First established in 1931, the Kakum National park located in the Central region of Ghana is a unique and pristine rain-forest and attracts thousands of tourists annually. The 375 square kilometers park is famous because it can only be accessed through its 350 meters long canopy walkway (hanging bridge) connected through seven tree tops.
Ghana is still waiting for a favourable response from UNESCO after it requested the park be recognized as a world heritage site 14 years ago. Most visitors to the forest are foreign tourist but Ghanaian journalist Mansa Quainoo decided to ditch her fear of heights and visited the park and its famous hanging bridge.
Ghana is blessed with awe-inspiring tourist sites and centers that it is difficult to choose where to go but I was thrilled to visit the Kakum National Park, the most visited tourist site in Ghana. I had postponed my trip to Kakum National Park over and over again because I have always been petrified at the thought of walking on the “famous” canopy walkway. The Kakum National Park is located about thirty kilometers away from Cape Coast in the Central Region of Ghana. The Kakum National Park is named after the Kakum River. The thick national park which is surrounded by about thirty-three villages sits majestically on an area of 375 square kilometres (145 sq mi) and it was established in 1931. However, it was only designated a national park in 1992. The park is managed by the Wildlife Department of Ghana under the guidance of Conservation International. Kakum National park is yet to be approved by UNESCO as a world tourist site after many years of its existence. Since the Kakum canopy walkway is the first in Africa, it now attracts local and international tourists. To avoid overloading the canopy at any one time with tourists, visits there are organized meticulously and people visit only in guided batches. The parks vegetation is a mixture of moist evergreen rainforest with tall hardwood trees that grow up to 65m in height. The management of the Park guards it keenly against encroachment and poaching which are very prevalent. Locals are prohibited from hunting in the park. Offenders are severely prosecuted.
To visit the park, tourists have to buy tickets at the welcome center and each receives an identification card that has a number before they are ushered into the forest. The price for the ticket varies. Ghanaians pay differently according to their ages while foreign nationals pay slightly higher entrance fees. You can buy t-shirts, souvenirs, post cards, arts, artifacts and relics at the Visitor’s Center. Picnic areas and a restaurant that specializes in African and Western dishes are available on site.
The proficient park guides brief visitors on the landscape of the Park and also provide information about rainforests in Ghana at the wildlife education center. As you trek into the forest, the accompanying guide recounts the history of the park. They also provide background information about the abundant medicinal plants that can be found in the forest. The forest trails are equally great for hiking and visitors can feast their eyes on some of the 200 bird species located in the park. The Park has rich and diverse wildlife including about 40 species of mammals like forest elephants, buffalo, leopard, bongo, yellow – backed duiker, red river hog and primates etc. Other outstanding features of the park are the Sun Bird Trail and the Kakum Conservation Tree House. The Sun Bird Trail was developed to incorporate three ecosystems: the rainforest, the secondary forest and a pond environment for visitors to watch birds.
After walking for about thirty minutes into the forest, my fear of heights returned as soon as I saw the canopy walkway. People usually react in different ways when they first see the “hanging bridge”. Some people shiver, sweat profusely, others puke while some just start praying! The bridges, Africa’s only rope styled canopy walkway is a master-crafted long series of seven bridges dangling between giant trees. The canopy walkway has a length of over 330 m (1,080 ft) that leaves tourists mesmerized with the view of the flora, fauna and avifauna from the walkway. It looks like a traditional forest sourced ropes but it was actually made using wire rope, aluminum and wooden planks and has safety nettings that will prevent visitors from falling off the trail into the dense forest below and to certain death.
I nervously prayed as I stepped on the wooden plank and my hands grabbed the highly- secured nets. Honestly, the canopy walk is not as heart-wrenching as most people describe because you will love every step you take on it. Tourists have described a walk on the bridge from “scarily amazing”, “adventurous”, “stress reliever” and a great place for the family. To get to the bridge itself, visitors must pass through several stairs and uneven trails in the forest which can be difficult and challenging for some people but is a welcome challenge and good calorie burner for others.
I can now add my name to the thousands of Ghanaians and foreign tourists who have visited the hanging rope bridge at the Kakum national park this year. Thousands of others will also enjoy this privilege in the coming weeks, months and years. Now that I have overcomed my fear of walking on the canopy, I hope to return to camp at the tree house with my binoculars and a camera to explore and enjoy the unfading panoramic view of the Park as well as to enjoy the chilly night forest noises while sipping fresh palm wine with delectable cocoa.
If you haven’t visited the hanging bridge as yet, you are definitely missing a glimpse of the unofficial eighth wonder of the world.