A street art festival in Jamestown may seem like an unlikely place to start this list, and it’s true that at the time (August 2016), I hated it. But now, reflecting on the different experiences I’ve had in Ghana, I can appreciate that day with an entirely different lens.
Located in West Africa, Ghana is well-known for colorful fabrics, adinkra stamps, and Anansi stories. However, Chale Wote, was a great chance to encounter fresh and modern art and artists creating incredible things in Ghana as well.
Not for the faint of heart, this festival is packed with people and because of that, in a country where I’m rarely harassed, I felt like I was on display all day. Try not to go with a big group and bring your smallest camera.
Not a national holiday, like Independence Day or Founder’s Day, Ghana Day is a yearly celebration of everything that makes Ghana unique. Not celebrated by everyone, this day is hosted by my school for our second grade students to teach them about the country they live in.
With activities ranging from adinkra stamps to outdoor games, weaving to storytelling, home life to drumming, this is a day that never fails to teach me something new about the place I’ve called home for the last three years.
Despite living in a city on the coast, the closest I can get to the water is beach-adjacent. And even then it sometimes smells. Which means when Chandler & I are looking for some relaxation, we don’t head to the beach, we head to a pool.
Two of our favorites in town are Labadi Beach Hotel and La Palm Beach Hotel. Labadi is undeniably the nicer of the two (we even stayed here for my birthday in February 2017), but what La Palm lacks in its menu & service, it makes up for in its calmness. Labadi is always busy and we’ve never had a quiet afternoon there. La Palm offers more quiet and more shade.
Another event celebrated at our school, International Festival Day is a chance to enjoy my favorite thing about many cultures: Food! With 60+ nationalities represented at our school, that translates to a lot of different types of food to sample!
Over the years, I’ve learned to make a beeline for my favorite (and most vegetarian-friendly) tents: Pakistan, India, Turkey, Lebanon, Italy, Guatemala, South Korea, and Japan. The United States tent always has the longest lines thanks to snow cones and hot dogs, but I can always convince a student to grab a brownie for me : )
Another surprise on my list, I didn’t think much of the village while we were actually visiting it. There’s probably a “proper” way to visit, but we did everything backward. Starting at the factory and ending at the tourist office.
We didn’t stay very long (and it’s not particularly close to anything), but seeing the looms and the wide variety of designs was fascinating. Knowing that most “West African” prints are actually made in the Netherlands and China, it’s worth learning about how these kente clothes are locally and traditionally made.
It’s fun to look back on this trip, because it took place so soon after our arrival in Accra (October 2016). Kakum National Park is a tropical forest reserve. In addition to having beautiful hikes, the park is also known for their canopy walkway.
350 meters long and ranging from 40-50 meters high, it offers incredible views of the surrounding foliage. We didn’t spend as much time here as I would have liked, but if you’re in Elmina or Cape Coast, I highly recommend making your way over.
Not someone well able to pull off the typical “West African” print, I foolishly thought I might have better luck if I made my own pattern. Enter Esther, batiking extraordinaire. She’s been making her own designs for the last 20 years and now runs workshops to teach others the technique.
Batiking is the process of decorating cloth using wax and dyes. To make our designs, we chose the stamps, dyes, and locations for our patterns. The parts of fabric covered in wax resist the dye and stay the original color. This process is repeated, depending on the look you’re going for.
Not something quickly picked up on, our fabric designs are now wall prints, tote bags, and napkins. I’m not quite the designer I had envisioned myself to be, but we had a lot of fun nonetheless. Batiking is best done in a group, so find some friends and give it a try!
Post-Peace Corps, I’ve pretty much gotten over my “adventurous” ways, but when friends came to visit, I found myself agreeing to a weekend trip to the Wli Falls. And I have to admit, I’m glad I did.
The highest waterfall in West Africa, it’s an easy stroll to get to the falls. Untouristed, there were no cafes or sellers or anything to interrupt an incredibly relaxing atmosphere. There are other hikes (with more incredible views) in the area, making this a great place for anyone with the outdoors on their mind.
Cape Coast and Elmina have such incredibly sad histories. Now, vibrant fishing communities, marketplaces, and entrepreneurs abound, but less than 200 years ago, both Cape Coast Castle and Elmina Castle were home to terrible human atrocities.
It’s easy to forget as you stroll above ground, breathing in the fresh air and enjoying the architecture and views. Underground is a different story: Spaces the size of my living room home to hundreds of slaves at a time, cramped cells for runaways and women who refused to be raped, and an overall air of depression and darkness.
Stories like these were hard to hear, and more than once I wondered why I had agreed to spend part of my vacation surrounded by such overwhelming topics. But ignoring these actions doesn’t make them go away, and the only way to prevent future atrocities is to truly understand what happened in the past.
This park may not “wow” you if you’ve been to Kruger in South Africa or Masai Mara in Kenya. But if you’re half as obsessed with elephants as I am, you’ll have a great time.
We stayed at Zaina Lodge and I can tell you without a doubt that it is the best resort in Ghana. Everything from the service to the food to the infinity pool with full views of the elephants and their watering hole below were incredible.
The safari is a little campy, there aren’t many big animals to see, but the guides are dedicated and made even bird watching seem interesting. In addition to the elephants, we saw baboons, vervet monkeys, patas monkeys, roan antelopes, kobs, bush bucks, mongooses, warthogs, and more. If it wasn’t so damn far away from Accra, I know we would have gone back again and again!