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Ghana is a land with a formidable past. Home to the Ashanti tribe, the wealth and splendor of Ashanti rulers was a thing to be marveled at, as Europeans greedily did. Ghana was first exploited for its gold, then its slaves. European settlement was rapid, spurred on by a fierce competition between the four European countries who warred for control of the slave trade: Portugal, Holland, Britain and Denmark. The British finally took charge of Ghana, maintaining their presence after the slave trade was outlawed. In 1957, however, Ghana became the first African nation to achieve independence.
Since then, Ghana has developed into a highlight of West African travel. Its past informs its present, with legends related to the Ashanti tribe still superstitiously upheld. Lively culture, one of the best cities on the continent (the capital, Accra), a unique and interesting Atlantic coast and a lush, beautiful landscape are some of the basic reasons for Ghana's popularity among travellers.
There is archaeological evidence which shows that humans have lived in what is present day Ghana from about 1500 BC. Nonetheless, there is no proof that those early dwellers are related to the current inhabitants of the area of Ghana's current ethnic groups such as the multi-ethnic Akan, the Ga and the Ewe arrived around the 13th Century AD. However, the Dagombas are believed to be the first settlers, having been fully established by 1210 AD, before the arrival of other ethnic groups.
Modern Ghanaian territory includes what was the Empire of Ashanti, one of the most influential states in sub-Saharan Africa before colonial rule. The Ashanti government operated first as a loose network and eventually as a centralized kingdom with an advanced, highly specialized bureaucracy centered in Kumasi.
Early European contact by the Portuguese, who came to Ghana in the 15th century, focused on the extensive availability of gold. The Portuguese first landed at a coastal city inhabited by the Fante nation-state and they named the place Elmina, which means "the mine" in Portuguese. In 1481, King John II of Portugal commissioned Diogo d'Azambuja to build Elmina Castle, which was completed in 3 years. Their aim was to trade in gold, ivory and slaves, consolidating their burgeoning political and economic power in the region. By 1548, the Dutch had joined them, and built forts at Komenda and Kormantsi. In 1617, they captured the Olnini Castle from the Portuguese and Axim in 1642 (Fort St Anthony). Other European traders joined in by the mid 17th century, largely English, Danes and Swedes. British merchants, impressed with the gold resources in the area, named it the Gold Coast, while French merchants, impressed with the trinkets worn by the coastal people, named the area to the west "Côte d'Ivoire", or Ivory Coast.
After the Dutch withdrew in 1874, Britain made the Gold Coast a protectorate. Following conquest by the British in 1896, until independence in March 1957, the territory of modern Ghana excluding the Volta Region (British Togoland), was known as the Gold Coast.
A series of subsequent coups from 1966 to 1981 ended with the ascension to power of Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings in 1981. These changes resulted in the suspension of the constitution in 1981 and the banning of political parties. The economy suffered a severe decline soon after, and many Ghanaians migrated to other countries. Rawlings soon negotiated a structural adjustment plan with the International Monetary Fund and changed many old economic policies and; thus, the economy soon began to recover. A new constitution restoring multi-party politics was promulgated in 1992, and Rawlings was elected as president then and again in 1996. In 2009, John Atta Mills took office as president with a difference of about 40,000 votes (0.46%) between his party, the National Democratic Congress, and the New Patriotic Party, marking the second time that power had been transferred from one legitimately elected leader to another, and securing Ghana's status as a stable democracy.
Ghana is a country located on the Gulf of Guinea, only a few degrees north of the Equator. The country spans an area of 238,500 km2. It is surrounded by Togo to the east, Côte d'Ivoire to the west, Burkina Faso to the north and the Gulf of Guinea (Atlantic Ocean) to the south. Ghana lies between latitudes 4° and 12°N, and longitudes 4°W and 2°E. The Prime Meridian passes through the country, specifically through the industrial city of Tema. Ghana is geographically closer to the "centre" of the world than any other country even though the notional centre, (0°, 0°) is located in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 614 kilometres south of Accra, Ghana, in the Gulf of Guinea.
The country encompasses flat plains, low hills and a few rivers. Ghana can be divided into four different geographical regions. The coastline is mostly a low, sandy shore backed by plains and scrub and intersected by several rivers and streams while the northern part of the country features high plains. Southwest and south central Ghana is made up of a forested plateau region consisting of the Ashanti uplands and the Kwahu Plateau; the hilly Akwapim-Togo ranges are found along the country's eastern border. The Volta Basin also takes up most of central Ghana. Ghana's highest point is Mount Afadjato which is 885 metres and is found in the Akwapim-Togo Ranges. Lake Volta, the world's largest artificial lake, extends through large portions of eastern Ghana and many tributary rivers such as the Oti and Afram rivers flow into it. Southern Ghana contains evergreen and semi-deciduous forests consisting of trees such as mahogany, odum and ebony. It also contains much of Ghana's oil palms and mangroves. Shea trees, baobabs and acacias are usually found in the Volta region and the northern part of the country.
Ghana is made up of 10 regions:
Osu Castle, also known as Fort Christianborg, is located in the capital and the building is the current seat of government. The original fort was built by the Danes in the mid 17th century, although the fort has been reconstructed several times. It has also switched between the hands of several different powers. During British rule the fort was made into the seat of government. Sadly today the fort is not open to the public and photography is limited for reasons of national security.
Elmina Castle built by the Portuguese in 1482 was the first fort built on the Gulf of Guinea in the present day town of Elmina. It is also the oldest European building south of the Sahara Desert. The castle quickly became an important stop along the Atlantic Slave Trade. This was continued even after the Dutch took over the fort in 1637. The British took control of the fort in 1871 and ended the slave trade. Today the castle is considered a popular tourist destination and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Currently the castle is undergoing major renovations that should be completed in 2015.
The Memorial to Kwame Nkrumah is one of the most beautiful memorials in all of Africa. Kwame Nkrumah was an extremely important person to the Pan-African movement and this memorial helps to reflect that. Located in Accra, this memorial is a great way to spend an afternoon.
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As Ghana stretches from the Atlantic coastline towards the edges of the Sahara desert, the climate, although being hot almost anywhere anytime, has some variety. The coastal area is hot and humid yearround, with temperatures around 30 °C on most days. February to May is a bit hotter, when even nights are very warm at 26 °C on average. Although the rainy season lasts from May to October, there generally is a peak in May/June and another in October, while in between it is relatively dry. What is rather strange, is that rainfall along the coast is less than immediately inland. There are two reason for this. First, the heaviest rainfall in Benin coincides with waters offshore being unusually cool for near-equatorial latitudes; a cool current appears on the ocean surface. Second, the coast follows a direction from west/southwest to east/northeast and is parallel with the prevailing winds. In the north of the country, there is single rainy season from May to September and a long and hot dry season from October to April. The total amount of rain is much less compared to the southern and coastal zones. Temperatures during the hot season can reach well over 40 °C during the days. From December to February the hot, dry and dusty Harmattan wind blows over most of the country as well, reaching almost to the coast although here with prevailing southwestern winds, the Harmattan only infects life for several days a year.
Kotoka International Airport (ACC) near Accra is the main gateway to Ghana. International destinations include Johannesburg, London and Lagos. KLM flies to and from Amsterdam directly. British Airways and Lufthansa fly to London and Frankfurt respectively and New York and Atlanta are served by Delta Airlines. Alitalia flies to Milan. Other airlines and cities served are mainly within the West African region, but Cairo, Washington, D.C., Istanbul, Dubai, Casablanca, Beirut and Johannesburg have flights as well, mostly with their respective national airlines. ASKY Airlines has most services, including Banjul, Lomé, Dakar, Conakry, Freetown, Ouagadougou, Monrovia, Abidjan, Cotonou and Bamako.
You can use all crossing to Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire and Togo mentioned below though travelling to Cote d'Ivoire generally is still not recommended. Be sure to have your car papers and insurance in order. Crossings are relatively hassle free and most roads are in an agreeable situation.
To Burkina Faso, there are buses between Accra and Ouagadougou, normally via Kumasi, Tamale, Bolgatanga, Paga and Po (Burkina Faso). It takes around 24 hours when you take the direct service (daily, except Sunday). From Kumasi it's 20 hours, but only once a week. If you are doing it in stages, there are frequent services from Bolgatangato the border at Paga from where you can get onward transport to Po and Ouagadougou.
Another crossing is in the northwest of Ghana, between Tumu and Léo or from Hamale or Lawra and onto Bobo-Dioulasso. Tumu is reached from Bolgatanga, Hamale from Bolgatanga or Wa, and Lawra from Wa.
To Cote d'Ivoire you can take buses or bush taxis between Accra and Abidjan, via Elubo, with multiple connections daily. It's about 12 hour by regular bus. Another crossing is between Bole and Bouna, but it involves crossing the Black Volta river.
Buses and bush taxis go to Aflao, the border town with Togo, from Accra. Here you have to cross by foot and get onward transport to Lomé. If you need a visa, be sure to arrive during the afternoon or better: morning.
Only cargo ships and the occasional private yacht harbors along Ghana's coastline, so no official passenger services exist.
Domestic services from Accra include Kumasi, Sunyani, Takoradi and Tamale with Antrak Air and CitYlinK.
There is a rail line connecting the cities of Accra, Takoradi and Kumasi and several intervening towns. There is also a rail link between the two main ports of Tema and Takoradi. Trains run at least twice a day between most destination.
You can rent cars, either with or without a driver, in Accra, but rates are very high. Roads are generally in a good condition but some minor roads are potholed or of the dirt and gravel kind and sometimes impassable when heavy rains strike the country during season. Traffic drives on the right and you need an international driving permit.
STC operate between Accra, Kumasi, Takoradi, Tamale, Cape Coast and other main cities and there are fast aircon express services, as well as slower buses. On some routes, you might find minibuses (tro-tros), converted trucks or shared taxis (seven seat Peugeots) much more comfortable, cheaper and faster.
The Yapei Queen runs twice weekly across Lake Volta between Akosombo and Yeji. Ferries connect at Yeji for Buipe and Makongo, both from which it is possible to arrange onward transportation to Tamale.
People from most West African countries (ECOWAS members) don't need a visa. Visas for people from Kenya, Zimbabwe and Egypt are free for up to 30 days.
Theoretically, a visa upon arrival is available for many nationals, though in practice this doesn't work always! Better do get a visa beforehand at the nearest embassy or consulate of Ghana. Single-entry 3 month valid visas are usually around $50 while one year multiple-entry visas are around $80.
See also Money Matters
See also Travel Health
Proof that you had a yellow fever vaccination is required upon entering Ghana. Also you have to have a cholera stamp (proof of the fact you don't have the disease) when entering Ghana overland.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Ghana. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A as well as typhoid would be recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. When staying longer than 6 months, vaccination against meningitis might be recommended, depending on your contact with other people and time of year.
Like most African countries south of the Sahara, Malaria is prevalent in the country. Don't underestimate this tropical disease and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Dengue is present as well, especially in urban areas, but there is no vaccination.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
See also International Telephone Calls
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