Our fantastic female-led local partners
13th March 2020
Ghana is often an alluring start point for travellers embracing Africa for the first time. With a lively culture full of music and dance, and people as warm as the weather, it’s no surprise that many fall in love with this African gem as soon as the Ghanaian way of life takes hold. We spoke to our local operator in Ghana, Cindy, to ask her about what she loves about the country.
What is life like in Ghana? What is your fondest memory?
I’m originally from The Netherlands, where life is planned and scheduled far ahead of time – but here, the lifestyle is much more flexible. People here believe there is a solution for everything, and this free way of living is what I have come to love most. I would say that as a first-timer to Africa, you need some patience when coming from somewhere like Europe. But once you adjust to the way of living and the ‘we’ culture, it is a wonderful place to live. When I arrive at the airport after I have travelled abroad, the characteristic smell and the heat of Ghana welcomes me ‘back home’.
There are so many good memories both alone and with Apollo [Cindy’s partner, in life and business]. All my major life events happened here - getting married, gaining official residency, raising our children. Life here is intense, full of extremes and surprises, both positive and negative, but I have been able to maintain an inner balance through it all. That’s probably my biggest achievement.
What is the Ghanaian culture like?
The culture of Ghana is built on a large number of ethnic groups with their own traditions and values. People live fairly peacefully together but their traditional beliefs, eating habits, music and festivals are all different. Globalization, technology and religion - mainly Christianity - have impacted heavily on the country, giving Ghana a very modern outlook. However, people are still very traditional. I have seen so much wisdom in their indigenous culture, and I personally hope the Ghanaians maintain that.
What is your favourite place in Ghana and why?
My favourite place is the northern savannah; that’s where I started in 1999 as a student and where I lived and worked before joining Apollo full time. Honestly, life in the northern regions is not easy for many people who live there. It’s more deprived and remote than the southern parts, but it’s the area where I was exposed, for the first time, to a distinctive culture from my own. This helped me to put my own life in perspective. It is also the area where I fell in love with the ‘rhythm’ of West Africa.
Do you know any cool facts about Ghana that most people wouldn’t know?
I’ve learnt that perceived differences fade when you slowly immerse yourself into a new culture; that even in very remote traditional villages, we all have so much more in common than we realise. Given the chance to integrate into Ghana, you learn this very quickly, especially if you travel with a guide. The cool thing is that the people allow you to do so.
In recent years, there is an upswing of African contemporary arts, fashion and innovation in Ghana, especially in Accra, and this is inspiring and promising as well.
What is your favourite Ghanaian food?
It depends where I am and who I am with! My husband Apollo belongs to the Ewe tribe and consequently I have grown to love Banku and Okro Stew. Honestly, I can’t live without it for more than three days. During weekends, we make time to pound Fufu from scratch, which we eat with a light soup served with goat meat or our own chicken - my son’s favorite. I just love this ritual. I am also fond of local chop bars – one called Yam Fufu in the north, and Cassava Fufu in the Ashanti region.
Finally - and many will agree with me - the best food to eat when you find yourself in downtown Accra is Kenkey with shito and fish. This is not to forget the seasonal roadside ‘chops’ like fresh boiled corn, groundnuts, and fried sweet potatoes.
Though I adore local food, I must confess I do sometimes head to the upcoming cafes for a really good cappuccino when driving through the more affluent areas of Accra.
What are the experiences people travelling to Ghana definitely shouldn’t miss?
Most of our trips are with private jeep and driver. You may find this comes across as affluent and inauthentic – but in reality a ‘companion’ driver can help you go beyond the surface, engage in more in-depth conversations as you explore and gain true insight into life here. That’s definitely something you shouldn’t miss and that’s exactly why we offer it.
Secondly, don’t miss out on the varied surroundings. Combine the green vegetated hills with waterfalls and hiking trails; the northern savannah and its mud architecture and wildlife, and the relaxing palm-fringed beaches of the coast.
What is the story behind your company? What inspired you to start the business?
The company started as a one-person business in 2001 by my husband Apollo, a tour guide driven by a passion to share his West African culture with others. I joined Apollo part-time in 2006 and full-time in 2012. Our mission is to create memorable travel experiences for visitors, bringing them into close contact with locals so they can both learn from each other in a friendly, respectful way. We are proud of our country, culture and people, and we make big efforts to ensure tourism is a win-win situation for everybody involved; the tourist, the operator and the community.
What have been your favourite and most memorable experiences as a tour operator?
They are so many, but it’s all about creating once-in-a-lifetime experiences and making dreams come true. Being able to do that for people provides so much satisfaction. Consider a class of European school children amazed at their first trip to the African continent, or similarly, Ghanaian school children given the chance to explore their country for the first time. Very rewarding is when visitors of African descent come back to trace their roots and feel so much more grounded after a trip. The remark we hear most often? ‘It was much more than we expected’.
What’s next for your company?
We have so much to offer that we intend to properly package. To create more trips away from the ordinary and to have a more positive impact on our loyal staff and the communities we work with. As we grow, our aim is to become the number one ecotourism company in Ghana.
Do you have any top tips for any TravelLocal customers thinking of visiting Ghana?
Try your hands at some local craft making; design your own colourful glass beads, stamp and colour your own batik cloth. Become a champion of eating fufu, banku or kenkey just how locals do - neatly, with your fingers. Feel the humidity, smell and sounds of the jungle and refresh yourself under the waterfalls. Witness colourful and flamboyantly-dressed chiefs and queen mothers during a traditional festival. Bear in mind the thought-provoking history of colonisation and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which will help you understand the complexities of life in Africa.
Finally, consider blending your visit to Ghana with its Francophone neighbours of Togo and Benin for an even bigger holiday.
Make It Happen