Here are some survival tips for those of you planning a trip to Ghana. Those of you who are first-time visitors, as well as Ghanaians who are returning after a prolonged hiatus, may find this list helpful easing into Ghanaian life and culture. Consider registering with your embassy for the duration of your visit and if you are staying past your visa date, be sure to allow for plenty of time to extend.
The only immunization you are required by Ghana to have is for Yellow Fever. All the others are optional, and at your discretion, so talk to your doctor or travel medicine clinician about it. The necessity or otherwise of the optional immunizations may depend on how long you intend to stay, and whether or not you plan to stray from the cities off the beaten path.
Malaria – The decision to take malaria medications is totally up to you. But there is no getting around the fact that malaria exists in Sub-Saharan Africa. From the States you will likely be prescribed Lariam, which you start taking in advance of your trip, then during your trip and then for a few weeks after your trip. You’ll have to do your research to decide if Lariam is right for you, given the side effects and other issues. Another option is Malarone, a once-a-day medication that you take a few days before you arrive, every day during your holiday, and for a few days after you return. This medication is not associated with the vivid dreams encountered by a small number of Larium users.
For sure, do bring a good mosquito repellent, such as Sawyer or one you’d buy in a sporting goods store. The mosquitoes that bite are always female, and not all bites will result in malaria; wear long sleeve shirts and long pants, rub or spray repellent at your ankles. When sleeping, keep your ceiling fan turned on. These mosquitoes are tiny, perhaps very unlike ones you’re familiar with in the U.S. and elsewhere, and you’d be surprised that one tiny bug could create such havoc. If you decide not to take malaria medicine, for whatever reason, know that you can buy short term (about 3 days) malarial treatments such as artesunate, over the counter here. It wouldn’t hurt for you to purchase these inexpensive treatments before you leave to bring back with you; in the event you begin to display malarial symptoms, your treatment is at hand. Symptoms include fever, chills, aches and pains, lack of appetite, lethargy… similar symptoms to flu or cold, but not all doctors will look for malaria first, unless you specifically tell them you’ve just returned from Sub-Saharan Africa.
Another hint. At night, if you hear mosquitoes buzzing around your ear, maybe your risk of getting malaria is less than if you are getting bitten but NOT hearing the mosquitoes buzzing around you.
Bring your prescription medicines with you. You can get basic medicines here at licensed chemists (drug stores), though the formulations may be different. Paracetamol (like Tylenol) and ibuprofen are sold in 10 pack blister packs for about .10 and .20,000 cedis, respectively. You can also get some brands that are well known in the U.S., like Tylenol, Advil, Maalox, Milk of Magnesia, Benadryl, etc., but you will pay dearly for them. Some items that are prescription only in the U.S. are readily available here without prescription; easily obtainable are albuterol inhalers, and allergy medicine like Allegra (called Telefast here) over the counter. Go to a reputable licensed chemist such as the those in MaxMart or at A&C Shopping Mall in East Legon.
The better hospitals are 37 Military Hospital and Korle Bu Teaching Hospital; for a good GP, Dr. Jane Ansafo-Mensah at Philips Clinic, Tel 021 76 86 81 or 0244 32 75 20, located at 12 Adembra Road, East Cantonments. She has an on-site laboratory as well. An excellent UK trained dentist is Dr. Dennis Ilogu at Beaver Dental Clinic at Airport Residential Clinic, tel 021 771 785 who also has a location in Takaradi; he can handle almost all types of dental issues including cosmetic, root canal, extraction, orthodontics, etc.
Don’t drink water from the tap ever. You can purchase bottled water from most any shop, or pure water sachets from hawkers on the street. A bottle of water is about .50 cents a liter and a sachet is about .3 cents a bag. Don’t buy water called “ice water” which is just chilled tap water in a tied plastic bag; the pure water sachets have undergone a filtration treatment and are produced in a heat sealed sachet. Good bottled water would be Dasani (a Coke product), Voltic and Aqua-In; good sachet water producers would be Ice Cool, Aqua-In, Voltic and Little Drops.
Bring your own. If you are dark-skinned, you can find basic (Soft Sheen Carson products) hair care and beauty products anywhere. But if you are pale, you will find the best items only in the big “supermarkets” such as Koala, Game and MaxMart, and they can be very expensive. Personal hygiene products are very basic here, so if you have a favourite, shampoo, deoderant, razor, shaving cream, make-up, cream, tampon, or pad, bring it, you will likely not find it here. Sunscreen and after-sun care products are also difficult to find, so it is very advisable to bring your favourite brand.
The Accra Mall is near the airport with big South African chain stores like Game and Shoprite. Then there is also the Koala supermarket in Osu and the MaxMart supremarkets in Cantonments and East Legon. These stores stock many American and European products, at a premium price. Other stores that may be worth shopping at are Sotrec (in Osu) and Evergreen (Tema, Comm. 4). If you’ve got room in your luggage, bring your favorites with you. Outside of Accra, the opportunity to purchase imported items is limited to Kumasi. So if you are travelling, you may want to consider purchasing an ice box to bring some of your favourites with you. In the Accra Mall there is also an internet cafe, a pharmacy, an Apple store, a cinema and bookstore. Also avaialable are electronics, mens and womens fashions (traditional and modern), baby items, footware, chocolates, colognes and perfumes.
Accra has thousands of taxis, and sadly, not all of the taxi drivers are licensed to drive. Use your good judgment when hailing a taxi; does the car appear to be in good condition and clean inside and out, is the driver neatly dressed, does the driver speak English? Negotiate the price before you get in. There is no place within Accra that is very far from any other place in Accra. The issue is traffic. Accra’s infrastructure cannot support the number of cars, so traffic jams are not uncommon at any time of the day or night. Still, the cost of a taxi is very reasonable. Bear in mind that if a taxi driver believes you are a tourist, he’ll automatically assume you are rich. Whatever price he quotes, offer half of that and then find a happy medium. If you’re not happy with the price, wait for the next guy, remember, there are lots around.
Other forms of transportation: Tro-tros, Fast Cars, STC buses, and car-hire (with driver)
Considering the heavy traffic, the road conditions, the nameless streets, the reckless drivers, the lack of street signage or traffic lights, and so on, you may want to think twice before you drive yourself around Accra or anywhere in Ghana. There coul be further complications if you happen to hit livestock, or another vehicle even with the proper credentials. Foreigners are seen as wealthy, and are therfore often taken advantage of in the system so that other benefit financially.
Fresh produce is plentiful in Accra, and you will see/hear hawkers selling bananas, peanuts (ground nuts), pineapple, oranges (they are green here), apples (imported from South Africa), pawpaw (papaya) and mango. There’s an excellent green grocer across from MaxMart in Cantontments near the Golden Tulip Hotel. There is a wide range of fresh produce available in Accra, less in Kumasi and much less anywhere else. Imported items are generally only sold in Accra, and to a lesser extent Kumasi. Elsewhere you will have to bring your own or be prepared to eat like locals, including “bush meat”. Don’t eat anything fresh that isn’t cooked or peeled in front of you. Consider purchasing some Milton sterilising powder/tablets/liquid to wash your fresh produce in at home or in your hotel before eating.
The big hotels offer local and continental dishes, at hotel prices naturally. A couple of local restaurants you might want to consider are Home Touch on the Burma Camp Road, and Asanka Local Chop Bar in Osu is also worth a try. Remember, Ghanaian foods are typically spicy, so most everything you order will be spice, but it is usually mild compated to Indian, Korean or Mexican cuisines.
Try some local cuisine such as: light soup with fufu, which is a tomato based soup, typically served with some sort of meat or fish. Groundnut soup is also very good, served in the same manner. If you like American gumbo, consider trying okro (okra) stew. An alternative to soups and stews is red-red, (fried sweet plantains with red beans, in palm oil), or palava sauce (egg & spinach) and yam chips. Other traditional foods include: kenkey (fermented corn dough) with fried fish and ” shito” (hot pepper, ginger, dried shrimps fried in tomato paste with additional spices) and keta school boys or one man thousand, which are small fried fish, grilled tilapia and banku
Roadside hawkers also sell great snack foods like fried crispy plantain chips, roasted corn, popcorn and fried dough. Be brave, try it all!
There are lots of other choices, if the local food is not for you. There are many Chinese restaurants such as Imperial Peking, near the Tetteh Quarshie Circle, as well as, Noble House (also in East Legon), Regal and Dynasty in Osu. For something nice but less expensive try Dragon 88. With the exception of Dragon 88, these restaurants open for lunch and dinner, and close in between 9pm and 10pm. Fast food restaurants to consider are Papaye which has 2 locations (great chicken, ask for broasted), Southern Fried Chicken (in Accra and Tema), Mr. Bigg’s, Pizza Inn which has about 4-5 locations around town, Chicken Inn and Nando’s (Potuguese-style grilled chicken). Looking for a GOOD hamburger, go to Frankies in Osu. Frankie’s also have great ice cream and a location in the Accra Mall. There’s also Italian, Indian, Lebanese and French restaurants around. Champs is a popular favorite with expats, and while they offer “nachos supreme” it’s nothing like what you’d get in a Tex-Mex restaurant in North America.
Yes, this may seem like a weird topic, but Ghanaian restaurants, even those selling “continental food” have very little use for condiments. You can get some local brand of ketchup, and maybe mayonnaise (NOT usually refrigerated!), but that is about it. Condiments and pickles are a foreign concept in Ghana, so again, bring your favourites or see if you can find them in one of the supermarkets.
Tipping and Gratuities
Ghanaian workers appreciate your tips very much. The average hospitality worker likely makes less than $2.00 per day; the tips supplement their salary. If the service is good, and your needs are attended to promptly and efficiently, a tip or gratuity of 10% is exceptionally adequate. There is no need to tip by Western standards, no one here expects it, and it won’t improve your service (though the next time you frequent the same venue, you’ll likely see a free-for-all among the waiters vying for your table!). If you really want attentive service, then consider “dashing” your wait person or hotel employee up-front. With a few kind words on your part, such as, “Hope you’ll take good care of us ” you’ll be more likely to get better and more consistent service.
Ghana has had an explosion of hotels cropping up in every region of the country. The range of prices is staggering, and many 4 and 5 star hotels are comparable to prices you’d normally pay in the U.S., U.K. and Europe. Bear in mind several things, most of these hotels have quite different standards than what you’d find elsewhere. Ghana’s 5-star hotel would only be a 4-star hotel, and even worse a 3-star hotel would be only a 1-star in the U.S. While some hotels have websites, and you can reserve rooms through the email inquiry option, don’t rely on just this… back up all of your emails with a phone call, and even a follow-up reconfirmation of your reservation. Get the full name of the person you are speaking with, don’t accept just a first or a last name. Surnames are exceptionally common, so speaking with Mr. James Mensah and Mr. Ebenezer Mensah can make a world of difference, if/when you get to the reservations counter and find that you are not on their reservation books.
Many U.K.-based banks are here, including Barclays and Standard Chartered; local banks are Ghana Commercial Bank, Zenith Bank (from Nigeria) and other commercial banks. Most of the big banks have ATMs which give only local currency. Before you leave home, contact your bank or credit card company, regarding your ATM card to be sure it will work overseas and in case you need a special PIN number.
Credit Cards – Don’t use them. Sad to say, credit card fraud abounds in Ghana. It happens all too frequently. Not even in the big hotels should you consider using your credit card. Convert traveler’s checks or use the ATMs, as cash is the best way to pay for your purchases. Only use your credit card at an ATM or a POS terminal, which are few and far between, anyway.
Cash, Traveler’s Checks and Foreign Exchange – Bring only cash or traveler’s checks to exchange into Ghana cedis. There are forex bureaus everywhere, and many of the big hotels have forex bureaus as well. Don’t allow an individual on the street to exchange money for you, even if he quotes you good rates… there’s a strong likelihood the money is counterfeit. Ghana Cedis – Currently, the exchange rate for $1USD is about ¢1.50GHS. Common Ghana Cedi notes include ¢50.00, ¢20.00, ¢5.00, and ¢1.00 notes along with ¢0.10, ¢05.00, ¢0.10, ¢0.20, ¢0.50, ¢100, ¢200 peswa coins.
Power & Electronics
Ghana suffers from occasional power outages but it is getting better and many places have back-up generators. However, the power surges can damage electronics, so consider using a surge protector.
Ghana uses 220V power, so if you are bringing a blow dryer, electric shaver, laptop or any other electrical appliance, you may need to purchase a “step down” transformer. Some appliances have a 110/220 switch, which will work fine, all you need then is a small plug-in adapter that will accept your plug type. A “step-down” transformer can be purchased locally for about $10-12USD; and a plug in adapter will cost about $1USD.
Check with your cellular carrier to see if you can roam while in Ghana. Alternatively, you can get a cheap cell phone here and SIM card for under $5 (MTN) that includes a SIM card and you can buy scratch-off phone cards for air-time credit from $1-20. You can also purchase “GT” cards to use in payphones or from land line phones, but these are few and far between. Phone cards are sold pretty much everywhere, including gas station shops, chemists, and at kiosks on the roadside. Generally, it’s easier and cheaper to buy a low end phone and SIM card here than to convert your home-based cell phone.