Looking for ideas for a two-week holiday in Ghana? We've come up with an itinerary that showcases the best of the country.
St George's Castle in Elmina, founded in 1482, is the oldest extant colonial building in sub-Saharan Africa © Ariadne Van Zandbergen
Ghana, like the other modern states of West Africa, is fundamentally a European creation of the late 19th century. For this reason, it would be thoroughly misleading to write about Ghana as a meaningful entity prior to the colonial era. True, as long ago as 1700, the coast of modern-day Ghana stood firmly at the epicentre of the European maritime trade out of West Africa, while the Ashanti Empire gave political and social cohesion to much of the area between the coastal belt and the Black Volta. But even as recently as 1873, when Britain established its Gold Coast Colony, few would have foreseen the eventual existence of a political state with borders approximating present-day Ghana. Indeed, it was only in 1902 that the central and northern parts of Ghana were annexed to the colony, while the interior east of what is now Lake Volta, which formed part of German Togoland before World War I, was mandated to Britain by the League of Nations in 1919.
Ghana is a country with great birding potential; pictured here, a blue-bellied roller © Ariadne Van Zandbergen
Most of southern Ghana – that is, for about 250km inland of the Atlantic – supports a natural cover of rainforest or moist semi-deciduous forest. Unfortunately, while southern Ghana remains very lushly vegetated, the clearing of forest for cultivation together with logging activities mean there are now few areas of true rainforest left intact outside designated reserves. For most visitors, exposure to this habitat is limited to a day trip to Kakum National Park, which is noted for its unique and spectacular canopy walkway, but there are countless other opportunities for more adventurous travellers to explore Ghana’s forests. These include the readily accessible Owabi Forest Reserve and Bobiri Butterfly Sanctuary close to Kumasi, the Ankassa Resource Reserve in the far southwest, and a handful of more obscure national parks and reserves suited to self-sufficient hikers.
Ghana lacks the vast conservation areas and huge herds of wildlife associated with eastern and southern Africa. Indeed, several large mammals typically associated with Africa do not occur in Ghana at all, for instance rhino, zebra, wildebeest and gorilla, while many other large mammal species have been driven to extinction in Ghana, notably giraffe, cheetah and African wild dog. The status of several other large mammal species, including lion, is highly vulnerable. For all that, Ghana still offers some great opportunities for game viewing, with a wide variety of large mammals present, and monkeys, in particular, well represented and easily observed.
Music is intrinsic to Ghanaian life © Laurent Nilles
English is the official national language, and it is widely spoken as a result of the country’s long links with Britain and an unusually high standard of education from colonial times to the present day. A total of at least 46 African languages and 76 dialects are spoken in Ghana, generally divided into the Akan, Mole-Dagbani, Ewe and Ga language groups. Twi is the main Akan tongue, first language to roughly half the population, including both the Ashanti and Fante, and widely spoken elsewhere in central and southern parts of the country.
West Africa is well known for its vibrant music scene, and for many years Ghana was perhaps the leading innovator when it came to styles that fused traditional African sounds with foreign influences, such as the richly percussive ‘highlife’, developed in the 1920s along the ports of what was then the Gold Coast. Popular sounds of reggae, hip-hop and dancehall from artists like Stonebwoy, Sarkodie, Shatta Wale and the departed-too-soon Ebony provide a repetitive street soundtrack that will quickly feel familiar – as will the charming visual of the spontaneous dancing that breaks out every time a mere 15 seconds of afrobeat plays. Less easy to hear are the myriad traditional musical styles that hark from all ten regions, generally drum-based in the south, more reliant on fiddles and xylophones in the far north. It is in the north, though, that you are most likely to hear the peculiar ‘talking drum’, an instrument associated with the Sahel, as well as colourfully robed ensembles of Dagomba drummers.