Difference between revisions of "Ghana"
Revision as of 02:55, 9 April 2009
Roughly from South(west) to North(east):
Ghana is a very friendly country, ideal for first time travellers to Africa, the people are generally very helpful and welcoming. While their laidback attitude and lack of organized tourist sights/trips can be a little annoying to begin with, before you have been there for very long you realize that it is one of the delights of this country.
Tourism in Ghana is growing very quickly, and more tour operators are seeing increased requests for Ghana as a travel destination.
Ghana is also rich in Gold. Their people have a very rich culture and they have a very stable country with great potential for growth.
While visas on arrival are supposed to be available for visitors from countries without Ghanaian embassies or consulates, in practice this works spottily if at all and some travellers have not been able to even board the plane without a visa. It's thus best to play it safe and get a visa in advance. The Ghanaian government's online Ghana list of embassies is out of date, but this list  is fairly reliable. A three-month single-entry visa costs US$50; a one-year, multiple entry visa costs $80. You must have a yellow fever vaccination certificate which will be presented to customs when entering. Malaria course essential.
Travelers that are staying longer than their entry visa (a maximum of 30 or 60 days are usually granted for tourists) are advised to bring their passport for visa extension to Immigration Service early and expect delays in getting their passports back. Two weeks are provided as the guideline for processing time, but this can often take much longer. If you don't want to go through the hassle of Immigration Service, you may consider going to Togo and back to get a visa stamp at the border.
All International flights are through Kotoka International airport at Accra (ACC), it is very central and there are always lots of taxis available, a taxi ride anywhere in the city shouldn't cost more than 4 cedis. North American Airlines flies non-stop once a week from New York City (JFK) and Baltimore (BWI) through May 20th, 2008. Delta Air Lines serves Accra from New York City (JFK) with four flights per week. British Airways flies from London Heathrow, and Ghana International Airlines and Astraeus fly from London Gatwick. The Royal Dutch airlines (KLM) flies daily from Schiphol, Amsterdam. Lufthansa and Alitalia maintain daily direct flights from Frankfurt and Milan respectively, with a short stop in Lagos, Nigeria. Emirates flies daily non-stop from Dubai in the Middle East (with connections to Asia and the Far East). Ethiopian Airlines flies four weekly non-stops from Addis Ababa (with stopover, you can visit another African country). Also, South African Airways flies four times a week non-stop from Johannesburg. If coming from Brazil or nearby, the flight from Rio to Luanda, Angola on Angola Airlines would be the shortest. From there, you can go non-stop to Accra.
The lowest fares to Ghana outside of Africa are usually from London, but that doesn't necessarily mean British Airways is the cheapest (i.e. a transfer inside continental Europe may be required). Afriqiyah Airways is one of the cheapest airlines maintaining flights to Accra, from London Gatwick via Tripoli. Those living in North America might be able to save by getting a cheap ticket to London from their home country. (Beware that there are two separate international airports, Gatwick and Heathrow, and allow lots of connection time.)
Photos of the small but well run airport 
No international rail connections exist.
The border at Aflao with Togo is an entertaining scene. It appears very disorderly and human traffic seems to flow freely. However it is unlikely that a caucasion person can pass through without all the formalities. The process of filling out forms and checking visas can take quite a while for non-diplomats. Soldiers on the Togo side are likely to ask for a bribe but need not be paid if all of your documents are in order. Border officials on the Ghanaian side in contrast are much more difficult to bribe. A visa into Ghana can be bought at the border at double the normal cost (because of the speedy delivery) for some GH₵110.
By bus: Ghana's national bus company, Metro Mass Company, run services within the capital city, Accra, and within other regions in Ghana. STC run bus services to & from cities within Ghana and some nearby countries.
There are scheduled domestic flights 2 - 3 times a day between Accra, Kumasi, Sekondi and Tamale in the north including flights by Antrak Air. There are also filghts to destinations outside the country.
CityLink also flies between Accra and Kumasi, etc. www.flycitylink.com
There are rail links between Accra, Takoradi and Kumasi. The train is very slow and it travels at night so you won't see much, but with the ghana train system currently undertaking rehabilitation it will be vastly improved with new stations and faster more frequent trains.
Roads are variable. In Accra most are fairly good. Significant improvements are being made on the main road between Accra and Kumasi. Most of the roads outside Accra apart from the major ones are dirt tracks. The road between Techiman and Bole is particularly bad and should be avoided if possible. For travel on most roads in the North of the country a 4x4 is required, a saloon car will cope with some of them in the dry season but is not recommended.
Also it should be noted that cars with foreign registration are not allowed to circulate between 6pm and 6am. Only Ghanaian registered vehicles are allowed on the road at this time. Non compliance can result in fines and the impounding of the vehicle for the night.
STC is the main coach company. They operate long distance domestic and international services. Probably the safest way to travel long distance, and are also pretty quick compared to other options, although even on these services breakdowns are reasonably frequent. STC operate between Accra, Kumasi, Takoradi, Tamale, Cape Coast and other main cities. 'Express' or 'Air-conditioned' services are quicker and a lot more comfortable than the ordinary services and are now available on the Accra-Kumasi, Accra-Tamale, Accra-Bolgatanga routes. Buy your tickets a day in advance though, often times they will be full if you wait until the day of travel. Also, expect to pay for your luggage based upon its weight. It should rarely be over 1/3 the price of the ticket.
Several other companies also operate bus services between the major towns, these include OSA and Kingdom Travel, their service is marginally more reliable than tro-tros but there isn't much in it.
MPlaza Tours also operated bus service between Accra, Kumasi, etc. What's nice about MPlaza is that it has its own gated bus terminal(s).
A 'Tro-tro' is a term that covers almost any sort of vehicle that has been adapted to fit in as many people, possessions, and occasionally livestock, as possible. Tro-tros are typically old, 12-passenger VW vans. Similarly to 'shared' taxis, tro-tros will run along fixed routes and have fixed fares, and will rarely run with less than capacity [so be prepared to wait]. They are inexpensive (cheaper than shared taxis and STC buses) and fares should reflect distance traveled, however they have a questionable safety record and frequently breakdown. Breakdowns however are usually not too much of a problem since they will break down in a route where other tro-tro's run, so you can just grab another one. Although they generally run point to point they will usually pick and drop on route if required. They make runs within the city (i.e. Circle to Osu for GH₵.20) as well as intercity routes. They are often the only option between remote towns but are not recommended for long journeys. Tro-tros are an excellent way to meet Ghanaians, and are always great for a cultural adventure. Sometimes they will make you pay extra for luggage, and occasionally they will try to overcharge, so try bargaining
Taxis are prevalent, and as a tourist you will find they find you quick enough if you need one. To charter a taxi is more expensive than to share one, but prices are negotiable and can be bartered over. Always settle on a fare before getting in. A taxi for a very short route should be no more than GH₵1.00, longer GH₵2.50-5.00 and GH₵7.00 should be enough for anywhere in the city. Fares continue to fluctuate with the fuel prices on the international market. About 1 in every 10 taxi drivers will probably try to cheat you for a higher price if you're a foreigner. In Accra and the major cities most taxis that will stop for you assume you require a charter taxi and unless you are on a very strict budget it's usually easiest to do this. In more remote areas, shared taxis are most common.
Because Ghana was colonized by the British, English has become the official language, and many Ghanians (particularly in urban centres) you'll meet will be able to speak English. Official government documents are kept in English, but there over 40 distinct languages spoken in Ghana including English, Twi, Ga, Ewe, Dagbani, and so on. "Obruni", the Akan word for foreigner literally means "white man", is generally shouted to greet any tourist in an unoffensive way (sometimes). Obruni is used in a similar way as the word "Toubab" is used further west in Mali, Guinea, the Gambia and Senegal.
Pidgin English is about the the most typical form of English you will find. With phrases like: "my head de bash", meaning "I have a headache".
In the Northern Regions and among Ghanaian Muslims in general, the Hausa language is used as a lingua franca.
Ghana Cedi was redenominated July 2007. The new "Ghana Cedi" (GH₵) equals 10,000 old cedis. During the transition period of six months, the old cedi is known as "cedi", and the new cedi is known as "Ghana Cedi". Be aware that most Ghanaians still think in old currency. This can be very confusing (and costly). Ten thousand old cedis are habitually referred to as ten (or twenty, or thirty). This would, today, be one, two or three "new" Ghana cedis. So always think whether the quoted price makes sense before buying or agreeing on a taxi fare. If in doubt ask whether this is new cedis.
US Dollars are accepted by some of the major tourist hotels but you shouldn't rely on this. As in all West African countries, older dollar bills will be rejected by banks and Forex bureaus. If you intend to take dollar notes make sure that they are all from the 2007 series or above. EURO in cash are the most useful currency to take with you and you will sometimes find that bars/restaurants will be willing to change them for you if you need Cedis outside banking hours.
Approximate exchange rates as of Feb. 14, 2009, are:
There are many Forex Bureaus in Accra, and a few in the other major cities. It is very difficult to change travelers cheques and certainly almost impossible outside Accra and Kumasi, unless you change them at a major bank. Barclays has branches in Accra, Kumasi, Cape Coast, and even Tamale where you can change travelers cheques. Expect lines. VISA cards are accepted at major hotels and there are ATMs in Accra, Kumasi and Cape Coast which accept VISA. Be aware that the Cape Coast cash machine is frequently empty. At the main branch of Barclays Bank in Accra you can get a cash advance on your VISA or MasterCard provided you have your passport with you.
Bargaining is very much expected in the markets. Large cities such as Accra have markets open every day, but travelers get the true flavor of the country if they have the opportunity to visit a village market on the day of the week that it is open. Most goods will be staple goods, but cloth, beads, musical instruments, bags, and even CD's are usually available.
Kente cloth, drums and wooden designs, such as masks and "sacred stools" can be found on almost any street in any tourist area in Ghana.
Adinkrah Symbols & Sacred Stools
The sacred stools have tradional Adinkrah "motif" designs in them that can mean many things having to do with God, love, strength, community, and much more. Finding a guidebook which will tell you what each symbol means is advisable to prevent the possibility of buying a stool that doesn't mean what you think it is.
Gye Nyame is by far the most popular Adinkrah symbol. It means "Only God". Other popular stools are the "Wisdom Knot" and the one with the character holding many sticks together, which cannot be broken, to symbolize the strength of community.
Food is extremely cheap in Ghana. Traditional food is fun to try and easy to enjoy. Fufu, the most widely served traditional dish, consists of pounded balls of yam, plantain, or cassava served with soup, called a stew, and a side of goat meat or fish. Stews are typically made of groundnuts, okra, other vegetables, and a large amount of palm oil. Banku is a fermented corn version of the dish.
Rice dishes are also typical, but not considered a "real" meal by many Ghanaians, males especially. Jollof rice is a dish as varied as its chef, but generally consists of white rice cooked with vegetables, meat pieces, spices, and palm oil. Waakye is a mix of beans and rice, typically served with gari, a powder of ground cassava. Often rice dishes are served with shredded lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes on the side with a dollop of Heinz salad cream or mayonnaise. Such meals are extremely cheap from street vendors and come as little as GH₵1.50 to GH₵2.50.
Plantains, yams, and sweet potatoes are prepared in various ways and serve as small snacks. Kelewele, a spiced fried plantain snack, is especially delicious. Fresh fruits such as pineapple, mango, papaya, coconut, oranges, and bananas are delightful when in season and come when applicable by the bag for as little as 10 cents.
A great African meal in a restaurant can cost as little as GH₵3.00 to GH₵7.00. For instance, a lobster and shrimp dinner can cost a mere GH₵6. There are also a number of Western and Chinese style restaurants available especially in Osu, a trendy suburb of Accra.
Drinking water from the tap is not generally considered to be safe, so choices include plastic bottled water (eg. Voltic, 1.5l appx. GH₵0.60), boiled or filtered tap water, and "pure water" sachets. These sachets are filtered and come in 500 ml. portions. Many foreigners prefer bottled water. Water in sealed plastic sachets is generally not considered safe. Athough easily accessible and an unique experience, small studies have shown varying amounts of fecal bacteria suggestive the source may be tap water. If you want to play it safe, stick with carbonated beverages.
In Accra's expat visited bars, a beer will cost between GH₵1.50 and GH₵2.50. Fruit juices GH₵1.00, water GH₵0.80 to GH₵1.00. Star and Club are two of the more popular beers served. For a more interesting and rewarding experience, visit a "spot," a bar signified by the blue and white stripes on the outside of the building. They are cheaper and you will undoubtedly be able to meet some local Ghanaians as well as hear the newest hip-life songs.
A soft drink such as Coke, Fanta, 7UP (called "minerals" by locals) are widely available for GH₵0.25.
Be aware that the bottles that minerals or beer is served to you in are owned by the bottling company-if you do not return it to the seller, they stand to lose GH₵0.50 cedis-more than you most likely paid for the drink. If you are not going to consume the drink at the "spot" or at the roadside stand, make sure you let the seller know. Often, you will be asked for a deposit which will be returned upon the return of the bottle.
There are many wonderful places to stay in Ghana. There are many options including lavish hotels or more rustic places to stay. Cheap, decent hotel rooms can run as low as GH₵12.00. A better room can go as low as GH₵20.00.
For longer stays (a few months) it is possible to rent a house. Houses for rent are advertised in local newspapers and also in those places frequented by expats - Koala supermarket, Ryan's Irish pub etc.
Ghana has three major public universities. The largest of these is the University of Ghana, located in Legon, a suburb of the capital, Accra. Other universities are located at Cape Coast (University of Cape Coast) and Kumasi (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, or "Tech"). Smaller public universities include the University of Education at Winneba, the University of Development Studies with a main campus at Tamale and several other campuses around the north, and the University of Mines and Technology in Tarkwa, Western Region. There are also several private universities and colleges, both religious and non-religious.
There are some good schools while others aren't that great. Teachers are usually very strict and respect from the students is very important.
Ghana is currently a very safe, stable country with relatively low crime levels compared to other West African countries. Take sensible precautions but be assured it is quite safe.
Bywel's bar in Osu is a frequent hangout of expats on Thursday nights meaning that it is target for muggings. Be sure to leave in a large group and enter a taxi immediately upon exiting the bar.
Cases have also been reported of people snatching cell phones in the streets. Avoid using your cell phone out in the open if you do not absolutely need to. You may run the risk of having someone snatch it from you.
Be aware that chloroquine-resistant malaria is widespread and you must take sufficient malaria protection including mosquito avoidance, mosquito repellants, and chemical prophylaxis. Yellow fever vaccination is required for entry into the country. Hepatitis A&B, Cholera and Typhoid fever innoculation is also recommended.
Risk of Meningitis is high in the northern third of Ghana which is a part of the Meningitis belt of Africa. This applies especially during the dry windy periods from December to June. A polysaccharide vaccine is available for Meningitis types A, C, Y and W135.
Although the AIDS/HIV rate is lower than other sub-Saharan African countries, do not have unprotected sex. Receiving a blood transfusion while in Ghana greatly increases your risk of acquiring HIV. Also you should avoid contact with still freshwater as there is a risk of schistosomiasis.
Some restaurants will approach European health standards, but be prepared to pay for this. Smaller restaurants, often called "chop bars," will likely not meet these standards.
Because of the tropical climate near the coast, travelers will need to stay hydrated. Bottled water is available everywhere. Volta Water has been a reliable brand, but do check to make sure the seal has not been broken.
Do try and pick up on respectful practice (such as not eating or offering with your left hand), but in general Ghanaians are quite accepting of tourists getting it wrong. Greetings are very important. Ghanians are not forgiving of people who do not take time to greet others. Sometimes greetings come in the form of a salute accompanied by a "good morning" or "good afternoon". The expected response is the same (a salute with a "good morning or afternoon").
Telephone and postal services can be unreliable within Ghana itself but international post, at least to and from Accra is reasonably reliable (approx a week either way to the UK for example). Ghanatelecom is the most widespread phone company, but is not yet entirely reliable or widespread. The mobile network is good in urban areas. With a recent ICT boom in the country's urban areas, you're never too far away from an internet cafe where one hour of internet access should cost GH₵0.50 to GH₵1.00.