Difference between revisions of "Accra"
Revision as of 22:28, 13 January 2008
Accra is the capital of Ghana.
Accra has a population of 1,661,400 (in 2001). The main local languages here are Ga and Twi, pronounced 'ch-wee' Ewe and Hausa but there are many other languages in the country. Accra has rich western looking buildings and dusty shanty towns.
Founded during the 17th century by the Ga people, Accra became the capital of the British Gold Coast in 1877. Following Ghanaian independence in 1957, Accra became the capital of Ghana.
Kotoka International Airport  is a major hub, with international connections from North America, Europe, Africa and the Middle East, along with internal connections to Kumasi and Tamale.
SUV or Car with driver
If you need an SUV or a sedan there are plenty of affordable options because even the best drivers earn only about $15 a day in Accra. You can book directly from Avis and local rental companies at the larger hotels, such as the Golden Tulip, La Palm, or La Badi Beach. Cars are available on short notice but if you want a van or SUV it is best to book ahead. Rates for car and driver are about $9 (Cedis 80,000) an hour. For a $75 you can book a ten hour day, but fuel is extra. Rates increase if you leave metro Accra, which is fair because poor roads add to the wear and tear on the vehicle. Toyota Land Cruisers are a popular choice and are widely available.
Accra is relatively safe to walk around during the day (and night, in many areas). Watch out for open sewers, automobiles, (even in the city) when walking the streets.
To flag a taxi wave your arm with your finger pointed down to the ground. On a busy street you will have many taxis driving past trying to offer you their service. There are no meters on Ghanaian taxis. You must negotiate how much you are willing to pay before you start the trip. Try to ask someone local how much a trip to a certain location usually costs.
Taxis are generally easy to identify. The two front side panels and the two real side panels are normally painted a different colour from the rest of the vehicle.
That said, the most important way of recognising taxis are by the number plates--they, like many commercial vehicles, always have a yellow background, with black lettering, as compared to the private vehicles that have white background, with black lettering.
There are some taxis with meters in them. They are generally more expensive, but you can be a little more sure about how much they will cost.
These follow fixed routes, similar to taxi's and have fixed rates per passenger. These can be a very useful way to get about the centre of Accra. The rate is not dependant upon numbers of passengers, so you may be lucky enough to travel in a taxi alone for a fifth the rate you'd have paid to flag it down.
TroTros are very crowded and dilapidated private vans that act as the city's public transit system. TroTros travel along a well known routes in the city, and stop at various points along the way (some stops have signs, others don't). As a TroTro approaches a stop, a "mate" (the driver's assistant) will usually yell out the side of the window where the TroTro is going.
Accra's best attractions are scattered across a relatively wide area, so if you can afford the modest prices the best thing to do is hire a car and driver (see above) to take you around. Travel companies offer drivers who double as well-informed guides, which helps as interpretive exhibits and brochures (if you can find them) leave much to be desired.
The best beach in Accra. Located between two of Accra's most expensive hotels-- La Palm and La Badi Beach--this short stretch of the Atlantic Coast features several makeshift cafe-restaurants, lots of souvenir vendors, and if you are lucky (i.e. on good weather weekends) an amazing cast of characters who will entertain you with drumming, dancing, pony rides, and acrobatic performances. Some people actually go for a swim, but there's plenty to do on-shore. Don't miss it. (Warning: this is a prime-time venue, one highly "not recommended" after dark.) The beach is 'offically' accessible only from an entrance at La By-pass (Labadi Road) for a fee of 20,000 cedis. If you are a guest at La Plam or Labadi Beach Hotel you can access the beach for free through the back gate. (N.B.: it is reported that non-hotel guests can enjoy the facilities - pool, fitness, sauna - for 90,000 cedis a day at La Badi Beach--a good deal if it is true.)
Jamestown is the oldest part of Accra, and is similar in many ways to Zanzibar's 'Stonetown' though it has not yet been restored, and so it is not typically highlighted on tourist itineraries. That's a shame because it is one of the most memorable sights in the city. Jamestown is a short distance west from Independence Square; from the busy street the only real sights are the lighthouse, a prison building housed inside an old colonial fort, and the old Customs House. From the lighthouse there is a road which takes you to the otherwise hidden delight: one of the largest working fishing harbors in Ghana. Go early in the morning and see dozens of small boats bring in the day's catch. It's best to find a friendly local guide so you don't miss the hidden alleys, old stone houses, and fantastic cliff-top harbor vistas.
There is go karting near labadi beach and a bowling alley in teshi. Osu also has a go karting ring.
Makola market, in Accra's busy downtown, includes an entire street and alley full of fabric shops where you'll find wax-print pagnes (or kitenges, for those who learned their fabric vocab in East Africa), as well as embroidered and beaded cotton and tulle for special occasions. Look for wax prints from Ghana Traditional Prints (GTP) and the Akosombo Textile Company, which issue a wide range of new designs annually. Woodin, an upscale fabric store with outlets in Osu and at the A&P shopping mall in East Legon, sells a variety of shiny patterned cottons, batiks, and ready-made clothes.
Kaneshie Market (easily identifiable as "the three-story yellow Maggi monstronsity") is both a transit center and a great place to shop. You'll find food and household items on the first floor; beads, hair salons, shoes, handbags, and beauty products on the second floor, and fabric shops and seamstresses on the third floor. If you arrange to have something sewn by one of Kaneshie's very competent seamstresses or tailers, be sure to remember the shop number (usually posted right above the door), so you can find them again in the maze that is the third floor.
For curio shopping, the National Cultural Center near Black Star Square is an overwhelming but well-stocked option. A smaller curio market can be found at Tetteh Quarshie Circle, adjacent to the off-ramp leading toward Dzorwulu and Lapaz.
Wild Gecko (between Tetteh Quarshie Circle and the Univ of Ghana-Legon campus) sells a variety of crafts, upscale curios, furniture, and batik clothing. Be sure to check out the extensive collection of Christmas ornaments, including Adinkra symbols. Venture down the dirt road from Wild Gecko and you'll find several smaller but well-stocked pottery and craft stores.
For a more westernized shopping experience, visit Palace Shopping Mall, situated on Spintex Road. It is a large department store selling everything from the smallest of items (i.e: padlocks, topperwares, vases), to more high-end, larger products (i.e: LCD TVs, furniture, treadmills, jacuzzis). A great place to spend an hour or so of shopping, with over 15,000 products for sale!
Eat out at one of Osu's many trendy restaurants. Osu, a suburb of Accra, is known for its nightlife and multitude of Chinese, Western, and fast-food restaurants.
Located in Labone near the Metro TV building, "Maquis Tante Marie" is an Ivorian-owned restaurant serving a variety of African cuisines in a pleasant garden setting. The chicken yassa and couscous-veggie dishes are especially good. Be sure to bring bug repellent in the evenings, as the area seems to have one of the highest concentrations of mosquitoes in Accra.
Frankie's on Oxford Street in Osu is the most popular oasis for westerners in Accra. The western-style food is at best mediocre, but its clean, air conditioned room and central location makes it an ideal place for a breather after getting a too large dose of Africa.
For many years 'The Tulip' has been the gold-standard for high-quality accommodation in Accra. Extremely well-located on Independence Avenue just five minutes from the Airport, the Tulip has an unexpected amount of character and charm for a business hotel. It manges to feel somewhat African, but with a buttoned-down Dutch cleanliness that is welcome, especialy to travelers in Africa for the first time. The downstairs lobby bar and pool-side dining, live music, and gallery of local artists are excellent. The hotel's business center provides the most reliable WiFi you'll find anywhere in town (with Skype-capable bandwidth, no less.) But the food is mostly just OK; unimaginative, but thankfully anti-septically prepared. The rooms are small, a bit smelly, and very much in need of new carpets. The Chalets are the place to be if you decide to stay in this hotel, but they are generally held for those booking two-weeks or more at a time. If you like to play tennis, the courts here will suit you just fine, provided you've bought your whites.
This hotel has good atmosphere, especially if you yearn for a Graham Greene-inspired fantasy British Colonial-era experience. The lobby is all dark wood, leather sofa, campaign furniture and ceiling fans. Queen Elizabeth slept here; and Prime Minister Tony Blair. More recent guests include quite a few airline flight crews, and far-too many US Government/Military contractors who spend long hours at the bar each night boring other guests with their "thoughts" about Africa which are--predictably-- a bit naive, if not downright creepy. The pool and gardens are nice, the Western-style buffet is excellent, and the rooms are small but well-appointed, most with balconies. Best feature: it is on the beach at La Badi, so there is always something happening just footsteps away. Downside: it is a long drive from the center of town or the airport, and traffic in Accra gets more congested each month. Unless you are in Ghana for a vacation, this isn't the best location.
Right next door to La Badi Beach Hotel. A perfect contrast to La Badi's "Graham Greene-inspired fantasy British Colonial-era experience" this hotel reflects the post-modern pan-African style of the wife of Ghana's decade-plus military ruler, Air Force Lt. Jerry Rawlings, who gets credit for the hotel's best feature: it's authentic, Ghananian-inspired design theme. Somewhat sterile, and the hotel survives because-- despite all its failings-- it has panche, along with a great location on the beach. Yet with five restaurants, it somehow manages to produce good food only in the hotel's flagship outdoor 'African Village' which is indeed a charming breezy and architecturally distinctive venue worth a visit even if you are not staying as a guest of the hotel. Sunday brunch is particularly good, but dinner or drinks any night work equally well. Avoid the main dining room, room service, or Bali Hai, Equator, or other 'international' offerings. The pool is nice and there is WiFi. You'll appreciate the attentive staff, who make up for the indifferent management, awful food, and generally run-down facilities.
The African Regent Hotel is the best-kept secret in Accra. Opened in March 2007 in time for Ghana's 50th Jubilee, this mid-rise hotel is minutes from Kotoka International Airport, across from the equally new Accra Mall. The decor is great; hard to describe, but when you see it you'll immediately have a sense of what non-kitschy authentic African style should look like. And the hotel's dining room offers impeccable food for breakfast lunch or dinner. The sleeping rooms are clean, airy, and well-furnished, complete with in-room broadband, and flat-screen cable TV. There is a nice pool, and a first-rate health club.