Most guidebooks about Ghana assume you’ll have the time for long-term exploration of the country. But what if you’re based in Accra and can only get out of the city on weekends (perhaps you’re involved in an Accra-based volunteer program or work placement)? Well you’re in luck, because there are actually quite a few options available to you. Here are my suggestions for four weekend getaways from Accra, all of which can be accessed by either tro-tro (shared mini-bus) or taxi (if you don’t have a private vehicle). Even better, all the following destinations can be reached within two to two-and-a-half hours, and much less in some cases.
1. Bikes and botany in Aburi
There’s little escape from the heat in Ghana, but many visitors are surprised by the change in climate when they visit the Aburi hills, about an hour’s drive north of Accra. The relative altitude of the range cools things down and encourages precipitation – so if there’s any part of the country where you’ll feel happy getting active during the day, this is it.
The area’s star attraction is Aburi Botanical Gardens, a site that dates back to 1890. It’s a dramatic sight at first: huge palms line the main avenue as it curves gently uphill, with tropical plants dotting the lawns on either side. Deeper exploration can be a little disappointing, as the gardens are severely under-invested, but it’s still a fine place to wander, and fascinating for those with an interest in plants. Look out for an intricately carved tree trunk and an old World War II helicopter on the lawns.
Just outside the garden gates you’ll find the Bike and Hike Tours Company, who offer a variety of walking and cycling tours of the area. Their four-hour ride to the gorgeous Asenema waterfall is a good way to see more of the Aburi range, and includes car transport back to base.
Travel time: 60 – 90 minutes
Accommodation recommendation: Hillburi
History in Cape Coast and Elmina
Elmina’s hulking, white-painted fort is visible from the coast road long before you reach the city. That is entirely appropriate, for it looms equally large over the town’s history and economy. Along with its smaller cousin at Cape Coast, it was a major European trading post and a key location in the transatlantic slave trade, to whose horrors it now bears witness as a monument and museum. Though the struggle to maintain both castles is all too evident, guides are generally very good, and tours are enlightening and moving, as well as offering good views of the surrounding towns and coastline from the forts’ upper levels.
Both towns have busy fishing harbors right beside the fort, and in Elmina you’ll find a bustling, colorful fish market right outside the gates.
Some 30km north of Cape Coast is the Kakum National Park visitor center, famous for its treetop walkway. Go for the spectacle rather than wildlife-spotting – visitors are put through in large and noisy groups, so the chances of seeing anything other than a distant yellow-billed kite are slim. The nature walk is more sedate, and brings the forest to life by explaining the cultural significance of its flora; to demonstrate an old communication technique, our guide hammered a rock against the vast buttress roots of a silk cotton tree, and stood back smiling as the very ground beneath our feet shook.
Travel time: 2 – 2.5 hours
Accommodation suggestions: Outside of Accra and possibly Kumasi, this area has the best average standard of accommodation in Ghana. Good beach resorts include budget volunteer favourites Stumble Inn and One Africa, and the luxurious Coconut Grove. Also, Hans Cottage Botel, Biriwa Beach Hotel, and Ko-Sa.
3. Hikes and riverside relaxation – Akosombo
Three things make a trip to the Akosombo area appealing: a series of pleasant riverside resorts in nearby Atimpoku, a chance to admire the dam that created Lake Volta, and the opportunity to explore the Accra plains and Shai Hills reserve.
The plains are a welcome sight after long periods in Accra. After you pass the suburb of Afienya, the busy, built-up metropolis seems to flatten at a stroke — you’re hit by wide expanses of country in every shade of green, with isolated inselbergs here and there and the larger range of Shai Hills ahead.
Mount Krobo offers an attractive hike for newcomers — it is close to the main Tema-Akosombo road, has a fairly clear path and affords great views across the plains after a short, steep initial climb. A less strenuous alternative is Shai Hills, a resource reserve that can be explored in the company of a guard. Wildlife include kob antelope, baboons, green monkeys and tortoises.
At the northern edge of the plains you’ll reach the impressive Adomi Bridge, beyond which there is a peaceful, hilly stretch of water leading up to the dam. This area makes a great relaxing base for a weekend getaway.
From there it’s a short cab ride to Akosombo itself, where you can admire the dam from the balcony of the Volta Hotel — look out for the crow’s nest-style building on the opposite hill, which was built to give President Nkrumah a view of his flagship post-independence construction project.
It became harder for visitors to get out onto Lake Volta after the Dodi Princess pleasure cruiser was gutted by fire. Its renovation is said to be underway, but is taking place in “Ghana time.” In the meantime it’s possible to negotiate trips with local fishermen, and wealthier visitors can hire pontoons, kayaks and speedboats from the Maritime Club, a short drive from the Volta Hotel.
Travel time: 60 – 90 minutes
4. Birds and beaches – Keta Lagoon
Poor Keta. Somewhat off the tourist trail, it suffers from a lack of focal attractions and good accommodation in comparison to the west coast. That is a shame, because it is an easy and often incredibly scenic drive from Accra, and offers wide, attractive beaches and some striking landscapes.
Once you’ve turned off the main road from Accra, you’ll find the drive south through the lagoon’s protected area is worth the trip alone. It presents a gorgeous mix of reed-fringed isolated pools, stands of trees and sandy scrub. When you reach the coast proper, you’ll pass through the pretty little villages of Woe and Tegbi before reaching Keta itself, which is a little more run-down; sea erosion has not been kind to it, particularly around the ruined Fort Prinzenstein.
Woe is notable for its unusual lighthouse. It is like a rocket from a very early black-and-white sci-fi film, which is appropriate given the structure dates back to 1901. You can’t climb it, but it isn’t far from the main road and is singular enough to merit a quick detour.
Continuing east past Keta, you’ll find yourself on a strip of land barely a kilometer across, with the lagoon on one side and the Atlantic on the other — there are plenty of lay-bys on the good tarmac road, giving you a chance to stop and take in the dramatic view, or look out for some of the area’s rich bird life.
Travel time: 2 – 2.5 hours
Accommodation suggestion: Although it is a little out of the way, Meet Me There is by far the best choice – it is very friendly with decent food and a good beach.