Updated: Jan 10, 2020
My Ghana journey began primarily as a celebration of a great friend’s milestone birthday. Fate would have it that her December 2019 birthday coincided with other momentous events in Ghana: The Year of the Return and Afrochello.
The seven of us had different paths to Accra. Mine originated on Christmas Eve in Chicago where I caught a flight to Lisbon and spent a lonely 12-hour layover wandering the airport, then hunkering down in the lounge. Due to the closure of most businesses for the holiday, plus the fact I had visited Lisbon before, I chose not to venture outside the compounds of the Portela Airport. Shortly before midnight on Christmas Day I arrived solo to Accra and was whisked to the Kempinski Hotel. The streets were quiet and dark, except for the occasional holiday display, therefore, I was not able to get a good feel for the city.
WHERE TO STAY
The Kempinski is heralded as the most luxurious hotel and "the place to stay" while in Accra. The number of celebrities we saw throughout our stay helped cement this notion. Both Essence Magazine and Shea Moisture used the hotel as their base during the week of festivities. The lobby was beautifully decked with festive trees and decor. The following day I would visit the pop-up shop "Afri Style Lounge" located in the lobby and purchase a marvelous skirt, which I intend on wearing for a bridal shower fashion show competition. That is a whole other story! Unbeknownst to me at the time I met the President's daughter, who has a skincare line that was being sold in the pop-up. She was gracious enough to answer a few questions we had. I only learned of her identify later when reading The Beauty Issue of Glitz Africa while relaxing in the spa lounge after a massage. This demonstrated how welcoming and approachable everyone was during our visit.
The most striking feature of the Kempinski Accra is the art exhibited throughout the property. At every turn you will find Afrocentric paintings, sculptures, and displays. Gallery 1957, which highlights West African and diaspora artists, is also located inside the hotel. Neutral tones and hues dominated the common spaces and rooms, which are spacious and comfortable.
For me the highlight was the daily breakfast buffet serving an impressive spread of global cuisine, made-to-order omelettes, fresh squeezed juices, and mimosas. My plate was stacked with the cheese bread that was prepared before my eyes in a brick oven stove, and occasionally I would use one of the Indian dishes as a dipping sauce. Time got away from us before we could chill in the contemporary restaurant and bar directly off of the lobby.
My vote for the heart and hub of the property has to be the infinity pool located on level three. Perched on lounge chairs or in a cabana with drinks and food I could see all the action. From the edge of the pool I had a birds-eye view of events in the courtyard such as weddings and luncheons (including one with the President).
When I return I intend to experience Villa Monticello Boutique Hotel or Kwarleyz Residence Accra.
WHAT TO DO
Mokola Market - Our first true taste of Accra life came during our visit to Mokala market. The streets and sidewalks are loud, hot, and crammed with every type of product and food imaginable. You have to experience it for yourself. The prices are extremely reasonable and I highly recommend purchasing fabric. During our visit everyone was able to have custom attire made and delivered prior to our departure.
Afrochella - Social media would have you believe that Afrochella was the new Fyre Festival and I want to take this opportunity to dispel some of the rumors. Our local based guide purchased our VIP tickets and we arrived early. As a result, we avoided long lines and had time to enjoy the experimental exhibits by Essence and Shea Moisture. The music was great, the fashion and people watching were amazing, and we had a good time.
Jamestown - An art wall with "Game Ghana" next to basketball is what inspired the title of this post. Jamestown is a colonial era district along the coast. Though it is one of the poorest areas of the city, it is vibrant and full of life. Our first stop was a basketball court adjacent to a flooded subterranean tunnels that were used in centuries past as a part of the slave trade.
Kwame Nkrumah Monument and Museum and Independence Square should not be missed and offers beautiful photo ops.
Accra has a budding rooftop scene so grab a drink and appetizers then enjoy the views.
No visit to Ghana is complete without a visit to one of the castles for an education. Our guide at the Elmina Castle provided a rousing and powerful account of on the dark history of the castle and repercussions of the transatlantic slave trade up until the present day. In addition to the tour, we witnessed the pouring of liberations from a holy man and participated in naming ceremony in the shadow of the Door of No Return.
Assin Manso Last Bath Slave River is a serenely and emotional experience at the waters where enslaved Africans bathed before being transported to the West. Grand bamboo trees pepper the shores and gold specks glisten on the rocks beneath our feet, while we quietly reflect.
Other stops that satisfied our educational and shopping needs: (1) Learn more about the rich history of the kente cloth and the importance of cocoa, (2) Visit a family that creates dyes and casts then create your own masterpiece, and the Okomfo Anokye Sword site.
Kumasi is the seat of the "Ashanti" Region and is a short 45 minute flight northwest of Accra. Despite common misconceptions, the "Ashante" people do not worship their ancestors. Every six weeks Kumasi serves as the backdrop for the Akwasidae Festival, which is a Ashanti celebration paying homage to the ancestors. Attendance of Ashante chiefs from around the world is typical and we had the pleasure of meeting several such as the chief of the Netherlands.
Unfortunately our late arrival meant we missed the festivities, yet there is always a silver lining. As we were being courted by the local media for our perspective on the Year of the Return, one of the chiefs invited us to the King's palace for dinner and drinks. While being ushered through the gates our Kumasi born and based guide was awestruck because he had never been inside the palace grounds. While seated under a tree we laughed, drank, and conversed with the chiefs and their families. Despite no appearance from the King, who was inside resting, I have to admit this was the highlight of my trip.
Despite being only a 45 minute drive, the town of Aburi is worlds away from Accra. This mountainous area is home to a botanical garden frequented by locals. The Hillburi provided us time to wind down before embarking on our journeys home. Tucked high in the hills amongst the dense trees this rustic resort has no light or noise pollution. We spent the evening bonding and unwinding by playing games, eating, and drinking on the terrace outside our adjacent rooms.
Finally and foremost I want to praise our guides Biney and Kofi for the high quality care and service they provided to our group. They were critical in the success and magic ur trip. I truly do not know what we would have done without them. They are highly recommended and can be found here. If this is your first time to Ghana I do not recommend freestyling. Find a reputable guide and driver.
From our experience the service in Ghana is slow and lackluster. Most people were kind and well meaning, yet
Almost every restaurant had extensive menus, yet many items listed were not available. One tip would be to ask what is recommended or have a second option ready when making your orders.
Clean bathrooms may be hard to come by so plan accordingly or inform your guide.
What did I miss?
Name your favorite places to at?