The Ashanti capital and the second largest city in Ghana, Kumasi is often also dubbed the Garden City. Kumasi radiates culture and attractions associated with the Ashanti empire and the Ashanti culture and an abundance of activities with at least 1.5 million people living there. It is also home to the largest open air market in West Africa. The casual visitor without a lot of time or a local connection may find Kumasi very chaotic, which it is but there is plenty to do and see. The area around Kumasi has some great places to visit to. Much of the focus is on the culture surrounding the Ashanti Empire.
Below is a synopsis of some of the more popular attractions in Kumasi:
National Cultural Center:
The cultural center is a great place to start your exploration of Kumasi, it will put the significance of the city and area into perspective with the Ashanti people. Here you will learn about the history and culture of the people, you will learn about their struggle with colonialism and the crafts and traditions that have survived the test of time. Kumasi has been the capital of the Ashanti Empire since the early 1600 and has been a settlement for people since the Neo-lithic age, which makes it a great place to learn about the past. In addition to all the history there is also a popular library, and a craft shop where visitors can experience how some of the traditional crafts in the area are formed. If that sounds boring to you, you can get active with some traditional dancing and drumming classes.
Also called the Manhyia Palace, it is the palace of the King of Ashanti. Once the ruler of a vast empire the position is now more symbolic than anything in the post-independence age of Ghana, but is still a very prominent position within the Ashanti culture. There is a court yard and a courtroom where matters are discussed and deliberated upon in front of the traditional council. The palace can be visited by visitors who will get a tour of the palace and the many ceremonial and culturally important items in it. This is a good way for visitors to get a better understanding of how a traditional African democracy functioned. The Ashanti king no longer lives in the Palace that is open to the public, he lives in a newer home behind the Palace. Many visitors are surprised by the lack of luxury when visiting, but the Ashanti Royalty has never lived in extreme luxury. It is rumored if you come baring gifts and ask politely it may be possible to meet the King.
When Kumasi fell to the British in the third Anglo-Ashanti war, the British replaced an Ashanti Fort with one that they built in 1896, and is known as Fort Kumasi. Fort Kumasi is now the Armed Forces of Ghana Museum which concentrates on the history of the armed forces in Ghana.
This market from a distance looks like a giant shanty town that fills a whole valley in the interior of Kumasi. It is said to be the largest open air market in West Africa, but something like that is pretty difficult to quantify. Don’t let the chaotic impression from a distance deter you, it is a very different experience when you step into the market and allow yourself to get lost in the narrow alleyways of everything you can imagine. There are goods that Ghanaians use on a daily basis, along with other items like beads, crafts, and even ju-ju items like animal parts, and vulture heads. This is a must visit for a totally out of this world experience.
For a long time Bonwire was the only community that could make the royal Kente cloth they were seen as the best weavers in the Kingdom. Today they weave many types of kente that can be bought by the common person. Visitors to Bonwire can see people in the streets weaving throughout the day there are also a number of shops to buy high quality Kente cloth at good prices. Some visitors find the level of hassle by some of the locals wanting to sell you their wares a little off putting.
Leif Ryman’s Personal Experience:
I traveled to Bonwire in 2004 with a Ghanaian friend from the University. Bonwire is what he considered his home village, or the village that his family came from. His mother lives in Kumasi proper, but most Ghanaians identify themselves with a particular village that their family has come from. So when I visited because I was with a local I did not deal with any of the hassle that some have described about Bonwire. We met with my friend’s cousins who have a shop on the main street, and we ended up staying in their home. A casual villager would find that after exploring a few shops and seeing some weaving there would not be too much else to do. I enjoyed chatting with other locals and members of my friend’s family. We went out one night to one of the little spots in the village and shared some beers with some new friends. The next day we went and watched a soccer match some of the youth in the village participated in. Beyond the Kente the two main streets that meet in an intersection in the middle of town are both lined with old colonial style buildings that are a combination of shops and homes now.
This is another kente weaving village this one being a little different than Bonwire in that it has been formed into a community based tourism project. Historically Bonwire wove the colorful garments for the Ashanti royalty, while Adanwomase wove the black and white royal kente. The tourism project has coordinated a number of interesting things for visitors to do. The weaving tour allows visitors to tour the kente workshop and even try weaving with some instruction. The village tour will take you around to the workshop, and through the community with the many shops selling different kentes, you will also get to see the palace of the local chief, the oldest house in the village being over 300 years old, visit the traditional healer, and even a sacred shrine. There is also a tour where you can learn about tapping a palm tree for palm wine and how to cook traditional dishes. All the while you can feel free to take pictures and look around without any worries since the community is a living attraction.
There are a number of other villages around Kumasi with particular attractions; Pankrono is for pottery, Ahwiaa for woodcarving and Ntonso for adinkra cloth.
Further outside of Kumasi you can get even more in touch with the Ashanti customs and history.
Owabi Wildlife Sanctuary, which is one of the smallest reserve areas in Ghana, surrounds one of the water shed for the city of Kumasi. Visitors can walk the trails and possibly see some monkeys; there is a good chance of seeing many varieties of birds and butterflies. There are other mammals but they will probably not be seen by a short term visitor. There is also a shrine house near by called Asenemaso.
Lake Bosumtwi is also very near to Kumasi and offers a great place to stay on the lake at Lake Point Guest house. If you want to stay in Kumasi Four Villages Inn is a very pleasant bed and breakfast to stay in.
Ejisu is a community outside of Kumasi which is well known because it is the birthplace of the Queen Mother of the Ashanti Yaa Asantewaa, who played a very prominent role in the struggle between the Ashanti empire and the British. Here you can visit the museum dedicated to her and a number of Ashanti shrine houses in the immediate area.
Bobiri Forest Reserve is another very small reserve in close proximity to Kumasi. Like Owabi there are many species of butterflies and birds to see, there are also some monkeys that may allow themselves to be viewed. For a long time this reserve has been used as a research area for the Forest Research Institute of Ghana.
Please share your experience in Kumasi by leaving a comment below. Below are the tours that we provide that spend time in Kumasi. Please contact us if you would like a custom made tour with some time in Kumasi.