Ghana has been called “Gold Coast” by the British up until 1957, and prior to that, “Mina” meaning “mine” by the Portuguese. These names allude to Ghana’s enormous mineral wealth, with an abundance of gold discovered between the Ankobra and the Volta rivers. Ghana, as we know it today, was seen as a giant gold mine. Ghana has experienced much change over the past few decades and is now emerging from its turbulent past to realize its potential and live up to its previous name “Gold Coast” not only due to its mineral wealth, but also due to its rich and vibrant culture and lifestyle.
Ghana’s economy has experienced steady growth in the past decade, and with it, the rise of a growing middle class. In Accra, this growing influence has seen the dawn of high end fashion stores, international restaurants, boutique hotels and of course Uber.
Increased foreign interest in Ghana as an emerging market has led to more and more expatriates calling Accra home. The entry of many international brands to the market is great news for anyone moving to Ghana. The trendy coffee shops and stores bring a contemporary, international feel; however, the vibrant Ghanaian influence is ever present. This, provoking the excitement of a new, unmistakably African adventure.
The climate is hot and humid all year around which adds to the easy-going pace and relaxed vibe that is exuded in Ghanaian society. Even when it is raining, it is pleasantly warm and tropical. The city of Accra is home to 1.7 million people and it hums with a certain energy. The bustling sound of street markets, goats roaming around, children playing, the hooting of taxi’s and the bumper to bumper traffic all add to its unique charm and atmosphere.
Local music is definitely something that cannot go unnoticed in this city. The local Ghanaian “highlife” might not appeal to everyone, initially, but at some point, the rhythm of the city finds its way into the hearts of its residents, local and foreign alike. Music is everywhere and rhythm is as much a part of everyday life as breathing, from the patron at the coffee shop casually strumming his guitar to the reggae musicians that serenade beach-goers.
Arriving in Accra is not quite as daunting as one may think. South African Airways flies directly to Accra from Johannesburg daily and Ethiopian Airways flies to Accra via Addis Ababa from either Cape Town or Johannesburg. Getting through customs at the airport is relatively easy. It is also handy to note that there is an ATM in the arrivals hall, so it is possible to draw local currency when you get there. It is also easy to flag down a taxi however our suggestion would be to simply use Uber on your smartphone.
There are a few very good international hotels to choose from, with Movenpick Ambassador being a favorite among expats: http://www.movenpick.com/en/ The hotel offers a complimentary shuttle from the airport which can be arranged with your booking. They also have a business centre, restaurants and a pool. The hotel is that it is attached to the Emporium which has a variety of shops, an ATM, a pharmacy and mobile phone store. The Movenpick’s rooms are a little on the expensive side but there are several other good options to choose from in Accra including La Villa Botique, The Kempinski and Labadi Beach Hotel. English is widely spoken and booking a hotel is a simple process.
Starbites Food & Drinks is a restaurant coffee shop situated in a few locations throughout the city. It is great for a lunch, dinner or drinks after a long day of busy meetings. The food is western with African influences and certainly worth a visit: http://www.starbitesgh.com/gallery.html
The Neem Grill is also great for lunch or dinner. In a beautiful garden setting, with lanterns hanging from the trees, the restaurant offers a lovely ambiance. The menu is quite extensive and includes everything from seafood to pizza. https://www.timeout.com/accra/restaurants/the-neem-grill
Other recommended restaurants and bars include: Chez Clarisse Mama Africa, Aunty Wangs Kitchen, Coco Lounge, Firefly Lounge Bar, The Republic Bar & Grill, Mama Adjele Road.
Labadi/ Pleasure Beach is the most highly recommended and popular beach on Ghana’s coast. It is completely out of this world and you might catch yourself thinking that you have been transported to another planet entirely. There is a small entrance fee but worth every penny. It is full of life! The atmosphere is casual and informal and there are plenty of places to pull up a chair and watch the crowds. Children play ball, grown men have beach boxing matches while hordes gather, Frisbees sail through the sky while acrobats show off their impressive skills of balance and agility. Hiphop, Hiplife, reggae and a variety of different local performances take place and if that is not enough, there is always a flame thrower or snake charmer to keep you entertained. This all goes on until nightfall and there are plenty of spots to grab a drink and something to eat.
Makola Market is a renowned informal market place. While expats tend to favour the malls, it is worth going to on a Saturday morning to experience the local culture. You can buy absolutely anything here- from stationery to cosmetics, spices, food and car parts. Haggling is part of the fun and good practice for those negotiating skills which you will need to use throughout your time in Ghana.
The Arts Centre is an outdoor style market, good for local crafts. If you are feeling slightly inundated with the same African crafts sold throughout the country, there are also gorgeous local textiles and beautiful woven baskets which you don’t always find easily. Haggling skills again will come in handy.
Untamed Empire is a trendy store in the leafy area of North Ridge. The building is a recycled container which is quite unique in its architecture. The store sells high end clothing, accessories and homeware from designers across the continent. www.untamedempire.com Other recommended designer style stores include: I Am Isigo- www.ellelokko.com The Shop Accra by Eyetsa- www.eyetsa.com
The neighbouring coastal town of Ada Foah is great for a day trip. It is just off the Accra-Aflao motorway and relatively easy to get to. It is located along the Volta River. A ferry connects you to the other side of the river. Activities include aqua safari’s, fishing, wakeboarding and jet skiing. A boat ride down the estuary is a great way to spend a Sunday and some of the beaches along the estuary are known as the best beaches in Ghana. There is a lovely spa and a few restaurants with good fresh fish from the river.
You will notice the entrepreneurial spirit of the locals from the person selling fresh seafood on platters on the beach to the market vendors with their interesting wares. Ghanaians are known as calm and peaceful people. They are warm and welcoming which certainly helps make foreigners feel right at home. Ghanaians are indirect communicators which means they take special care in not relaying information that could cause offence. They prefer trying to maintain harmonious relationships. This is tricky when it comes to finding homes and settling-in but important to bear in mind as this is very much part of their culture. A handshake, a smile and some interest in family will go a long way.
Enjoying and partaking the wonderful culture of this country is unquestionably an incredible and life-affirming experience, not to be missed by any visitor to this fascinating destination.