Larabanga has got a bad rap, and horrible reputation by most travelers. Most complain of being hassled by young men for money, or to take transportation that they arrange, or having to hire a local guide to go see the mosque. There are even some scattered reports of issues with petty theft and assault.
I cant say that I had any of these issues in Larabanga, but my experience was differently than most for a couple of reasons. In January 2011 when I visited Larabanga we had come in on the road from the West in our own hired cab. The long and bumpy road with all the washboards had cause some issues on our car, so we limped into Larabanga looking for some help. We asked around for some fitters (Ghana Mechanics) and were told there were none in the town. Then a young man told us that his brother was a motorcycle fitter and offered to go get him. So while we waited on the side of the road in Larabanga for a few minutes some young me came up to talk to us, and it was just the usual question that we receive anywhere we go in Ghana, where are you from and how is our stay in Ghana. Like other tourists coming though Larabanga because of all the stories we hear about the hassle I might have been a little stand offish and short since we had a long day on a bumpy road too. But I soon let me guard down and talked to the guys around, they were not intimidating or rude or at all pushy. Our driver and the motorcycle fitter worked on the car for a few before deciding that they were not going to be able to fix it.
We decided that we would continue on to Mole, the fitter said that we may be able to use a shop there. We thanked them and were surprised when they did not ask and refused reimbursement. We were also invited to stay in home stays in Larabanga if we wished. We said we would be back on our way out to check out a school program one of the boys was involved in and the mosque on our way back out of town in two days.
When we returned a few days later, we quickly ran into the same young man that talked about the school program. Him and a friend showed us around and showed us the mosque, with them no one else bothered us at all. After showing us around the town he took us back to his room where he had a sign board out in front for the program that he talked about, he then showed us some other materials and pictures of the program. He asked for a fee for the tour which is somewhat understandable and a donation for his program. We gave a small amount, but were unsure of the legitimacy of the whole thing.
That being said we may have been taken for a little bit of cash but we also did receive a tour of the area and got to see the mosque without any hassle. Visitors to Larabanga just need to understand that with the national park so close that they have lost a good part of their lively hood and food collecting grounds. And for a long time they have seen people just pass through their town on the way to Mole taking pictures of the mosque and moving on. They got no benefit from the park and only disadvantages because of it. The peace core has worked with the community to develop ways that they can offer a service for tourism money. I just don’t think that this has been widely communicated to travelers, and the system seems to be unorganized and chaotic in Larabanga which does not help the PR.
Moral of the story try to go into Larabanga with an open mind and not just expecting to be ripped off or treated rudely, because if you do it will effect your body language and how you treat the people. Any rudeness that you might have will probably be returned. You have to remember that these are still people living in the community that feel they have very much been left out of the benefits of tourism. Hopefully more community based tourism focus will take off here and the people can once again learn to be respectful and welcoming to guests like they are everywhere in Ghana.