Since Ghana’s most famous attractions are the slave forts and the beaches, tourists tend to head west out of Accra, stopping off at Elmina and Cape Coast for a history lesson before kicking back at the chilled, sandy resorts around Dixcove and Cape Three Points. But if you buck the trend and head east, you’ll find yourself in the Volta region of Ghana, one of the country’s most fascinating and beautiful.
Volta begins at the far east coast and extends northward between the eastern shore of Lake Volta and the Togolese border, ending about halfway up the country.
While the accommodation will often be of a lower standard, you’ll see fewer fellow tourists and enjoy spectacular surroundings, including Ghana’s highest mountain and highest waterfall, and some of its most important birdlife reserves.
You’ll also get a chance to catch some fantastic polyrhythmic drumming — the Ewe, the dominant ethnic group in Volta, are rightly famed for it — and watch kente weavers at work.
Volta River estuary
There are resorts on either side of the mouth of the Volta, and while Ada Foah on the western side is not technically part of the Volta Region — the border roughly follows the course of the river — it is worth a detour if you’re travelling this way. Sandwiched between the protected Songor Lagoon and the river, it is the best base for exploring the wildlife-rich mangrove forests and cluster of islands in the estuary. Most hotels and resorts in the area offer a tour.
To the east of the estuary is the huge Keta Lagoon, separated from the Atlantic by a narrow strip of land that offers some clean, wide beaches and a few charming little towns — although Keta itself has seen better days. From here it’s easy to reach the border with Togo, and with a visa (available in advance from the Togolese Embassy in Cantonments) you can cross straight into the capital city of Lome. If you prefer western food, you’ll find Lome a welcome break from Ghana — like most of the Francophone West African nations, Togo retains a strong French influence, and basics like bread and coffee instantly improve. (Sorry, Ghana, but it’s true.)
North-west of the border crossing point is Xavi, one of Ghana’s birdwatching hotspots. The area’s mix of protected wetland and savannah is home to some 90 different species, including pygmy kingfisher, emerald cuckoo and yellow-crowned gonolek. Guests explore by canoe with a guide, floating peacefully down the Lotor river that fringes the reserve — even if you aren’t interested in birds it’s a wonderful trip, and ends at an impressive stand of 60 baobab trees.
From Xavi, head north to the regional capital Ho, aiming to stop at the little village of Kpetoe Agotime, a traditional centre for kente weaving. Although the craft is closely associated with the Ashanti people, Volta’s Ewe ethnic group claim to have originated it. Today the two make distinct styles, with the Ewe version more muted and rugged than the bright, golden Ashanti. You’ll be able to pick up cloth in both styles at a cheaper rate here than in Accra’s tourist shops, and there are a few hotels in the area if you want to stay overnight before continuing to Ho.
There is little to say about Ho itself: a small museum is the only real attraction, but the deep green hills around the city provide a pleasant setting, and there are some lively bars to explore before hopping into a taxi or tro-tro to your next destination. Keen hikers can also tackle Mount Adaklu, a wedge-shaped 600-metre peak a few kilometres outside the city. Local men run time trials up and down it at an annual festival, and claim the record is just 40 minutes — a staggering feat if true.
Wli and surrounds
The road to Wli from Hohoe, a large town some 20km west, is fairly flat until a spectacular homocline — a section of exposed, steeply angled rock strata — heralds the arrival of the Akwapim-Togo mountain range. The range roughly marks Ghana’s eastern border, and from it plunges the 60-metre waterfall that has put Wli on the tourist map. Hire a guide from the Peace Corps-founded visitor centre and enjoy an easy walk through dappled, coffee flower-scented rainforest to the foot of the falls, and cool off in the pool before taking on the much steeper ascent to the top. If you’re a more experienced hiker, ask about extending your walk along the ridge.
Nearby Tagbo falls, reached from the pleasant little village of Liati Wote, offers an equally beautiful and slightly more adventurous walk, but swimming is prohibited due to a sinkhole beneath the surface. Our visit coincided with a large school trip, and the hike through forest glades, under wide banana leaves and across shining streams was punctuated by groups of thrilled kids running past in neat blue uniforms; it is hard to imagine a better way to spend a school day.
Between Wli and Tagbo falls lies Afadjato, the highest mountain in Ghana. At just 885 metres it barely merits the term ‘mountain’, although the path is often very steep. It is easily done in a half-day by the moderately fit and determined, and on a clear day there are spectacular views from the summit clearing, looking towards Togo in the east and towards Hohoe and Lake Volta in the west. Don’t worry about the higher peak nearby — it’s in Togo, so your claim to have done Ghana’s highest mountain still stands.
The Tafi Atome monkey sanctuary is halfway between Ho and Hohoe, and can be done as a detour if you’re travelling by taxi — alternatively, it’s about a 45 minute drive from Wli. It is not for those who prefer to watch monkeys from a distance. Staff take it in turns to do guiding and spotting duties, so after a quick mobile phone call you’ll be on the way to the nearest group.
When you find them, take a banana and brace yourself: there will be monkeys on your head, monkeys on your shoulders, monkeys sitting on your forearm. They are never aggressive, and there’s an antibacterial gel dispenser and a chance to rinse your hands back at base.
While you’re in the area, the village of Tafi Abuipe offers another chance to watch Ewe kente weavers at work, and a drive of some 20km will bring you near to the harbour of Torkor, where you can arrange canoe trips on Lake Volta.
Back at Wli, round off the trip with a drumming performance – the Wli Water Heights lodge has traditional drumming and dancing on Fridays and Saturdays.