Advice for Tourists Visiting Ghana

With Mama preparing to visit the country in late March, I have compiled a list of tips and advice for when she arrives to Accra. Without any further adieu, here are my top 10 pieces of advice for tourists visiting Ghana.

  1. Acts of ‘Kindness’: While most Ghanaians are genuinely nice and will try to help you in whatever way they can, there may be some at the airport baggage claim and at major tourist attractions who will immediately jump in help you – by carrying your bag, snapping your photo, custom-making you a bracelet, etc. After doing so, they will either demand a ridiculously high amount of money, or run away never to be seen again. Try to avoid such situations – and insist upon doing things yourself.
  2. Cultural Norms: Ghanaians rarely say please or ask you to do something. If they want you to do something for them – they will command you. “Do this, wash this, scrub this.” Don’t take it as them being rude, it’s just a cultural difference.Another thing is that when somebody wants your attention, they will either call out ‘Obruni’ or ‘Acosi’, or just hiss/whistle at you. Don’t take it wrong – they just want you to notice them (and they don’t know your English name).
  3. What Not to Wear – Try not to wear anything anything too skimpy in public. I’m talking to you Richard Simmons – you’re going to need a wardrobe overhaul before coming to Ghana. Bikinis are fine at the beach, but use modesty when walking around town. You won’t get in trouble for wearing your booty shorts; it’s just not part of the culture and you may be in for some dirty looks from elders.
  4. Cameras & Electronics: Carry electronics in cheap looking bags to conceal them. When in crowded areas, try to avoid using them – or if you must use them, step aside until finished. As far as phones go, SIM cards for unlocked phones can be bought very cheaply, while phones usually cost $40+. If you plan on buying a phone in Ghana, go to a reputable storefront in Circle where you see Ghanaians shopping; I’ve heard stories about people buying ‘phones’ and getting boxes of soap. Once you have a phone, be careful. When in a car, hold the phone with whichever hand is furthest away from the window. Never use cell phones in the main street of Kwame Nkrumah Circle and be very careful about who you give your phone number to (everyone will be asking).Don’t plan on purchasing a camera or SD card in Ghana – technology is expensive here. As far as taking photos of people goes, always ask for permission first. Most of the times you will be declined, but that’s just something you’ll have to deal with. Another thing Ghanaians strongly disapprove of is taking photos of anything that could be perceived as negative to their country. If you take photos of such things, always ensure that you’re in a private place with nobody looking at you. Following is the perfect example of a photo not to take…
  5. Transportation – Find out the nearest trotro station to your house/hotel, and operate from there. Trotros cost next-to-nothing compared to taxis, and will give you more of a taste for how the locals live. You don’t even need to know which one to take at the station – just keep asking the mates. They will point you in the overall direction, and sooner or later if you keep asking you will find the correct car. On a similar note, make sure you travel out of Accra during your stay. Accra is just another big metropolitan city; the ‘real Ghana’ is in its small villages and towns.
  6. Bartering: Set prices only exist when they’re written – usually in certain stores,  restaurants, or shopping malls. For taxis and most items in the market, bartering is to be expected. If the shopkeeper starts off by saying an item costs 15 cedis or less, I usually start by offering roughly 1/2 of his price. Anything above 15 cedis and I’ll usually offer 1/3 or 1/4, depending on how much I think it’s actually worth. Don’t worry about offending the seller or making him bankrupt – he won’t sell the item at a loss. Bartering just means the difference between him making wide margins versus moderate ones.
  7. Currency Re-denomination: Due to rampant inflation, the government re-denominated the currency in 2007 by issuing new bills and notes with four zeros removed. Each new note is worth 10,000 times more than each old note. For example, 1 new cedi is worth 10,000 old. While most people have adjusted to the new money, a few haven’t. If a lady tells you that bowfloats are 2000 each, that means .2 cedis or 20 pesewas ($0.12) – not 2000 cedis ($1200).

    Six million old cedis – equal to 600 new cedis.
  8. Looking for Love – Expect to receive marriage proposals, and know how you will politely decline them. That is – unless you are searching for love. Regardless, keep in mind that only about 1/4 of the proposals are serious – the rest are usually just to see your reaction. I usually respond by either saying that I am a just a ‘school boy’, or that I have already been promised to someone. Another option is wearing a ‘wedding ring’, and telling people that you’re taken.More often than marriage, you’ll be asked if you want an African boyfriend or girlfriend. Don’t answer that you already have an American girlfriend/boyfriend back home; they will often get closer to you and ask if you want an African one too. 😀
  9. Local Languages – I’m not saying you should become fluent in Ghana’s 40+ local languages, but you will be loved by all if you put in a small amount of effort and know a few basic sayings. Following are the phonetic pronunciations of several phrases in Twi that I useon a daily basis.
      Akwaaba – Welcome.
      Obruni – Foreigner/white person
      Obibini – Local/black person (Response to ‘Obruni’)
      Ehtey sehn – How are you?
      Ehyay – Fine.
      Mah’chey – Good morning.
      Mah’ha – Good afternoon.
    • Mah’jo- Good evening.
      Dahbi – No.
      Me pao chow – Please.
      Meda’se – Thank you.
      Ba bai – Bye.
      Ehyay ahe – How much is it?
      Oy koing – Where are you going?
      Mahtoe kubeh – I will buy a coconut.
  10. Street Food – If you don’t eat street food during your stay in Ghana, you’ll be missing out on part of the experience. That being said, use common sense. Only eat fast food at kiosks that are full of Ghanaians, and never order salad. Don’t buy precut mangoes and pineapple – ask the seller to cut a fresh one for you. Before you buy plantain chips, make sure they are not broken (a sign of freshness). Ask to ensure bowfloats, spring rolls, roasted plantain are hot before buying them.
Traveling all the way to Ghana without trying a bowfloat fresh out of the fire would be a travesty to all of mankind…

Ghana is one of the top places in Africa to be a tourist, and in my humble opinion, one of the must-see places in the world. From the beaches of Takoradi to the natural parks, mosques, and overall scenery of the North – Ghana truly has it all. Even though some pieces of advice I gave may come across as negative, they are meant positively – to ensure you don’t make any mistakes, your time spent is safe, and that you get the ‘full Ghanaian experience’. I hope you enjoy your time spent in Ghana; ‘Akwaaba!’