Finally, you can wash it all down with some akpeteshie, a strong spirit made from distilled palm wine or cane sugar. It has a bitter, medicinal flavor, so it’s definitely an acquired taste!
Numerous trading lodges, castles, and forts were built along Ghana’s coast. The commodities included gold, honey, and most unfortunately, enslaved Africans. Most of the slaves were held at Cape Coast Castle before being loaded onto ships for the harrowing and horrific journey to the Americas and the Caribbean.
After trying the salty smoked fish, you may want something refreshing as a palate cleanser. Luckily, the busy streets are home to coconut vendors. Drinking the water inside and downing the cool, fresh coconut meat is a great way to stay hydrated in the Ghanaian heat!
Elmina Castle holds a number of distinctions. It’s the first European trading post built along the Gulf of Guinea and the oldest European building south of the Sahara Desert. It’s also one of the most infamous and instrumental locations along the Atlantic slave trade route.
Everything about waakye is outstanding. It’s truly authentic to the locals and the contrasts of the different textures is unreal. The hearty beans, combined with the filling rice and pasta and meaty fish would be great by itself. But then you add in the crunchy cassava flour and the fiery flavor of the shito and you have an incredible, mouthwatering dish!
My Time in Elmina and Cape Coast
34 Benya St.
Golden Hill Parker Hotel
Best of all, Tourist Spot Restaurant is perfect for budget travelers. I paid for three bowls and three drinks and it all came to less than USD. It’s hard to beat that!
But the star of the show was the okra stew with banku, crab, and fish. The stew itself is thick and viscous because of the okra. You eat it by pinching off a bit of banku and dipping it into the stew.
ON THE ROAD – ACCRA TO CAPE COAST
Remember to always ask permission first and respect their wishes if they say no. Some of the best views of the fishing village come from the castle itself, so I recommend going there to take photos of the area.
Visit the Coffin Workshop
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I wanted to try something a bit more adventurous, so I dove into a bowl of peanut soup with emotuo (a sticky, glutinous ball of pounded rice dough) and antelope meat. The antelope was fatty and quite tasty, and had a bit of the “wild” gamy flavor you often get in bushmeat. The rib meat was the best, as it gets a lot of flavor from the bones.
In one village, I came across a blacksmith’s shop in a makeshift structure made from bamboo and a tin room. The blacksmith was hard at work, making and sharpening farming tools by heating the metal and pounding it with a mallet. I’ve seen blacksmiths work before but it never ceases to amaze me how precise their work is!
While the specter of slavery hangs over the area, there are other things to dive into. From its bustling markets to its beautiful Asafo shrines to the nearby Kakum National Park, the area is rich in attractions sure to please any curious traveler.
See the Grasscutter Vendors
The Superior provides guests with a more luxurious bath experience with slippers and robes. Room prices range from as low as 0/night for single occupants to 0/night for two occupants for the Superior. The prices include breakfast!
Cape Coast, Ghana
Elsewhere, in a village closer to the cities, Isaac and I met locals roasting cassava flour in big, square pans. I had loved the cassava flour I’d tried in a number of dishes, as it added a nice crunch. The people there were very friendly and let me try some straight out of the pan. It was a wonderful glimpse into local life in Ghana!
In my career as a world traveler, I have explored over 1,200 cities, town, and villages across 84 countries and six continents. But few places have had the impact on me that Elmina and Cape Coast had. As a student of history, I was well aware of the basic facts about the region’s past. But it’s a whole other thing to visit the locations where human lives were cruelly devalued and discarded and where unimaginable horrors were inflicted on innocent people.
Check out the Top Things You Must Do in Accra, Ghana
Of course, Cape Coast Castle is much more than a place to take photos. Its heavy, oppressive history as one of roughly 40 slave castles along the Ghanaian coast is front and center the moment you arrive. The castle, which began as a Portuguese trading post in 1555, later evolved into a timber fort constructed by the Swedish Africa Company in 1653. The present-day castle was built by the British in the 18th century.
Here, the unmistakable briny smell of fish and ocean water blends with the aroma of cooking banku. On every day except Tuesday, you’ll find local fishermen come in with their catch early in the morning after being at sea overnight.
The region is inhabited by the Fante people, who are well-known for their rich cuisine. The diet consists of proteins including fish and other meat, as well as soups, stews, shito, and starchy dishes like Fante kenkey and fufu.
The emotuo reminded me a lot of the sticky rice I ate in Japan. I’m a sucker for peanut soups and peanut sauces, which I’ve eaten everywhere from Malaysia to Suriname. The distinct, nutty flavor is always a winner and it paired so well with the sticky rice ball and the antelope meat. It’s good enough to drink by itself!
Eat at Emma Locals Chop Bar
This lush park is located in a thick, vibrant tropical forest. While there are two activities—a canopy walk and a nature walk—keep in mind that visitors aren’t allowed to explore on their own. You must hire a guide to accompany you. Luckily, the cost of admission is low at only 2 Cedi/Elsewhere on site is the carpentry area of the market, where you can see fishing boats being built. You’ll also find fishermen mending their nets and de-scaling their fish.
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Along the route from Accra to Cape Coast is an unassuming building that serves as a coffin workshop! But they don’t design and sell ordinary coffins here. These are unique coffins that are made to symbolize a person’s a deep passion or occupation.
One thing you may not be used to is eating soup or stew with your hands. But it’s customary in Ghana, so wash them well and dive on in! Be careful of any small bones and be sure to suck the marrow out of the goat bones for added flavor. Best of all, it only costs 86 Cedi, or about .31 for a party of four!
I visited one of the female dungeons. Like the ones I visited in Cape Coast Castle, there’s a dark, heavy feeling you just can’t shake while you’re there. This particular dungeon held about 400 women. The dungeon’s walls were painted in 1979 when the castle became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In normal, non-pandemic times, visitors can sleep in the dungeons to get the tiniest taste of what the experience was like.
As a student of history, I believe it is our obligation to learn about the good, bad, and ugly parts of our history. We need to be aware of our past so we never repeat the mistakes of those who came before us. Visiting Cape Coast Castle is not a fun experience, but it’s necessary when you visit Elmina and Cape Coast, Ghana.
The first thing I suggest you do upon arriving in Cape Coast and Elmina, Ghana is getting something to eat. I recommend heading to a popular local spot called Emma Locals Chop Bar. You’ll find chop bars, or “places to eat,” throughout Ghana. They’re the perfect place to mingle with the locals and try some local fare.
You can also see the fishmongers smoke and preserve fish on large screens stacked over a fire. The smoked fish are quite salty and full of flavor!
Explore Elmina Fish Market
The vendors prefer to sell the grasscutters when they’re freshly killed. But if they can’t sell them fresh, they skin and gut them, use wooden stakes to spread out their skin, and smoke them over a fire. The grasscutters turn a rich, reddish-brown color and look like massive guinea pigs!
The Fishermen and Fishmongers
Other Parts of the Market
Cape Coast Castle
When you combine it with the briny fish and succulent crab, it’s a full flavor explosion in your mouth! Nothing on the menu is bland and the flavors will have your taste buds doing somersaults! Just be careful, as the fish contains small bones.
Established by the Portuguese in 1482, the Dutch later seized Castelo de São Jorge da Mina in 1637. The British then took it in 1872. It began as a trading post nicknamed A Mina, or “the Mine,” because of the gold found in the area.
Cape Coast Castle began as an instrumental location for timber and gold trading, but later became the castle that most enslaved Africans passed through on their way to the New World. After slaves became the most valuable commodity to pass through Cape Coast, the Europeans built underground dungeons .
If you’d like to take your time and really spend some quality time at the park, there are a hotel and a restaurant. As one of Ghana’s top tourist attractions, it should come as no surprise that you’ll also find a gift shop. But the main attraction for me (and most other travelers) is the canopy walk.
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The city was first founded by the Oguaa people. They called it Oguaa or Kotokuraba, which translates to “River of Crabs” or “Village of Crabs.” Portuguese sailors named the area Cabo Corso, or Short Cape, after they sailed past the area in 1471. They soon built a trading fort in Oguaa, and the Swedes then built the lodge that later became Cape Coast Castle in 1650. The growing town was taken over by the Dutch in 1650 and then the British in 1664.
Check out my VIDEO: The Most Famous Fish Market in Ghana!! Eating Waakye + Elmina Castle Tour | Elmina, Ghana
Visit Elmina Castle
Cape Coast, Ghana
BONUS: Visit a Local Village
If you want to have a luxurious hotel experience in Elmina and Cape Coast, Ghana, the Golden Hill Parker Hotel is where you should stay. This cute, boutique hotel in Elmina first came about when its owners bought two dozen plots of land in the Bantuma Hills in 2012. By 2017, their 16-room luxury hotel, complete with an outdoor pool, a restaurant, and even a reflexologist opened to the public. In 2020, they were named the top hotel in central Ghana by Travel Myth!
Elmina Castle boasts high defensive walls and a moat. Off the main courtyard, you’ll find a cell that held freedom fighters and anyone who resisted enslavement. There are also six dungeons in total. Three held men and the other three, women.
When traveling, it’s always important to keep an open mind. People from other cultures often do, drink, and eat things that may seem shocking to people from other cultures. With our own cultural norms ingrained in us, it’s easy to pass judgment when we see something outside that norm. But to me, experiencing those things is one of the joys of traveling the world.
Different variations of waakye can be found throughout the country. It’s the dish I probably ate the most during my trip to Ghana and is one of my favorites! If you’re in Elmina and Cape Coast, or any other region of Ghana, seek it out and try it for yourself!
Their rooms come in three different styles: Deluxe with a king-sized bed, Deluxe with two beds, and Superior. All of the rooms offer air conditioning, WiFi, satellite TV, blackout curtains, a mini-bar, a private safe, an intercom, and a private terrace.
In the area north of Elmina and Cape Coast, Ghana and Kakum National Park are a number of small villages. If you have the time, I recommend stopping by a few with your guide. It’s a great way to get a taste of local life!