2019 has been declared the "Year of Return" marking the 400th Anniversary of the first ship carrying enslaved West Africans reaching Jamestown, Virginia. While it may seem like a tough thing to "celebrate", it's an important opportunity to celebrate the resilience of black people on both sides of the Atlantic and call people to "return" to their ancestral homes.
Forging new bonds, healing wounds, and connecting with each other is amazing in a post-Wakanda era but many of you might be wondering - just how is this all going to work? From figuring out flights to hotels, to deciding which time of the year to travel, and what to do when you get there this guide is your one-stop shop for information that will help you make the most of your journey to Ghana during this historic moment.
Getting There (and more specifically, how to get the best flight deal to Ghana)
If you're coming from the US or the Caribbean, take a deep breath, save a glitch fare you are likely going to have to drop a solid "G" (that's $1,000 for the uninitiated) to fly to Ghana. Here are our tips on coming in slightly under or about this every time.
Travel on an odd day
That means a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday departure. Most people take trips at the beginning or ends of the week and try to maximize their weekends, this will help you get the best deals.
Oddly enough actually making your booking on these days helps too - something in the magical airfare algorithms works in your favour on these days.
Accept a long layover and use it to pimp your trip
Non-western airlines (Turkish, Royal Air Maroc, TAP, and Egypt Air) offer roundabout ways to fly to Ghana for under $1,000 (sometimes as low as $650/$700) if you're willing to accept a longer flight route and layover.
Our advice - err on the side of the longest version of a layover you can giving yourself the chance to explore a new city. Egypt Air even offers a free hotel room if you opt for a layover that's more than 12 hours - it's nice too.
Go see the Hassan Mosque in Casablanca or the Pyramids of Giza on your way to Ghana, double down on your Year of Return trip by visiting another iconic African destination. You might be a bit more tired but it'll be worth it in the end.
We get it, everyone is going to be in Ghana in December. You want the chance to rub shoulders with your favourite celebrities at Afrochella, find your Ghanaian book who lives in the UK and is coming home for the holidays, so much vibe packed into a two week period - you feel like you can't miss it. We promise, Ghana is lit year round and your pockets will be too if you avoid travelling when hotels and flights will be through the roof.
Your next best option - travel to Ghana in August. The Chale Wote festival is happening so you'll still get the global in Ghana vibes with less drama and pain for your purse.
Apply for your visa at least two weeks ahead of your trip
Visa on arrival in Ghana is not a thing for MOST people. Don't be that person hustling in someone's WhatsApp frantically trying to see if it's true days before your departure.
Send that passport off, make sure you've got your yellow fever vaccine card tucked or stapled into your passport and be great. You can see all the rules for who needs a visa and where to apply here.
Where to Stay
Accra, the capital city of Ghana, has lots of hotel options even if they all aren't the best value for your buck. Cape Coast and Kumasi, two other destinations that will definitely be on your year of return itinerary, less so. Here are our top picks for where to stay in each place:
- Hotel Urbano | Osu
- Gallery Apartments | East Legon
- Roots Apartment Hotel | Osu
- Olma Colonial Suites | Osu
- Villa Monticello | Airport
- Kempinski Gold Coast City | Accra Central
- Marriott | Airport
- Golden Tulip | Airport
- Coconut Grove Beach Resort
- White Sands Beach Resort
- Golden Tulip | Kumasi
Historically Significant Places to Visit in Ghana
The sites below have a deep connection to the slave trade or are culturally significant to understanding society and tradition in Ghana, they should be a must do if you are looking to truly connect during the Year of Return.
ASSIN MANSO, GHANA
Much of the narrative around African captives being sold into slavery centres around the slave castles. What many don’t know is that people marched, on foot, from the inland areas of the continent to the shores for hundreds if not thousands of miles.
The village of Assin Manso was an important stop on this journey, here captives were “rested” and washed in the Ndonko Nsuo river before making their final trek to Cape Coast or Elmina castles. This place was the final link in the slave route from Northern Ghana and was the largest slave market in the region.
Address: Mankessim - Kumasi Rd, Assin Manso
Phone number: +233 54 684 2853
CAPE COAST + ELMINA CASTLE, GHANA
Some of the most jarring and visually charged relics of the transatlantic slave trade are Cape Coast and Elmina Castles. These massive structures, built by the British and Portuguese respectively, sit on the coastline of Ghana’s Central Region and are stark reminders of the history of this place.
Touring the castles makes the journey we’ve all read about very real and is a life-changing experience. Not only can you feel the energy of what happened here but you also can feel pride in having made it back to a place where at the time of the slave trade, it was thought that the Africans that left here would never return.
You can visit Cape Coast and Elmina Castles with a descendant of people captured here on tastemakersafrica.com
KWAME NKRUMAH MAUSOLEUM, GHANA
Kwame Nkrumah is often called the father of Pan-Africanism, leading up to and during his time as the first President of Ghana, he embraced a doctrine that saw the diaspora as critical to the growth of his budding republic.
Educated at Lincoln University, an HBCU outside of Philadelphia where he also pledged Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., he built relationships with the leading thinkers of his time and hosted them in his newly birthed nation.
Maya Angelou, Muhammed Ali, and Stokely Carmichael (neé Kwame Ture) all visited Ghana during his time in office. The Nkrumah Mausoleum is a structure a powerful and beautiful tribute to the man who was the first to lead an African nation out of colonial rule.
You can visit the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum with the lead curator of the museum and access portions closed to the public on tastemakersafrica.com
Kumasi is the centre of government and traditional rule for the Asante (also known as Ashanti) people. Known for their Kente, resistance to colonial rule, adinkra symbols, and other storied traditions this powerful ethnic group is known around the world.
A visit to Kumasi is a complete immersion into a culture that is central to Ghana’s identity. From visiting Kumasi weavers to the Manhiya Palace to the serene waters of Lake Bosomtwe, the city is best visited during one of its festivals like the Akwasidae harvest celebration that happens every 6 weeks.
Kumasi is a 40-minute flight from Accra or a six-hour drive.
SIRIGU & BOLGATANGA, GHANA
Craftsmanship and culture are best seen in rural areas where preservationists and creators practice age-old methods day in and day out. Bolgatanga is the capital of the Upper East region of Ghana and is home to sweeping planes dotted with strong craft and artisan communities.
One community Sirigu is home to a women’s cooperative and pottery production hub that practices a vivid painting style that can be seen on the homes of the surrounding village. A visit here is like being transported to another time with a relevance much needed in the present.
Sirigu can be reached by a flight from Accra to Tamale and a 2-hour journey north from the airport
W.E.B. DU BOIS CENTER, GHANA
W.E.B. Du Bois, the iconic Civil Rights pioneer, author, and scholar was invited to Ghana by Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president, to help him write the Encyclopedia Africana. Along with his wife, Dr Du Bois brought hundreds of books on his voyage to Ghana and renounced his U.S. citizenship.
This collection along with ceremonial robes from Harvard scrolls gifted to him by Mao Zedong, notebooks, and family photographs eventually became the W.E.B. Du Bois Memorial Center for Pan African Culture.
Address: Second Circular Rd, Accra Central
Phone number: +233 30 277 2502
The oldest neighbourhood in Accra is also the seat of the Ga, a large ethnic group in Ghana who lives from the sea.
Jamestown is home to the iconic lighthouse, Usher Fort, and other relics of Britain's colonial rule in Ghana, it is also a neighbourhood in dire need of revitalization (though this is beginning to happen with some local champions paving the way).
You can experience Jamestown and learn more about Ga culture through unique experiences by Nii Marma, a member of this community for more than 30 years.
Beach Escapes, Day Trips, and Other Scenic Routes
If you have a bit more time to explore beyond Accra, Ghana has beautiful landscapes to explore and get away. You'll be transported into a place of blissful reflection just a few hours outside of the city.
CAPE THREE POINTS, GHANA
Cape Three Points is quite literally the centre of the earth if you go by Google Map coordinates. It also is one of the most beautiful stretches of beach in all of Ghana.
The drive to Cape Three Points takes you through several rural communities, oil palm plantations and an extensive rubber plantation which was originally planted by Kwame Nkrumah fifty years ago.
The crowning jewel in Cape Three Points is its solar-powered lighthouse rebuilt in 1925, from the top you have a 360º view from the southernmost tip of Ghana. If you’re looking for stunning views and space for relaxation and reflection on your visit to the continent, build in a few days to spend here.
Cape Three Points is a two-hour drive from Takoradi Airport or an eight-hour drive from Accra. You can book an overnight experience at Cape Three Points complete with beach fire, lighthouse walk, and plenty of views.
VOLTA REGION, GHANA
The Volta Region is home to some of Ghana’s most beautiful and interesting landscapes and cultures. For adventure seekers, the upper Volta offers the thrills of Wli Falls, the tallest waterfall in West Africa, along with Kayaking and Rappelling along the Volta River.
Akosombo, a town on the river and an Akan (closely related to the Asante) outpost is filled with rich celebrations and beautiful fishing villages. As you reach the lower Volta where the river begins to meet the Atlantic Ocean, you’ll find Ghana’s own “Riviera” in Ada.
From luxury villas that look straight out of Miami Beach to intimate resorts and even a private cigar lounge, it’s only 2 hours away from Accra and is indeed an escape.
With the Year of Return being such a major historical event, there are tons of conferences, festivals, and events commemorating, discussing, and celebrating this moment for Africa and it's Diaspora coming home. Here's our round-up of things you don't want to miss in Ghana.
Wax Print Festival | June 15, 2019
Panafest | July 25 - August 2, 2019
HACSA Summit | August 5 - 11, 2019
Chale Wote | August 21 - 25, 2019
The Garden Party | December 26, 2019
Afrochella | December 28, 2019
Afronation | December 27-30, 2019
Greetings, Language, and Cultural Practices to Be Aware Of
Ghana is a largely Christian country with a sizable Muslim population. It is fairly liberal and open although church dominates life in ways that would make you think the society is much more conservative. Feel free to dress as you please but keep the super short pum-pum shorts to the nightclubs instead of the daytime.
Twi, the language of the Asante, is spoken widely. Here are 10 of the most popular Twi phrases to have under your belt:
Akwaaba | Welcome
Eti sen | How are you?
Wot din de sen | What is your name?
Wa ya sen | How much?
Te so | Reduce it
Koo se | Sorry
Meduase | Thank You
Wo Firi Hene | Where are you from?
Mereba | I'm coming
Ochina | Tomorrow
Things to Do, Tours, and Experiences
FULANI DINE ON A MAT, GHANA
The Fulani are one of the largest ethnic groups in the Sahel and West Africa. Living in what is now Nigeria, Senegal, Guinea, and Mali, they are known for their ornate jewellery, beautiful women, and nomadic dining tradition.
Fatmata Binta, a recognized chef of Fulani descent living in Accra, will help you experience cuisine the Fulani way.
Do a traditional Fulani traditional meal with Chef Binta
DO A RETURN RITUAL AT CAPE COAST, GHANA
Cape Coast and Elmina Castles are two of the largest remaining structures symbolizing the last point of contact for millions of Africans who left the continent to be enslaved across the Americas.
Return rituals have become a way to usher in healing for people of African descent who have made the journey “home”. Ceremonies usually involve ancestral invocation coupled with assigning a new “name” to the person.
Experience a return ritual with a recognized spiritualist
EXPLORE THE CITY NKRUMAH BUILT
Kwame Nkrumah, the scion of Pan-Africanism, impacted nearly every part of the development of Accra and Ghana more broadly.
The opportunity to explore the city through his lens visiting the monuments, places, and moments that Ghana’s first president made possible, is an intimate way to familiarize yourself with the city in a way that most don’t touch.
Explore Accra through Kwame Nkrumah’s eyes
EAT YOUR WAY THROUGH GHANA
Food is one of the most tangible markers of culture and synergies. Exploring Ghana’s capital city through local cuisine is a sure fire way to see the connecting points between the first nation to win its independence and the African diaspora in the Americas.
From kelewele to red red to soups and fufu you can discover hidden places and connected histories through food when you visit Ghana in 2019.
A surf and skate collective based in Ghana, Surf Ghana aims to support and contribute to the democratization of easy access to board-sports for Ghanaians.
Through meetups and a surf tour across the country, the community-based organization is not only paving new creative and athletic outlets for its members, it is also opening up opportunities for visitors to engage a budding surf community in a sustainable way.
You can connect with Surf Ghana via Instagram
LEARN TO MAKE JOLLOF RICE IN GHANA
If you’ve been a part of any conversation with a Ghanaian and Nigerian virtually anywhere in the world, Jollof Rice and who makes the better version of it has invariably come into the discussion.
If you’re visiting West Africa, learning to make this staple meal and oft point of contention is a must.
EXPLORE CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN ART IN GHANA
If you watch the art world, you know that Contemporary African Art has been having its moment for a few years.
From Swizz Beats and African visual artists taking over Art Basel to the introduction of new art fairs dedicated to the genre, art gives you a critical look into Africa past, present, and future. With local galleries coming into their own, exploring them is a great way to connect with the soul of a city.
Visit prominent galleries and private studios in Ghana with an acclaimed international artist
EXPLORE THE SHRINES OF JAMESTOWN, GHANA
The Asante are not the only ethnic group of prominence in Ghana. While they definitely rule Kumasi, the Ga people, who migrated from Nigeria, govern Accra and its coastal surroundings.
Jamestown, the oldest part of the city is the home to a culture that centres on fishing and the ocean. You can find shrines to their traditional deities that are still in use today tucked between residential structures.
Explore Jamestown and Ga traditional religion
LEARN CULTURAL DANCES PAST AND PRESENT
If the shoki, Azonto, or shaku shaku don’t already ring a bell, they definitely will after a night on the dance floor in one of the many clubs in Accra, Lagos, or even Johannesburg. Dance is a huge part of black culture globally and one night out will definitely show you where we all got it from.
Take a dance class in Accra
EXPLORE MUSIC, DRUMMING, AND MARKETS
Music is a vehicle that illustrates the ties that bind Africa and it’s diaspora around the world. From rhythms and drums that persisted across and despite displacement to the sounds that ricochet across the Atlantic and permeate collaborations today, this lens is on that literally makes you feel the connection.
Explore music and markets in Accra with a local designer, learn the names of wax print and kente techniques, or learn to drum with a master drummer