General Information About Ghana:
The People: Ghanaians come from six main ethnic groups: the Ga-Adangbe, the Ewe, the Akan (Ashanti and Fanti), the Mole-Dagbani, the Guan, and the Gurma. The Ashanti peoples (Asante) of the Akan are the largest group in Ghana and one of the few matrilineal societies in West Africa. Once known for their military might, they are most famous today for their craft work, particularly their hand-carved stools and fertility dolls and their colourful kente cloth. The Ewe largely settled in southeastern Ghana and the southern parts of neighboring Togo and Benin, and are also known for beautiful Kente work. The Fantis are mainly located in the coastal areas of Ghana, where the ‘castles’ and fortresses used during the Atlantic Slave Trade are located. The Ga-Adangbe people inhabit the Accra Plains. The Adangbe are found to the east, the Ga groups, to the west of the Accra coastlands.
The major languages spoken: are Twi, Fante, Ga, Hausa, Dagbani, Ewe and Nzema. However, English remains the official language of Ghana. The Legal System: Based on the English Legal system.
Religions: Ghana has the highest percentage of Christians in West Africa. An approximate breakdown of religions suggests that 60% are Christian, 15% are Muslim and 25% practice traditional African religions.
The Climate: Ghana’s climate is tropical but relatively mild. There are two rainy seasons for most of the country, from April to June and from September to November. However, in the north of the country squalls occur in March and April, followed by occasional rain until August and September, when the rainfall season peaks. The temperatures range between 21°C and 32°C (70°F – 90°F), relative humidity between 50% and 80%. Rainfall ranges from 30 to 80 inches a year. The ‘harmattan’, a dry desert wind, blows from the northeast from December to March lowering the humidity and causing hot day and cool nights in the north. The effect of this wind is felt in the south during January. In most areas, temperatures are highest in March and lowest in August after the rains.
Passport and Visa Required : Travel to Ghana requires a valid passport, with at least 6 months prior to expiration at the time of travel, and a valid travel visa. Persons can apply for a visa through the Ghanaian Embassy in Washington, DC. Adult passport fees are $145 for new and $110 for renewal. Visa fees are $60 for single entry and $100 for multiple entry (for future travel).
Travel Insurance: It is advisable to always ensure you have a comprehensive travel insurance policy which covers you for repatriation to your home country.
Yellow Fever & Other Vaccinations - All persons over the age of 9 months MUST be vaccinated against yellow fever to travel to Ghana. Proof of vaccination is required upon entry. Please check with your doctor or travel clinic for yellow fever and other recommended vaccinations/medications, including protection against Malaria. Vaccinations can cost up to $400 depending on your health insurance.
The only immunization you are required by Ghana to have is for Yellow Fever. All the others are optional, and at your discretion, so talk to your doctor or travel medicine clinician about it. The necessity or otherwise of the optional immunizations may depend on how long you intend to stay, and whether or not you plan to stray from the cities off the beaten path.
Malaria : The decision to take malaria medications is totally up to you. But there is no getting around the fact that malaria exists in Sub-Saharan Africa. From the States you will likely be prescribed Lariam, which you start taking in advance of your trip, then during your trip and then for a few weeks after your trip. You’ll have to do your research to decide if Lariam is right for you, given the side effects and other issues. Another option is Malarone, a once-a-day medication that you take a few days before you arrive, every day during your holiday, and for a few days after you return. This medication is not associated with the vivid dreams encountered by a small number of Larium users.
For sure, do bring a good mosquito repellent, such as Sawyer or one you’d buy in a sporting goods store. The mosquitoes that bite are always female, and not all bites will result in malaria; wear long sleeve shirts and long pants, rub or spray repellent at your ankles. When sleeping, keep your ceiling fan turned on. These mosquitoes are tiny, perhaps very unlike ones you're familiar with in the U.S. and elsewhere, and you’d be surprised that one tiny bug could create such havoc. If you decide not to take malaria medicine, for whatever reason, know that you can buy short term (about 3 days) malarial treatments such as artesunate, over the counter here. It wouldn’t hurt for you to purchase these inexpensive treatments before you leave to bring back with you; in the event you begin to display malarial symptoms, your treatment is at hand. Symptoms include fever, chills, aches and pains, lack of appetite, lethargy… similar symptoms to flu or cold, but not all doctors will look for malaria first, unless you specifically tell them you’ve just returned from Sub-Saharan Africa.
Another hint. At night, if you hear mosquitoes buzzing around your ear, maybe your risk of getting malaria is less than if you are getting bitten but NOT hearing the mosquitoes buzzing around you.
Bring your prescription medicines with you. You can get basic medicines here at licensed chemists (drug stores), though the formulations may be different. Paracetamol (like Tylenol) and ibuprofen are sold in 10 pack blister packs for about .10 and .20,000 cedis, respectively. You can also get some brands that are well known in the U.S., like Tylenol, Advil, Maalox, Milk of Magnesia, Benadryl, etc., but you will pay dearly for them. Some items that are prescription only in the U.S. are readily available here without prescription; easily obtainable are albuterol inhalers, and allergy medicine like Allegra (called Telefast here) over the counter. Go to a reputable licensed chemist such as the those in MaxMart or at A&C Shopping Mall in East Legon.
The better hospitals are 37 Military Hospital and Korle Bu Teaching Hospital; for a good GP, Dr. Jane Ansafo-Mensah at Philips Clinic, Tel 021 76 86 81 or 0244 32 75 20, located at 12 Adembra Road, East Cantonments. She has an on-site laboratory as well. An excellent UK trained dentist is Dr. Dennis Ilogu at Beaver Dental Clinic at Airport Residential Clinic, tel 021 771 785 who also has a location in Takaradi; he can handle almost all types of dental issues including cosmetic, root canal, extraction, orthodontics, etc.
Don’t drink water from the tap ever. You can purchase bottled water from most any shop, or pure water sachets from hawkers on the street. A bottle of water is about .50 cents a liter and a sachet is about .3 cents a bag. Don’t buy water called “ice water” which is just chilled tap water in a tied plastic bag; the pure water sachets have undergone a filtration treatment and are produced in a heat sealed sachet. Good bottled water would be Dasani (a Coke product), Voltic and Aqua-In; good sachet water producers would be Ice Cool, Aqua-In, Voltic and Little Drops.
Bring your own. If you are dark-skinned, you can find basic (Soft Sheen Carson products) hair care and beauty products anywhere. But if you are pale, you will find the best items only in the big “supermarkets” such as Koala, Game and MaxMart, and they can be very expensive. Personal hygiene products are very basic here, so if you have a favourite, shampoo, deoderant, razor, shaving cream, make-up, cream, tampon, or pad, bring it, you will likely not find it here. Sunscreen and after-sun care products are also difficult to find, so it is very advisable to bring your favourite brand.
The Accra Mall is near the airport with big South African chain stores like Game and Shoprite. Then there is also the Koala supermarket in Osu and the MaxMart supremarkets in Cantonments and East Legon. These stores stock many American and European products, at a premium price. Other stores that may be worth shopping at are Sotrec (in Osu) and Evergreen (Tema, Comm. 4). If you’ve got room in your luggage, bring your favorites with you. Outside of Accra, the opportunity to purchase imported items is limited to Kumasi. So if you are travelling, you may want to consider purchasing an ice box to bring some of your favourites with you. In the Accra Mall there is also an internet cafe, a pharmacy, an Apple store, a cinema and bookstore. Also avaialable are electronics, mens and womens fashions (traditional and modern), baby items, footware, chocolates, colognes and perfumes.
Uber is in Ghana!!! At least in the major cities so your prayers are answered!
Accra also still has thousands of taxis, and sadly, not all of the taxi drivers are licensed to drive. Use your good judgment when hailing a taxi; does the car appear to be in good condition and clean inside and out, is the driver neatly dressed, does the driver speak some English? Negotiate the price before you get in. There is no place within Accra that is very far from any other place in Accra. The issue is traffic. Accra’s infrastructure cannot support the number of cars, so traffic jams are not uncommon at any time of the day or night. Still, the cost of a taxi is very reasonable. Bear in mind that if a taxi driver believes you are a tourist, he’ll automatically assume you are rich. Whatever price he quotes, offer half of that and then find a happy medium. If you’re not happy with the price, wait for the next guy, remember, there are lots around.
Other forms of transportation: Tro-tros, Fast Cars, STC buses, and car-hire (with driver)
Although the road infrastructure is improving at a fantastic rate, driving in Ghana is not for the novice! Considering the heavy traffic, the challenging road conditions, the nameless streets, the reckless drivers, the lack of street signage or traffic lights, and so on, you may want to think twice before you drive yourself around Accra or anywhere in Ghana. There could be further complications if you happen to hit livestock, or another vehicle even with the proper credentials. Foreigners are seen as wealthy, and can be taken advantage of in the system, so try to travel with a local escort.
Fresh produce is plentiful in Accra, and you will see/hear hawkers selling bananas, peanuts (ground nuts), pineapple, oranges (they are green here), apples (imported from South Africa), pawpaw (papaya). There is a wide range of fresh produce available in Accra, and all over- depending on the season. If you want imported items these are mainly only sold in Accra, and to a lesser extent Kumasi. Don't eat anything fresh that isn't cooked or peeled in front of you.
Accra is now full of fantastic places to eat out! It’s a vibrant and exciting place to stay- both in the center of town and in the great areas Accra now extends to: including East Legon, Kwabenya/Pokuase, and others. The big hotels offer local and continental dishes, at exorbitant hotel prices. Remember, Ghanaian foods are typically spicy, so most everything you order will be spice, but it is usually mild compated to Indian, Korean or Mexican cuisines.
Try some local cuisine such as: light soup with fufu, which is a tomato based soup. Groundnut soup is also very good, served in the same manner. If you like American gumbo, consider trying okro (okra) stew. An alternative to soups and stews is red-red, (fried sweet plantains with red beans, in palm oil), or palava sauce (egg & spinach) and yam chips. Other traditional foods include: kenkey (fermented corn dough) with fried fish and " shito" (hot pepper, ginger, dried shrimps fried in tomato paste with additional spices) and keta school boys or one man thousand, which are small fried fish, grilled tilapia and banku- but you can also enjoy vegan versions of these local dishes with okro stew.
Roadside hawkers also sell great snack foods like fried crispy plantain chips, roasted corn, popcorn and fried dough. Be brave, try it all!
There are lots of other choices, if the local food is not for you. There are many Chinese restaurants near the Tetteh Quarshie Circle and Osu. Jamaican Restaurants in East Legon- the fantastic JamRock on Jungle Avenue; or the Caribbean influenced vegan Cafe Ina Zion in Kwabenya/Pokuase.
Yes, this may seem like a weird topic, but Ghanaian restaurants, even those selling "continental food" have very little use for condiments. You can get some local brand of ketchup, and maybe mayonnaise (NOT usually refrigerated!), but that is about it. Condiments and pickles are a foreign concept in Ghana, so again, bring your favourites or see if you can find them in one of the supermarkets.
Tipping and Gratuities
Ghanaian workers appreciate your tips very much. The average hospitality worker likely makes less than $2.00 per day; the tips supplement their salary. If the service is good, and your needs are attended to promptly and efficiently, a tip or gratuity of 10% is exceptionally adequate. There is no need to tip by Western standards, no one here expects it, and it won't improve your service (though the next time you frequent the same venue, you'll likely see a free-for-all among the waiters vying for your table!). If you really want attentive service, then consider "dashing" your wait person or hotel employee up-front. With a few kind words on your part, such as, "Hope you'll take good care of us " you'll be more likely to get better and more consistent service.
Many U.K. : based banks are here, including Barclays and Standard Chartered; local banks are Ghana Commercial Bank, Zenith Bank (from Nigeria) and other commercial banks. Most of the big banks have ATMs which give only local currency. Before you leave home, contact your bank or credit card company, regarding your ATM card to be sure it will work overseas and in case you need a special PIN number.
Credit Cards : Don’t use them. Sad to say, credit card fraud abounds in Ghana. It happens all too frequently. Not even in the big hotels should you consider using your credit card. Convert traveler’s checks or use the ATMs, as cash is the best way to pay for your purchases. Only use your credit card at an ATM or a POS terminal, which are few and far between, anyway.
Cash, Traveler’s Checks and Foreign Exchange – Bring only cash or traveler’s checks to exchange into Ghana cedis. There are forex bureaus everywhere. Don’t allow an individual on the street to exchange money for you, even if he quotes you good rates… there’s a strong likelihood the money is counterfeit. Ghana Cedis.
Power & Electronics
Ghana suffers from occasional power outages but it is getting better and many places have back-up generators. However, the power surges can damage electronics, so consider using a surge protector.
Ghana uses 220V power, so if you are bringing a blow dryer, electric shaver, laptop or any other electrical appliance, you may need to purchase a “step down” transformer. Some appliances have a 110/220 switch, which will work fine, all you need then is a small plug-in adapter that will accept your plug type. A “step-down” transformer can be purchased locally for about $10-12USD; and a plug in adapter will cost about $1USD.
Check with your cellular carrier to see if you can roam while in Ghana. Alternatively, you can get a cheap cell phone here and SIM card for under $1. (MTN) that includes a SIM card and you can buy scratch-off phone cards for air-time credit from $1.
The Currency: 100 pesewas=1 Cedi
Local Time: Ghana has the same time as that of GMT