1. Yaa nshonaa. (“Go to the beach,” in Ga, one of our local languages.) Accra is by the sea, but most of the shore is heartbreakingly choked with trash. The exceptions are Labadi Beach, Kokrobite Beach (a longer trip from Accra), and Titanic Beach in Tema, named for that one time a ship ran aground. (What can I say, gallows humor is a national pastime here.) If you can’t be bothered with the trek—or the nature—most of the major hotels have lovely pools open to the public. Our favorites are the Mövenpick (they also do a lovely, if overpriced, Sunday brunch); the Kempinski (although the vibe is very ‘obnoxious dude who pulls up in a Maserati’); the faded but iconic African Regent; and the charming old heap that is the Golden Tulip.
2. Go chop. Which means go eat. As soon as we fly in, we usually stop at Papaye, a fast-food place in Osu—a busy district east of the center—that will sell you a mound of rice and half a chicken (grilled, fried, or rotisserie) with coleslaw and a searing black chili sauce called shito for the equivalent of US$4. (Don’t judge us. The flight gets in late and we don’t eat airplane food.) A few days later, once we’ve built up the constitution for street food, we go to Osu night market for kelewele (ripe plantain seasoned with ginger and chili and fried to caramelized perfection) grilled tilapia (fresh from the fishermen on the shore just 10 minutes away and slathered in a green pepper sauce), and banku (a delightfully toothsome ball of fermented corn dough and fresh cassava.) We also make sure we go to Azmera at least once. It’s a high-end buffet place with food from all over Ghana’s 10 regions, fresh palm wine and sobolo (hibiscus and ginger tea, thank me later.) Accra has dozens of ‘chop bars’ for food close to what grandma used to make. Notable among them: Heavy Do in Kokomlemle and Bush Canteen in East Legon. Then there are the ‘spots’ specifically known for one dish, like Philipos, (also in East Legon) for banku and tilapia. If you want to spend a stupid amount of money on a decent linguine with prawns, we suggest Bistro 22 in Labone.
3. Join café society. Accra is full of young entrepreneurs, kids running start-ups from a single laptop, and returnees (people born or raised abroad who have… returned.) All these self-employed millennials can be found in the city’s cafés. The OG Accra café is the chic-kitsch Cuppa Cappuccino in Airport residential, which does a legendary cappuccino with a giant head of foam. Café Kwae in Airport city has great fresh juices and looks like it’s in Brooklyn, if you’re into that kind of thing. Tea Baa in Osu has refreshing teas and legendary events. There are branches of Vida e Café everywhere, but the coffee is acid reflux-inducingly bad. Café Mondo comes highly recommended.
4. Pick tro tro. Get a tro tro (a private minibus that runs a set of routes) at least once for the adventure of it all. We apologize if you end up next to a chicken or some such thing; it happens, just make friends. Take change, and if you don’t, know that it might take the “mate” (the guy who solicits passengers and takes fares) a while to get your change. Know that for the rest of the ride, he will refer to you by the amount of change he owes you. Other transport options include shared taxis (great if you want to talk politics) or ‘dropping’ taxis, which will take you directly to your destination and are generally pricey (ask a local how much you should be paying and bargain, hard.) You’ll find Uber almost everywhere in Accra, but the GPS and phone networks are not always reliable, so you will have to call your driver and give directions.
5. Learn the hand protocol. What you do with your hands matters. Never use your left hand to do anything: it’s impolite. A nod and a thumbs up is actually an insult here. Learn the national handshake: shake, clasp, snap each others’ fingers (middle finger, thumb.) If you’re flagging a taxi or a tro tro, pointing down with your index finger means you want a dropping taxi. A circular motion usually means you want to go to ‘Circle,’ another legendary traffic interchange near the central business district. Circle is a hub for 24-hour, industrial-scale chaos. You really only need to go there if you want to buy cheap clothes or an iPhone X acquired by questionable means.
6. Find a seamstress. Pretty much everybody here gets clothes made. It means you can choose the style and the material, but you absolutely must ask for recommendations before choosing your tailor. Even high-end designers like Christie Brown carry few ready-to-wear items and require a fitting. If you’re short on time, Elle Lokko (in Osu) and Woodin (several branches) will sell you ironic t-shirts and cute dresses.