Ankasa Resource Reserve and Nini Suhien National Park are two protected forest areas that come together to form a rich Ecotourism labyrinth of about 510 square km of virgin forest, great for exploring. This beautiful park is located in the Western Region of Ghana very close to the border of the Ivory Coast. It houses the highest biodiversity of any of the parks in Ghana. The biodiversity is so rich that over 300 species of plants can be found in a single hector (around 700 varieties of plants have been found in the park as a whole), over 70 different types of mammals are found in the park, 10 types of primates, over 260 species of birds and hundreds of varieties of butterflies. There are many areas of the park that still have not been explored.
The reserve is accessed by a rough road that is marked by a large bill board about 20km before Elubo on the main Takoradi-Elubo road. After about 6 km on the rough un-paved road is the gate to Ankasa. Past the gate is the visitor’s center which is very well developed with a number of informative displays and a building that is reminiscent of those log structures used as headquarters for national parks in the US. It is clear that there has been a lot of effort, money and development placed into the park. From the visitors center there is a road that goes further into the park to the 4 camps in the park that have shelter for camping and even rooms for guests to stay in.
There are a number of things that would be of interest to visitors. Hiking and bird watching are probably the biggest draws for visitors. There are miles of trails that can be explored, in the reserve area there is an informative trail about the forest that is close to the main gate, here you will take a short loop through the forest learning about different thing from the Wildlife division guide and the sign boards. The trail ends at a camp that is used throughout the year for school children to come to the reserve to learn about the environment. About 3000 students a year come through the program, making it a great investment in Ghana’s environmental future.
Other trials go between the different camps and into the Nini Suhien National Park which has very little to no development in comparison to the reserve area. One of the greatest hikes in the park can either be really short or a good 3-5 km depending on where you start from. The Bamboo Cathedral is the destination of this wonderful hike, the cathedral is located very close to one of the camps in the park, if you start from the camp it is literally out the back down and down a little hill. This camp is accessible from the road that takes off after the entrance to the park. It is possible to drive up this road after checking in at the entrance and picking up a guide. The road gets a little sloppy a couple of km in, so a 4 x 4 is recommended if the intention is to reach the camp. Otherwise the hike to the bamboo cathedral can be started at the entrance which would be about 5km to the cathedral or any vehicle can travel up the road a few km shortening the hike to about 3km to the cathedral.
With all the talk of a Cathedral you may be wondering what a church is doing in the middle of the forest. It is not a cathedral in any traditional since, but a grove of bamboo so magnificent and uniquely oriented that it would seem that it was built to look like a grand human construction of cathedral with the large arches formed by the bamboo.
With the exception of the accommodations at the camps in the parks there are few places to stay close to the park. Only one of the camps is very well developed for overnight guests, there are a couple of rooms available and a bathroom. It would be necessary to bring food to eat and there is a kitchen for preparation. The other camps are a little basic; accommodations consist of some open air shelter to set tents up under. Other than the camps in the park the other option close by is Frenchman’s Farm which is a basic guest house about 2km up a very step bumpy road that take off to the right before the entrance gate to the park. The owner who is probably the Frenchman referred to in the name Frenchman’s farm is a very friendly and informative man named Paul. Paul was born in Ghana but spent most of his life in the Ivory Coast and some time in France. He is a distinguished photographer from the 1960 and 70’s. He shares his home with travelers that consist of a row of rooms that are stilts on top of a hill near the park. It is not the most luxurious place to stay but the service from Paul and his help really make you feel at home. Plus Paul is very informed about the area, and history or anything else that you might want to ask about West Africa.
Leif Ryman’s Person Experience at Ankasa:
We visited Ankasa after staying Beyin for the night and visiting Nzulezu Stilt Village. After finishing up in Beyin we headed towards Elubo on our way to Ankasa Reserve. After getting back on the main Elubo road it seemed like it was no time at all before we came across a large new sign advertising the turn off to Ankasa. The road was very rough after leaving the main road, probably the worst we had been on yet. We took it very slow traversing some very rutted areas, and a couple of mud holes. We probably only went a few miles when we came to a grand new looking gate with Ankasa brazened across the top and a little guard hut. We got out of the car and poked around the hut but no one was there. So we walked past the gate a ways and came to another building that looked a lot like the dark log buildings that the Forest Service uses in the US. This seemed to be the welcome center with a large counter and some maps on the wall. Behind the counter were two dark rooms that only had some bike parts and other misalanious things. For the most part the structure was pretty empty and lifeless though without any power or anything that looks like it has been used for much of anything. There was an amazingly large elephant skull and bones along one side also. In front of the building there was a walk way that snaked down to a bridge that went over a river. Along this winding walk way were a number of informational sign boards. The bridge though did not seem to go anywhere after the nice path and signs and crossing the new bridge it just ends in jungle there isnt even a path on the other side. It was all very strange so much development but so empty and not a soul around and everything seemed like it wasn’t quite completed.
We poked around for a while longer, eventually a man from the Wildlife Division showed up on a motorcycle and introduced himself. We talked to him a bit and found out that this was all EU development and they just up and stopped all progress about 2 years ago, citing that their contract was then finished and packed up and left. This seems to be what is symptomatically the problem with large top down development projects, there is no form of integration at all. It felt like we were the first visitors to ever go to a national park like Yellowstone in the US. It turns out it was too late in the afternoon to do anything on that day. The road that continues into the park goes to a few of the ranger camps in the park, one of them has accommodations but about a mile up the road from the gate, the road is too muddy and rutted for our car so he suggested we stay back down the road we came a little way at a place called Frenchman’s Farm. So that is what we did, we back tracked about a half a mile before turning off to the west at a little village onto another very rough jeep track that went up a hill through the village then up another steep hill beyond in the forest before cresting the top of the hill. I was not sure if the car was going to make this, I was also concerned for Kwame and his car so I said we could just walk it, but he made it up the hill, where there was a clearing and a couple more houses. On the left side of the road at the top of the clearing on the hill right after an old concrete building that had a Maringa tree growing up through the middle was a long stilted structure that we assumed was the place we were to stay. We were correct and soon met Paul the owner of the place.
Paul you would assume would be a white Frenchman from the name of the place. But he was born in Ghana and was primarily raised in the Ivory Coast. He had become a prominent photographer back in the 60s and was featured in a few French and African magazines. He was a wealth of knowledge and stories. He also directed and played in a movie that came out in the US in 1984 called “Baby” about dinosaurs, which was filmed in the Ivory Coast. He also talked about the current issues there, and presented an alternative view to the one that we heard earlier in the day. He is sympathetic to the incumbent president saying the election was rigged and it is the neo colonialist interests and the French that are trying to oust him.
Frenchman’s farm is a very basic accommodation, I would probably describe it more as a home stay, with the hospitality, not a lot of rooms and the one on one service which Paul provides. Paul has 3 rooms for let and the rest of the structure is his personal home. The stilted building consists of probably 5 or 6 rooms in total that run the length of the building, in front of the rooms is the walk way. The construction is made of wood and bamboo, I think that it has settled over time because I am not sure our room floor was totally level. There were a few other houses on the hill in the surrounding area, I think they were all part of his farm and the people living there help him with the farm. He grows primarily Cocoa and Maringa from what I understand. Being up on the hill it was very cool quiet and relaxing.
When we first showed up, my father did some work where he could get internet on top of the car in the drive. This interrupted occasionally with some playing with three cute kids that lived in the area. I sat down at the table and worked on my journal, I also talked to Paul quite a bit, he was very fascinated by my digital camera. I said he could take it for a spin and go shoot some pictures but I don’t think he felt comfortable doing this for some reason. He also showed me his photo book that was primarily focused on photographing trees and highlighting their natural textures.
About the time that it started to get dark, dinner was ready, the lady that helps him around the house cooked the dinner since Paul’s wife was traveling to the Ivory Coast. The dinner was great consisting of palaver sauce (a spinach type stew), rice and tilapia in the sauce. After dinner I wrote a little more in my journal and then turned in.
After waking, and taking a bucket shower in the makeshift bathroom to the back of the room at Frenchman’s his house lady served a breakfast of eggs with some spices in them and some good bread. While Paul’s house lady cooked he looked after her baby, who was very cute, he was very good with him.
We settled our bill, signed the guest book and thanked Paul and his help very much for their hospitality. Frenchman’s is not anywhere close to luxury or very formal, but one of the nicest places we had stayed so far because of the hospitality and relaxing atmosphere.
During the night mist descended on the hill, and left dew everywhere which was a great break from the heat and dry weather we had been experiencing. It must be due to the proximity to the rain forest. Really made for a beautiful morning, and easy to forget where you were.
Right before we left some of the little ones that were playing with us the night before stopped by on their way to school, the little boy was crying because he didn’t want to go. We soon departed and passed them on the hill on the way down through the village and gave one last wave and funny face for some giggles. Where this side road meets the road to Ankasa up on the hill is a very large development of pink buildings that we were told were quarters for the Wildlife division and park staff but very few have moved in yet. Another consequence of poorly planned top down development where you have a village with people living in shacks right next to these empty new buildings.
Back at the park entrance, no one seemed to be there. We were there a little before our scheduled time, so I just chalked it up to the habit of Ghanaians running on Ghana time and being a little late. But after an hour and a half went by and a couple of other Wildlife Division Guards came through without us seeing the one we made arrangements with I started to get a little frustrated. Eventually he came strolling up the road. Turns out he was waiting on the side of the road for us a ways back and had fallen asleep. So after straitening things out we drove up the road into the park for about 2 miles before the road got too muddy to continue. There were a few places that we had to clear some trees off the road because elephants had been on the road the night before knocking trees down as they went. There were also some very impressive foot prints left by them in the mud. I was so hoping that we would get to see some, but it is very rare to see forest elephants so I did not get my hopes up too much.
After parking the car we walked about another mile before we came upon a side trail that our guide gave us the option of walking. It is used for an educational walk for visitors and school children. It descended into the forest with some sign boards explaining different things about the environment, forest, and the animals in the forest with the relationships between them all. I found it very interesting and developed for Ghana. Even more interesting at the end of the trail was a camp that very much reminded me of the 4-H camps that I went to when I was a kid. It is used for environmental education of school children, and about 3800 school children go through there every year. I thought that was great, would also be a great place to have meetings for the ecotourism sector in the country.
We continued up the road after joining it again after the camp. The whole time we were walking on the road there were hundreds of butterflies of all different types flying around us. I tried to get some pictures of them but I don’t think they turned out to well. A ways further up the road we came to another camp, with some structures for the Wildlife division employees to stay in and also some very decent rooms for guests with a kitchen and bathroom. It is possible to stay here and hire a woman from the village to do some cooking for your party. We continued through the camp after looking around and down a trail on the other side that went back into the forest. In no time we were dropping into a little valley that opened up in the bottom which was intermixed with huge bamboo clusters growing to the sky where about 50 feet above the floor of the valley created a continuous canopy of leaves. This is what has been named the bamboo cathedral because of the way the bamboo has grown it really feels like you are in a massive cathedral with arches made of bamboo. When we reached the valley floor there the trail continued over a foot bridge then up the other side of the valley where there was some sort of concrete gazebo type structure that didn’t seem to be finished. We sat there for a while and just sucked in the spectacular nature of the surroundings and just listened to the forest. It was great.
After a while we hiked back out and to the car. At the park entrance we paid our dues and said thank you to our guide Seth and continued down the road again.