This year, consider Shai Hills, where Ghanain locals retreat to drink wine, watch sunsets over grassy plains, and enjoy an escape.
In the early 2000s, Shai Hills was, to most Ghanaians, the destination of a middle school hiking trip—a great place to see nature, nothing more. I remember my own experience as a 12-year-old, with my boarding school friends. After hours of trekking, I dreaded having to wait to drive back to school before I could access a shower and some clean clothes. Over the years, however, this forest reserve in the Greater Accra Region, declared in 1962, has grown to encompass more than extensive hiking trails and wild animals. The reserve, managed by the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission of Ghana (a government entity), is now home to pitch-camping and glamping sites. Not only can guests explore the reserve grounds and learn about the history and culture of those who once inhabited the land, but they can also very comfortably spend the night in the hills.
Located less than a two-hour drive away from the capital city of Accra—home to 2.5 million people—Shai Hills is an ideal getaway for those looking to disconnect from civilization, without going too far. Upon arrival, we drove through sprawling greenery, passing prehistoric baobab and rosewood trees on our way to the heart of the reserve, where the glamping tents are almost camouflaged into this stunning natural site. There are currently only three luxury tents available, and while snagging one requires booking well in advance for now, my guide, Stephen, tells me they hope to expand to 24 tents in the future. According to Stephen, the tents were built over a decade ago, but the site only opened to the public this year, due to difficulties with electricity. “Even now, we rely on a generator. But if we can secure some partnerships with a solar producer, I think that would be the way forward,” says Stephen, showing the reserve’s commitment to being energy efficient.
Once inside the tents, it’s clear that the challenges involved with setting up the glamping site were worth enduring. Swathed in khaki and beige fabric, the interiors of the tents are filled with locally crafted, mostly wooden furniture that complements the generous greenery just outdoors. The tents also include luxuries such as a soaking tub and a wraparound deck where guests can sunbathe and take pleasure in the expansive verdant views. Grills and picnic benches complete the camp. (While two of the tents are fairly close to each other, the third, nicknamed the Honeymoon Tent, is only accessible by a rocky, ascending pathway.)
I passed the rest of the day relaxing and drinking wine, then watched the glorious sunset over the grassy plains—an apt combination for this celestial locale.
In the morning, I awoke to the sound of chirping birds, and a soft golden light oozing into the tent. I stepped out to take in the scenery at dawn, and to enjoy an English breakfast.
Reserve guests are spoiled for choice when it comes to activities. They can visit the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, built in collaboration with the University of Ghana, or rent a bike to roam the grounds. There are multiple hiking options, including Sayu Cave (where bird-watchers can spy 173 species), Adwuku Cave, Manyayo Hill, and Hieweyu Hill. The most popular (and gentlest) of the hikes is Mogo Hill, which we chose for our destination. Stephen tells me the names of all the sites originate from the indigenous Krobo people.
As part of the two-hour tour and hike to the top of Mogo Hill, guides first lead guests through the reserve grounds to try and spot some wildlife. There are currently zebras and ostriches in an on-site farm, and free-roaming antelopes and baboons are often spotted at one of the dams built at the foot of the hills, quenching their thirst.
“For first-timers, I always recommend Mogo Hill. It’s a great stress reliever, not too difficult to climb, and it is so revitalizing,” Stephen says as we make our way to the top. He is absolutely right. The hike to the top of Mogo Hill takes about 25 minutes, and combines rock climbing and walking—a small price to pay for views of this vast, unspoiled savanna.