Ghana

Ghana is often referred to as 'Africa for beginners' and for good reason. It is a friendly and largely safe country with locals who typically speak excellent English and are usually eager to help first time foreigners find their feet on African soil. This spectacularly scenic nation boasts an exquisite tropical coastline and some exceptional national parks providing a haven for some unusual flora and fauna. The capital, Accra is a thriving metropolis complete with bustling markets, luxury hotels and a lively nightlife scene. Pack your itinerary with visits to gorgeous palm-fringed beaches, ancient forts, historical castles, and quaint fishing villages. Whether you are seeking a relaxing beach vacation or are keen to immerse yourself in the fascinating ancient cultures of this nation’s diverse ethnic groups, Ghana offers a unique and compelling African experience.


Banking and Currency

Currency

Ghana Cedi (GHS; symbol ¢) = 100 Ghana pesewas. Notes are in denominations of ¢50, 20, 10, 5 and 1. Coins are in denominations of ¢1 and 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1 pesewas.

The import of local currency is limited to the amount previously taken out of the country and declared. The import of foreign currency is unlimited, but must be declared upon arrival. The export of local currency is limited to ¢1,000. The export of foreign currency is limited to US$5,000 or equivalent. None of this us likely to have any practical implication for tourists.

The exchange rate system has been liberalised and foreign currency is freely available through authorised dealers including banks and foreign exchange bureaux. The US dollar is the most widely recognised currency, and smaller bills often fetch a poor rate compared with US$50 or US$100 bills.

Banking

Banking hours: Monday-Friday 08h30-16h00; some banks also open Sat 08h00-12h00.

Credit and debit cards are accepted by some leading hotels, restaurants, banks, businesses and upmarket shops in Accra, but are seldom accepted elsewhere in the country, and fraud is quite common. In large urban areas such as Accra and Kumasi, a safer bet is to draw local currency from one of the many ATMs that accept international credit cards. By far the most widely accepted type of card is Visa. MasterCard is also accepted at some outlets, but other brands, including American Express and Diners Club, are near useless in Ghana.

In large urban areas such as Accra and Kumasi, ATMs accepting international Visa cards (and occasionally MasterCard) are common.

Travellers cheques are close to useless in Ghana. One of the few places that will exchange them is the head office of Barclays Bank in Accra and Takoradi, but it seems likely this facility will eventually close too.


Travel, Transport and Getting Around

Domestic services between Accra, Takoradi, Kumasi and Tamale are operated by Starbow (www.flystarbow.com), Fly540 (www.fly540africa.com) and Antrak Air (www.antrakair.com).

Formerly very expensive, domestic flights are now quite affordable and a viable alternative to travelling by bus or car.

Car hire services are available in Accra but there are few outlets, and hiring a car can be rather expensive, with or without a driver. However, the only way to reach most sites of interest in Ghana is by road, whether you rent a car and driver, or catch public transport. Be warned that all commercially available maps of Ghana (as well as those issued by the Survey Department in Accra) are seriously out of date, or riddled with inaccuracies, or both. These maps are fine for general orientation purposes, but can't be relied upon fully. Urban roads are generally in good condition, but road conditions can be in poor condition outside of the towns.

The speed limit is 50kph (31mph) in towns and 80kph (50mph) outside of towns. Seat belts are compulsory and drink-driving is illegal. A UK driving licence is theoretically valid for 90 days, but you are less likely to be queried by bribe-seeking officials if you carry an International Driving Permit.

Taxis are available throughout Ghana.

Travelling by coach is usually the best way to travel between major centres. The market used to be dominated by the State Transport Company (STC), which still operates along most major surfaced routes, but better and more reliable air-conditioned services are now provided by operators such as VIP, VVIP and OA.

The usual form of transport on minor routes is minibuses or vans. These break down into two broad categories: newer air-conditioned vans known variously as Fords, Stanbics or Yutons, and older and less comfortable bangers called tro-tros (or sometimes lorries). In small towns and villages, public transport generally arrives at and departs from one central terminus (usually referred to as the ‘station’, or ‘lorry station’).

Larger towns usually have several different stations. Most road transport doesn’t operate to a fixed schedule; vehicles simply wait at their designated station, and leave as soon as they are full. This can seem quite chaotic to first-time visitors, especially where departure points are decentralised, but it is actually quite efficient and straightforward. Local transport is cheap, too, though unfortunately the standard of driving is poor.

Accra has extensive bus and taxi services operated by the private sector. There is an abundance of taxis in the towns. Prices are reasonable. Drivers do not generally expect tips. Other ways of getting around, for the more adventurous traveller, are tro-tros (minibuses), which are usually far less comfortable than taxis.


Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice

Water sources should generally be regarded as being potentially contaminated, and water used for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice should have first been boiled or otherwise sterilised. Inexpensive sachets and bottles of purified water are readily available throughout the country. Milk is unpasteurised and should be boiled. Powdered or tinned milk is available and is advised. Avoid dairy products which are likely to have been made from unboiled milk. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.

International food is available in most large hotels and many restaurants serve a range of local traditional foods. In Accra there are also restaurants serving Middle Eastern, Indian, South East Asian, French and pretty much every other international cuisine you can think of. The country's largest concentration of eateries lies along and around the main drag through Osu - known locally as Oxford Street - where you could literally eat somewhere different every night for a month. Fast food outlets are also well represented in upmarket areas such as Osu and the Accra Mall.

Outside of Accra, a fair selection of cuisines is represented in the likes of Kumasi, Takoradi, Tema, Cape Coast and Elmina. The most popular international cuisine is Chinese, which seems to find its way onto even the most unimaginative hotel restaurant menus.

Alternatively, wherever you are in Ghana, local food can be eaten in small restaurants known as ‘chop bars’, where you will generally be served with rice or a local staple together with a portion of meat or vegetable stew. Almost as ubiquitous (except in a few small and very Islamic settlements in the north) are small local bars known endearingly as 'spots'. These usually serve inexpensive chilled lager-style beers in 750ml bottles (brands include Guder, Bell and Club, all with an alcohol level of around 5%) as well as inexpensive draught beer (called bubra) in the south.

Tipping is permitted; it is not usually included in the bill.


Climate and Weather

Ghana has a typically tropical climate thanks to its proximity to the equator and low elevations – the entire country lies below 1,000m (3300ft). Daytime temperatures are high throughout the year, approaching or surpassing 30°C (86°F) on most days, and humidity is also very high, especially along the coast. Temperatures tend to drop to around 20°C (68°F) drop at night, more noticeably in the relatively dry north than the humid south. The most temperate part of Ghana is the highlands area flanking the Volta Basin, which is often pleasantly cool after dusk.

There are two rainy seasons: from March to July and from September to October Rainfall is highest in the south, with some areas receiving in excess of 2,000mm each year, but the drier north more typically receives about 800mm annually. The capital Accra, together with the coast running east to Togo andBenin, lies within the Dahomey Gap, a tract of savannah that receives relatively little rain and divides the Upper Guinean forests (running westward from central Ghana) from the Lower Guinean forests (running southward from Nigeria southward to the Congo). A noteworthy climatic phenomenon is the harmattan winds, which blow in from the northeast from December to March, bringing dust from the Sahara and reducing visibility to as little as 1km (0.6 miles).


Clothing and Dress Recommendations

Light and loose is the way to go in this humid tropical climate. Bring light trousers or skirts made of a natural fabric such as cotton, combined with a stash of cotton T-shirts, and plenty of socks and underwear, also ideally must be made from natural fabrics to prevent fungal infections. Ghanaians are relatively relaxed about dress codes, but women should keep their shoulders covered and wear a skirt below the knees in the predominantly Muslim north. One sweater or sweatshirt should be adequate, since night time temperatures are seldom chilly. As for footwear, a good pair of walking shoes with solid ankle support is a must, but you'll also want sandals. There is a massive used-clothing industry in Ghana, and having new clothes made from local fabrics is quick and affordable.


Internet Availability

Internet popularity is rapidly growing and service is improving to keep up with demand. Internet facilities can be found in most towns. The connection used to be very slow, but it has greatly improved in recent years. Several mobile phone operators offer affordable and efficient data services and modems, allowing you to access the internet and to send emails through your phone, tablet or laptop


Electricity and Plug Standards

For the most part, there are two types of electrical sockets (outlets) used in Ghana: the "Type G " British BS-1363 and the "Type D" Indian (old British BS-546 5 amp "small") sockets. If your appliance's plug doesn't match the shape of these sockets, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in. Travel plug adapters simply change the shape of your appliance's plug to match whatever type of socket you need to plug into. If it's crucial to be able to plug in no matter what, bring an adapter for both types.

Electrical sockets (outlets) in Ghana usually supply electricity at between 220 and 240 volts AC. If you're plugging in an appliance that was built for 220-240 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need. If your appliance is not compatible with 220-240 electrical output, a voltage converter will be necessary.


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