Laura Brunts, a NEWSWEEK researcher, spent the first half of 2007 living and studying in Ghana's coastal capital, Accra. But she didn't let city limits stop her—this obruni (the local word for a foreigner) saw more of the country than many Ghanaians have. Here, she reveals some of Accra's highlights, and how best to escape the bustle of the city.
City Sights: Avoid what may seem like obvious tourist stops: the National Museum, the Accra Zoo, and the National Theatre. These sights can be disappointing, and you'll find better historical relics and wildlife viewing outside Accra. Instead, make sure to visit one of Accra's bustling markets. You can find everything from fresh pineapple to handcrafted leather sandals at Makola Market, which sprawls over several blocks in the city center. La Beach, lined with restaurants and bars with plastic tables on the sand, is almost as busy as Makola. It's a great place for people-watching or drumming lessons—but not for relaxing.
Sleeping: The eco-friendly Green Turtle Lodge (233-244-893566), located outside the tiny western fishing town of Dixcove, is a travel destination in its own right. Guests can relax on the lodge's beautiful private beach or arrange guided hikes or canoe trips into the surrounding rain forest. The lodge, owned by a young British couple, would do Al Gore proud: it runs on solar power. If you're staying in Accra and don't mind paying a little extra, Novotel Hotel (233-21-667546) is a good choice. The premises include tennis courts, a fitness center, and an outdoor swimming pool, all relatively rare in Ghana.
Day Trips: Some of Ghana's most beautiful places are outside Accra, far from the noise and pollution of the city. Ada Foah, a small beach town a few hours east of the capitol, is one of the most peaceful spots. Take a pirogue to the end of the sandy peninsula and you'll find an idyllic camp of grass huts and hammocks set between the Volta River and the Atlantic. The town of Elmina, a day's journey from Accra, is home to one of Ghana's most infamous slave forts, Elmina Castle. Elmina is less touristy than the popular Cape Coast Castle and makes for a more intimate tour.
Food: Ghanaian food—chicken with rice, fried plantains, waachi (a spicy bean and rice dish)—can be purchased just about anywhere in the city at roadside stands or small canteens. But after a month of the local cuisine, the extreme spiciness and repetition (rice, rice, rice) can make you crave something new. The best (and perhaps only) smoothie place in Ghana is just off Oxford Street in the commercial Osu neighborhood. Another obruni-friendly eatery is Champs Sports Bar, which serves great Mexican-style food along with hamburgers and chicken wings, and airs British and American sports.
Nightlife: At night, when the humidity lets up, you can truly appreciate Ghana's tropical climate. Oxford Street stays busy after dark with a wide selection of bars and clubs. Tantra, one of the area's hottest spots, plays a mix of hip-hop and house music, but like many clubs in Accra it doesn't get going until after 1 a.m. For a more low-key option, try Jazz Tone in the sleepy Airport residential district. Run by a friendly African-American expat, this cozy restaurant serves an unusually diverse range of high-quality alcohol and frequently hosts live music.