Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Forget Paris, fall in love with Accra

By Chibundu Onuzo, Special to CNN
August 22, 2013 -- Updated 1112 GMT (1912 HKT)
Award-winning Nigerian author Chibundu Onuzo visited Accra, the vibrant capital of Ghana. Here, traders ply their wares at Makola Market, the city's main market and shopping district. Award-winning Nigerian author Chibundu Onuzo visited Accra, the vibrant capital of Ghana. Here, traders ply their wares at Makola Market, the city's main market and shopping district.
HIDE CAPTION
Travel guide: Best of Accra
Travel guide: Best of Accra
Travel guide: Best of Accra
Travel guide: Best of Accra
Travel guide: Best of Accra
Travel guide: Best of Accra
Travel guide: Best of Accra
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Author Chibundu Onuzo visited Accra, the capital of Ghana, for the first time
  • She was impressed by the hospitality of locals
  • The city has something to offer all kinds of tourists, says Onuzo
  • "I left Accra determined to go on holiday in more African countries," she says

Editor's note: Born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1991, Chibundu Onuzo is the author of 'The Spider King's Daughter' (Faber, 2012.) The novel has won a Betty Task Award and been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize. She is currently doing a Masters in Public Policy at University College London.

(CNN) -- With only a 45 minute flight separating Lagos and Accra, you'd think I'd have been to Ghana at least once in my 22-year existence. Unfortunately until July 2013, the concepts holiday and Africa have never gone together in my head.

Holiday was Italy and structurally unsound towers; or America and discount shopping or France and baguettes. Not Ghana, longstanding "frenemy "of Nigeria, with the football team we all rooted for in the last World Cup. Yet, that's no reason to actually visit the place.

I went for a family wedding. If not for love, perhaps another 22 years would have passed before I made it to Accra. The first thing that struck me almost as soon as I stepped off the plane was the manner of the people.

Now I know it is hackneyed and passé and terribly clichéd to praise the hospitality of the locals and so I make the next statement knowing that I tread on imperial ground: Ghanaians are nice.

Coconuts on Osu "Oxford" Street.
Chibundu Onuzo

The friendly coconut seller in the photo above is just one of the myriad of fresh produce vendors that are dotted around the city. You spy a coconut, you pick a coconut, he splits the coconut and you drink the water out of it, right there and then on the roadside. No preservatives, no plastic bottles, just coconut.

Read this: 7 amazing mountain climbs in Africa

Chibundu Onuzo
Chibundu Onuzo

I've often wondered why the global indexes drawn up only rank things like "Ease of Doing Business" or "Democracy," with criteria that leave African countries nearer the bottom than top. If only someone would draw up a ranking for Fresh Produce Consumption.

This love of fresh food was on one occasion, however, taken to a rather bizarre extreme. My hotel restaurant didn't have half the dinner menu because the necessary ingredients were always bought fresh from the market and the market was closed!

Speaking of hotels, due to exceptionally bad planning, I found myself staying in three hotels over eight nights. The last, The University of Legon Guesthouse, was the best value for money. For $60 a night, I got an air-conditioned ensuite double room, beautifully landscaped grounds, the fastest internet I have used in West Africa and reasonably priced meals in the restaurant.

Read this: Ghana, the jewel of West Africa

Now, as an original Lagosian, I haven't been to a place unless I've gone shopping in a place. I hit Oxford Street, Osu, on my second day in town. It's a roadside market that caters to the cravings of an ankara lover like myself, or 'African print' to those not quite in the know.

Touring Ghana's Makola Market
Part 2: Ecotourism in Sierra Leone
Tourists flocking to South Africa

However, for more upmarket shoppers who want their air-conditioning and shopping trolleys, there's the Accra City Mall in East Legon where Ghanaian designers sell their work alongside international brands. In my humble opinion, local content was winning but I'm a little biased.

There are of course conventional touristy things to do in Accra. For the reasonable sum of six cedis, you can enjoy The Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park, final resting place of the first President of Ghana. It's a serene venue for contemplation. The museum on site sheds some light on the man behind the leader that was a pivotal part of the independence movement in Africa.

Yet I also like to see the places not fashionable enough for the beaten track, places that probably wouldn't make it into a glossy tourist brochure.

Ghana, beautiful as it is, is still a developing country. There are shopping malls and skyscrapers -- one born every minute -- but there is also Nima, where I met a lady who chops firewood every evening to cook her meals.

Read this: Artists take epic Africa road trip

I had open access to Nima thanks to the organization Invisible Borders and their partnerships in the area. Perhaps not all the Millennium Development Goals have been met in Nima but there were other signs of development that international agencies don't often look for. I had my first private art viewing in Musa's studio in Nima. Only a stone's throw away from that was a photography exhibition in Nima Roundabout.

It wasn't all sightseeing and games though. I also went to Accra for the very serious business of book promoting. I've never been on radio in West Africa. It's no different from being on radio in England except the presenters on Joy and Citi FM understood my accent.

I left Accra determined to go on holiday in more African countries. Forget Paris, Milan and Prague. Maputo here I come!

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chibundu Onuzo.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
June 13, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
No one knows what causes "fairy circles" in Namibia's desert. A new study, however, may have solved the mystery.
April 3, 2014 -- Updated 1054 GMT (1854 HKT)
A picture shows the Rwenzori mountain range on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo on March 8, 2014. At 5,109 metres (16,763 feet), Mount Stanley's jagged peak is the third highest mountain in Africa, topped only by Mount Kenya and Tanzania's iconic Kilimanjaro.
The 'African Alps' are melting, and it may be too late. Now may be your last chance to see the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains.
February 28, 2014 -- Updated 1029 GMT (1829 HKT)
Food blogger Nisrine Merzouki gives a guide to classic Moroccan food.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 0934 GMT (1734 HKT)
The Hadza are one of the oldest people on Earth. Today, they battle for land, and continued survival.
March 25, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
CNN's Zain Verjee treks to Uganda to glimpse what kind of life these majestic primates live.
June 27, 2014 -- Updated 0937 GMT (1737 HKT)
lake retba, senegal
On the edge of Senegal's Cap Vert peninsula, a lush coastal region, lies Lake Retba ... a coral pink lake.
March 14, 2014 -- Updated 1415 GMT (2215 HKT)
A huge spiral in the Sahara had Google Earth users baffled by what it could be. So what exactly is it?
January 29, 2014 -- Updated 1117 GMT (1917 HKT)
The ruined town of Great Zimbabwe is part of a kingdom that flourished almost 1,000 years ago, and a bridge to the past.
March 21, 2014 -- Updated 1020 GMT (1820 HKT)
Morocco is famous for its historic cities and rugged landscape. But it's becoming known as a surfer's paradise.
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 0937 GMT (1737 HKT)
african street food morocco olives
CNN readers share their images of the continent's best and most tantalizing street food.
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 1027 GMT (1827 HKT)
A photographer took to an ultra-light aircraft to capture Botswana's savannah from above. The results are amazing.
June 3, 2014 -- Updated 0437 GMT (1237 HKT)
Vintage helicopters, ziplines, private flying safaris offer new, spectacular views of wildlife and rugged terrain.
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1010 GMT (1810 HKT)
Xhosa boys must face an intense initiation before they are deemed men. When it's over, traditional clothing is swapped for formal wear.
May 27, 2014 -- Updated 1016 GMT (1816 HKT)
Makoko Floating School
A new wave of African architects are creating remarkable buildings in the continent, and beyond.
Each week Inside Africa highlights the true diversity of the continent as seen through the mediums of art, music, travel and literature.
ADVERTISEMENT