After touching down at the Kotoka International Airport 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, blissful and beautiful.
If you’re visiting Ghana for the first time, I hope these experiences can give you some idea of what to expect while in the country.
1. On Arrival in Ghana, the Heat Hits You Hard
Coming from your home destination, you will feel the heat more than others might. When you saw it was dark outside the plane, your body was preparing for cold, windy, and wet weather. Probably, it is what you’re used to.
However, stepping into that tunnel between the aircraft and the airport will be the first sign of things to come. You will be hit by a wave of heat, breaking into a sweat within minutes of leaving the air-conditioned building.
Daytime temperatures are in the high up to 30oC or more, so it’s similar to a hot summer. Unlike the US, though, Ghana’s rainy season humidity can cause it to feel more like the high 90s. You’ll want to change into weather-appropriate clothes as soon as possible. But, usually, it is a bit cold during the rainy season and the harmattan period especially, in the mountainous areas of Ghana.
2. Tourists in Ghana: Slow Down, There’s No Rush
Your first task in this unknown environment may be to pick up your visa. Fortunately for you, Ghana’s official language is English, so the “Visa on Arrival” sign wouldn’t be hard to spot. This is when you’ll be introduced to the somehow simultaneously relaxed and chaotic mindset of Ghanaian people.
You may be wondering what is going on, but just be calm and trust in the process as you wait. Eventually, you’ll receive your passport stamped and skip 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. You can keep busy and get things done yourself. You can also visit our ‘Book A Ride’ page to arrange for pick-ups/rides. Meanwhile, shifting your mindset to match the locals can help you 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. If you come from a non-religious point of view, you may not be expecting to find this aspect of Ghana’s culture interesting.
If you happen to touch down on a Sunday, just take a stroll around the neighbourhood. You’ll see that most shops, which were often given Bible-inspired names, were closed. Families dressed in their finest white garments ambled towards their place of worship.
Wandering past churches, the noise, energy, and adrenaline levels are tangible. You could already tell that religion underpins society in Ghana. If you’re coming to work on a project or with a local organization, you’ll realize that staff members will gather in a circle to say prayers, sing hymns, and bless their workplace. Just observe how the energy levels of staff will be heightened.
The same thing happens in a tro-tro, which is the main form of transport you’ll experience in Ghana. As a preacher stands up on the bus, other passengers spontaneously will join 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 marginalized 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
You may be surprised by the size and comfort of your living space, but you can sacrifice some luxuries that you’re used to. You and your host may have a laugh at your inability to gain access to bagged water; you may be immediately shown how to use a bucket to flush the toilet; and your shower, too, maybe simply a bucket full of water. You may not have access to WiFi. Know that this is a typical village. Life in the urban centers and the cities are quite different.
Some people may dread this situation, but there is a certain primal joy that comes from simple living. Try to learn to interact with locals rather than relying on Google Maps for directions and you’ll be amazed at the outcome.
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 cards either. Remember paper money? Yes, but you’ll need plenty of it in Ghana. However, this phenomenon has improved tremendously with the government’s digitalisation agenda. Most transactions can be done on a cashless basis.
Most of all, you’ll learn to appreciate the luxuries of where you grew up. Not everyone in the world has a constant supply of electricity or potable tap water. Be prepared to have your eyes opened to another way of living. Support, where necessary if you can.
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 with more arable land. The Akuapem Hills are just an hour’s drive north of Accra. When travelling there, though, you’ll gain a sense of the jungles and mountains that cover West Africa. As the air becomes cooler and rain begin to fall, it will feel like a different experience to the burning heat of Accra. It may still be hot, but the air is 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 realize that this is no dry desert, but a flourishing tropical nation; a colourful and lively environment, equally matched by the locals you’ll meet.