Ghana’s awe-inspiring rustic beauty, abundant volunteer opportunities, and rich culture make it the ideal place to take a gap year. Countless backpackers, humanitarianists, and adventure-seekers alike can agree that it is one of Africa’s best-kept secrets. Whether you’re searching for the hustle and bustle of the city in Accra, a rural and small community in Hohoe, or a Rastafarian beach getaway in Kokrobite, Ghana is the place for you. So, what are you waiting for? Rent a storage unit, pack your bags and take a leap into the unknown—you won’t regret it!
Types of Programs
While volunteering is what provokes many to flock to Ghana, don’t let this fool you. With numerous opportunities and ways to visit the country ranging from interning, to trekking, to exploring national parks—Ghana offers it all!
With options in the medical field, education, microfinance, and beyond, Ghana is a mecca for volunteer work. Volunteering in the medical field is great hands-on learning experience, offering new and practical skills training. Orphanages and preparatory schools are plentiful, with English speakers in high demand. In addition to educating the children, there are limitless opportunities in extra curricular activities and offering general care and love for the children. Micro-finance organizations let you actively take part in changing lives by enhancing the way that community-wide money management is handled. No matter what you choose, volunteering in Ghana will offer incredible joy, an immense feeling a worth, and the ability to cope with any situation that life throws at you!
Want to be across the country on a whim’s notice, but running on a tight budget? No problem! Ghana’s cheap and readily available transportation network is a backpackers dream. While breakdowns are frequent, and sharing your seat with livestock isn’t always ideal, learning to embrace it is all part of the experience that is travel.
There is no shortage of variety in the realm of Ghana’s tourism. Don’t miss Kakum National Park, boasting the country’s only rainforest canopy walk. Another visitor favorite is Mole National Park, a well-known game park abundant with wildlife and notorious for it’s large elephant population. Mole provides walking and driving safaris, as well as the opportunity to camp right there on the savanna! If you’re looking for the “real Africa experience”, Eco Village Sognaayilli, located in Northern Ghana offers the chance to stay in a remote village among the local people—a humbling and amazing experience! The beautiful landscape of Wli Falls, near the Togo border, offers numerous day hikes ranging from 2-8 hours with a guide for a nominal fee of 5-10 cedits per person. Ghana’s largely unexplored territories and well-established travel routes are backpacker-ready.
Ghana has a multitude of opportunities within the realm of human rights issues. These NGO’s are wide-ranging in their objectives, catering to almost every aspect of human development from the hearing impaired to HIV/AIDS-related issues, to domestic abuse.
Planning Your Trip
Pack minimally, expect little, give much, open your heart and your mind to new ideas, cultures, and people. Make sure you are with or working alongside an organization that you trust and feel comfortable with, and the rest is just details! The logistics are minimal in comparison to the inner-transition that you will experience on your travels.
Cost of Living in Ghana
Whether you’re in college, or living on a college budget, Ghana is the place for you. The cost of living relative to other Western African countries is on the higher side of the spectrum, but when compared with other popular gap year destinations, Ghana is the ultimate bargain! City living is significantly more expensive, which is the reason that many opt to live in more rural areas. In general, you should expect to budget around $500 per month. This includes household accommodations (~$250 per month), cell phone and Internet (~$50 per month), food (~$100), and miscellaneous expenses (~$100). These prices can fluctuate greatly depending on what kind of travel experience you are looking for.
Culture and Etiquette in Ghana
While it is certain that you will encounter countless cultural differences in Ghana, here are a few of the most important customs to get you started:
- When greeting a person, use your right hand in the normal manner, but end with a snapping motion of your thumb and middle finger between your two hands. It’s a bit tricky to get accustomed to, but practice, practice, practice. In the meantime, just learn to laugh at yourself—it’s all part of the experience. Before you know it, you’ll be hand-shaking-finger-snapping like a local!
- Never wave with your left hand. Just don’t do it. The left hand is used for washroom duties, so using it to greet another person is a sign of complete disrespect. Keep that left hand glued to your side and embrace the dexterity of that great right hand of yours. Sorry, lefties.
- You’re on Africa time now. Relax. Being “on time” is a mere concept of the past. If someone says they will be at a meeting at 2:00, you’ll be lucky if they show up by 2:30. It is considered very rude to be in a hurry—hence the lack of punctuality. So take your watch off and revel in the magnificence of no hurry, no worry!
- Get used to eating with your natural fork. What is a natural fork, you ask? Why, your hands of course! Learning this trick of the trade is always comical. On the plus side, keeping traces of beans and rice on your shirt provides a great snack.
- Hissing is used as a way to get someone’s attention. Think of a cat hiss, but to a person. It may sound disrespectful but it’s just the way of saying “hey you over there!” Bringing that custom home is always a fun one.
Health and Safety in Ghana
Ghana is a relatively safe and stable country with comparatively low crime rates. As with anywhere foreign, be aware of your surroundings and never get too comfortable—that’s when things go awry. Basically, don’t do anything that would make your mother cringe, and you should be fine. That means don’t go out at night alone, definitely don’t take a ride from a stranger, and don’t eat street food (okay, maybe you can lie to mom about this one).
Malaria, ringworm, and yellow fever, oh my! Get vaccinated before you go! Make sure to take a stop at your local travel clinic to get updated on your vaccinations, and any others that are recommended. The yellow fever vaccination is the only one mandated in order to enter the country. However, don’t let this fool you. Vaccinations and malaria prevention may be costly, but it is worth it, unless you are a fan of laying in bed sick your whole trip. Make it easy, just get vaccinated, and be prepared with all of your medicines from home, as they may not be available in Ghana.