Accra is the capital of Ghana. It is also the country’s largest city, its administrative, communications and economic center. The city is located on the Gulf of Guinea, Atlantic Ocean. The city lies partly on a cliff, 8 to 12 meters high, and spreads north over the Accra plains. Accra has a port, and is a major transportation center. It is linked to Kumasi in the interior by road and rail, and has good connections with Ghana’s leading port, Tema. The city’s major economic activities are financial and government services, communication, transportation, and fishing.
Main local languages are Ga, Twi, Ewe and Hausa.
The site of today’s Accra was once home to several villages of Ga kingdom. When British and Dutch forts were built in the 17th century Accra developed into a larger town.
It has been Ghana’s capital since 1877 when it was also the capital of the British Gold Coast colony.
Accra is a mixture of big-city chaos as well as laid-back African atmosphere. It is a genuine modern African city where you will feel remarkably safe.
The city is home to fine buildings dating from colonial era. Here you can find high-end hotels, as well as great restaurants and nightclubs. In addition, there are several fine museums, public monuments, modern business areas, bustling colorful markets and also dusty shanty towns. It is not the prettiest town on Earth but it makes up for it with loads of charm and authenticity. It is a city full of character with extremely friendly people.
The major sights include the National Museum, the National Theatre, the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum, the Christianborg Castle built by the Danish, the Makola Market, and the fishing port at Jamestown. The city is also home to several good beaches. Ghanaians are lovely and welcoming, friendly and hospitable. The country itself is proud of its heritage and culture.
Accra lies in the Savannah zone and experiences two rainy seasons per year. The first season lasts from May to mid-July and the second from mid-August to October. Rain falls in the form of intensive short storms that often cause flooding. Temperature throughout the year varies little; monthly averages range from 24.7°C in August – the coolest month, to 28°C in March, the hottest month.
Daylight hours are similar throughout the year because the city lies close to the equator.
Relative humidity is high and it ranges from 65% in the mid-afternoon to 95% at night.
January average temperature 27.8 deg Celsius, 7.9 mm rainfall February average temperature 29 deg Celsius, 10.5 mm rainfall March average temperature 29 deg Celsius, 39.3 mm rainfall April average temperature 29 deg Celsius, 66.9 mm rainfall May average temperature 27.8 deg Celsius, 104.7 mm rainfall June average temperature 26.7 deg Celsius, 100.7 mm rainfall July average temperature 25.5 deg Celsius, 51 mm rainfall August average temperature 25 deg Celsius, 29.7 mm rainfall September average temperature 25.5 deg Celsius, 63.2 mm rainfall October average temperature 26.7 deg Celsius, 55.5 mm rainfall November average temperature 27.7 deg Celsius, 14.9 mm rainfall December average temperature 27.7 deg Celsius, 5.5 mm rainfall
Accra is Ghana’s major transportation hub and its Kotoka International Airport serves many major international airlines. www.gcaa.com.gh/
The city is located 20 minutes’ drive from the airport. The taxi car park is located outside the terminal where you can catch inexpensive shared ride taxi vans.
The easiest way of getting around is hiring a car and a driver.
During the day Accra is a safe place to walk, but avoid doing so at night. Watch out for open sewers and traffic.
Taxis abound and can be flagged down on the street. Most taxis are not metered so the price must be negotiated prior to taking the trip. Taxis can be identified by their yellow plates with black lettering. Metered taxis do exist but are generally more expensive. Shared taxis follow fixed routes and have fixed rates per passenger. They make an ideal transportation within the Accra city center.
Tro tro’s are private vans which act as public transport. They are usually very crowded and in poor condition. They drive along popular city routes and make many stops, only some of which are marked with signs. Destinations are usually yelled out by the driver’s assistant.
Accra offers some great beaches. The best swimming beach in Accra is La Pleasure Beach, but beware of the strong undercurrent. The beach is manned by lifeguards. During weekends the beach is a favorite hangout for the local youth, where numerous parties are held. The easiest access to the beach is taking a tro tro from the city.
West of Accra you will find many picturesque fishing villages, old slave-trading forts and palm-lined beaches. Some of these forts also offer budget accommodation. In Senya Beraku, some 60 km from Accra, you can visit Fort Good Hope. There are also several great surfing beaches nearby.
Ghana offers several great National Parks famous for their flora and fauna. Kakum National Park is a rainforest located near Accra. It is home to several interesting species, such as forest elephants, colobus monkeys, 300 species of birds and as many as 600 species of butterflies. The park also offers a thrilling adventure; a canopy walkway hung 30 meters in the air, which offers great views. Mole national Park, located further to the country’s north, is Ghana’s largest and most popular national park. It offers unique trekking safaris and first-hand wild nature experience. The park is home to elephants, baboons, warthogs, water bucks, antelopes, and many other species.
CAPE COAST CASTLE
Cape Coast, lying 165 km west of Accra, was a former British colonial capital and the largest slave trading center in West Africa. The town grew around the Cape Coast Castle, now a World Heritage Site. The castle is now extensively restored and houses a museum which bears witness of the slave trading times and is a moving reminder.
The museum was opened in 1957 as a part of celebration of independence. It provides an insight into the history of Ghana and its people.
The collection includes objects of archeology, ethnography and fine art. The latter includes mainly contemporary Ghanaian paintings in various techniques.
The ethnography collection includes chief’s regalia, indigenous Ghanaian musical instruments, gold-weights, beads, traditional textiles, stools and pottery.
The archeological section houses objects dating from the Stone Age to recent times. The museum is also home to objects from other African republics, e.g. masks from Cote d’Ivore, Zulu wooden figures, bead-ware from Southern Africa, bronze heads from Nigeria and carvings from Congo.
THE CHRISTIANBORG CASTLE / OSU CASTLE
The Castle is the seat of government in Ghana. It is located on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea. The Fort was built in the 1660s by the Danish but was rebuilt several times throughout its history.
The castle was first used as the seat of government during the British colonial rule and remained so until today. The castle has had its share of notable visitors, including US Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, and Queen Elisabeth II. The castle is not open to public and taking photographs is restricted.
The Independence Square was built in 1961 in preparation for the visit by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh. It was built on the site where three service men were shot during the colonial times, while they were trying to present grievances to the Governor.
The Square is home to two monuments, the Independence Monument and the Independence Arch. The square has the capacity for 30,000 people and it is the preferred venue for celebrations and other large gatherings.
Visit one of the city’s colorful markets or bazaars. Makola Market (Kojo Thompson Road) is a modern open-air market, and one of Africa’s most colorful, where heaps of beads and batik are sold. Try also the Kaneshie Market, offering delicious food and spices - an ideal place to test your bargaining skills. Another great market to visit is the Osu Night Market, where market stalls are illuminated by hundreds of lanterns and candles.
Jamestown is Accra's oldest neighborhood and still an active fishing harbor. It is located just a short distance from the Independence Square, on a short peninsula south-west of the city center. It is an interesting area, if a little dilapidated, which features many hidden alleys, old stone houses, and marvelous hilltop vistas. Do not miss the fishing harbor, one of the largest in Ghana.
Ghana has numerous dining opportunities. There is a wide selection of international cuisines, for example Chinese, Italian, Indian, Lebanese, French, and other.
Cantonments Road in Osu has numerous expensive restaurants, serving mostly Indian, Chinese, Italian and Lebanese food.
Fast food chains include Papaye, Southern Fried Chicken, Mr.Bigg’s, Pizza Inn, Chicken Inn and Nando’s.
Most big hotels offer local and continental dishes but expect hotel prices.
The local cuisine is rather spicy, almost everything is hot. Nice local dishes include light soup with fufu served with meat, usually fish or goat. Groundnut soup is also great, and is also served with meat. Okra stew is another local dish. Red-red includes sweet plantains, red beans and palm oil.
Date: August – September (varying) Location: Accra
A month long festival, held in Accra, is one of its most joyful. It is celebrated by the Ga people, commemorating glorious ancient harvest and the Ga New Year. A week in advance, drumming throughout the city invites people to join the celebrations. The festivities take place on the streets of Accra, when colorful processions are formed with people carrying fresh harvest on their heads. The procession centers around local twin siblings who are thought to bring good luck to their parents. Priests give blessings and sprinkle traditional food, Kpokpoi, to honor the gods and ancestors of the state. Because the festival relies on harvest, the dates of celebration are subject to much change.
Date: April Location: Krobo land, 80 km east of Accra
The festival is a puberty rite, held in Krobo land, some 80 km from Accra. The rite is an initiation of young girls into womanhood. There is also a parade in special attire.
Date: May Location: Winneba, 30 km west of Accra
The deer-hunting festival is centered on two groups which compete in catching live deer, which is then presented to their respective Chiefs.
This is the leading soccer event in Africa. Held biennially, the event takes place in four Ghana’s cities: Kumasi, Accra, Sekondi-Takoradi and Tamale. The teams come from all over the African continent, including Morocco, Tunisia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Angola, Ghana and Sudan.
Accra has a bustling nightlife, but mostly on weekends. There is a selection of westernized bars and clubs as well as the local ‘spot bars’, the latter being much cheaper.
A large number of nightclubs are located near major hotels.
Lounge bars, some of which also host cultural programs and live acts, are located in major hotels.
Osu area is known for lively entertainment, and this is where the city’s best nightclubs are located. The area around Kwame Nkrumah Center is also known for good dance clubs that are open until early morning. The area is alive day and night; here shops, bars and clubs are open virtually around the clock.
Other areas offering nightlife entertainment, bars, pubs and dance clubs include: Abeka La Paz, Asylum Down, Adabraka, Teshie-Nungua, Bukom and Dansoman.
Accra was settled in late 16th century by the Ga people, who moved there from Ayawso. The new location proved advantageous to the Ga people as it enabled them to trade with the Europeans who built forts nearby. In addition to trade, these early settlers engaged in lagoon and sea-fishing, as well as farming. The first Europeans who came to the region were the Portuguese in 15th century, who came looking for gold. As gold and other valuable merchandise were found they built a number of forts along the seashore. These trade ports also served as fortifications against other European seafarers.
Over time, slave trading begun making progress until it became their most lucrative business. In the 16th century the Dutch, British, Danish and Germans became major participants in this atrocious business. Over the next 250 years the British, Danes, Dutch and Portuguese competed in the trade, exporting around 10,000 slaves annually. During the slave trade era Accra gained much importance, due to the multitude of forts nearby, most of which were owned by the Dutch.
Accra’s prominence in the area ended with the abolition of slave trade in 1807. In 1873 the British attacked and destroyed the Asanti capital, Kumasi after decades of unrest. Afterwards they declared Ghana a crown colony and moved the administration from Cape Coast to Accra. With the influx of European administration, Accra grew rapidly. In late 19th century a new exclusive neighborhood, Victoriaborg, was formed to house the Europeans who refused to live together with other Ghanaians. Accra became the economic center of Ghana after railway to the country’s interior was built, connecting the city with mining and agriculture interior.
MODERN (20TH CENTURY)
New neighborhoods were built in 1908 as Accra’s center was becoming increasingly overcrowded. The Accra-Kumasi railway was built in 1908 to connect Accra, the leading port at the time with the cocoa-growing regions. By 1913 Ghana became world’s leading producer of cocoa and by 1924 cocoa became Ghana’s largest export. Around the end of WW I Ghana was the most prosperous African colony, with best schools and services on the entire continent.
During the early 20th century Accra was growing rapidly, as the cocoa business was booming. Accra was under heavy British influence during this period but the British never invested large amounts of money into the city’s infrastructure. Racial segregation of neighborhoods was commanded by law until 1923. Under the governor Guggisberg Accra saw great development. New schools and hospitals were built, and a bridge was built across the Koole Lagoon in order to make land west of the lagoon available for settlement. After WW II the population of Accra accelerated due to influx of rural inhabitants, as well as European businessmen and administrators. The massive CBD was erected during the post-war era.
A slow movement for Ghana’s independence from Britain began during the 1920s. An open campaign for the country’s independence was launched after the 1948 Accra riots, with full independence attained in 1957. Kwame Nkrumah became the country’s first president. Ghana was the first African country to gain independence from European colonization. After a 1966 coup J.A. Ankrah became president and Nkrumah was sent into exile, his monuments defaced and abandoned. After his death in 1972 Nkrumah’s body was brought into Ghana and he was given a state funeral. A mausoleum was built in his memory and honor. The era between 1966 and 1981 was marked by steady decline due to corrupt government and a failing economy.
In 1981 coup Jerry Rawlins became the president and remained until 2000. He worked with the World Bank and the IMF to attract international investors and improve the country’s economy. Today Ghana has roughly twice the per capita output of the poorest countries in West Africa. Even so, it remains heavily dependent on international financial and technical assistance. Gold and cocoa production, and individual remittances, are major sources of foreign exchange. The domestic economy continues to revolve around agriculture, mostly cocoa, which accounts for about 35% of GDP and employs about 55% of the work force, mainly small landholders.
Ghana is largely a conservative country and visitors should respect local traditions, courtesies and dress codes. Homosexuality is illegal. Shake hands with your right hand only. Do not give or take, gesticulate or point at things with your left hand.
Clothes: Women are advised not to wear short skirts, short trousers or trousers in public. A long dress or skirt is the best option. Wearing swimming suits at the beaches is common but do not wear it elsewhere. It is forbidden for civilians to wear camouflage clothing.
It is forbidden to take photographs of military institutions or the airport.
When visiting remote villages you should first visit the elder or the priest and present them with some local schnapps and/or money.
Always ask people for permission before taking their photographs.
Most visits to Ghana are trouble-free and Accra is one of Africa’s safest cities. Some sensible precautions, however, should be taken.
Pick pocketing, mugging, purse snatching and various forms of scams are present. Petty crime most often occurs in crowded public areas such as markets, beaches, parks and tourist attractions.
Armed robberies occur too. Never resist the attackers as you may run a high risk of serious physical injury. Avoid traveling alone, especially at night. Avoid traveling alone in taxis at night.
Never carry a large amount of money with you. Only carry photocopies of your documents and leave the originals in a hotel safe. Conceal your jewelry and be discreet with your money. Be vigilant when drawing cash from ATMs in central Accra. Be careful when paying with credit cards as many tourists reported credit card fraud in Ghana. Instead, pay with traveler’s checks and cash.
Financial fraud is widely present in Ghana. Be wary of promises of quick financial gain. Fraud is mostly circulated through email or direct mail.
Be especially cautious at the Kotoka International Airport, where baggage and travel document theft has occurred.
Also practice extra caution in and around Tamale and Kumasi, where an increase of muggings, thefts and attacks on foreigners was reported.
Practice caution on the beaches and never take your valuables, e.g. wallet, watch, jewelry, with you. Leave them in a hotel safe.
Never leave your drinks unattended in bars, and never accept bottled drinks that are not open in front of you.
Foreign men without a woman companion are likely to attract prostitutes.
Stay up to date with local developments. Avoid political rallies, fights between inter-ethnic groups, especially in the northern regions of the country.
Temperatures are high all year round. They range from approximately 32°C in March, the hottest month to 21°C in August, the coolest month. Most rainfall occurs during the two rainy seasons (March – July and September - October) but air is humid throughout the year. There are two dry seasons: the shorter one in August and the longer one from mid-October to March. The best time to visit is between June and October.