Ghana a fascinating and little known travel destination
Jan 5, 2010, 11:24 GMT
Accra - Top Ghanaian players like Michael Essien, who plays his club football for Chelsea in England's Premier League, are probably familiar to football fans from television broadcasts. But the West African nation of Ghana is a terra incognita for many people and plays an insignificant role as a travel destination.
Ghana will be Germany's third opponent at the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa. The national teams of the two countries are scheduled to face each other on June 23 in Johannesburg.
Those who do visit the home of the Black Stars, as Ghana's national football team is popularly known, will return with an abundance of interesting impressions.
'Akwaaba!' ('Welcome!') shouted several small boys. They waved. The youngsters had made themselves comfortable under a poster showing US President Barack Obama during his state visit to Ghana in July 2009.
Across from them, the castle in the coastal town of Cape Coast shone in the afternoon sun, its chalk-white walls contrasting starkly with its dark history.
Cape Coast was the most important slave trading centre in the former British colony of the Gold Coast, which, along with the British part of Togo, occupied the territory of present-day Ghana. Hundreds of thousands of captured people were taken there and held in dungeons before being shipped to slaveholders in the western hemisphere.
'The green marks on the walls are from the chains,' explained tour guide Kwesi Essel Blankson. Then he suddenly switched off the light in a dungeon where up to 800 women and children at a time had been kept in cramped conditions.
'Can you imagine what it must have been like to be imprisoned for weeks down here without daylight?' Blankson asked. The tour group was silent.
From the upper part of the castle visitors have a splendid view of the Atlantic Ocean and can also make out the contours of nearby Elmina Castle, founded by the Portuguese in 1482 as the first European trading post south of the Sahara. The Portuguese first bartered goods for gold there from the inland Ashanti people. Slaves later became the chief commodity.
In probably no other African country did the European powers of the colonial era -- including Portugal, the Netherlands, Britain and Denmark -- leave as many fortresses as in Ghana: 33 in all. The two most important, Cape Coast Castle and Elmina Castle, are on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
'The slave coast and its massive forts are our most important tourist attraction today,' remarked Ghana's Tourism Minister Juliana Azumah-Mensah. But the tourism industry remains underdeveloped in resource-rich Ghana, whose economy is based on the export of gold, cocoa and precious woods. The government now aims to develop sustainable tourism as an alternative source of income.
Kakum National Park lies about 20 kilometres north of Cape Coast. 'It's our most valuable tract of tropical rainforest, an island surrounded by farmland and cocoa plantations,' said gamekeeper Kate Affidonkoh. She and her colleagues are supposed to make sure that no-one in the park fells trees illegally or kills wild animals for sale as 'bush meat.'
Their task is a difficult one because the population around the park is expected to double in the next 30 years.
Kakum is best known for the Canopy Walkway. Stretching a length of 350 metres at a height of 40 metres above the forest floor, it is an attraction unique in Africa. Visitors wobble across rope bridges from one tree platform to the next. Those with sharp eyes can spot black-and-white colobus monkeys and colourful birds in the dense foliage.