I’d been drawn to Ghana for many years. Every Ghanaian I’ve encountered in life, to this day, has been one of the kindest, warmest people I’ve met. I have always been intrigued by both the hideous history of slavery and the return to Ghana of African American intellectuals like W.E.B. DuBois. I’ve heard from professors and friends of the welcomes they received in Ghana, and the ties that were forged as a result. Of course, I’d also seen some of the fashion and art, but my knowledge was limited. When Brandon and I both took Ancestry DNA tests and realized we were both over 20 percent Ghanaian, it seemed like we were destined to visit.
I binge watched “An African City” to prepare for a crash course in tackling Accra, arguably West Africa’s coolest city. I was equally excited about getting to taste jollof rice, grilled tilapia, and palm wine. More than anything else, Accra feels alive. It is vibrant and crowded, intriguing and overwhelming. It is never dull. It was really exciting to be in a place where so much development and change is happening. Our base in Ghana was Olma Colonial Suites, in Accra’s trendy Osu neighborhood. Lily loved the pool, and the staff could not have been more friendly and accommodating.
Our first week in Accra was phenomenal. We saw museums and explored neighborhoods, but of course it was the experiences and food that made the difference. We went to a vintage pop-up at funky Elle Lokko, hosted by Maame Adjei, fellow travel enthusiast and one of the stars of An African City. In addition to scoring a fun blouse, I sat down to talk with Maame about life in Accra. She gave me some great suggestions, discussed below.
We had dinner at Sky Bar, a chic rooftop bar/restaurant, with our new friend Yayra. The views, wine, and food were all top notch. Our favorite restaurant in Accra is actually Cote d’Ivoire cuisine. Recommended by nearly everyone, Chez Clarisse did not disappoint. Their grilled fish and meats were incredible.
We celebrated Easter in Ghana with not one but two brunches. We had Easter Sunday brunch at the Golden Tulip, with a lot of local foods and a gospel band. On Easter Monday (a big holiday in Ghana), we went to the Kempinski for an Easter egg hunt, which Lily loved, and a huge spread including Laurent Perrier champagne. The Kempinski was my clear favorite, but both experiences were festive and fun.
I enjoyed speaking with Maame Adjei about her life in Accra, as well as some of her favorite places in the city. Maame returned to Accra five years ago, after many years in London and the US. For first time visitors, Maame’s musts are the Accra Art Center, as well as Tea Baa, Buka (great for lunch), and Chez Clarisse. Maame was hosting the vintage pop-up at Elle Lokko. There was a furniture designer there as well, so it was a fantastic shopping experience. I saw a lot of pieces I really loved, but I had to limit myself because…well, suitcase space.
I also got some great tips from Afua Rida, Accra stylist and blogger. Her favorite restaurants include Labadi Beach for brunch and Santouku for sushi. She also loves Chez Clarisse, and recommends Republic Bar for drinks (we tried it and loved it), as well as the bars at the Kempinski and Sky Bar. Afua Rida is a fan of Christie Brown (as I am now), Elle Lokko, and Viva Boutique for shopping.
Cape Coast and Elmina
From Accra we traveled to the coast. I had mixed feelings about visiting the castles at Cape Coast and Elmina. Knowing that some of my ancestors were probably held captive there in unimaginably horrendous conditions made everything much more real. However, it was an important experience that I’m grateful I was able to have.
While in the area, we visited Kakum National Park. Somehow, I let Brandon talk Lily and I into doing the tree canopy walk. I have no idea what I was thinking, but we made it. If you’re not a huge fan of heights and things moving while you walk, I’d suggest skipping this particular stop. The views are really beautiful though, as long as you’re ok with looking down.
The only thing I knew about Kumasi prior to visiting was that it is where the Ashanti king lives. While Kumasi is rough around the edges, it was full of interesting history and practices. We were able to see the Ashanti king come out for an elaborate monthly ceremony. Monthly is every 42 days according to the Ashanti calendar, so our timing just happened to work out perfectly. The music and drums were such a spectacle, and it was unreal to see a living Ashanti king being carried around before his people with all the fanfare you’d imagine.
I also loved visiting the kente villages just outside the city. We were able to see the kente weaving process from start to finish, and the artistry was so impressive to watch.
When we returned to Accra for a few short days, we went on a day trip to Lake Volta. Our incredible guides, Jaye and Dennis of Bravehearts Expeditions, made sure we had an unforgettable adventure. Jaye started the company, and his passion for the natural wonders of Ghana is infectious. Dennis was amazingly cool and calm…not at all intimidated by a toddler. Lily took to him and they had a great time throughout the day. We began with a scenic hike. Our next task was rappelling down a small cliff. Never in a million years would I have imagined doing something like that, but I made it. Lily went down on Jaye’s back (with all of her safety equipment of course). We next kayaked to a gorgeous private island, owned by Bravehearts. Now, I had never kayaked in my life. When I heard the trip was going to be an hour and a half, I had a silent heart attack. Surprisingly, I loved it! Kayaking is really peaceful, and a great arm workout. Brandon was in the next boat with Dennis, and I had to give him a hard time because he wasn’t doing nearly as much paddling. When we reached the island, we had a delicious lunch of jollof rice. We then swam in the beautiful lake, and took a short walk around the island. It was the kind of perfect day that reminds you why you travel in the first place.
Over the course of two weeks, Ghana crept into my soul. The people I met and experiences I had there will stay with me for years to come.