Saturday 23 March 2013

Top 3 Things to Do Around Cape Coast, Ghana

Living up to it's traveler-friendly reputation, Ghana is truly an easy place for a foreigner to navigate.  When people contact me about advice on traveling to West Africa, I always recommend traveling with a French-speaker; however, with the official language in Ghana being English, you are good to go English-speakers! 

Cape Coast, a beautiful coast indeed!

Located in the Central Region of Ghana, Cape Coast is a 3-hour drive from the capital of Accra.  Many tour companies will offer one-day trips, but you can also rent your own car/4x4 or take public transport.  Though the beach region has many attractions to keep you busy, below are the must-do top three:

Top 3 Things to Do Around Cape Coast, Ghana

1) Visit the Cape Coast Castle

Originally occupied by the Dutch in 1660 and taken by the British almost thirty years later, the Cape Coast Castle was created for the Atlantic slave-trade.  Up to 100,000 slaves could be held captive at a time with 200 men being put into a cell 30' x 15.'  The moving tour provides a very eerie feeling moving in and out of dungeons ending at the "Door of No Return."

 Cape Coast Castle and the Male Slave Dungeon

2) Tour Elmina Castle

Elmina Castle, located 8 miles from Cape Coast Castle, was built by the Portuguese in 1482.  It is the oldest and largest slave castle in Ghana.  This castle differs from Cape Coast in various ways including where women were kept (out in the open in public viewing and in the rain as opposed to in dungeons).  The plaque below truly hits the emotional feeling you feel spot on.

Note: The castles will try to charge you 20cedis (~$10) just for taking photos. This is highly negotiable if you say it is too much.  Student prices, volunteers, etc. are the way to go, but you can definitely negotiate.  In the case of Elmina, I showed the receipt of what I paid at Cape Coast (20cedis/$10US total as I negotiated there too!) and they let me slide.

Dungeon leading to the Door of No Return (above) and Female Holding Area (below) 

3) Traverse the Canopy Walk at Kakum National Park

Kakum National Park is a special highlight of Ghana.  A tropical rain forest, it was established as a National Park by the initiatives of the local population.  Many endangered animals, such as the African elephant, live here along with 200+ various other species.  Kakum is the only place in Africa to have canopy level bridges that provide access to the forest.  Crossing the 7 bridges that are 40+ meters above the ground is highly worth the trip!


Canopy Walk at Kakum National Park

Sunday 3 March 2013

Top Things to Do in Dakar, Senegal

Considered by those well-traveled to be the New York City of West Africa, Dakar is a highly-developed, lively city full of local and Western restaurants, evening events, colorful markets, and a diverse population of 2.5 million.  With a year-round temperate and sunny climate, it makes for a wonderful beach city that sits on the western most part of Africa.

As I was recently sent for a work trip, Dakar proved to be the best getaway during a New England winter!

Things to Do in Dakar Senegal

1) Shop at Village Artisinal de Soumbedioune

With aligned square shops and big paths, this is perhaps one of the most well-organized West African markets I've seen.  From traditional djembe drums to metal cars to leather to dresses, this market is the one-stop shop to find any souvenir you can imagine.  The vendors will yell for your attention, but in the politest way! Just be sure to negotiate, especially with the male vendors.

Note: You can also see the wooden statues be created and the famous fish market next door provides grilled fish dinners on the beach each night!

 An artist cuts and weaves a necklace

2) Visit the Island of Goree and the House of Slaves

Ile de Goree is a thirty-minute, 3km ferry ride from Dakar - just make sure you arrive well-before noon, otherwise, you will be stuck waiting during the mid-day rest (trust me, you'll be waiting anyways!). Bring a student ID if you have one, otherwise you'll be charged "foreigner price!"

The small 900 meter island hosts the Maison des Enclaves (House of Slaves) which was believed to be a slave-shipping point during the Atlantic Slave Trade; however, recent historians have refuted this, stating that likely only a few hundred slaves departed from here and only due to the need to carry other cargo.  Regardless, the island serves as a memorial to the slave trade and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The island also holds a castle, three museums (IFAN Historial Museum - Senegalese history, Musee de la Femme - role of Senegalese women, and Maritime Museum - sea) and two large markets.

The House of Slaves

The "Door of No Return" at the Maison des Enclaves

3)  Spend some time at the beach

Perhaps I should have made this number 1!  When a co-worker told me she loved the beach down the street from the Fana Hotel, I thought which one?  I'll let you decide from the photos below which beach is the best!  Or try them all and you won't be disappointed.

 Hotel des Almadies (a former Club Med) is a resort hotel whose beach is the Westernmost point of Africa

 Virage Beach in Ngor is a popular spot with the locals

500CFA (~$1) will take you to Ile de Ngor (Island of Ngor).  The canoe ride in itself (30+ people on a tiny canoe!) makes the island worth going to!

4) Climb the stairs at the Monument de la Renaissance

The tallest statue in Africa, the African Renaissance Monument stands at 49 meters displaying a bronze family looking off into the sea.  Originally created to celebrate 50 years of Senegal's independence from French, the colossal statue has been highly criticized as it costed $27M to construct in 2010 during the heat of the economic crisis. 

The 189 steps will test your athletic ability, but the view at the top allows you to oversee Dakar in all its beauty.

Le Monument de la Renaissance

The very windy view from the top of the 189-stair climb

If you see Madame Thioro Fall, tell her Krystina from America says hi.  She starts with fair prices and will show you her newspaper feature as the money she raises goes to underpriviledged children.

5) Listen to live music at Just 4 U

Dakar is a hot spot for live music and there is no where in the city more iconic than Just 4 U.  West Africa's biggest musicians have played from Baaba Mal to Daara J Family (who we saw for just 5.000CFA (~ $10US)!  Grab a drink and relax on the outdoor tables as the band plays the night away.

Note: As university dormitories lie across the street, if you are lucky, you can catch the university students on a weekend night playing and dancing in drum circles!