Accra, Ghana - Year Of The Return 2019 - We Fell In Love
I just returned from my first trip "home" to Ghana and I cannot get over the life-changing experience. If you follow my blog, YouTube channel or Instagram, then you know that Ghana was not my first time in Africa. In fact, Ghana was the 10th country that I visited on the beautiful continent. Each country provided a unique experience and great memories that I hold dear to my heart. However, there was something about Ghana... This trip may have been the best trip of my life!
I've wanted to visit Ghana for at least a decade now but for multiple reasons it had not happened until 2019, which ended up being perfect timing actually. Ghana coined 2019 "The Year Of The Return," exactly 400 years since the first slaves were taken from the Gold Coast (Ghana) and reached the shores of the U.S.A. in Jamestown, Virginia. 2019's Year Of The Return campaign was a call out for Black people in the African diaspora, the US, Caribbean, South America etc, whose ancestors were taken forcefully from Africa and made slaves, to return home to Ghana for a celebration and reconnection of culture. How amazing is that?
All year long Black travelers have been arriving to Ghana in droves to take part in this momentous occasion, but particularly, in December 2019, several organizations and celebrities have created a line up of events that will boost Ghana's tourism to unforeseen levels. Adding on to the already busy December calendar in Ghana, events like Afrochella, AfroChic, AfroNation and Full Circle Festival will be sure to have the streets of Ghana flooded with beautiful black bodies reconnecting with their ancestral lands. I had the privilege to visit the month before and warm it up for everyone else.
I spent 11 days total visiting Ghana with my cousin Syreeta and my wife, exploring Accra, Cape Coast, Kumasi and Lake Volta. I co-created the perfect itinerary with my Africa Travel Concierge company Global Royalty our tour guide Awuni Tours which gave us the perfect balance of culture and history, spirituality, food, shopping, turn up, beaches, beauty, and relaxation. Many people who have been to Ghana before that were watching our stories live on Instagram let us know that they had never seen Ghana the way we did it before. And I can honestly and humbly say the same. I attribute that to a combination of stalking everything happening in Ghana for years and creating the ultimate Ghana itinerary with Global Royalty, and Awuni Tours being ultimate professionals, adding special touches to every leg of the trip, and just being genuine great guys to be around.
Breaking down the full itinerary for the four regions of Ghana that we visited would be too much for one post, so for this post I will share some tips for a great experience in Accra, Ghana's bustling capital. From private dinners at mansions to walking tours of Jamestown (what many consider a slum), we only received smiles, friendly banter and "Akwaaba!" (you are welcome) everywhere we went. Accra has me looking into dual citizenship and home prices.
Visa & Vaccinations
As a U.S. passport holder, you need a Visa from the Ghana consulate. It took about a week to get mine turned around from the New York office. You also need to have your yellow fever vaccination card, which I previously had for my trip to Kenya. It was requested on-site. I also got anti-malaria pills which are recommended. They often make me nauseous though, so I don't use them at the suggested dosage. Check out the CDC's website for more related to health and recommendations when traveling to Ghana.
Where To Stay in Accra
We started and ended our trip to Ghana in Accra (3 days to start, and 3 days at the end) and stayed at Labadi Beach Hotel both times. The hotel is a solid choice, in a great location - pretty central to everything we did around Accra, and under 15-20 minutes from the airport. Breakfast is included and is amazing - people come to the hotel for breakfast even if they aren't lodging there. We also had amazing lunch and dinner meals here which offer authentic Ghanaian cuisine like joloff rice and stewed fish as well as international flair.
Other solid choices for lodging in Accra that some of our trusted travel peeps have mentioned include boutique hotel Olma Colonial Suites, and if you like luxury, the Kempinski Accra.
Of course there are also countless Airbnbs in Accra as well. If you are new to Airbnb, click here to get a $55 credit just for creating a free account to browse properties. You're welcome. Some of the nicer areas we noticed include Airport Residential area, Osu, East Legon, West Legon, Cantonments and Trassaco Valley.
Currency and Changing Money
Ghana's official currency is the Cedi. At my time of travel, $1 US dollar was equal to approximately 5.5 Cedis. Most things we bought were a lot cheaper than we would pay in the U.S., of course, dependent on how upscale of a place we were. For example, often times a large entree and cocktail would easily end up being less than $18 - $20. We exchanged our dollars for cedis at the Marina mall which is less than 2 minutes from the airport. Exchanging money at the mall was our first stop from the airport. As soon as you enter from the entrance near the parking lot, to your left is a currency exchange place.
How much money you should exchange of course depends on what your itinerary looks like and how much you like to shop. For us, a lot of our adventures, venue entries and traveling costs were already included in our tour, so I believe I spent less than $300 on dining out, drinks, shopping, and tipping across the 11 days.
Language and parallel cultures
There are over 50 languages spoken in Ghana. The official language is English. Most people in Accra also speak Twi. A few regions speak Ga.
Also one thing I love and wasn't prepared for, Ghana and Jamaica have an equal respect and reverence for each other. In Accra, I swear for every two Ghanaian flags you'll see one Jamaican flag. Painted on doors, waving from boats and vans. Also while you're out, Regge and soca is just as popular as local music. It was beautiful to see for someone of Caribbean descent (Grenadian and Jamaican) that the love and reverence is reciprocated.
There is no visa required for Jamaican citizens to return to Ghana and as I understand it, many Jamaicans have decided to move back.
How To Get Around in Accra
We used Awuni Tours for most days since we were doing a very comprehensive trip and always on the go. For our free days and nights when we wanted to go out, we used Uber which was very easy and cost-efficient. Sometimes 15 minute rides would translate to $3 US dollars. However, word to the wise, Uber drivers and the overall system is not as efficient as we're used to in the States. Most don't use air conditioning, some had issues with their GPS, some cars would not have passed US requirements, etc. So you get what you pay for and I'm sure Uber in the region will get better with time. Also, something different that I wasn't expecting, in Accra you can call an Uber and select to pay in cash. When leaving a private dinner at someone's house, one person called us an Uber back to our hotel and when we got to the hotel the Uber asked us for cash which caught me off guard. I didn't know if I was getting scammed. But I quickly googled it and learned that cash payment for Uber is common in Accra.
Where to Eat & Drink in Accra
We did not have one bad meal in Accra. Not one. The food was divine. If you're an American, though, you may have some sensitivities with the water and therefore some of the food cooked in water, so make sure you pack some pepto, calming teas and whatever other precautions you can make. Especially if you're going to be out a lot, which you probably will. Nothing worse than bubbleguts while traveling.
Here are some local dishes you should be sure to try:
Joloff rice, bofrot (round doughnuts = my fave) fufu (pounded cassava, yams, plantains and other starches) , red red (sautéed black eyed peas usually served with plantain,) kelewele (fried sweet plantain,) banku, kenke, and of course all the stewed, fried and sautéed fish, seafood and meats.
Here are some restaurants and bars to try (a combination of personal faves and recommendations):
Labadi Beach Hotel - all things yum and great variety including Ghanaian dishes at the hotel restaurant. Also on Sundays, from afternoon to late night, Labadi Beach itself (behind the hotel) is the ultimate turn up with competing sound systems, bars and 500+ locals vibing out. NOT for the bougie or easily shook.
Abajo Culture & Art Cafe - authentic Ghanaian food in a popular arts and shopping site
Coco Lounge - beautiful decor and amazing drinks
Urban Grill - right upstairs from Coco Lounge, great steaks and more
Chez Clarisse - fusion of French & Ghanaian food. Possibly my favorite dish in Accra was the tilapia and fried rice here.
Buka - authentic and amazing Ghanaian food. Didn't get a chance to try this spot but everyone mentions this as the go-to for local food at premium quality.
Fatfish - recommended as best brunch in Accra
Skybar - great for drinks with a view
Sites & Other Things To Do In Accra
Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park - the resting place for Ghana’s first President
Art Center for souvenirs, jewelry, handmade crafts, drums and a drumming lesson
W.E.B. DuBois Memorial for Pan African culture and history
Hamamat Shea Butter museum and spa
Historic tour and walking tour of Jamestown, Independence Arch and Black Star Square.
Makola Market - a HUGE open air market where you can buy anything from foods to vibrant African fabrics to make custom made some clothing and accessories.
Bojo Beach - beautiful, small private beach 30-40 minutes outside of the city center. Small fee for entry, around 20 -30 cedis per person.
Speaking of custom made clothing and accessories, as a part of our tour, our guide David (who is now more like family) knew how to direct us to the best fabric sellers in the market to cut through the clutter of marketplace hassle, and then brought us to three different teams to make us all the custom pieces that we desired. Suits, dresses, back packs and so much more. Everything was made to measure and EXTREMELY affordable. Prices ranging between $7 US and I believe the most expensive was a two piece women's outfit for around $35. If that much. Amazing! If you get custom pieces made just make sure Makola Market happens early on your trip so that you can get your pieces and also have time for minor alterations if you need it before you leave.
Temperature, Climate, Environment & Things To Pack
We were in Ghana in November and December which are some of the hottest months in the country. We were sweating ALL THE TIME lol. Also, many roads are unpaved and some have major potholes, even in nice areas. So if you get car sick, be prepared for that as well. My recommendations for packing:
Fan or rag
A visor or brimmed hat - felt like amateurs of leaving this at home
Water at all times
Motion sickness pills if you get nauseous
Mobile phone charger because traffic can be crazy at times and you don't know when you'll get back to your place
Deoderant for the re-up.
If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen my stories where I've been sharing my transition to natural deodorant. Trial and error is all I will say there. HA! If you don't know why I've been making an effort, just do a quick search on the impact of traditional deodorant/antiperspirant and cancer. SMH! My social media fam gave me some great advice about detoxing with bentonite clay and lemon a few times and also on some natural deodorant brands that have worked for them.
Anyway, while in New York I finally landed on a natural deodorant that was working great for me. NATIVE. It's aluminum free, rolls on clean, smells great (I've tried charcoal and eucalyptus & mint) and most importantly, it worked in 90degreesfeelslike102degrees Accra in December. I highly recommend it.
Connecting with the Youth!
We wrapped up our trip with a visit to Anani international school. We had a chance to stand-in to watch the youngest grade of kids English/French lessons. They were SO sweet and completely melted our hearts. Then the older groups who seemed between the ages of 6-14 years old, put on a short show where they performed poetry, dance and music.
They were so smart, beautiful, talented and warm. It's like you could instantly feel the love from these kids. They melted my heart. Awuni Tours has advised that the school takes donations, including gently worn clothes. The children deserve that and so much more.
HOW WE FEEL ABOUT ACCRA OVERALL
Accra, Ghana was a total vibe! It's not perfect by any means. Nowhere is. But what stands out is the friendly people with vibrant personalities, the energy of the city driven by hard-working people, and the potential. Accra, which is already bright just feels like hope. It feels like it's on the brink of something even more special than it already is. Something I want to be a part of.
Stay-tuned for our experiences diving into the cultural hub of Kumasi where we learned about the Ashanti Kingdom, went to the king's palace, visited a cocoa farm, saw authentic kente in the making and got our Akan Ghanaian names, and Cape Coast where we visited the slave castles, slave rivers and marketplace, visited the door of no return and had a spiritual ceremony by a priest who prayed to our ancestors and let them know that we've made it back HOME.
OTHER HELPFUL LINKS
If you want to learn how to plan your own trips on a budget like I've been doing for years, check out my online masterclass Ultimate Guide To Travel
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If you want your trip to Africa planned for you, whether it's a group trip, solo trip, baecation or family trip, check out Global Royalty - Africa Travel Concierge
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