“Akwaaba”. Welcome. The year is still 2020 and travel is virtually at a standstill with the covid-19 pandemic. The month was November and after much consideration and adjustments, for good reason with constraint decision, we travelled with our oldest two children to Ghana. The girls were so excited, our nine year old, Bi-Neh, started learning Twi, the most commonly spoken language in Ghana besides English. After spending six hours learning on YouTube videos, she had memorized 25 most common conversational sayings. Before we knew it, our 5 year-old was spewing Twi words at the dinner table, his favorite being “Medaase” or “Thank you”. Mark and I last visited Ghana eight years ago without kids and we would soon find a lot had changed in this bustling and fast-growing metropolis.
We caught a direct flight from JFK International Airport to Accra. This was very convenient as we avoided stopping or laying over in Europe especially with covid-19 testing guidelines for travel requiring negative test results within 72hours of boarding all flights. Upon arrival we were impressed with the new Kotoka International Airport. Not only is it much bigger than the previous but it is much better organized and the process through immigration and baggage pick up was super easy. It maintains a great location and easy accessibility averaging between 20-30minutes from most of Accra during non-rush hour periods. We were picked up by family but with the touch of an app you can easily arrange for transportation using familiar services such as Bolt and Uber. Please note the vehicles typically used around the city by these services are small and holds a maximum capacity of four people. For a larger family, I would recommend renting a larger vehicle from a company such as Hertz or Avis Car Rental.
Once in the city, we settled in for an early dinner. There are many options for dining especially with children. As a rule wherever we travel, we try to get a feel for the local cuisine. A restaurant like Star Bites maintains a good level of customer service while serving a blend of local cuisine with options for general fare. We opted for Mama’s Kitchen which from the name you can expect Ghanaian favorites such as Rice and groundnut (peanut) soup, Banku with Okra soup or Palm nut soup which come with meat choices of goat, chicken and the peculiar snail (escargot). More familiar African flavors would be found in dishes such as Kelewele and there is always the safe choice of salads, grilled meats, fried plantains. For the health conscious and for a more urban or lighter fare restaurants such as Café Kwae, Green Eats and Dawadawa restaurant are good options depending on where you are in the city. Lastly, if the kids want to stick with what they know, there are the familiar Burger King and KFC fast food restaurants around the city as well.
Where to Stay:
Depending on your budget and preferences, Accra offers many housing accommodation options. With children, it can be easiest to rent a luxury apartment on AirBnB and a search with Expedia will easily give such options. However, for a stress-free stay a hotel such as MovenPick Ambassador Hotel is a great choice. This hotel will appeal to a city lover given its central location in town close to the Ministries, Makola Market, Arts Centre, Independence Square and many more. A perfect fit for the art aficionado given its elaborate pieces of African/Ghanaian art throughout the hotel. It is known to have the largest swimming pool in the city and is kid friendly with a zero entry pool. This hotel provides several amenities as can be expected at any 5 star resort. Another great option is the Golden Tulip and we particularly love this hotel because in addition to all the amenities at MovenPick it has tennis courts which is a huge plus for our tennis playing girls!
Labadi Beach Hotel provides a more quaint and detached experience located south of the city on the beach, travelers can expect a quiet and family friendly experience
Things to Do (Learning Opportunities)
You can always get a tour guide through the city with several different activities, however when traveling with kids remember having flexibility is key especially because they will learn more when they are having fun. We first visited Independence Square also locally known as black star square. This monument was built by Ghana’s first president, Dr Kwame Nkrumah in 1961 to pay homage to England’s Queen Elizabeth II shortly after the nation gained independence in 1957. The grounds are beautiful to walk around and contains a large open space from which one can easily see the sandy beach along the coast. While here a few hundred meters away, is the Osu Castle. This impressive structure was initially built in the 1600 by the Danish and occupied by the Dutch, British and Portuguese at different time all active in the slave trade during that time period. At present time it is used as a house of parliament and was previously the seat of government. There are tours available to explore what used to be dungeons of slave holding cells, a chapel for slavers and the door of no return.
A monumental next stop would be the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and memorial park. This impressive structure was dedicated in 1992 to the first president of Ghana and his wife whose bodies are housed there. The grounds used to be old British polo grounds and covers over 5acres of land on which the museum and mausoleum are built. The museum contains a historical account of the life of Nkrumah and some of his personal effects while the mausoleum has a bronze statue of the former president flanked by two springs leading to bare chested flute blowers seemingly signaling the arrival of a dignitary presumably Nkrumah.
For children who want to explore nature in the city, the Legon Botanical gardens provides a fun and adventurous break from the hustle and bustle. We all had fun exploring the gardens and the canopy walk which is well supported by metal cables for those who may be afraid of heights! If not, grab a harness and begin wall and rock/wall climbing – the park also has tables and benches for a quick picnic.
Speaking of nature and being outside, we learned how the city of Accra got its name! The word Accra is derived form the word “Nkran” which means ants in the Akan language. As you can see below, I’ve encountered some giant anthills!
About 30minutes from Accra are the Aburi Botanical gardens and the nearby Tetteh Quarshie cocoa farm is worth a visit. These botanical gardens span over 160 acres and provide a great opportunity for some physical activity while exploring and learning details about the unique trees and foliage found here. There are signs and posts about the grounds with educational tidbits so one is sure to learn even on a self-guided tour. The park typically has a few other visitors and has never been overcrowded when we have visited.
With Ghana being one of the world’s largest exporters of cocoa, second only to the neighboring Ivory Coast, visiting a cocoa farm has become a popular activity for travelers who visit Aburi. During this tour one will learn about the legendary Tetteh Quarshie, the Ghanaian who introduced mass cultivation of the cocoa pod with the first seeds sown here in Mampong. Danish missionaries are thought to have been the first to grow cocoa along the Gold Coast but in 1870 Tetteh Quarshie, a blacksmith, is said to have traveled to Fernando Po (Bioko), an island in Equatorial Guinea and upon his return brought with him the seeds for cocoa which he planted and shared with local farmers in the Mampong region. The cultivation of cocoa flourished so much that Ghana is said to have produced up to 50% of all world production until 1980s when several plantations were lost to mass fires. One of the original cocoa trees planted in 1879 still stands tall in the Tetteh Quarshie farm. More recently, Ghana’s ministry of Tourism has commissioned the construction of the Tetteh Quarshie Cocoa Museum where visitors will learn about the history and cocoa processing from harvesting to fermenting, roasting and manufacturing. There is even anticipation about making chocolates with samples for guests and who doesn’t like a little chocolate?
Accra boasts of several miles of waterfront and we chose to enjoy a day at the beach none other than Labadi Beach Hotel. This section of the beach is private, quiet and for a minimal fee, non-staying guests can equally enjoy access to the beach and other resort amenities such as the zero entry pool, a spa and restaurant. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, other beachfront properties where closed at this time.
On a previous visit, we spent a beach day at La Palm Royal Beach Hotel. The Ghanaian Village restaurant and waterfront has an ambience worth writing home about and I must say the food was rather tasty.
Shopping: We typically avoid shopping during our travels except for a few souvenirs or memorabilia. If there is a must have item needed during your stay, there are several shops at the Accra Mall. However, given the traffic in the city, it is recommended to purchase online and get a delivery service to deliver to your hotel or current location. These services are quite common and run a similar model like UberEats or DoorDash except that you can get any items delivered from clothing apparel to groceries. This convenience saves time and hassle through the city.
If you like to experience firsthand shopping in an open market as most markets are in Africa, Makola market is there for you! Located along Kojo Thompson Road, one can encounter traders ready to sell their ware. If one is up for a good bargain and banter, there are deals to be had here. I do not recommend it for little kids as it can be noisy and quite busy to process.
Another common trade not unique but very prominent on the streets of Accra is hawking. Hawkers bob and weave through traffic with street snacks being the most popular sale, but any imaginable item is fair game. Snacks such as chopped sugar cane, oranges, plantain chips, roasted peanuts, tiger nuts, bread, quick bakes as well as windshield wipers, shoe polish, hairbrushes and combs can be found in the hands of these hawkers. Along wide avenues and corners of commercial streets, fresh coconut water is sold straight out the coconut to passersby. Our kids love the process of selecting the coconut and having the vendor chop and cut out the top of the coconut before handing it over to the buyer who is often delighted by the refreshing taste of cool coconut water under the otherwise unforgivingly hot Accra sun.
Off The Beaten Path
Kumasi – Five hour drive from Accra
Traditional Kente cloth weaver – The kente cloth textile is unique to Ghana and is traditionally worn like a toga by royalty among ethnic groups. The Ashanti Empire in the 17th century was the most dominant ethnic group and the word “kente” means basket in the Akan or Ashanti language. It is also called “nwentoma” which means woven cloth. It is an intricately woven piece of silk and cotton into patterns, symbols, and colors which communicate different meanings. Ashanti legend tells a story of two farmers observed Anansi, a spider, spinning a complex web and attempted to reproduce this pattern using white and black fibers of a raffia tree. They presented this cloth to the Ashanti King Nana Osei Tutu and this laid the inspiration for the art of which has evolved into kente cloth weaving. This is a craft typically performed by men and one can observe the process at kente cloth weaving centers in Kumasi.
Akosombo – Two hour drive from Accra
Volta Dam: -With a lot of recreational tours suspended or closed due to covid-19 pandemic, we ventured out to Akosombo. The Akosombo or Volta River Dam is made of compacted rocks and stands at 124m tall and 660m long, it holds back the waters of the Volta Lake which is by surface area the largest man made lake in the world and it is no doubt quite impressive. The dam was constructed between 1961 and 1965 and is the primary source for electricity for most of the country. It is always a nice teaching moment to see the great embankment and the reservoirs water rushing over it to hit the foundation of dam thus generating power/electricity. The electricity was primarily generated to fuel Ghana’s booming aluminum industry but has since been for public utilities and still powers over half of the country. We were not able to see the dam this time but have included photos from when we did 8 years ago. Nonetheless, one can access the Volta Lake and steal some moments of tranquil and serenity. There is still the option of boating along the river a few hundred meters further away from the dam. This entire region is a true break from the city as we drove past mountains and hills of lush green vegetation. We even got to see some baboons leisurely traversing the roads here! While out here we had lunch at the Afrikiko Riverfront Resort which provided lakefront dining with a variety of meal options to include Ghanaian favorites as well as European options such as sandwiches and pasta dishes.
Cape Coast -Two hours drive from Accra
This is a monumental stop for several visitors to Ghana and for many the sole reason they make the trip. The original inhabitants of this region in the 15th century were presumably of the Fante ethnic group. Cape Coast Castle which was originally built in 1555 by the Portuguese was originally a Portuguese “feitoria” or trading post. It was originally a center for the trade in timber and gold and it was later used for the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Other Ghanaian slave castles are Elimina Castle and Fort Christiansborg.
Elamina castle which was originally built in 1482 by the Portuguese to protect the trade of gold was known as Castelo da Mina or the Castle of the Mine. This castle is the oldest European slave trading post erected in all of Sub Saharan Africa. It was captured by the Dutch in 1637 and became the main post for holding and trading slaves to Brazil and the Caribbean. In the 1800s the British took over ownership of the castle and the infamous “door of no return” became the last memory of the continent for over 30,000 slaves who would board the ships annually on that journey across the Atlantic. Upon independence from Britain in 1957, the castle has been under Ghanaian ownership and is recognized as a UNESCO site of world heritage.
Staying Safe (In Case of Urgency)
Ghana has a health system which is reliable and access to care is well established. There are both public and private options and in either case, I would recommend purchasing a travel insurance that includes in case of medical emergency coverage. Allianz is a global insurance carrier and provides good coverage across the continent with offices in most major African cities. While in Accra, should the need for medical attention arise, Lister Hospital is an excellent facility in Airport Hills Estate and for outpatient or ambulatory services, we recommend Nyaho Medical Centre on Kofi Annan St which we used for pre-travel covid testing. The level of care and expertise is commendable and their use of mobile health platforms facilitate what can be an otherwise challenging task in any new health system.
So with all the above information, I hope to have peaked interest and post pandemic travel plans! I look forward to further inquiry, comments, other travel tips from fellow avid travelers and for details on travel itinerary and tours. I can be reached at email@example.com. With travel dates on your calendar, I am ready to help customize your experience to build the travel package (transportation, accommodations and excursions) your family can embark on and ensure you travel responsibly!
For more photos and memoires of our trip, visit: https://photos.google.com/share/AF1QipPXydQqDbd6ivG4Kc5rZ0GSq73q6kuTR9G9clNHo74YG5GLHXPhMP_KxQQGJNwsDQ