Hostels in Review –”Where Have All The Tourists Gone” (Part One – Ghana)

Reviews of the places I stayed in during my time in West Africa, in November-December 2014. I don’t seem to have written anything about them to booking or travel sites, so, again, none of them are rated. For ease of reading, I’ve split them into three posts.

This was very much, by sheer necessity, a trip with guesthouses rather than hostels, which didn’t seem to exist. Dorm rooms were very rare, and meeting other backpackers/travellers was rarer still.

1) Crystal Hostel, Accra, Ghana
Date Stayed: 17 November 2014
Length of Stay: 2 Nights

A couple of miles outside the city centre, but on a convenient minibus route (note: take the bus to the end of the journey in Accra to see where you have to catch it from to get back! Or just get taxis…), the hostel is in a Northern suburb called ‘Darkuman’, and close to local stores and street food. It’s located down a maze of side streets just off the main road; to get there by car involves a few intricate turns but there’s a direct footpath from the hostel that goes straight onto one of the more important roads, close to the major junction next to a petrol station, so once you’re there, it’s pretty easy to find.

Inside Accra Hotel
Inside my room; quite “unkempt” and I’d only just got there!

My room was close to the footpath, on the ground floor next to the owners’ room round the corner from the central courtyard – most of the other rooms were directly off the courtyard, in a three-storey building. At the very top was a balcony with tables where you could sit and eat dinner, watching the distant thunderstorms. To be honest, the view was better in darkness than daylight; Accra’s not the prettiest city in the world.

Inside Accra Hotel
View from the balcony. See, I told you.

My main take-out from my stay here wasn’t really anything to do with the hostel itself; it doesn’t have its own generator so the power goes completely off during the regular power cuts that hit the city – these seemed to be from around 6pm to 6am – coinciding conveniently with the hours of darkness. This also meant the ceiling fan didn’t work, leading to hot & sticky nights.

Inside Accra Hotel
The small central courtyard, with “tables”; it was nicer to go up to the balcony.

2) Sammo Guesthouse, Cape Coast, Ghana
Date Stayed: 19 November 2014
Length of Stay: 3 Nights

My adventure in West Africa saw me often turning up at hotels on-spec, rather than booking ahead – using a five-year-old guidebook in a place with few businesses online meant that this was often my only option. Cape Coast was the first of many towns where I completely left my comfort zone this way.

This hotel was in my guidebook, but it proved quite tricky to find. It wasn’t directly on the road – rather it was built halfway up a hill, and access was via a footpath located between a couple of other buildings. This distance, and its less than salubrious exterior; a shabby, derelict, dusty grey building with no signs of life visible on the distant balconies; made it appear somewhat derelict – all of this, plus the lack of obvious signage explains why it took me a couple of hours and a conversation with a chap in an Internet Café to find.

Outside Cape Coast Hotel
The hotel, reasonably close-up. Not its best side, really …

At 25 cedis/night (£5) it made my three-day stay there only slightly more expensive than one of my nights in Accra, but as is often the case, you get what you pay for. What I got was a sprawling rabbit-warren of a guesthouse with passageways and stairs leading everywhere, all in the same faded yellow painted stonework, slightly resembling some kind of 1960s apartment block. My room was quite dark and dour, even with the light on; there was a small window both to the side and out onto the corridor but I tended to keep the curtains closed due to feeling overlooked.

Inside Cape Coast Hotel
Inside my room; it felt a little stuffy & claustrophobic. That said, it did have an en-suite toilet, behind me.

The hotel offered a laundry service, but rather oddly it cost almost the same as a one-night stay. Their advertising suggested they had Internet capability but … they didn’t. Fortunately there was an Internet Café not too far away. On the top floor there was again a balcony area, this time complete with bar, although the one night I fancied a drink it was closed and no-one seemed to be around to staff it.
The one thing it did have in its favour was a generator, although with not much to keep me in the hotel, my use for it was fairly minimal.

Inside Cape Coast Hotel
The corridor outside my room; quite busy with wandering Ghanaians at strange times in the morning.

It was located a little walk out of the town centre on the Western side, so not really close to the attractions or central eating area, although there were obviously no shortage of street stalls in the area to buy snack food from. Having said which, Cape Coast’s not that large; the only worry was walking on pavement-less roads in the dark.

3) Basel Mission Guest House, Kumasi, Ghana
Date Stayed: 22 November 2014
Length of Stay: 2 Nights

Again, I’d turned up on-spec; my initial research had brought up what sounded like a fab backpacker hostel which, after an hour of walking, I’d discovered had been closed for a few months.

I had a look at two hotels close to each other near the centre of Kumasi; this one won out despite being marginally more expensive (40 Cedis/night) as it looked cleaner, had a generator, and provided WiFi access – I’m a man of simple tastes, evidently.

Outside Kumasi Hotel
The main building of the hotel. In the compound were a number of other buildings, the majority of which were religious.

It was kind of built into a Presbyterian church compound, and seemed to be used generally for visiting religious groups, although during my stay the place was pretty much deserted. It was a long rectangle on two floors, nicely yet simply decorated with wood panelling. My room was on the upper floor, and opened onto a large ‘hall’ space with some metal chairs aligned in neat rows in front of a television screen. Two passageways led away from the opposite side of the ‘hall’, between which were the toilets & bathrooms.

Inside Kumasi Hotel
The ‘social area’ outside my room. I don’t recall it ever being used.

The room itself was comfortable, light, and airy, with two decent single beds, wooden desk, and long list of rules & regulations about what was and wasn’t allowed during the stay. While that seems odd to mention, it was one of the few times I saw such a list in my whole adventure. The facilities all worked well; it was, in general, a nice place to stay.

Inside Kumasi Hotel
Inside my room; pretty comfortable and airy, a very big contrast to Cape Coast.

Just a bit dull.

4) Lodge, Mole National Park, Ghana
Date Stayed: 25 November 2014
Length of Stay: 2 Nights

One of the rare dorms on my West African adventure.

Given that it’s a safari/wildlife destination, the bulk of Mole’s accommodation is in proper rooms, but there were two dormitories – one male one female – with around 8 beds in them. A traditional rough-and-ready dorm; wobbly wooden bedframes, bare painted stone walls, no frills, although the bathroom was quite sizeable. At the far end was a door that led out onto a balcony overlooking the trees, though aside from the warthogs in the car park on the other side of the dorms, little wildlife comes this far in.

Inside Mole Hotel
The balcony, complete with view, hidden by a man in a strange hat…

It was also pretty empty – that said, the men’s dorm specifically seemed to be used as a ‘rest stop’ for the local bus drivers on the Tamale-Mole bus route; the incoming bus arrives quite late and the return journey leaves around 5-6am.

Inside Mole Hotel
Inside the dorm; quite ‘Spartan’ in decoration but comfortable enough. The large bathroom was behind my camera and to the right.

Apart from the bedroom blocks, the lodge consisted of a bar, restaurant, long outdoor patio seating area, a small swimming pool, and a handful of tables overlooking the park. It seemed to be built on top of a cliff, so the vista was quite sweeping, if a little monochrome (faded green, in this case). The menu for the restaurant wasn’t that long, and apart from a couple of nods to Ghanaian cuisine mostly catered to tourist tastes (and wallets – around 20 Cedis a meal). That said, it was reasonably good quality – the only downside being slightly slow service, but with a nice view over the park to peer at, it wasn’t a major issue.

Inside Mole Hotel
View from the lodge, looking out over the park.

Inside Mole Hotel
The dining block, with pool. Primates not pictured.

It’s also not every day that you can eat your meal whilst being harassed by primates. Being so used to human contact, and being sly & cheeky, they had a habit of creeping up and trying to make off with anything they could lay their hands on.

5) Hotel Du Pond (I think), Wa, Ghana
Date Stayed: 27 November 2014
Length of Stay: 1 Night

Don’t really have much to say about this hotel; it was just off the main street, about 20 mins walk from the bus station and 10 in the opposite direction from an Internet Café; Wa’s not very big but it is linear. I’d again turned up on spec, basically trying to find anything that said it was a hotel.

Inside Wa Hotel
The unloved courtyard, complete with bushes and tree-stumps.

The rooms were in a long concrete block built along the sides of a cracked-cement yard mainly used as a car park. There were a couple of toilets & bathrooms set sort of behind the rooms, with taps that vaguely worked, but apart from that the hotel was nothing more than the rooms; no facilities nor vibe.

Inside Wa Hotel
Quite a sizeable room, but still pretty non-descript.

I guess it’s only to be expected, as this really isn’t tourist territory, so why would a hotel be anything more than a series of rooms – people would be generally either only passing through (like me), or in town to visit friends/relatives in which case they wouldn’t need a hotel at all.

6) Un-named hotel, Hamile, Ghana
Date Stayed: 28 November 2014
Length of Stay: 1 Night

Oh dear.

Hamile is a small town right on the Ghana/Burkina border. This might make you think it would have all the facilities that international frontiers normally have; maybe a number of overpriced hotels catering to business trade vying for travellers’ wallets alongside seedy dodgy one-woman one-room establishments desperate to make a quick buck.

Apparently not.
There is a hotel in Hamile. One. It’s not signposted, not indicated, and, unless you phone the number scrawled on the side of the wall by the door, not open. It has all the look and feel of a horse stable; non-indicated locked wooden yellow doors line a blue brick wall (striking colour scheme); the whole complex nothing more than a series of plain rectangles surrounding a parade ground or dressage area. The overall impression is of a building now used for storage of goods rather than people.

Inside Hamile Hotel
I felt like a horse when I walked in here the first time …

Inside, the rooms feel more like cells than lodgings, with bare cement floors and walls, and a very small window, which all make the room feel much darker than it needs to be. There’s pretty much nothing in them other than a bed and a small desk; the desk itself feels like an add-on that they only recently thought of.

Inside Hamile Hotel
I contemplated lightening the picture in my photo editing program, but decided against it, so you get a true view of the conditions. Be thankful I only had to share with a gecko and that I didn’t take a picture of the cockroach…

The “toilet” is an unsigned room on one of the shorter sides of the rectangle frame; it’s nothing more than a hole in the ground, overflowing with rubbish, and home to two cockroaches the size of my middle finger. As for the staff, well, there pretty much are no staff – having been phoned, the proprietor came over to open up and take my money. In the morning, all I had to do was leave my key in the door.

There are plus points. It cost 25 Cedis, so pretty cheap for a private room, regardless of location and style. It’s also very central to the town centre, if one could say Hamile has one, being as you can see it from the bus station, although as I say you wouldn’t know it unless you walked around the side up the street to the main entrance. It’s also quiet – It goes without saying I was the only guest … maybe I’d been the only guest for a few weeks?

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