Ghana: The insider's guide to Accra

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The Independent Travel

Think of a Turkish bath, then turn on the tap and you're not far off. May is the beginning of the rainy season and it's seriously hot and humid when a storm approaches.

What's the weather like now?
Think of a Turkish bath, then turn on the tap and you're not far off. May is the beginning of the rainy season and it's seriously hot and humid when a storm approaches. Torrential rain turns streets into mudbaths and roads become impassable. But everything is lush and green, and it's mango season, so there are compensations.

What are the locals complaining about?
The recent hike in the minimum wage to a princely £22 a month, when the grapevine had it that the government would settle at up to £30. And forget any ideas of "minimum" wage ­ this is the figure that is actually paid to most government workers, including teachers.

Who's the talk of the town?
J A Kufuor, who took over as president from Jerry Rawlings after 18 years in a surprisingly uneventful democratic election held last autumn.

What's the cool drink?
Cool being the operative word. The absolute tops is coconut water, drunk straight from the coconut at the side of the road. The locals are obsessed with Malta, a sickly malted soft drink that's bottled, believe it or not, by Guinness. Tourists are more likely to search out a cool beer ­ not so easy in a world where refrigeration is in seriously short supply. Of the four Ghanaian brews, Gulder is arguably the best. And if you crave something stronger, then it has to be akpeteshie, a fiery spirit distilled from palm wine.

What are people eating?
Street vendors all over the city offer a range of fresh snacks that would put your average fast-food joint to shame. Great oily doughnut-like balls vie for attention with heavy meat pasties and barbecued sweetcorn, but one of the best has to be delicious fried plantain. For an evening out, steer clear of the ubiquitous chicken and rice and head for the Shangri-La Hotel, where the pizzas are excellent and the Lebanese dishes are pretty good, too.

What's the latest outrageous stuff on TV?
If it's not Derrick, a violent German import so badly dubbed that it's almost compulsive viewing, then it's The Bold and the Beautiful, a tacky American soap opera that makes Mills and Boon romances look like the latest in hard-hitting realism. And, in between, there are constant ads urging abstinence to avoid catching Aids. It's enough to put you off your dinner, really.

Where wouldn't the locals dream of going?
To the National Cultural Centre. At its best, this is a great "one-stop shop" for drums, wood carvings, woven kente cloth and other crafts. When it's busy, though, it's more widely known for some outrageous displays of Ghanaian sales histrionics.

Where are the locals going that tourists don't know about?
Half the fun on offer is to be had at family funerals, where music, dancing, drinking and feasting go on well into the night and beyond, with the incessant beat of drums being enough to wake the dead. More accessible is Tiptoe Lane, whose bars are almost unknown by visitors, and the occasional high-spirited eccentric may regale drinkers with an impromptu street dance.

Where are the chic people doing their shopping?
Actually, the seriously chic Ghanaians may well hop on a plane and head for London, to Marks and Spencer or even Ikea. The shops in Accra tend to be pretty well spaced out, and this gives the locals plenty of scope to practise their crazy driving techniques as they move about the city. In the upmarket district of Osu, Woodins is popular for clothes while Koala is all the rage for everything from food to glassware and household linens. And, hidden away in the back streets, there is the occasional upmarket perfumery which welcomes well-heeled Ghanaian women into air-conditioned bliss.

What's the trendy place to escape to for the weekend?
Ghanaians head for Kakum National Park, about three hours' drive out of Accra, where the canopy walkway is a terrifying 100ft above ground. It may have been designed for visitors to get a glimpse into the rainforest canopy, and as such it's fascinating, but locals often treat it as the nearest equivalent to Alton Towers and come for the thrills.

Tricia Hayne is editorial director of Bradt Travel Guides, whose second edition of 'Ghana: The Bradt Travel Guide' is published in July.

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