’s subjective, of course, but I feel Bolga has more to offer than Tamale, the hassle factor is virtually nil since few tourists pass through—although I see some virtually every time I go to town now, people are friendly, and it’s easy to get around. Pottery, cloth weaving and basket-making traditions flourish in this area. You can find balls of shea butter in the market for 10-30 pesewas—the same market that sells the cloth below (just ask someone and they’ll direct you). Navrongo’s mud cathedral and Sirigu pottery and arts are easier to get to than Kakum is to Cape. You could easily spend 3-5 days here, but you can see some highlights in 1-2 days. Of many volunteers and travelers I spoke to, quite a few said they would have given up Mole for Bolga (especially if they’d been on safari elsewhere), so there you are.

Arriving at midnight-2 a.m. Trusted taxis that work with the STC are waiting for the service to arrive late at night. Also, those who arrive on the STC are almost always locals and, if you ask nicely, they’ll help you out. At night, whatever you do, DO NOT try to get a taxi outside the STC on the highway (everyone will warn you against this) because they are waiting for naïve travelers to do just this and then rob them. The ones inside the STC are there for a good reason—they’re known and trusted. You’ll pay about 2.5-3 Cedis for a dropping into town (about 5 minutes). Once you know it, it’s very easy to walk back to the STC. If you arrive during the day, it’s quite safe to get a taxi from the road, just not at night.

Best places to stay. In town proper, and walking distance to the market, tros and main road, is St Joseph’s Hotel, 072-23214, next to the stadium. It’s 17/22 Cedis a night for double room (fan/air-con) and it’s a clean, airy place. Otherwise, the inexpensive Catholic Social Centre which sits behind the SSNIT building (in which there is a decent internet café) is 10 GC a double. While in a nice space, Sand Gardens is over-rated at 30 GC for a plain double—their food is also over-rated. For a similar price, SWAD food (near SSNIT) is best: curries (6 GC), pizzas (10 GC) and really good red-red and banku (4-5 GC). See Best secret food spots in Ghana post for more details.

There are 3 internet cafes along Commercial Street, the main road of Bolga, which runs south from SSNIT or north from the Zuarangu Road (one road in and parallel to the Bolga-Navrongo road).

NOTE: Bolga Crafts Village only sells crafts. There is no demonstration of craftsmen or women at work here, a missed opportunity, really. For craftspeople in action head to…

Photo courtesy of Marie McC at Travels in Ghana which is an excellent source of photos and recent information about Sirigu, Tamale, and Bolga--and an excellent photo of Elmina Castle across the page header.

• Bolga market for smocks hand-woven cloth. Read Marie's excellent post on that here.

The weaving part of the Bolga market is in action every day, although sparse on Fridays and Sundays—religious days. Get into that part of the market simply from the Zuarangu Road. If you’re in Commercial Road (the main road) you turn left at its southern end at the T-junction into Zuarangu Road. Or, you might know it as being main road heading to Bawku. Either way, as soon as you turn left out of it, you pass the police station on your right and Goil/Shell further ahead on your left. About then, ask for the market and weaving. It’s just ahead on the left behind a two-storey salmon-coloured building. You can wander around between dozens of stalls where men are weaving and selling cloth. You can buy a waist-length men’s woven top for 30-40 GCs in a complex mix of colours. It takes one person two weeks to weave the cloth for this and a taylor then to sew it. For one or two colours, the price will be a little cheaper.

I took this place for granted (because I have to pass through it every time I go to buy food) but when Marie sent an email I realised it should be shared too. She said,“You may not know that this is the type of thing that tourists might like to know about. As a tourist, I loved my visit there, and as a photographer it was a fantastic photo opportunity.” CHECK OUT HER NORTHERN PHOTOS HERE.

Shea Butter producers on the side of one of Bolga's main roads

If you want to buy shea butter (kamengbbo in Frafra), ask anyone around here and they’ll take you to a seller. A fist-sized ball is anything between 10-40 pesewas.

Weaving baskets in a village just outside Bolgatanga

• Market day and Bolga baskets.

Every third day is market day. If you’re planning a trip to coincide with it, call any hotel in Bolga and ask them when the next day is (or when the last one was); they’ll be able to tell you.

Learning to weave baskets is like Sydney-siders learning to swim; it’s more or less a given. And basket making is virtually unique to Bolga. You can find women, boys and girls weaving in many of the villages around the outskirts of town. I visited several and learnt that it takes one woman three days to make the large, traditional basket. Most middle-men pay the producer 5 Cedis a basket at a central warehouse point where you’ll see hundreds of sellers congregating on market day to sell their baskets. Note: The minimum wage is 2.65 C/day so, by rights, the middle-men should be paying at least 7.95 GC a large basket and perhaps about 5 for a small one. But, this is the poorest region in Ghana, people are desperate for income, supply is high, demand is relatively low, and it’s the informal sector so producers just manage to survive.

In case you should wish to buy directly from the producer on market day, the warehouse is located on the main road: Commercial Road (one road in from the highway—Navrongo Road) at the southern, STC end. When you turn into Comm. Road from this end, there is a grey-painted, enclosed canteen soon on the right called International Traveler’s Inn which serves great omelette and tea for 1.5 Cedis. Behind here (and you can’t miss it) is a block of warehouse buildings where producers sell to middle-men. If you come on a non-market day, you can haggle with the middle-men in the warehouse, probably from 15 down to 10-12 for a large basket. You’ll pay US$32-35 (GHC45-50) LINK for the same basket online. Somewhere, someone’s making money, but it isn’t the producer so if you get a chance to buy directly from them (and a fair price is around 8 GC for a large basket), it will make a difference to them.

You’ll know it’s market day by seeing people toting baskets (and chickens and goats and guinea fowl) along main streets everywhere from early morning.

• Navrongo’s mud cathedral

If you do stop in Navrongo, it’s worth checking out this striking, enormous mud cathedral on the southern end of town dating from 1920. Inside its walls are painted in old fresco style but it’s rarely open now. Seeing it from the outside alone was an experience but if you’re there on a Sunday you may get a peek inside.

Photo courtesy of flickr attribution licence by super.heavy

• Paga crocodile pond

About an hour and a half from Bolga or 20 minutes from Navrongo. Paga is where most cross the border to Burkina. ***By the way, you cannot get a visa at the border; you must have obtained it already at an embassy (in Accra or another country). It’s about 10 kms past Navrongo. You could go Bolga-Nav-Paga-Sirigu-Bolga in a day. Or any or all of those, depending on your interest.

I’ve seen a lot of crocs at home (Oz) so I’ve given this a miss, but you can sit on the croc and have your photo taken at the ecotourism project here. I’ve heard varied reports about the service. In Paga itself apparently you get similar hassle as Larabanga in terms of being pushed around for exhorbitant fees. To avoid this, get dropped before getting in to Paga central taxi station. Instead, drop at the visitor’s centre on the main road before town. One pond is right there at the visitor’s centre. A new building is now being constructed to improve the centre.

• Pikworo slave camp

During the slave trade West Africans from all over were brought here before the long march south to the coast and the castles. Like visiting the castles, according to all accounts it’s an emotional experience for those with ancestral connections. From Paga, get a dropping taxi directly to the visitor’s centre. Pay about 2-4 Cedis. Check in at the centre. Then you get taken on a tour which costs about 3 Cedis. Tip those who demonstrate the drumming where the slaves drummed on the rocks as they don’t get paid otherwise. Godwin visited here and said it’s fascinating and worth the tour. I hope to go soon.

• Sirigu arts and pottery

I’ve been planning this trip all year but Marie’s photo’s inspired me so maybe I’ll visit Pikworo and Sirigu together. Godwin has been here and has also been pushing me to go. Characterised by striking, geometrical designs in earthy-colours (reminiscent of Aboriginal Australian art), the Sirigu artists and potters are unique in Ghana. Whole houses are painted in this fashion and you can buy artwork and pottery too. It’s an hour from Bolga by tro from town—western side of the market area or just down the road from St Joseph’s hotel.

SWOPA guest lodging. Photo courtesy of Marie McC at Travels in Ghana which is an excellent source of photos and recent information about Sirigu, Tamale, and Bolga.

As a one or two day trip, you might want to go Bolga-Sirigu-Navrongo-Paga-Bolga and easily return the same day to Bolga. Or, Bolga to Paga-Navrongo-Sirigu. You can overnight at the SWOPA guesthouse in Sirigu and return to Bolga in the morning—half an hour away (and head on to Tamale to go to Mole!). SWOPA stands for Sirigu Woman’s Organisation for Pottery and Arts. Kofi Annan even paid a visit some years ago. Drop at SWPOA guesthouse. You can stay in a hut at SWOPA and do a guided tour for a small fee (3 GC).

Sirigu Women's Association of Pottery and Art. Photo courtesy of Marie McC at Travels in Ghana.

• Upper West: Wechiau Hippo sanctuary on border with Ivory Coast.

I haven’t been here yet, but Godwin has. Having said that, it was during the wet season and he didn’t see any hippos which is also what the Bradt guide warns. A friend who went during the dry season did see them.

Getting to Wa from Bolga is very difficult now. The road is reputedly terrible and it takes about 8 hours by metro mass transit, leaving in the morning. During the rainy season it’s impossible to get to Wa from Bolga as the bridge is down. Wa is cut off during this time. You can get there from Kumasi/Sunyani/Techiman on a tro. Apparently it’s easier to get a tro there from Techiman than it is from Tamale. Now this is a big but. But, highway robbery on those roads is increasing so please don’t take anything valuable if you do.

From Wa to Wechiau: you get a tro on market days, but non-market days you have to stay in town. It’s about an hour so you could negotiate a dropping taxi probably for 40-60 Cedis. Then at the visitor’s centre in Wechiau you pay a fee of about 15 per night inclusive of guide and accommodation which is another 25 kms from there. So, you hire a car to go to the sanctuary (about 45 minutes): at least 20 Cedis for a dropping. Same price coming back. When Godwin talks of this he says, ‘We suffered!’ The guide apparently ate their food after cooking it and not telling them it was done. Their roof leaked and they got soaked. They had no water to drink (were forced to drink beer and he doesn’t drink alcohol) and didn’t see any hippos. They ran out of money and had to hitch back to Wa on a truck—and pay for it! Then get money from an ATM in Wa and tro back to Cape!

The lodge in the sanctuary is a locally built mud hut with student mattresses. You can sleep on top of the mud houses at night if it’s too hot. They have a platform/watchtower where you can sit at night to watch the animals come out to graze. Food-wise, you have to buy and bring your own food and water for the duration. The guide you are allocated at the tourist centre will cook your meals on a coal pot for you (and maybe eat them) and he’ll come with you in the taxi to the lodge and stay the entire time. You’re unlikely to see hippos during the rainy season (May-Sep). From now (Nov) onwards until about May is the best time to visit. If you approach it as an adventure and don’t set a time limit, it could be worth the effort.

When to visit the three northern regions: It’s alright to visit any time of year but be warned: it’s insanely hot between February and May. To give you an idea: Kingsbite chocolate becomes soft and runny. The Harmattan has hit now and while fairly light, it will become thick in late December and throughout January, reducing visibility and making breathing difficult—not good for photographers or asthmatics. The photography thing applies to all of Ghana between December and February.

My favourite time of travel throughout the northern regions is June—mid-December. June—September is the rainy season. The temperature is cooler and the air is still relatively dry. One potential downside of the rainy season, however, is that vegetation will be high, possibly making it difficult to see the elephants at Mole.

Elephants swimming in the lake at Mole
Still, I went during this time on my first trip (August) and we not only found the elephants, but we sat on the edge of the rainy season lake and watched them playing in the water, about thirty metres away, for a good 2 hours. I also went in early January once and, while the lake had shrunk, we did get up close to the elephants. We saw other animals like antelope more clearly and, later, you could spot the elephants on the plains below, far into the distance. October—December see plants drying out and wide-spread burning begins; you can smell smoke hanging in the air. The temperature fluctuates between hot and mild days, but it will become cold at night from mid November (I need two sheets to keep warm now—yay!) to January.

***There is an immigration check point between Bolga and Tamale, just before you enter Tamale (for those coming from Burkina). If you happen to go/come from Bawku, there is also an immigration check point on the western side of Bawku (coming from Togo). You’ll be asked for your passport here like you would in that funny spot in the Volta (see Part 2). Again, there is no legal requirement to show it (just say you left it in Accra/wherever) but there’s no need to create a fuss about it. They’re just doing their job and Ghana immigration (aside from holding my passport for 8 months once) have never been unfairly difficult.

So this ends the highlights. Woohoo. Part 5 will cover sample itineraries.

Painted traditional house in the Upper East Region

November 20, 2009

Ghana Highlights Part 3: Accra to Kumasi and the Brong Ahafo

We have a new site where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion. Read Ghana Highlights Part 3: Accra to Kumasi and the Brong Ahafo there.

Ghana Highlights Part 3: Accra to Kumasi and the Brong Ahafo.

In this part, we’ll cover the highlights in Kumasi and the Ashanti Region, then north to the Brong Ahafo Region. Part 4 (which I created because Part 3 became waaaay too long) will cover the three northern regions.

We’ll introduce the attractions for these locations and a few insider tips too. I’ll explain how to get there from Accra/Takoradi/Cape Coast and Kumasi towards the end of the post. You can read about how to get there from the Volta in the third of the Ghana Highlights posts.

As I said in Parts 1 & Parts 2 (click here for all the Ghana Highlights), every region has something to offer travelers in Ghana: culture, history, arts, crafts, drumming, dancing, weaving, monkeys and elephants—you can sample it all over, from the jungles and beaches of the south, mountains of the east, to the savannah plains of the north.

Highlights we’ll cover in Part 3.
Ashanti: The National Cultural Centre
• Kejetia Market (a link to a bit of a long article I wrote for Boots n All on Kejetia Market)
• Bonwire weaving village
• Lake Bosumtwi, less than an hour from Kumasi
Brong Ahafo: Baobeng Fiema Monkey Sanctuary
Operation Hand In Hand, Nkoranza

Note: I usually quote prices as ‘about’ because the cost of fuel increases by around 15% a month, routinely increasing prices for goods and services across the country, especially transport. All costs have doubled since I first came in 2005. But I traveled extensively this and last year and I’m estimating based on increases on those prices. I attempt to over-estimate so you don’t get a shock, in case something has increased more than expected, which occasionally happens.

A note on language. In Kumasi, Twi is the major local language (and also the official Ghanaian language of Ghana. EDIT: I was quite misinformed about this. There is no official local language of Ghana. I believe Twi is the most widely spoken of the dozens of Ghanaian languages). It’s not that difficult. Almost everyone in Kumasi speaks some English. In the Brong Ahafo, Bono is widely spoken (not the rocker)--a bit like Twi but not quite.

Kejetia station as seen from the board walk above.

Kumasi and the Ashanti Region: If Kumasi had an official adjective, it would be ‘chaos’ a.k.a.: ‘Maxwell Smart Territory’. But don’t let that put you off, like it almost did me. If you’ve been to Rome, imagine an undeveloped version and you get downtown Kumasi, especially Kejetia station where a thousand trotros pass through its one entry/exit daily.

I lived in Kumasi for 4 months while I volunteered at a primary school just outside the city central. I hated it to begin with; I loved it by the time I left. What happened? It has a way of getting under your skin. I think the sense of achievement I felt when I finally braved the market alone and came out alive and where I wanted to be, or finding the right tro at night, had something to do with it. And then there were the kids at school—but that’s another story.

Overall, the atmosphere is more aggressive around town than anywhere I’ve been in Ghana. Street vendors will shout at you in Twi and literally push or pull you at times. A lot of first-timers have the same initial reaction as I: get me out of here NOW! But it’s worth hanging in there. While more in your face than Accra, Kumasi is compact, easier to get around, and is unmatched for energy and vibrancy.

You ought to know about The National Cultural Centre. Aside from being a centre for culture past and present, its sprawling, grassy, shaded grounds provide a haven from the hassle. There is no entry fee and the gates are open seven days a week, but the shops aren’t open on Sundays. You will not be hassled at all if you decide to have a picnic or just sit under the trees and read. There is a library too. You can join or you can hang out.

An excellent, unique batik cloth producer sits right at the back of the grounds if you’re coming from the main gate and have passed all the other craft shops on the right, first. The designs and colours are quite beautiful and different from anything I saw elsewhere.

The other shops offer a selection of high quality arts and crafts, including wood, brass, gold, beads, leather, and cloth from all over Ghana. There is a fair trade beadmaker whose shop sits on the other side from the main row of shops.

The Ashanti’s have an awe-inspiring history and if you want to know more you can pop into the Prempreh II Jubilee Museum in the grounds itself for about 4 C. No photos though.

You could spend anything from an hour to half a day here. There is a small café inside the grounds too serving cold drinks and basic local dishes.

To get to the Cultural Centre: All taxi drivers know it and a dropping from anywhere in the Adom area should be 1.5 C max. From Kejetia: 1 C—it’s just 5 minutes with no traffic. It’s also easy to walk from Kejetia. Exit Kejetia on the Prempreh II/Adom area side (ask anyone there to point you towards Adom or even the shop Melcom, which is on that side, and follow the stream of people heading out onto the main road). When you exit the station turn right. The traffic is coming downhill here from the right. You’ll walk up the hill (and if you’re still on the right-hand side of this road you’ll be able to see down into the chaos of Kejetia station when you get up top—see my photo posted). The main road (called Bantama Road but no one knows the name of it so there’s no point asking for it) curves around to the left. You may want to cross to the other side before it curves left, and keep following it around to the left. Or, you can stay on the right side, but you’ll have to cross a major intersection. Soon, a colourfully painted wall appears on the right when you begin curving left and still walking uphill. After a few minutes you’ll see the large gates for the cultural centre on the right.

Bantama Road: If you keep heading about 5 minutes along Bantama Road from the cultural centre, you’ll hit Bantama proper and a strip of fun, al fresco ‘spots’ where Ghanaians congregate and you can sample plenty of chilled beer and dance on the pavement if you wish. It’s hopping on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, but it has become a bit rowdy in recent times and there’s been some robberies. Just be careful. From here, it should be no more than 2 C dropping to the STC or the Presby.

Kejetia Market: There was a huge fire there earlier this year but the market has recovered and is as chaotic as usual. When you’re in Kejetia station, just ask anyone for the market. It’s five minute walk ‘left’ across the station if you’re facing the Adom area. You’ll see the Asanti stool monument and a Maggi Billboard sign to know you’re heading in the right direction. It scared me at first, but it’s worth it. Just keep wandering along the aisles. There are several rows of great cloth vendors selling mostly wax print cloth.

Where to stay: I stayed at the Presbyterian Guest House several times and it was perfect: simple, clean, well-located and inexpensive. Double rooms are 14 Cedis a night. Its large garden also offers respite from the chaos. There is a restaurant downstairs serving good, inexpensive local dishes and the ubiquitous omelette/tea/milo/Nescafe breakfast. Once, when we rocked up at 1 a.m. and had nowhere to stay, the security man let Godwin and I sleep on the verandah when they were full. It’s just around the corner from the banks (Barclays) in Adom area which is uphill from Kejetia station. More simply, it’s right around the corner from the STC: literally, right once you’re out of the main STC gate, right again around the corner onto a factory-lined main road, and right again at the first corner and up the slight hill on the right. If you arrive late or have to leave very early, it’s convenient. PHONE ahead to reserve a room and tell them if you’ll be late: 051-26966. While STC is around the corner, Kejetia is down the hill from here.

If you’re craving western (or Indian) food, Vic Babboo’s café is also in this area (in front of Barclays). Their lassies or curries (they’re Indian) are very good. Pizzas are also great but the burgers not the best. Use Barclays as a landmark—ask anyone in the area—and navigate downhill (from the roundabout) a couple of corners: it’s two minutes down from Barclays. It’s also an unofficial tourist hub. Ask here for African Rainbow’s flyer or check out other flyers. Ask about local taxi drivers and guides—they’ll be able to set you up.

Loads of rastas hang out in front. ‘Prince’ is a decent guy, and he may well still have some ‘obruni how are you?’ t-shirts for sale. If you don’t want any hassle, just ignore them and mosey on in to the café.

If you’re walking from the Presby to Barclays, you’ll pass the British Council at the junction from the lodge. There is a decent internet café, with a toilet, next door.

Fisherman on Lake Bosumtwi.

Lake Bosumtwi: I love this place. The word here is ‘peace’ (after you pass the initial hassle when you hop off at the lake shore—more below). It’s my ‘Mountain Paradise’ (see Part 2) of the Ashanti Region. I visited on three separate occasions over 4 years. The first two were day trips and each time I wished I could stay longer. So, on the third we spent a few nights at the African Rainbow Lodge. GO THERE! It’s worth it.

While the lake is huge, you can see the far side of this lake. Once you view it yourself, you will see that the landscape was formed from a meteor that made a really big dint, creating the surrounding mountains and a perfect lake. Here, people survive on fishing and cocoa/cassava production. If you stroll outside African Rainbow, you’ll find dozens of cocoa trees along the lake’s shore. Perhaps because there’s no need to worry about waves, the ‘canoes’ are slabs of log that float just above the surface. Dozens of men dot the lake, sitting with their feet in the water, paddling or shifting nets and pulling in their haul all day. You can hike around the lake, take canoe trips for a small fee, and generally hang out and do nothing.

'Hanging around' at African Rainbow.

African Rainbow is a foreign/Ghanaian partnership. While we were there (and we were the only guests mid-week!) the foreign half was elsewhere and the Ghanaians were doing a great job in every respect: service-wise, food-wise, and generally being friendly. They have various levels of accommodation, but if you have the money, the lake-view lodges are worth it. About 25-40 C per night. Call 0243 230 288.

'Dancing on the Jetty' at African Rainbow.

Getting to the lodge. It’s a few kms from where you alight at the lake shore. You can cross by motorboat which is usually waiting at the lake shore, the easiest option—it takes about 15 minutes and is about 5 Cedis. Or, you can hire a taxi to take you from the alighting point to the lodge by a bumpy dirt track for 10 C (but it’s hard to find a driver to agree to this). Or you can walk, but it’s about 1.5 hours walk up and down small hills. The boat seems easiest, but we did haggle a driver to get us there. It took about 20 minutes.

Looking back on African Rainbow from the jetty.

If you go for a day trip--it only takes an hour or so from Kumasi--you could still head over to African Rainbow. Otherwise, the amazingly accommodating staff at the Lake Paradise Resort will let you hang out in their grassy, shaded garden on the lake bank all day as long as you buy drinks or food; their meals are good quality. You find the resort easily (and with a tinge of adventure) like this: Once you alight (and about ten old men approach professing to be the local chief and asking for money—politely say no) walk down to the lake and turn right. Just keep walking right along the shore for about 15 minutes and over a small wooden bridge. On the other side you’ll see a fancy resort. This is the Lake Paradise Resort where many day-trippers hang out. You might want to stay here too. Be respectful, don’t litter, and pull up a place on the grass or a deck chair. Sleep, read, go for a hike. They have nice toilets up behind the hotel car park. Just ask them.

Getting to the lake from Kumasi: If you tro, head to Asafo station, about 10 minutes from the centre of town: 2 Cedis max. for a dropping. You can tro either direct to the lake: ask for Lake Bosumtwi—about 2 C. Or you can head to Kuntanase: 1.5 C, a major stop on the way, and change for a share taxi to the lake: 1 C. The Kuntanase tro is faster than the former and they both leave from Asafo. Note: Whether taxi or tro, before hitting the lake, and after Kuntanase, you’ll encounter a ‘road-block’ where non-Ghanaians are forced to pay a ‘toll’ for the ‘betterment’ of the area. It’s a scam but since you’re captive and there’s no other way to get there, and the drivers won’t budge until you pay, I found it easier to pay. If you want to argue the point, you’re welcome. It was 1 Cedi per foreigner.

African Rainbow again.

If you tro back from the lake, don’t wait until sun down, head off by about 3. You’ll have to wait for a taxi or tro—whichever comes first—back to Kuntanase. If you’re lucky, a tro might go all the way to Kumasi. In Kuntanase, change for a tro to Kumasi—that won’t take too long.

If you taxi, you can negotiate one from the Presby or Vic Babboo’s to the lake for about 60-70 Cedis. If it’s a day trip, the driver can hang out there and bring you back in the afternoon. Note: He will be reluctant to take you to African Rainbow from the lake shore because of the bad track. You’ll probably have to haggle more for that or catch the motorboat across.

Bonwire: If you want to see Ashanti-style Kente weaving in action, you might like to take a day trip or overnight visit to Bonwire, about 30 minutes outside the city. I didn’t visit, but I heard very good things from those who did. The hassle factor was not as bad as they had expected, however, price-wise, you’ll pay at least twice that for cloth here than you would in the Volta, such as at Kpotoe, the village outside Ho I mentioned in Part 2. When you arrive, as with many tourist ‘hot-spots’, boys will approach to guide you. In this case, it’s ok to be guided because it’s difficult, otherwise, to find everything. Tip them, say 2 Cedis, if they’ve spent a few hours with you. If it’s all day, 4 Cedis would be fair. Get there from Kumasi by taking a tro from Manhyiya (‘hy’ is pronounced ‘sh’: Man-shiya) station, in the Ashanti-hene palace area. If you hired a taxi it should be something like 15 C each way.

Getting to Kumasi: It’s Ghana’s second most populous city and it’s also in the middle (west) of the southern half of Ghana, so it’s a major point for vehicles from all over the country and, therefore, easy to get to. Where ever you are, if you ask for Kumasi you can get there.

From Accra: Several options. STC from Kaneshie leaves several times a day and costs about 13 C. Tros leave regularly from Kaneshie for around the same price range. The trip can take anywhere from 4-7 hours due to Accra and Kumasi traffic. Try not to hit Kumasi between peak hours of 7-9 am or 5-8 pm. Whenever I plan itineraries for people, I try to get them to Kumasi from anywhere but Accra, and to arrive by 3 or 4 p.m.

From T’di you can get the STC or a tro. The STC stops to pick up passengers in Cape if they have spare seats. So, if you’re in Cape, you cannot buy a ticket until the STC has departed T’di. They will call ahead and let the Cape office know how many tickets are left and then you can buy one. This is why I generally tro-ed from Cape to Kumasi.

From Cape: You can get a tro from Tantre station behind the Kotakoraba/Hacienda area. Turn at the crab statue and take the first (curving) road to the left. Go straight ahead for 10 minutes and it’s just part the first junction on the right. Ask anyone there. From Kingsway to Tantre it’s 1.5 C max dropping or 15 minutes walk. Tros depart regularly all day to Kumasi. It’s about 6 C.

(They also depart from Tantre to Accra and Tema. For your info, the Accra tros only go as far as Kaneshie, but the Tema tros pass right through Danquah circle and drop you virtually outside Koala supermarket in Osu. It’s more economical doing this. However, I’d only recommend the Tema tro if the vehicle is more than half full because it can take hours to fill up. If it’s not very full, take the Accra tro—unless you’re ok with waiting—and change at Kaneshie.)

Incidentally (and this will be covered in Part 4) an STC leaves T’di at 7 a.m. and Cape at 9 a.m. every Friday morning straight up to Bolgatanga, with rest stops in Kumasi, Kintampo, Techiman and Tamale. It takes about 12 hours and I recommend this if you want to travel to Tamale or Bolga. From Bolga, it’s much easier planning your trip south at all the stops on the way, and negotiating the terrible Tamale timetable to Mole—without having to overnight in Tamale (you leave Bolga on a tro by 8 a.m. and you’ll be in Tamale by 11 latest in time to buy tickets and leave that day for Mole). Frankly, Bolga is much more attractive and welcoming (with plenty more to do) than Tamale so it’s worth spending time here and just using Tamale to get to and from Mole. Sorry Tamale, but if you lift your game my opinion might change. More in Part 4, later this week.

Brong Ahafo: Most travelers only step off the bus for 10 minutes at Techiman and Kintampo on the route between the south of Ghana and Tamale. If you have time, however, I thoroughly recommend hanging out at Operation Hand in Hand in Nkoranza for a day or two and using it as a base to see the monkey sanctuary. Alternatively, you could see it on the way down from the north by catching a tro from Tamale to Techiman direct (about 4 hours) and 10 minutes on to Nkoranza in another tro. Or catching the STC to Kumasi (paying the full fare) but getting off early at Techiman. From Kumasi, it’s 3 hours north on a trotro from Kejetia.

Operation Hand in Hand is a Dutch-managed orphanage with a good restaurant and guest accommodation that is on par with the likes of Green Turtle/Ko-Sa for appearance and quality. By staying there you help fund their program and you benefit by getting a first-hand view of, arguably, the best-run orphanage in the country (I’ve visited many and they usually remind me of the awful footage from Romanian orphanages that hit the headlines some years back), and economically priced accommodation in a delightful setting—a springboard for the monkey sanctuary. It overlooks a valley and has the feel of an oasis in the jungle.

Want to meditate? For something quite unique, try their Hermitage room which is inside a spacious rock cave on the escarpment among huge trees. One wall is covered in net and overlooks the plantation below. Inside the cave is a simple double foam mattress on a natural rock dais. It’s brilliant.

This photo was taken at the 'disco' under their summer hut on Saturday afternoon.

The orphanage is for mentally handicapped children who have been orphaned or, more commonly, abandoned by their family and community because of beliefs that their handicap may curse others—or there is just not enough money to care for them. Ignorance about mental and physical disabilities is still pretty high in much of Ghana. Some children are immobile, others quite mobile and alert, especially the Downs Syndrome children.

They also run a volunteer programme so you’re likely to come across people from all over helping out. They run a bead workshop where the older, mobile teens, mostly those with Downs, create truly attractive beaded jewelry for sale. They export it to fair trade shops in the Netherlands. The orphanage is operated with the expectation that the children/grown up children will live here for the rest of their life unless their families or communities agree to take them back.

Baobeng Fiema Monkey Sanctuary: I heard great things from those who visited here. From OHIH you can get a share taxi on to the sanctuary, about a half hour trip each way. Just ask at the orphanage for their help in directing you. It’s an easy day trip from the orphanage. Monkeys galore.

When to visit Kumasi/Ashanti and Brong Ahafo: It’s fine all year round and, in what seems like a counter-intuitive phenomenon, it is cooler in Kumasi during the hot months of January and February than it is on the coast, possibly because it’s a bit higher above sea level.

I hope this helps. If you have any questions, please let me know.

November 14, 2009

Ghana Highlights: How to get from Volta to Kumasi or ‘the north’ without returning to Accra or Koforidua

We have a new site where you can read all articles from This is Ghana in a much more organised fashion. Read Ghana Highlights: How to get from Volta to Kumasi or ‘the north’ without returning to Accra or Koforidua there.

Note: The road from the northern Volta through Yendi and Bimbilla to Tamale is virtually unpassable. You can try it, but I’ve been told it can take 2-3 days.

So, if you wish to take ‘the path less traveled’ from the Volta Region, across Lake Volta and the Afram Plains, and on to Kumasi and further, this is how it works. To see all the Ghana Highlights on one page click here.

You need an overnight stay in Donkorkrom (aka. Donkey Kong, for the alcoholically sated—there isn’t much else to do).

Kpando, about a quarter-way up Lake Volta’s eastern shore, is the jumping off point to cross the lake.

This is not the same service as the Akosombo-Yeji Ferry which travels up the lake, south to north (also an option, but notoriously unreliable). This is the Kpando-Agordeke ferry that travels across the lake, east to west. Note: you can travel the entire journey in the opposite direction.

The ferry crossing is a 2 hour journey and costs about 4 Cedis. The lake has an eerie atmosphere as if spirits are floating in the mist. The tops of dead trees from when the area was flooded to create the dam still poke above the surface.

The key here is to work around the ferry departure time. It is supposed to depart at 1 p.m., but you know how time is. Aim to get there by 11 or 12. Bring some snacks. Find the ticket man and buy tickets. It should take you 40 minutes from Hohoe to Kpando on a tro—at most, about the same from Fume, and about 1.5 hours from Ho to Kpando.

Kpando port across Lake Volta to Agordeke: 2 hours, ferry

Agordeke port to Donkorkrom (DKK): 40 minutes: tro. You’ll arrive as the sun is setting. The one decent motel is St. Michaels at 12 Cedis per double. Just ask someone. Very, very basic. Don’t worry about it being over-booked. Few tourists pass through here. Maybe more after this post! Order (very simple) food in advance or find street chop.

So, you stay overnight in DKK: the middle of the patch of land between the two southern arms of Lake Volta.

Now, if you continue on, you travel across land to the next port, Ekye, then cross the lower western branch of the lake again. Adowso is the town on the far side (Kumasi side) of the lake. From Adowso you cross the mountains to Nkawkaw, on the main Accra-Kumasi highway, and then continue to Kumasi.

I began this leg in DKK at 9 a.m, took share taxi to Ekye, canoe over lake, tro over mountains (great journey) to Nkawkaw, and another tro to Kumasi, and arrived in Kumasi by 2.30 p.m. that day. Quite reasonable. Not much waiting. Fun. Adventurous.

This is the tricky bit. The ferry leaves Ekye port in the afternoon, around 3 p.m., and trotros from DKK to Ekye don’t leave DKK until 1 p.m. So you’re stuck in DKK all morning and there

ain’t much to do.

But the journey from DKK to Ekye port is only an hour. If there happens to be a tro heading there anyway, you’re lucky—about 2 Cedis. If not, the alternative is to hire a taxi (as I did) or hitch. It would be about 40 Cedis for 4 seats. However, we bargained it down and suggested the driver pick up others, which he did.

This crossing is only about 20 minutes and there are plenty of motorized canoes to take you across, so you don’t have to wait all day for the ferry crossing. You can be on the other side of the lake at Adowso by 10.30 a.m. if you leave DKK at nine by taxi or manage to find a lift. Earlier if you’re an early bird (which I’m not).

There is always at least one tro waiting at Adowso and crossing over the mountains to Nkawkaw takes about 2 hours. Finding a tro from Nkawkaw to Kumasi is quick, as it’s a major stop on the highway, and the journey is about 1.5 hours.

All in all this is an adventurous and exceedingly more interesting journey if you want to get from somewhere in the Volta to, say, Kumasi or the north of Ghana.

For my money, it beats returning to Accra (4 hours), then crossing Accra (nightmare) to the next tro station or whichever bus station (say, Kaneshie) to find a vehicle to go to Kumasi or Tamale, which may entail an overnight stay in Accra—expensive—and more crossing town probably for some ungodly departure time like 5 a.m. The Accra-Kumasi highway is an awful experience—4-6 hours for what should really be 3. Even if you go from the Volta to Koforidua, you’re still stuck with the Accra-Kumasi Highway from K’dua.

From Hohoe, the total travel time to Accra and on to Kumasi is 10 hours minimum, but more like 14-15 hours with waiting and stops.

From Hohoe to K’si via Koforidua is about 12 hours.

The actual traveling time for the ‘path less traveled’ across the lake is about 5 hours maximum on day 1 (even from Ho), and 5 hours maximum on day 2. The waiting parts of the journey are pleasant (Kpando on the lake for the ferry), the ferry crossings are relaxing, and you see a whole other part of Ghana that very few Ghanaians or tourists ever experience. And the hassle and stress factor is almost zero.

If you do take this path, let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear about your experience.

Ghana Highlights Part 2: Accra to Eastern Region and the Volta

This post inspired and underpinned the 20 page section, Part 3: Accra to the Eastern and Volta Regions, of our guide Insider's Guide to Ghana. However, we rewrote, re-organised, updated and expanded the information in our full guide, as per its index:

Introduction: 205
Major Highlights: 205
- Koforidua Bead Market: 206
- Toilets—Koforidua: 206
- Stay in Koforidua: 208
- Ananse Village: 208
- To & From Koforidua—How to: 209
- Cedi Beads: 210
- Agomanya Bead Market: 210
- Stay in Atimpoku: 211
- Aylo’s Bay: 211
- To & From Atimpoku—How to: 212
- Kpotoe Weaving Village: 213
- Toilets—Ho: 214
- Stay in Ho: 214
- To & From Ho—How to: 216
- To & From Mountain Paradise: 217
- Stay in Wli: 218
- Waterfall Lodge: 218
- Waterview Heights: 219
- To & From Wli & Ho—How to: 219
- Kpando Pottery Fesi Shed: 220
- Kpando to Agordeke Ferry: 221

Here is our original post:

As I said in Part 1: Accra to Cape Coast and the Western Region, every region has something to offer travelers in Ghana: culture, history, arts, crafts, drumming, dancing, beaches, monkeys and elephants—you can sample it all over, from the jungles and beaches of the south, mountains of the east, to the Savannah plains of the north.

In this part, we’ll cover the highlights from Accra to the Eastern Region and on to the Volta Region. Click here for all the Ghana Highlights on one page.

NOTE: There is a (somewhat oddly situated) immigration check point located between Ho/Hohoe and Akosombo (I remember the exact location). Currently there is no legal requirement to produce your passport so you do not have to if you're asked to produce it here. Be nice about it if you choose not to; there's no reason to be rude, especially with officials. If you do produce it, as long as you are legal there is no reason for anyone to withhold it from you. I never had trouble here, but some travelers have started arguments with officials, thereby holding up their vehicle and all the vehicles behind them. Be civil and all shall be well.

Indeed, the mountains and valleys, waterfalls, fresh air (which cools to a goose-bump chill at night and is so cold that you actually want to sit around a campfire at night), few tourists, clean villages, weaving and bead-making traditions, and excellent cuisine make this one of Ghana’s most rewarding areas through which to journey. It’s, hands-down, my favourite. I know, I’m not being very patriotic to my former or present homes (Cape, Kumasi or Bolga), but the Volta is gorgeous, especially between May—December. It’s hot and dusty (like most of Ghana) during Jan-April: dry and Harmattan season. This quick google search returned a selection of photos from the Volta Region.

A note on language. The major language groups in this region are Krobo in the eastern part of the Eastern Region, bordering with the Volta. And in the Volta, from the coast to the northern Volta, it’s Ewe (pronounced both Ay-way or Eh-veh, depending on the speaker—also spoken in Togo and Benin). In this region, the ‘K’ that precedes many place names, such as ‘Kpando’, is silent, but the ‘p’ following is ‘aspirated’, similar to the first p when you pronounce ‘pop’. So Kpando (the port town from which you’ll cross Lake Volta if you want to take the road less traveled to get to Kumasi) is pronounced, phonetically: 'Pahndoh'.

Highlights we’ll cover. You can pick and choose your route by joining the dots.
• Koforidua Bead Market
• Cedi Bead Factory
• Agomanya Market
• Atimpoku, Aylo's Bay, and the river at Akosombo Bridge
• Ho and Kpoetoe (Pehtweh) weaving village
Mountain Paradise Lodge and Biakpa
• Wli and the waterfall

There are several ways to cover this region. Many travel directly from Accra up to Hohoe on a tro (from Tudu station—near the Novotel Hotel), and then to Wli Waterfalls, and work their way south from there. Others work their way north, stopping and staying overnight at points along the way. Tudu, incidentally, is just as hectic as Kaneshie.

In this guide, we’ll work north, stopping at the highlights.

Important: If you do not want to take the bead-making tour through the Eastern Region, you can go straight to Atimpoku (the town on the Accra side of Akosombo Bridge) on a tro along the smooth Tema Highway from 37 station. Scroll straight down this post to Akosombo Bridge/Atimpoku to skip the bead making journey.

Accra to Atimpoku and Akosombo Bridge via Koforidua: Bead-making.
Intro: If you do want to sample bead-making, then the main points are Accra-Koforidua-Cedi Bead Factory-Agomanya Market—Atimpoku. You can pick and choose whichever stops suit you.

Beads on display at Koforidua Bead Market. Photo courtesy of Picasa attribution licence by Danielgr.

Koforidua: Ghana’s largest bead market is held every Thursday morning until about mid-afternoon in the main town square—everyone knows it, so just ask around once you’re in town. You can purchase old trading beads (anywhere between 2-10 Cedis, depending on its size), chevrons, painted beads, recycled glass bottle beads, shell beads, coconut husk beads, brass molded beads, and pretty much every type of bead made in Ghana and West Africa. You can bargain a little—about 10-20% off the quoted price. There are usually quite a few tourists here for the market day. You can get a tro from 37 tro station to Koforidua, which is the capital of the Eastern Region at, say, 6 a.m. and arrive there by 9 or 10.

From Koforidua heading to Atimpoku town/Akosombo Bridge: If you don’t want to stop at the Cedi Bead factory, you can go straight to Atimpoku by heading first to Kpong on a tro (east) from K’dua’s main tro station. From Kpong, Atimpoku is a ten minute share taxi or tro ride north.

And, if you don’t want to stop at Atimpoku, you can go straight to Ho from Koforidua. If you’re not interested in Ho and weaving, you can go straight to Mt Paradise (more below). If you’re not interested in Mt Paradise, you can go straight to Hohoe and on to Wli and the waterfalls. You get the picture.

Choosing trotro and bus routes is like playing join the dots. All the dots of each town and village are connected, you simply decide if you want to stop, or bypass, and catch the tro from main town to main town, accordingly.

Sign post for Cedi Beads. Courtesy of flickr attribution licence by kalyan

Cedi Beads: A quick note on the word ‘Cedi’. It’s derived from the Twi word for cowrie shell, or 'cediee'. These shells were used as currency in Ghana in times past, and Nkrumah adopted it as the name of the currency post independence.

Cedi Bead Factory’s specialty is recycled glass bottle beads made from melting recycled bottles. You can stop in and watch bead makers at work (reminding me somewhat of mosaic workshops in Italy). They sell beads at good prices and since there is no entry fee, it’s good form to purchase something from the shop. The prices are much better here, obviously, than almost anywhere else.

Cedi Bead Factory is located off a junction on the main road from Koforidua to Kpong, between the towns of Somanya and Odumase Krobo. Pass through Somanya town, then after 5-10 minutes you hit the junction on the right to Cedi Beads; from the junction walk 20 mins or catch taxi to the factory; return same way and catch any tro to Kpong which will pass through Krobo then hit Kpong in about 15 minutes.

Alternatively, if you’re coming the other way, head to Somanya from Kpong but hop off at the Cedi Bead junction after passing through Krobo. The junction will be 5-10 mins on the left past Krobo. After the factory, back on the main road, you can get tros going to Koforidua, Accra or back to Kpong.

Agomanya Market: Another treasure for beads is the Agomanya Market which operates on Wednesdays and Saturdays. This is also off the main road between Krobo and Kpong. It’s on the left heading from Kpong towards Krobo and right heading from Krobo to Kpong. The junction is a few minutes between the two towns.

Global Mamas has a bead-making arm in Krobo and you can read the women's stories and see some of their beaded products here.

If you wish to bypass the Koforidua market and go straight to the Atimpoku/Akosombo area and still visit a bead market, you could tro from Accra to Kpong, and change for a taxi for the fifteen minutes to the Agomanya market for half a day, and then go back to Kpong, and then travel another ten minutes to Atimpoku and continue the journey up through the Volta. Or, if you’re really into beads you could go Kpong, Agomanya Market, Cedi beads and then back to Kpong.

OK. So now you’re at Kpong. Bead tour finished or bypassed. Kpong to Atimpoku, the village on the Accra side of Akosombo bridge, is about 10 minutes ride north. When the bridge looms on your right, and you see the river, get ready to jump down at Atimpoku, if that’s where you want to stop. If you wish to go straight to Ho or Hohoe, you’ll cross the bridge and keep heading north.

View from pontoon of chalets sitting on water at Aylo's Bay. Photo courtesy of flickr attribution licence by jofleet.

Akosombo Bridge/Atimpoku: There is a guest lodge called Aylo’s Bay, operated by friendly Ghanaians, that is well worth one, if not two, night’s stop. A row of fancy, self-contained chalets sit on the river with their own verandah that leads down a ramp to a pontoon upon which sits a floating, shaded summer hut with table and chairs. Yes, you can have dinner floating on the Volta River as boats and canoes pass by. I dove from the pontoon and swam in the river. While it looks as if there is a strong current, it’s just surface deep; you hardly feel any pull in the water. There are less expensive rooms behind the three chalets but, if you have the budget, it’s worth splurging on the river-front chalets. Weedy islands float in the river and you can paddle around for about 5 Cedis in a hired canoe for an hour or so. You can read more about Akosombo Dam here.

View onto river and pontoon from chalet. Photo courtesy of flickr attribution licence by jofleet

If it were easy to get from Bolga, where I live, to the Volta, I’d be here all the time. (But the road from Bolga via Yendi and Bimbilla to the northern Volta is, sadly, almost unpassable.)

As I wrote earlier, you can go straight from Accra (37 Station) to Atimpoku in about an hour, bypassing the bead-making area. Simple. You jump off the tro before it crosses Akosombo Bridge. To get to Aylo’s Bay, don’t turn right and cross the bridge, just keep walking straight ahead along the highway. The river will be on your right. Aylo’s Bay is about a ten minute walk. The driveway to the lodge is well signposted and just happens to be past the (resortish-looking but bland) Akosombo Continental Hotel. Step right down the driveway into Aylo’s and find the reception in the bar/restaurant. Hang out. Relax. Dream of setting up your own Aylo’s. Everyone does.

Akosombo Bridge as viewed from Aylo's Bay. Photo courtesy of flickr attribution licence by acameronhuff

From Atimpoku it’s relatively easy to join a tro heading either to Ho, if you’re interested in weaving, or north to Hohoe, because passengers would drop at Atimpoku and you can take their place. If you do have trouble, it’s easy to backtrack to Kpong for 10 mins, then join a station car heading to those two destinations.

I should mention here that I didn’t include Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary as a highlight because I’ve not heard one positive review from the many, many volunteers and travelers I've spoken to who visited. I never visited myself because, well, the consensus was never good. Baobang Fiena, north of Kumasi is, apparently, the place to go (and ties in nicely with a highlight for the next section).

A young man weaving a length of cloth--in Kpotoe it's mostly a man's job

Ho and Kpotoe Weavers: Ho is home to one of Ghana’s best volunteer organisations, VEG Ghana. I like Ho as a base from which to visit Kpotoe (‘Peh-tweh’) weaving village, which is a thirty minute’s tro ride through rolling plains, framed by low-lying mountains, from Ho’s central tro station. Making your way through the village where weavers work outside their mostly mud huts, and ten foot long threads held by stones peak from behind walls, is a joy. When you turn the corner, you’ll find a weaver on the other end of the threads diligently creating lengths of cloth. You can buy directly from the weavers for a fraction of the price you’ll pay elsewhere. A few entrepreneurial types have set up shop too. I bought a beautiful, multi-coloured throw of different pieces of cloth for about 40 Cedis. There is a weaving centre, but they charge a fee and it’s underwhelming.

(If you decide to head back to the coast, you could return to Accra from Ho via Aflao, the town on the border with Togo, by the ocean, an easy tro journey. Tros leave regularly from Ho’s central station. You can travel from Aflao back to Accra in about eight hours. From Aflao you tro through Keta, the home of Eli the amazing cook I wrote about in Ghana’s secret food spots. Keta, ocean on one side, lagoon on the other, will certainly be underwater in the not too distant future. This is the one part of the coast I haven’t traveled, but those I know who have highly recommend taking this journey.)

Otherwise, Ho to Mountain Paradise Lodge or Atimpoku to Mountain Paradise Lodge. I loved this lodge, a former government rest house, which sits on a promontory among mountains near the Togo border. It has the feel of a family weekender with just the bare essentials. Perfect. There is no electricity, and water is stored in tanks, and that’s how I like it. Tony, the owner, is Ghanaian. There are guided walks throughout the valley to the Kulugu Waterfalls. My friend and I decided to go it alone, got terribly lost all up and down the mountains, and never did find any falls. We had a ball anyway, but I have heard it is well worth taking a guide and finding the falls. Cocoa is grown around here and you’ll find rotting pods and leaves along the trails.

Photo by raysto at flickr under attribution licence. Road through Biakpa village, just 20 minutes downhill from Mountain Paradise Lodge.

The village of Biakpa is quite possibly the most tranquil spot in Ghana. Turn left out of the lodge’s driveway, keep walking downhill along the (unusually white) dirt road and you’ll end up in Biakpa in about 20 minutes. Plantain and banana trees shade the main dirt road. Take a stroll in the late afternoon. Virtually no tourists pass here so it’s hassle free and quiet.

But I digress--and I urge you to too. The easiest way to get to Mountain Paradise is by hopping off at Fume on the main road between Ho and Hohoe. It’s the same main road as if you’re traveling from Accra or from Atimpoku to Hohoe. Just tell the driver you’ll stop at Fume junction. They all know it. At Fume’s little junction you can brave the heart-pumping, 2 hour walk up bend after bend to the lodge. Or you could hire a taxi, and there are plenty waiting for you, for about 8 Cedis. Um, from personal experience, having walked up because the guide book said it took 45 minutes, I’d taxi up and walk down in future. The walk down takes an hour.

Wli Waterfalls: The waterfalls are reached from the village of Wli. You must stop at Hohoe and change for either a tro or a taxi to Wli, 30 minutes east, on the border of Togo.

If you start at Fume, wait at the junction and flag down a tro heading north to Hohoe—the next big stop. If you’re coming from the south, just catch any tro heading to Hohoe. At Hohoe station ask around for the Wli tro (pronounced variably “Vlih” or “Wlih” depending on who you speak to). There are two main lodges there, equally good. Waterfall Lodge (please click the link for their email and phone--they have no network coverage so they visit town to get texts and emails) is owned by a German couple and Waterview Heights is owned by Ghanaians who, incidentally, worked in Cambodia for an intl org. The income saved there funded their establishment. They’ll happily chat with you on the verandah. Waterfall Lodge has the advantage of sitting in a lovely garden overlooking the upper falls in the distance. It’s just fifty metres down the dirt track to the guide centre that takes you into the park and the falls. Their German-cuisine-focused menu is delicious. Waterview Heights is a few roads behind and serves good Ghanaian and continental dishes. You can stay at one, eat at the other; it’s only a ten minute walk between them.

I adored Wli for its clean, quiet charm and the mountains that reminded me of bushranger territory in Australia. On one occasion I was there for Christmas and it was lovely to watch the town go about its quiet celebrations, singing hymns in church where palm fronds had been plaited, decorating the open church windows.

This photo was from Flickr's attribution licence: by Stig Nygaard

And then there are the waterfalls. We took a guide, which I strongly recommend, and hiked to the upper falls. It almost killed me. If you have average stamina and a strong will, you can do it. The falls are lovely and the air at the upper falls is, I would wager, the coldest in Ghana. It was freezing. I pulled my sarong around me. My friend found a fresh water crab way up there in the rock pools from the waterfall. The walk down is tough on your knees but you won’t pass out from exhaustion. You can venture into the lower falls pool and stand under the waterfall. My friend said it was at once frighteningly heavy, then surprisingly light, and he was surrounded by rainbows in every direction.

Now, from here you can either return to Hohoe (taxi from main road in centre of Wli to Hohoe) straight to Accra (4 hours). Or, you could do the reverse trip down, stopping along the way. Or, you could go to Kumasi and then head on north, traveling to Koforidua and along the highway to Kumasi. To Koforidua: 4 hours, and on to Kumasi: 5-6 hours. Or, you could do that route less traveled thing across Lake Volta. I have created a separate post for that here.

This is the view of Wli from the trail leading to the upper falls.

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