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Ghana: West Africa for Beginners

A beginner's guide for you who dream of traveling to West Africa. You can conveniently start in Ghana - you will not regret it.
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Ghana: West Africa for Beginners is written by Anne Marie Simonsen.

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Akwaaba!

Wherever you travel in Ghana, you will be greeted with an “Akwaaba”, which means welcome in the local tribal language Twi. It is impossible not to follow.

Ghana is located in West Africa and borders Ivory Coast to the west, Togo to the east, Burkina Faso to the north and Atlantic to the south. In Ghana, the official language is English, but there is also a sea of ​​local tribal languages, such as Twi, Ga and Akan, that you will hear if you go on adventures outside the capital Accra.

Ghana is often called "West Africa for beginners", and that is not entirely wrong. Ghana is a real one good place to start, if you've never been to the African continent. This undoubtedly makes it easier for the vast majority to understand English, although language challenges can arise if you travel very far in the countryside.

However, there is always someone who is ready to help - whether that means they have to pick up the English teacher from the neighboring village. And that is exactly what characterizes Ghanaians; their helpfulness. It is incredibly important that you as a traveler - as a guest in their country - have a fantastic experience that you can take home and tell about.

Unfortunately, Ghana has suffered during the Ebola crisis in 2014, which spread to much of the West African region but never reached Ghana. Prior to 2014, Ghana was one of the most popular 'volunteer' destinations, but with the Ebola outbreak, the number of volunteers and tourists has dropped drastically.

I myself lived in Ghana in 2015 and it was striking how few Europeans had found their way to the West African country. Tourists are slowly starting to return, but Ghana is far from a tourist magnet, which is a shame as the country has so much to offer. So if you are ready for an authentic experience without lots of tourists, then is Ghana worth a visit.

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A trip to Ghana with a modern twist

For every time I am in Ghana, a new African hipster-style café has opened and it is no longer only in Accra that one can enjoy a good cup of coffee. Other big cities like Kumasi, Tamale and Cape Coast have also got their 'smoothie bars' with fresh mango juice and iced coffee.

Ghana has in a way reinvented itself and has given the authentic West African style, architecture and food a modern welcome twist. You will therefore find an incredible number of good restaurants serving local food, which is adapted to the European stomach without too much chili and other strong spices.

That said, you can still find plenty of small local restaurants with plastic tables and chairs where gazelle kebab skewers are fried over the grill and the latest afrobeat song blares out of the speaker. Where the locals just stop by after a long day of work to get a Star beer to digest the day on, and where there is dancing until well into the night on the weekends.

It can only be recommended to visit one of these so-called 'Chop bars'. But feel free to ask locals for advice so you avoid stomach aches.

A good tip when traveling to Ghana is generally to stay far away from 'joints', as the small local restaurants are also called. They are located along the country roads or at the bus stations, and I speak here from bitter experience, for I was unlucky enough to drink some unfiltered water.

If you are going by bus out of Accra, be sure to buy some water and food on the way in one of Accra's supermarkets, where you will be able to find some of the same things as in a Danish supermarket.

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Ghana - everything takes its time

When you travel to Ghana, several daily flights depart from Kastrup with a stopover in Amsterdam, Brussels or London. You may be lucky enough to get a ticket with KLM for around 4500 kroner, but in the high season over Christmas it costs a little more. Most planes land in the evening and this results in very long queues at passport control.

But take a deep breath and rejoice that live 'high-life' music is being played by a local band while you wait. Welcome to Ghana! Everything takes longer down here, but if you can find peace with it, then Ghana will sweep its legs away from under you.

The first thing I do when I'm waiting for my luggage is to get a SIM card from one of the many telemarketers standing by the luggage area. It's a little cheaper to buy outside the airport, but it's nice to have the opportunity to get online right away.

They have Uber in Accra and it works great. Then download the Uber app before arrival so you can order an Uber while waiting for your luggage. It may take a little while, but as I said; it does everything in Ghana.

Another option is to be picked up by your hotel or hostel - it can be a bit of a mouthful to stand and negotiate price with a taxi driver after a long flight. Ghanaians are loud and can quickly get to the top. But don’t worry, nothing is so serious that they can’t laugh after five minutes again.

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Explore Accra

I love Accra. Unfortunately, far too many rush out of town and further up the coast or north for safaris. Accra has got a vibrant cultural scene with new museums and art exhibitions popping up everywhere. The nightlife is like in big metropolises in Europe, United States og Asia. There are events and concerts every night.

The Markola market is one must, where you can buy all the African fabric that the heart desires. So try to stay in Accra for a few days and explore the Aburi Botanical Garden or a short walk past the Jamestown district, where you will be greeted by colorful houses and Danish street names. The Danes have left their mark on the old part of Accra and many other places in Ghana.

If you are going north to the town of Tamale to go on safari, then I would recommend you to fly. But if you have the courage on the Ghanaian country roads and are not in a hurry, then you can consider passing Kumasi on the way north. Kumasi is the stronghold of the Ashanti tribe, and here you can experience traditional dances and tribal culture by visiting one of Ghana's most powerful kings, Osei Tutu II, in his magnificent castle.

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From Accra to Cape Coast and further west

Cape Coast is Ghana's biggest tourist magnet, and for good reason. The beaches are unspoilt, but compared to Asia's bounty beaches, the beaches are characterized by the wild roar of the Atlantic Ocean.

The water here is colder than the quiet crystal clear water that you find in e.g. Thailand. Therefore, Ghana has become an ideal surfing destination for surfers who have the courage to try something new. However, there are some coves at Dixove, Ghana's southernmost point, with calm waters and wide seafront promenades that are ideal for beach-hungry tourists.

Another attraction is Kakum National Park; a rainforest located a few hours drive from the Cape Coast. More than 100 different bird species and monkeys live here, and it is possible to take a guided "Canopy Tree Walk" in the treetops.

The serious bird enthusiasts can spend the night in the rainforest and even be lucky to spot elephants as well. If the cultural pulls, then the fort Cape Coast Castle - the former 'Carlsborg' - is not to be missed.

It is a powerful experience to hear about the slaves who lived in miserable conditions at Cape Coast Castle before being sent to the sugar plantations in West Indies, Jamaica og United States. A storytelling that we do not hear much about Denmark, even though we are a big part of Ghana's history.

Yes, Ghana has a lot to offer. It's just about deciding what to see and packing a good portion of patiently in the suitcase.

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Good trip to Ghana!

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About the travel writer

Anne Marie Simonsen

For Anne Marie, traveling is much more than a passion - it's a lifestyle. She grew up in a family that is spread all over the globe, so traveling and exploring the world has always been a natural part of her life. She has been afraid to fly and for a few years had to quench the urge to travel by traveling Europe thinly by train, but after traveling all over Bangladesh in small old local propeller planes, the horror is being cured.

Anne Marie has a very special fondness for Southeast Asia and West Africa, where she has lived and worked for a number of years, thereby getting very close to the locals. She always travels with her notebook and camera to capture local life in the best possible way.

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