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Fam Trip Report: My 10 Favourite Things about Ghana

Updated: May 23

On Friday 19 April 2024, along with several lovely people from reputable UK tour operators, I travelled on a Fam Trip to Ghana


I think I speak for everyone in the group when I say that I discovered exactly what I had hoped for - something really different. It was quite unlike anything I’d experienced before - everything felt new, interesting, significant, vibrant and alive!



Before I get into my 10 favourite things about Ghana, I'd like to write a little about some of the basics about being there.


There are several things that you really notice when you're travelling in Ghana - and weirdly, you notice exactly the opposite of those things as soon as you get back home. Let me explain...


The friendliest people!

The feeling of friendliness and goodwill towards outsiders is wonderful and makes visitors feel very welcome indeed. Ghanaians are friendly and respectful amongst themselves and they seem to extend that to all travellers in their country. They are proud of their heritage and traditions, which still remain very much intact. More about this history and heritage follows below, but really only a fraction of what’s there, just waiting to be discovered. 


It’s West Africa

‘Yes, of course it’s in West Africa!’ I hear you exclaim. But let’s just take me as an example (I know, I know… beware the sample of one!). I’ve travelled a lot throughout my adult life. I’ve been privileged to have seen quite a lot of the world (more than 60 countries over the last 40 or so years). I’ve worked in the travel industry for 38 years, I’ve been to plenty of places in Africa (the north, the east, the centre and the south). But not the west. West Africa had always remained a bit of a mystery to me - and I know that’s true of many people. Plenty of us really don’t know much about any of the countries along the Gulf of Guinea and don’t know what to expect. 


So for some people, thinking about West Africa therefore brings a certain amount of uncertainty. Purely because it feels unknown. And for some, that subconsciously brings safety and security into question. Having now been, I can honestly say that I felt safer in every city, every town, every village, every street, every conversation and every encounter that I had in Ghana then I would anywhere in the UK. That was a very pleasant surprise. It meant we always felt relaxed and open to learning and observing this magical place.


So suspend any disbelief you might have for just a moment and take a bold leap into West Africa. It might not be for everyone, but if you’re well travelled and want something a bit different and a bit special, come and join me in the shallow end! I plan to dive deeper before long…


The Ashanti kingdom and people

An extraordinary history is gradually revealed as you travel from the coastal capital of Accra, and go northwards to Kumasi, capital of the Ashanti Kingdom. This kingdom and culture is simply fascinating. For political correctness, we’ve stopped using the word ‘tribal’ here in recent years, but local people in Ghana use this term and it perfectly describes the Ashantis and their ruling system; a hierarchy that has worked very well for many centuries. 


I won't go into great detail about this kingdom here but I will say that the ‘Ashanti King’ himself still exists, ​​enthroned on his sacred Golden Stool. Then there are the many ‘Paramount Chiefs’ who are further down the pecking order, and the ‘Odikro’ and ‘Ohene’, minor chiefs who are a part of the hierarchy that serves to keep order and command respect from the top to the bottom of Ashanti culture. This well-ordered society was there long before Europeans arrived in what became modern day Ghana. They were (and are) incredibly well organised - the Ashantis even had their own Foreign Office, through which negotiations and dealings with the European invaders were done. 


However, back in the 16th through to the 19th centuries, the propaganda put out by the British, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish etc was that these ‘savages’ needed to be saved from the chaos they lived in. Far from it. They were doing very nicely before the European powers colonised and extracted much of their wealth - and of course millions of ordinary people, taken as slaves. I will not ignore this topic, but it is much too big and contentious for discussion in this article. I will say though, that I believe the European powers still owe a great debt to the people of West Africa and perhaps they could repay that debt through investment into preserving the great forests and other natural resources of Ghana and other West African countries. That would be a lovely way to provide a small amount of recompense for the horrific legacy of slavery, which helped to build the wealth in Europe and to finance the industrial revolution, leading to further wealth and dominance. Enough said on this for the moment.



The heat

I travelled in late April, just before the rainy season, and it was extremely hot for a Brit coming out of a long, wet winter. The average high was around 35/38 degrees centigrade, with high humidity. You really had to have air conditioning - and thankfully, most hotels and minibuses do provide that. Whenever we went walking and exploring, the heat did tend to sap our energy and you needed to drink litres of water a day to replace lost fluids. So dress appropriately, with cool, loose fitting clothes and leave behind cotton tee shirts, jeans or sweaters. The word cold was never uttered or even considered during our week there!


Comfort levels

We stayed in 3/4 star hotels throughout our 8-day trip and were very pleasantly surprised and pleased by the level of comfort and service throughout. Giving good service with a big smile seemed to come naturally for most staff in hotels and restaurants although occasionally ‘readjustments’ were needed - e.g. meals sometimes coming out from the kitchen one by one, as opposed to all plates coming out together as you’d expect in the UK. Our DMC hosts, Ashanti African Tours, do a lot of work in the background to ensure that things go smoothly, to double-check and triple-check that hotel and restaurant reservations are confirmed and understood and dealt with effectively.


My 10 Favourite things about Ghana


Kids, people, smiles

The people of Ghana were super-friendly wherever we travelled. Bus journeys, bike rides and walks involved constantly waving at smiling children and adults who always seemed delighted to see us. Ghanaians everywhere were keen to greet visitors with open arms, making us feel very at home. Their vibrant culture and strong sense of community always came through in our interactions. Whenever we met people they were genuinely interested in hearing about where we were from and in telling us about themselves, their village or town, and their country.



Ghanaian food

​​Ghanaian food is a real fusion of flavours, influenced by a diverse cultural heritage. Staples like fufu, made from cassava and plantain, are often paired with aromatic soups such as ‘light soup’ or ‘groundnut soup’. Jollof rice, a spicy one-pot dish, is everywhere, and a national favourite. Then there’s banku (fermented corn and cassava dough), often served with grilled tilapia (my favourite fish in Africa!). There’s also suya (skewered and grilled meat with spicy seasoning), and plenty of street food, where vendors offer treats like kelewele (spicy fried plantains) and waakye (rice and beans). Ghana's culinary landscape was both a surprise and a delight.



Wildlife, butterflies and birdlife

You can’t help but be impressed by nature in Ghana, which boasts a rich diversity of wildlife. This might sound like a cliché, but it really is a paradise for nature enthusiasts. It has lush forest and savannah and it’s possible to see elephants, buffalo, antelope, leopard and more. Ghana is also home to an impressive array of bird species, with 760 recorded - from colourful kingfishers and hornbills to majestic eagles and hawks - my favourite was the elusive yellow-headed picathartes (or white-necked rockfowl), a rare and unusual bird found mainly in Ghana. We hiked through some pretty dense jungle to a very special and spiritual place, an ancient rock perched at an impossible angle, where these feathered creatures can usually be seen. Sitting for an hour or so after our hike was both a magical and quite humbling experience - verging on spiritual. We were rewarded with some great photos of this unusual bird - voted Africa’s top bird I’m told by reliable birding sources.


There are also protected areas like Mole National Park and Kakum National Park which offer more good opportunities for wildlife viewing and birdwatching. Several of our groups went up to Mole (pronounced Moh-Ley) and loved the experience. 


Oh and butterflies. So, so many... Ghana boasts over 950 species and in one small forest alone, the Nyame Bepo Forest Reserve near Breku, over 600 species have been recorded. To put this in perspective, there are a total of 473 butterfly species in the whole of Europe! So butterfly lovers rejoice and enjoy Ghana, from vibrant swallowtails to delicate hairstreaks, it is a delight to see these winged beauties in the forests at Kakum and Breku. Oh, and did I mention pangolins?



Ashanti African Tours

Where do I start in describing Ashanti African Tours? I’m not going to write much about how good they are as a DMC - let me just say that every tour operator who travelled on the Fam Trip gave them 5 out of 5. The knowledge and good nature of their guides, the timeliness and efficiency of transfers from place to place, the quality of hotels, the flexibility in approach to logistical changes (you have to be flexible if you operate in Africa as unplanned things happen all the time), the levels of communication etc etc - all 5 out of 5 as far as I’m concerned. 


I won’t say much more about them as a DMC here, but I would like to call out the genuine spirit of ‘giving back’ we saw in every place that Ashanti African Tours has left its mark over the last 20 years. It was exemplary - an absolute model for DMCs and local suppliers everywhere in the world. And what is extraordinary is that Mark Williams, the company’s founder, has not learned how to do any of this from books or courses. He’s just done it naturally because it feels to him like the right thing to do. He’s a shy East End geezer, a modest Cockney with a very big heart who deserves a medal in my opinion. My colleague Lucy often used to say to me that she thinks of him as a modern day saint. And now that I’ve seen what he’s done with my own eyes, I absolutely agree. 


Take for example the community project that Mark and the Ashanti African Tours Foundation have developed at Bonkro and Breku (more below). He's built both a school (which educates over 300 children) and a series of tourist bungalows and restaurants, purely for the benefit of the community and to help protect the adjacent forest. All income from tourism here goes straight back into the community.


I can’t stress enough how unselfishly Mark and the Foundation behave. Any tourism here benefits the community and it's all to prove to local people that tourism can do more good and provide more income than hunting or logging. As Mark regularly reminded us: "The only way local people will take a long term view to protect nature is if there's something in it for them - that it will make them better off'. The habitat of countless birds and butterflies is very much under threat in Bonkro and Breku. Just a couple of years ago, on the 23rd of December, every tree in a section of this ancient forest was ‘numbered’ (i.e. a number written on each tree) by a logging company. All of the trees had been designated to be cut down for timber. After what Mark describes as the worst Christmas he’s ever had, with the help of the local community, the national tourist board and the forestry commission, they managed to stop the logging. But the threat is still there. If it hadn’t been for this intervention, the forest and its inhabitants might have been lost forever. If you’d like to donate or help this cause, please contact us at The Adventure Connection and we will advise as to the best way to help.


This is just one of many ways in which Ashanti African Tours are giving back to the local community and helping to conserve nature in Ghana. There are countless other community projects the company and the Foundation are involved in ranging from pangolin reintroduction programmes to educating farmers on sustainable farming to training on bee-keeping, snail farming and many more.


Cycling through villages

I loved our cycle ride from Bonkro to the community school at Breku and the butterfly-filled forest beyond it. The bicycles themselves were very good - I’m no expert but the one I rode was definitely better than the mountain bike I have at home, and they were very well maintained. We had covered quite a lot of miles by minibus by the time we got to Bonkro so it was a welcome change to be able to stretch our legs and feel the wind in our faces. There was a bit of up and down but nothing too strenuous, and the ride was along a mix of tarmac road and dirt track. We stopped to see the Bonkro Community School (see below) and rode on to a beautiful forest in search of butterflies and birds. 


The part that I loved most was the joy that we seemed to bring to people in the villages as we rode through. Energetic waving, wide white-toothed and bright-eyed smiles and chants of ‘Helloooo!’ followed us everywhere. 



Bonkro and Breku

You won’t find much about Bonkro and Breku in guidebooks but there are several very special reasons to visit - most of them created by the Ashanti African Tours Foundation (AATF). Before the Foundation was formed, nature lovers and birders would come to the area and stay in a fairly basic local hotel several miles from the forest at Bonkro. To cut a long story short, because of the threat of logging and mining, Mark and his team set up a series of initiatives over the years to encourage engagement with local people and to give back to the community. The video below tells a little of this story - the building of accommodation (a series of bungalows with en suite facilities, hot and cold running water), a restaurant area and, recently - purely for the locals - an open air cinema! 



While we were there, Mark and his team put the word out that there was a film night and dozens of villagers turned out to watch an African film (with English subtitles for us). It was a heart-warming evening, sitting in the warm African night with kids draped across laps watching in awe…


Just down the road is the Bonkro Community School, which is quite remarkable. It was built by the Ashanti African Tours Foundation and educates around 300 children. The facilities were as good as, if not better than, any African school I’ve seen (which is quite a few, from my earlier career with schools’ and families’ operators). The feeling of gratitude and appreciation from both children and adults towards Mark Williams and the Foundation was absolutely genuine. And rightly so. 


The other reason to visit of course is the forest itself. It is possible that this forest would no longer exist if it hadn’t been for the initiatives put in place by AATF. And what a loss to the world that would be. As well as being the habitat for an incredible diversity of Upper Guinea Forest trees, it is also the prime place IN THE WORLD to view the rare yellow-headed picathartes bird (also known as the white-necked rockfowl), plus countless other bird, insect, amphibian and mammal species and perhaps most notably, the lovely pangolin (both the white-bellied and black-bellied variety) which several of our group were lucky enough to see on a night safari. 



Kayaking

A particularly pleasant morning was spent kayaking along a river to the coast at Elmina. The kayaks themselves were sit-on style, very stable and everyone in our group was comfortable using them. All of the kayaking and safety equipment was good quality, all imported from the UK. We set out on what felt like Ghana’s equivalent of the Okavango Delta, with tall grasses and reeds all around us. As the river opened out, we saw lots of birdlife - herons, egrets, kites, kingfishers and more - as well as local people crossing the river, carrying their loads elegantly above their heads. It was a very peaceful scene and as we stopped and drifted to watch fishermen casting their nets by hand we heard the sound of crashing waves and realised how close we were to the sea. As if by magic, suddenly we were on a beautiful white sand beach and wandering along the coast to visit another community project which Mark Williams had initiated (he’d previously lived for years in this simple village and now brings travellers to visit and help to provide income for them).



Markets 

Vibrant markets dot the towns and villages of Ghana, alive with activity and colour. From the bustling Makola Market in Accra to local markets in rural communities, they offer a rich array of goods - fresh produce, textiles, crafts, spices - and even huge snails! These markets are not just put on for tourists - they are vital hubs of commerce and social interaction. Half way through the trip we went food shopping in the market at Edubiase with our chef at Bonkro, Deborah, a lovely lady who helped us to buy and bargain for the ingredients we needed for our supper that evening (we didn't choose the snails!). 



Arts and Crafts

Ghana's arts and crafts scene is amazing! So much about its culture and heritage can be found in this. We saw the intricate process of Kente cloth weaving and even tried our hand at making beads. Artisans across the whole country produce a stunning array of traditional and contemporary pieces that really celebrate Ghana's traditions and creativity.


Kente cloth is fairly famous worldwide and originates from the Ashanti people of Ghana. It’s a symbol of cultural pride and heritage. Woven with intricate patterns and vibrant colours, each design holds a meaning, reflecting social status, history and spirituality. Kente is worn on special occasions, weddings and festivals and we saw this many times as we toured the country. We were honoured to take part in a naming ceremony too - a fascinating and quite humbling experience which we all loved.


It was fun!

If some of the above sounds a bit serious, one thing I do want to say is that we all had great fun. We found a great sense of humour and good spiritedness everywhere we went and everyone in our group felt really sad when we had to leave. For me, I feel I’ve only scratched the surface of what Ghana has to offer. I want to go back to see more to the west, especially Ankasa National Park, where Ashanti African Tours have built another lodge. And I’d also like to go north to Mole National Park, which a few of our group were lucky enough to visit at the end of our tour. 



Recommended reading and listening: If you’re interested in the history of West Africa I’d recommend listening to a few of the Empire podcasts, especially episodes 54 to 59. Also, a great book about the history of Africa is ‘The Scramble for Africa’ by Thomas Packenham. For a great fiction novel, which provides a very personal view of what life would have been like during and after the slave trade years, I’d really recommend ‘Homegoing’ by Yaa Gyansi. And of course, the Bradt Guide to Ghana by Philip Briggs - which covers pretty much everything you’re likely to need if going to or simply finding out more about Ghana.


If you’re interested in finding out more about Ashanti African Tours and the AAT Foundation, please click the link here or contact robyn@theadventureconnection.com


Oh, and one more thing, grab yourself a bar of Divine Chocolate sometime - it will help support Fair Trade cocoa farmers in Ghana directly and it tastes pretty good too!


For an introduction to Ashanti African Tours, please contact robyn@theadventureconnection.com.


Blog written by Mark Wright, Founder of The Adventure Connection.

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