After touching down in Accra, it’s a small step off the plane, but a giant leap into the unknown. No matter how much research you do beforehand, experiencing Ghana for real is intense. It can be shocking, confusing, and disorientating, but it’s also joyous, exciting, and beautiful.
If you’re visiting Ghana for the first time, I hope my experiences can give you some idea of what to expect.
1. On Arrival in Ghana, the Heat Hits You Hard
Coming from London in January, I felt the heat more than others might. When I saw it was dark outside the plane, my body was preparing for cold, windy, and wet weather. It’s what I’m used to.
However, stepping into that tunnel between the aircraft and the airport was the first sign of things to come. I was hit by a wave of heat, breaking into a sweat within minutes of leaving the air-conditioned building.
Day time temperatures are in the low 30s, so it’s similar to a European summer. Unlike Europe, though, Ghana’s rainy season humidity can cause it to feel more like the high 30s. You’ll want to change into weather-appropriate clothes as soon as possible.
2. Tourists in Ghana: Slow Down, There’s No Rush
My first task in this unknown environment was to pick up my visa. Fortunately, Ghana’s official language is English, so the “Visa on Arrival” sign wasn’t hard to spot. This is when I was introduced to the somehow simultaneously relaxed and chaotic mindset of Ghanaian people.
I spoke to three different airport officials, visiting the counter then being asked to sit down multiple times. I didn’t know what was going on, but I decided to trust in the process and just wait. Eventually, I received my passport stamp and skipped the passport queues to legally step onto Ghanaian soil.
You’ll travel to Accra and find it to be one of the most laid back capital cities in the world. Adopt a similar attitude early on.
People will arrive late; it isn’t considered rude. Things may take a bit longer to process than you’re used to and public transport doesn’t run to set schedules. I’m the kind of person who likes to keep busy and get things done. Shifting my mindset to match the locals helped me to settle in more quickly.
3. Religion is a Pillar of Ghanaian Society
No matter where you visit in Ghana, be ready to experience a different kind of religion. Coming from a non-religious point of view, I wasn’t expecting to find this aspect of Ghana’s culture interesting.
My first day in Ghana was a Sunday, so I took a stroll around the neighbourhood. Most shops, which were often given Bible-inspired names, were closed. Families dressed in their finest white garments ambled towards their place of worship. One woman, walking with her husband and two young sons, greeted and welcomed me to the country.
Wandering past churches, the noise, energy, and adrenaline levels were tangible. I could already tell that religion underpins society in Ghana.
When I arrived at the Projects Abroad office, staff members gathered in a circle to say prayers, sing hymns, and bless their workplace. I observed how the energy levels of staff heightened.
The same thing happened in a trotro, which is the main form of transport you'll experience in Ghana. After a preacher stood up on the bus, other passengers spontaneously joined in with his religious sermon.
It’s a privilege to watch this intimate moment of communal bonding around a belief in a protective almighty power. This needn’t be a Christian God, with Muslims, Rastas, and followers of traditional African religions all co-existing peacefully.
One Gallup poll placed Ghana as the most religious country on Earth. There’s no escaping it. In Ghana, religion has been a cause of mistreatment of marginalised groups and hindered scientific progress. We must be honest about that. But even the most ardent atheist will find some joy in the communal bonding around religion.
4. Tip for Visiting Ghana: Embrace Simple Living
I was pleasantly surprised by the size and comfort of my living space, but I’ve sacrificed some luxuries that I’m used to. My host and I had a laugh at my inability to gain access to bagged water; I was immediately shown how to use a bucket to flush the toilet; and my shower, too, was simply a bucket full of water. I didn’t even have WiFi.
Some people may dread this situation, but there is a certain primal joy that comes from simple living. My internet usage and screen time are too high anyway. I’ve rediscovered my love of reading and writing. I’ve learnt to interact with locals rather than relying on Google Maps.
Even in Accra, you’ll drive down bumpy dirt roads. When walking, don’t expect much in the way of pavement. Few places accept debit card either. Remember paper money? Me neither, but you’ll need plenty of it in Ghana.
Most of all, I’ve learnt to appreciate the luxuries of where I grew up. Not everyone in the world has a constant supply of electricity or drinkable tap water. Be prepared to have your eyes opened to another way of living.
5. Ghana is Geographically Diverse
Many people view Africa as a dry and desolate desert. Parts of it are, for sure, but Ghana is a green and fertile land. The Akuapem Hills are just an hour's drive north of Accra. When travelling there, though, I gained a sense of the jungles and mountains that cover West Africa.
As the air became cooler and rain began to fall, it felt like a different experience to the burning heat of Accra. It’s still hot, but the air’s a little fresher.
On your first visit to Ghana, trek with elephants deep in Mole National Park; wash your worries away at Wli Falls; or view the world as a Tawny Eagle on West Africa’s highest peak. That’s when you’ll realise that this is no dry desert, but a flourishing tropical nation; a colourful and lively environment, equally matched by the locals you’ll meet.
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