The Greater Accra Region is the entry point to Ghana for most travelers, and it is home to many of the country’s major cultural attractions, it’s most vibrant city, and it’s most popular beaches.
Greater Accra is the smallest of Ghana’s 10 regions, but it is the most densely populated and includes two of Ghana’s major cities, Accra and Tema. Most visitors to Ghana arrive through the Kotoka International Airport, which is Ghana’s principal airport and is located about 12 km from the centre of Accra.
A Short History
The Ga people were the first to settle the Accra region when they arrived in the 16th century. They had migrated to the area from Ayawso, which was about ten miles north of Accra. It seems that the main reason they moved was to escape their rivals, the Akwamus people. Once they had settled, they were able to engage in trade with the newly arrived Europeans.
The Portuguese explorers were the first to arrive along the beaches that stretch along the Atlantic coast near the city of Accra. They built forts and trading with the locals for slaves, gold, and ivory. Control of the resource-rich area passed to the Swedish and the Dutch before falling under Danish control in 1657. Osu Castle, also known as Fort Christiansborg, was built by the Danish in the 1660’s and still stands. It has been the seat of government since the early 1920s, and it is the official residence of the President of Ghana. It has housed many visiting dignitaries, but it is not open to the public.
The City of Accra
The city of Accra became Ghana’s capital city in 1877 during the time of British rule. Some of the old Victorian buildings remain and are mixed in with more modern skyscrapers and nondescript apartment buildings constructed in the 1970’s. Most of the hotels, office buildings, embassies and the nicer residential areas can be found east of the city center and north towards the Kotoka International Airport, while many of Accra’s ever-expanding population lives in shanty towns at the city’s western edge. Accra is home to many of Ghana’s national museums and public monuments, and like any large metropolis, the city has its share of lively markets, nice hotels, upscale restaurants, shopping, and nightclubs.
Accra is one of Africa’s safer cities, and most of the areas in the city are walkable, but it is advisable to avoid walking on the beach at night. Private taxis and vans, known locally as tro tros, are available for getting around.
The city of Accra possesses the most cosmopolitan population in Ghana. With the migration to the city from other parts of the country, plus an influx of immigrants, Accra is a bit of a melting pot of a city. Nevertheless, Accra still retains the essence of the traditional Ga people, who were the first to inhabit the city.
Religious affiliation for the area is over 80% Christian and 10% Muslim.
Geography and Weather
The Greater Accra Region is coastal, which means it is predominately flat, and the weather is Accra is generally hot and humid. Temperatures range between 20 °C (68°F) and 30° (86°F). The region is relatively dry since it falls within the dry coastal equatorial climatic zone.
Things to See
- The National Museum – houses a fascinating collection of Ghana’s historical treasures ranging from prehistoric to modern times
- Centre for National Culture – this arts and crafts bazaar and textile market is a great place to find traditional handicrafts from all over Ghana
- Makola Market – this place is teeming with vendors offering practically everything for sale in hundreds market stalls
- Independence Square – with the Independence Arch and the memorial to the Unknown Soldier, this is the site for many national celebrations
- The National Theatre – The distinctive architecture of this modern building encompasses an important national centre for the performing arts.
- Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum – This is the last resting place of the first President of Ghana, and a famous Pan-Africanist.
- Jamestown – this historical area is most famous for the historic Osu Castle, which is now a government building. Nearby Oxford Street is a vibrant area with some of Accra’s best restaurants, bars and shops. Street vendors line the sidewalk and sell trinkets, souvenirs and fake Rolex watches.
- Accra Zoo – this small zoo holds a collection of birds and animals indigenous to Africa.
- University of Ghana at Legon – Ghana’s premier centre of higher education was founded in 1948 and features distinguished building and resplendent gardens.
- Labida Pleasure Beach – this public beach is located in La on the western edge of Accra. The three-km beach is wide and sandy and popular with locals and visitors. The festive beach has a good selection of restaurants and snack bars, and entertainment is provided by a wide variety of musicians, acrobats, and other performers. There is a small entry fee, but the facilities include changing rooms and showers
- Ada – this coastal town is located at the mouth of the Volta River and has served as a major trading center for slaves and tropical goods. Unfortunately, much of the city, including part of the historic Fort Kongenstein, has fallen victim to erosion over the years and disappeared into the ocean. Ada boasts excellent beaches and review views, and many people from Accra rent the chalets situated along the river. The beaches are less touristy than others and less frequented by vendors and panhandlers.
- Tema – about 30 km from Accra and is known as Ghana’s largest seaport. The modern city has become a major commercial hub and boasts a large port and commercial fishing fleet.
- River Volta Estuary – the River Volta meets the Atlantic Ocean just east of Ada. The estuary is a wildlife paradise, with marine turtles, birds, crocodiles and monkeys making there home among the island, sand bars, and mangrove forests. The estuary is great for water sports and river trips.
- Kokrobite Beach – this funky beach town is located about 27 km west of Accra and has pristine tropical beaches and a great party atmosphere. It is a favorite beach for Rastafarians and reggae lovers and has great bonfire celebrations at night.
Greater Accra celebrates a number of festivals during year. The Lalue Kpledo Festival in held in the town of Prampram in March. From the last week of July to the first week of August, the people of Ada celebrate the Asafotu-Fiam Festival, which honors war heroes and hosts mock battles. the Homowa Festival celebrated the Ga people and is held in August. Small festivals seemingly take place somewhere in Accra every weekend.
Featured photo by Mike Norton via CC-BY-2.0, Osu Castle photo by Stig Nygaard via CC-BY-2.0, Accra Street Vendors photo by Francisco Anzola via CC-BY-2.0, Fishing Boats Photo by Mike Norton via CC-BY-2.0, Kokribite Beach photo by stringer_bel via CC-BY-2.0.