What I Learned while Traveling in Ghana: Getting AroundAfrica, Air, Bus, Dispatches from the Road, Extras, Getting There, Ghana, Train — By Heather D on February 3, 2011 at 6:00 am
This past summer, I spent five weeks traveling in Ghana with a group of students from Syracuse University. Although this trip was not my first time in a foreign country, it was my first time in a developing country, and I had no idea what to expect. Before I left family and friends filled my head with worries about malaria and crime, and those daily malaria pills were a great reminder of possible threats. However, I returned home free of malaria and travel horror stories. In fact, I returned having met some fascinating people who, no matter what obstacles they face, continue to live their lives helping others. Over the next few weeks I will be writing a series about the people I met and the lessons I learned while traveling in Ghana.
Trying to get from one region to another in a developing country can be slightly more difficult than just hoping on a train and enjoying the scenery. Personally, I enjoy the entire traveling experience. Airports don’t frustrate me, trains don’t bore me, and I’m not afraid to hail a cab to get where I need to go. But Ghana took me way outside of my comfort zone. Although there was no language barrier, I was suddenly trying to navigate around a country whose customs and traditions were foreign to me. For instance, be sure not to hand your taxi driver money in your left hand. In Ghana, using your left hand to eat, greet, or pay someone is basically the same as walking up to them and spitting on them. It is a sign of disrespect.
But don’t worry. After a few days you will grasp the customs, and your next task will be how to leave your hotel and explore. If you can tolerate being sandwiched in a taxi in the blazing heat, while weaving in and out of traffic at such high speeds that the car whines, then traveling in Ghana will be no problem for you. It may even be a bit thrilling.
Whether you are staying local or journeying from border to border, you’ll be using one of these five methods of transportation: a taxi, a tro-tro, an airplane, a train, or a coach bus.
If you are visiting the city, a taxi will be your best friend. The first time I flagged down a taxi in Accra was a bit overwhelming. Here is a helpful hint: Negotiate the price before getting in. I was unaware of this rule and naively flagged down the taxi opened the door and got in. The driver was very surprised, and when I got to my destination, I wound up paying almost double what the ride should have cost. But don’t let my first experience freak you out. Some of the best conversations I had in Ghana were with taxi drivers. Most of the drivers in Accra are originally from the northern part of Ghana and have amazing and sometimes sad stories. So here is the takeaway with traveling by taxi. Negotiate the price before you get in the taxi, and once you are inside, hold on tight. Driving in Ghana makes driving in New York City seem like a walk in the park.
Tro-tros are for the adventurous traveler. Tro-tros are like taxis but instead of having a car to yourself, you have a 16-passenger van filled with locals. The great thing about this type of transportation is not only is it cheaper than a taxi, but you also get to meet and talk to people. I used this type of transportation primarily in Kumasi. The important thing to know about tro-tros is where you have to go. The loading station, which is a designated area along the side of the road, will be lined with vans but they each take different routes. Once you locate your van by either knowing what you’re doing or asking a local for help, you hop in and pay your ten pesewas, which is less than the American dime. The downside to tro-tros are the drivers like to fill up the van. Chances are you will be crammed into a corner while sweating profusely next to a stranger. But if you are traveling in Ghana you have probably all ready gotten used to sweating.
I flew from Kotoka International Airport in Accra to the Tamale Airport, located in the northern region of Ghana. I was very nervous about flying within the country because I didn’t know what security was like for domestic flights or what safety regulations Ghana had in place. Fortunately, all of my fears were unwarranted. We arrived at the airport early, checked in our luggage, and then passed through a small but still comforting security check. The domestic flight was much more comfortable than traveling across country by tro-tro. It also had air conditioning!
Although I personally never saw a train, Ghana’s railways travel between all 10 regional capitals. If you’re looking to cover a lot of ground and don’t want to waste a day on traveling, then the train will be your best option. Most of the longer trips are done overnight, allowing you to do sightseeing during the day and catch up on sleep at night while you journey to another region.
My biggest travel surprise occurred when I saw the luxury coach bus that took us on a nine-hour journey from Kumasi to Accra. When I learned we were going back to Accra by bus, I assumed that meant nine hours squished in a tro-tro. But then I saw the 54-passenger seat coach bus with the side mirrors that look like ant antennas. Our group gleefully boarded the bus with the rest of the passengers.
Here is another side note about long journeys by car. Ghana has made huge improvements to their roads. However, there are many miles of roads that haven’t been paved or maintained. This makes for a very bumpy ride. If you’re prone to carsickness bring a bag and some crackers.
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