Up Among the Treetops
Ghana is one of the most exhilarating places in West Africa, with vibrant cities, dense rainforests, picturesque coastlines, historic UNESCO sites, and heart-pounding traditional drum and dance performances. At times, it can be a solemn place, given its tragic past as a major shipping point for Africans being sent to America as slaves. But mostly, it’s lively and inspiring, renowned for its friendly people and a government that’s often cited as a model of democracy on the continent. After becoming the first sub-Saharan African nation to gain independence, it experienced some instability but then peacefully transitioned into a stable democracy during the 1990s.
While Ghana is politically calm, it doesn’t lack excitement in other areas. For the biggest adrenaline rush, head to Kakum National Park in the Central Region, about an hour north of Cape Coast and Elmina. More than 200 species of birds and countless butterflies have been spotted in this pristine rainforest, and monkeys often swing from the tree branches. For your own bird’s-eye view, venture across the long and wobbly Kakum Canopy Walkway. You might feel like a tightrope walker as you balance on this set of swaying bridges, suspended 40 m (130 ft.) above the ground. It stretches for 330 m (1,082 ft.) between seven trees with viewing platforms. As you step along the narrow wooden planks, attached to steel cables and netting, try to ignore your sweaty palms and shaking legs long enough to look around. Surrounded by lush, green plants and chirping birds, you’ll be awed by the unforgettable perspective up here. Established in 1990 on 350 sq. km (135 sq. miles) of land, the Kakum National Park is protected by the Ghana Heritage and Conservation Trust (www.ghct.org.gh).
After you’ve survived your sky-high adventure, keep the energy level up by heading to Elmina for a Bakatue dance and drum performance. Every day, at 5 pm, a small local troupe holds rehearsals in the west wing of St. George’s Castle. Common instruments include a tall kaganu drum, a squat round kidi drum, and a cowbell-shaped gangkogui. Dances often include a call-and-response routine, and audience members are almost always invited to join in.
When the festive dancing isn’t going on, St. George’s Castle is a more somber place. This site, like Cape Coast Castle, was one of the major stops along the Atlantic slave trade route. Today, both structures have been extensively restored by the Ghanaian government and are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These important remnants of a grave history are well worth visiting. But after you’ve seen them, head over to Kotokuruba Market for a brighter look at modern-day Ghana, where people enjoy lively commerce, rich cultural traditions, and, most importantly, freedom.
Ghana Tourism, P.O. Box GP 4386, Accra ( 233/21-222-153; www.touringghana.com) and Kakum National Park, Dunkwa Rd. ( 233/04-232-583; www.ghana-net.com/kakumnationalpark.aspx).
Tour: Expert Travel and Tours, P.O. Box 0823 Osu, Accra ( 233/21-775-498; www.expertravel.com.gh).
When to Go: Year-round.
Kotoka International Airport in Accra.
$$ Coconut Grove Beach Resort, Mmoframa Akyinim, Elmina ( 233/42-401-005; www.coconutgrovehotels.com.gh).