People, Places & Things To Do In Northern Ghana.
Wow! It's been a minute! The last few weeks have seen me 'bussing' around in the Northern parts of Ghana and the middle belt and after every trip I could not find the energy to complete this post which I have been writing offline in bits and pieces. But you should check out the photos of the trip on my Instagram page.
There's a saying- the origins of which are beyond me- that "Ga people don't travel". Please raise your hand if you know the originator of this preposterous statement which could be slightly true 😅. As to whether this saying is true or not, I can't say but what I know is that I have lived in the southern part of Ghana for 30 plus years and going anywhere further from Accra is always 'travelling' to me 😋. Even Tema is travelling because its way out there and takes me forever to get there when I use the Motorway. But do take note that I attended High School in Saltpond and went to Cape Coast once or twice to Adisadel & Botwe on school trips. So whoever coined that phrase has a duel with me. I have also been to Kumasi about seven times, Koforidua once, Takoradi several times due to work responsibilities and passed through Ho to get to Lome 😋. For a Ga woman you should give me some credit. I have indeed 'travelled' outside Accra and internationally several times but I hadn't been to the Northern parts of Ghana, yet. Not until a few weeks ago anyway.
There are millions of Ghanaians who like me, only get to hear of happenings in the North when there's a tribal conflict happening there or during election season when journalists pitch up in those areas to monitor the voting process. There are more Ghanaians who have travelled to visit other southern-most regions of Ghana either to visit family or see more popular touristy sites ( Kakum, the Slave castles of Elmina & CapeCoast, Manhyia Palace). But when it’s the Northern parts of Ghana, there’s some belief that there’s nothing exciting there worth travelling there for. Now that’s
I recently travelled to the greater parts of the Northern region of Ghana during a work stint for a client. The work involved travelling throughout the 10 regions of Ghana to motivate High School & Tertiary students. So for me, this was work and a road trip combined into one. Who can say no that?
We went via a private urvan bus to Wa as our first stop using the Kumasi road then via Bole inching along the Cote d’Ivoire border before reaching our destination.
To really enjoy Ghana, you need to visualize and put your mindset in a tourist-mode. See yourself as a tourist travelling to a new region for the very first time. It has to be a virgin experience to give you all the travelporn highs as well as the lows 👻.
My planned theme was to try the different cuisines in the North, visit tourist sites if any, talk to the locals, shop for local crafts & produce in the local markets and take as many photos as I possibly can of Baobab trees. How can I live in Ghana without ever seeing a real Baobab tree? Doesn't make sense.
My travel experience in Wa, Tamale, Navrongo are worth sharing to inspire you to plan towards a road trip to the less explored parts of the North.
It’s about 12 hours to get to Wa from Accra and roughly 8 hours from Kumasi to reach the city. A long trip which deserves a good wash down and rest at a budget friendly hotel like Blue Hill Hotel in Wa. But if you want to stop over in Kumasi, I recommend the Basel Mission Guest House in Kumasi. Don't be fooled by the fact that its a Presbytery facility like I was. The newly renovated guest house is fully air-conditioned with excellent bedroom & bathroom facilities 👍🏾. Very affordable too. The Blue Hill Hotel in Wa has an outdoor which is more picturesque and interesting than it’s indoor facilities.
Internet access within the Wa city is pretty moderate with 3G access in largely populated areas. My hotel however had really poor MTN 4G access and it was quite frustrating having to move outside to look for a stronger connection. Whilst in Wa, I ate out mostly at the Jubilee Park restaurant which served excellent TZ with all kinds of soups, Fufu with the usual traditional soups and Banku with dry okro soup. The fried fish tho 😍 extra crispy and much bigger and cheaper than what I was used to in Accra.
I definitely didn’t come all this way to eat Fufu 😜. Travelling around the city is easy and best experienced on a ‘Mahama Camboo’ tricycle.
The tricycle offers a fuller less restrictive view of the city as compared to picking a trotro or taxi. It’s cheaper too just like the Okada. I made new friends at the Wa UDS campus and it was super cool to see female students on their personal motorbikes going about their everyday student life. I got a ride from my new friend Priscilla to town one day. To be honest that was my first Okada ride 😆.
I paid GHC1 for a trip spanning almost 5km. Magnificent Baobab trees are spread across the savannah landscape so make it your aim to give it a tree hug if you possibly can.
There are many souvenirs to buy in the local market such as the popular Batakari, the Northern straw hat or leather slippers made from real cow leather. Take a trip to the Wa Na’s Palace to see the traditional mud-brick Sudanese architecture in all it’s fascinating glory. If you plan your trip in September, you just might catch the Damba festival for some incredible music & motion photography.
Have you heard of the mystic stone in the West Gonja district? According to history and local folklore it's a very stubborn piece of rock which mysteriously keeps returning to it’s original place anytime road contractors tried to move it out of the way. A stoney wall has now been built around the rock to protect it as it’s deemed to have magic powers.
I wonder what would happen if it was actually taken one of these days and it never returned 😂. On the way to Tamale, we stopped at the historical Laranbanga Mosque to visit the oldest mosque in Ghana and West Africa and possibly Africa too.
Prepare to dole out some cash to the youth in the area who jealously guard this historical monument which has been named as one of the 100 Most Endangered Sites by the World Monuments Fund. I couldn’t help wondering how abject poverty could be surrounding this beautiful monument. Getting into Tamale takes about six hours from Wa to the main city environs. There are little towns between the two cities to stop and stretch out for a drink or a bathroom break. Never drive tired or take turns if you can. I found Tamale to be expensive on the food side of things. The best restaurant which served delicious local & continental food in a rustic African themed setting was the Luxury Restaurant. The restaurant has a mean Dawadawa Jollof & Guinea Fowl dish eh!
That was my first time eating any Ghanaian meal spiced with the pungent Dawadawa flavoring. The African Bean locust bean ( Dawadawa) pulp had such an unpleasant scent which almost made me ask the waiter to return my order back to the kitchen.
But I braved it up and took a first forkful. Yum! Surprisingly delicious and spicy! The Banku & Okro soup there is also a memorable dish. I haven’t eaten okro soup which tastes like that of the one served at Luxury restaurant.
Luxury Restaurant in Tamale
Dried okro is much more commonly used than fresh okro in the north due to less availability of fresh okro. But food is expensive in Tamale eh! I expected food to be much cheaper compared to that of Accra but nooo…a meal in a local restaurant was costing me about GHC20 a plate. A plate of Jollof was about GHC17. Even street Jollof cost me an arm & leg. If you want to visit the local market in the harmattan season it’s best to go after 9am. Merchants despise the weather so much that shops open late morning to avoid the dust and dryness. I was actually surprised that the harmattan in Tamale wasn’t as horrifying as some had initially described it to be. In Tamale, I got to eat raw mutton liver for the first time ( not sure if there ever will be a second).
My photographer friend Kweku of Adonai Photos went with me to the market which hadn’t opened yet and we chanced upon a butcher who was skinning a just-slaughtered mutton.
See the look on my face? 😖
We were fascinated. Accra dadabees who have never seen a live flaying before. Tweaa. Hasif , the butcher was very friendly and he persuaded us to try a piece of the liver which according to him is very nutritious. I was a bit squeamish but to my utter surprise it wasn’t what I expected. Raw mutton liver tastes salty and almost cooked. Weird I know. I think I blame it for the heavy period I had a few days later. A walk through Tamale High Street will give you another insight into the everyday lives of the locals. The Tamale Arts Centre should be your go-to to get finely crafted leather, straw and wood works. Hotels in Tamale range from budget friendly to moderately pricey. I stayed at Radach Memorial Hall with the team, in summary it’s just a place to sleep overnight and eat out in town and explore. The facilities are rather mediocre with a lot of opportunities for renovation and rebranding.
Radach Memorial Hall in Tamale
I fell in love with Navrongo on different kinds of levels. It was so much quieter and more serene than either Wa or Tamale. The harmattan was much fiercer there however which saw me with a terrible cold at the time of my departure. The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows was such an incredible historical place to visit although sadly it wasn’t open when I got there.
The 111 year old Basilica which has made it to the Tentative Listing as a World Heritage Site was built by 13 French Fathers ( Peres Blancs) is located within the central part of the town. You can have some quiet time at the Grotto next to the Basilica to reflect on all the goodness of life.
In Navrongo, foods commonly eaten include TZ, waakye, rice balls and other local meals like Sie which is made from guinea beans. I made a mistake and bought Ga kenkey by the street one evening after work 😳. I could have sworn it was banku wrapped with corn leaves 😂.
Did you know that in Navrongo, tea is mostly sold by men? There are more male street tea vendors as compared to Accra and other parts of the country.
I was particularly struck by the English speaking locals. I think I have always held the notion that Twi is more commonly spoken throughout the country but the people of Nankana speak English quite commonly as a second language after their mother tongues. From the street food seller to the okada rider it was English which got me around the town. Speaking of moving around, you will need to pick a tricycle or an okada. Taxi’s are few and far between so don’t be nit-picky and enjoy the ride. I literally joined the driver of at the front of a LuoJia tricycle which serves both as a human and cargo mode of transport in the North. One time I guiltily became a third passenger on a motorbike. Overloading be what 🏃🏿🏃🏿. The local market day is on Fridays in Navrongo and various merchants from Bolga and Burkina Faso come to sell their wares.
Local Fufu seller in Bolgatanga
The tricycle riders are so friendly and open to sharing good information about their town. That made me happy. If you want to pick a tricycle or an okada, just point in the direction you want to go and get down at the junction or else you will get charged a ‘dropping' rate. We stayed at a guest house called Pongobu Guest House which surprisingly had great AC, excellent housekeeping ( surprisingly way better than Blue Hill Hotel) and a much better breakfast experience but at a separate cost. What’s up with hotels in the North and having giant bathrooms? I don’t get it 😅 but its a great opportunity to have long baths after a long hot day out. Thirsty? Buy bottled water instead of using the local water supply flowing through the taps. The local water is HARD! So hard that bathing was an arduous task of rubbing soap several times on the sponge in a feisty bid to get some foam. Market day in Navrongo is every Friday and it’s a day which churns out market vendors in their numbers. Foodstuffs like vegetables are seriously cheaper than Accra as most vegetables are imported straight from Burkina Faso to the city. Naturally, by the time these are transported to Accra the price hikes up 😫.
We made a stop at a local market and I was stunned at the sizes of green peppers, cabbages and onions. I bought a quarter-size sackful of onions for GHC20 and walked out of the market like a BOSS! Onions in Accra don't come cheap! I bought two lightly roasted Guinea Fowl because it’s the North for goodness sake😂. Navrongo is serene, the people are friendly and so painful honest it’s not even funny and very direct as well. I wished there was more time to explore their cuisines but alas the harmattan came down heavily one weekend and I was a goner, my throat & nose went aflame instantly with sniffles & sneezing. I barely escaped. The best times to go up North is definitely not during the harmattan, take my word for it.
A road trip to the North will be worth the ride and adventure if ever you are looking for a new experience in Ghana. It’s important for us to know our own country and not always escaping to America or Europe where we go to spend our hard-earned monies. If tourism in Ghana could be worked on, if corruption in the tourist industry could be weeded out then tourism could make our country richer and Ghana could become a preferred destination for many European tourists looking to escape the cold months.
The Northern part of Ghana has so much potential for growth & development initiatives to increase tourism towards the region. But corruption has taken away these opportunities. I was similarly struck by the dire poverty in some towns we passed through. Did these areas have MP’s? How does the politician do it? I mean, what kind of guts do they have to face a people who live in such conditions? Mud huts and thatched houses with zero access to water kind-of conditions? I could not feel like the youth in the UDS Universities up North, simply get into politics as a means of getting out of such conditions. What ever happened to the Guinea Fowl project by SADA? Someone said they flew to Burkina Faso 🙄. Wasn't it the SADA Boss? We play too much in this country where tourism is slowing dying if not dead already.
Have you been to the Upper parts of Ghana before? What was your experience there? What can we do to improve tourism in the Northern parts of Ghana?