Getting into Ghana
January 15, 1997
(CNN) -- If finding a vacation treasure on the old Gold Coast of West Africa has never turned up in your dreams, you might change your sleep habits. The time for discovery has never been better or more affordable.
The small Republic of Ghana holds a host of surprises for today's traveler, not the least of which is something often elusive in world travel -- affordability. A standard hotel room can be had for the shockingly low price of $20 to $30 (U.S.). The nine-hour flight from New York via Ghana Airlines costs less than $500 round-trip.
Ghana, situated on the southern coast of West Africa, has a rich and textured history. In 1957, it became the first black African state to achieve independence from British colonial rule. The move to statehood created ripples of excitement throughout the African continent. What was then known as the Gold Coast became "Ghana" -- named for the great African empire which flourished in Mali and Senegal between A.D. 700 and 1100.
Reminders of the past
Visitors to Ghana will find white sandy beaches, swaying palm trees and blue lagoons along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea. More than natural beauty, though, they'll encounter a poignant reminder of human history.
A significant amount of tourism to Ghana is "roots tourism," featuring visits to ancestral roots by African-Americans. Many come to see the medieval castles and forts along the coast where their ancestors were held before being forced to leave Africa for lives of slavery.
Ghana is also embracing the concept of ecotourism. In the Kakum National Park, an undisturbed Virgin rain forest in the country's central region, a canopy walkway provides the opportunity to see much of Ghana's indigenous plant life, as well as rare butterflies, birds and game.
Ghana's allure is reflected by the more than a quarter of a million visitors in 1995, a wave expected to swell to a half million by the end of 1997. Even though it is still a third world country, the government is hard at work trying to raise the life expectancy above the current 55 years. Ghana has a 50 percent literacy rate and English is spoken by half of the natives.
Following a tumultuous period that came on the heels of independence and saw a succession of revolutions and coups, the nation's first democratic constitution was adopted in 1992 and the government increased its efforts to stimulate agricultural and industrial production throughout the nation.
However, only cocoa production and the production of the country's Bauxite mines have lived up to expectations. That is, with the exception of the tourist trade, which continues to grow. Oil refining and steel production are hoped to grow more and more important in the future.
One of the most ambitious projects undertaken by the government since independence was Lake Volta, one of the largest man-made lakes in the world, covering some 325 square miles. The lake serves as an important waterway connection between the country's north and south.
The coastal area is mostly farmed for crops and salt from the sea. In the northern parts of the country, the traveler is treated to a varied assortment of native African animals, including elephants, lions, wild hogs, buffalo and antelope.
The best time to visit Ghana is during December and January, when the dry and dusty Harmattan winds from the north offer pleasant relief from the humid coastal climate.