While most travellers already think of Ghana as pretty far off their radars, anyone in Ghana knows it is possible to stray even farther from the beaten path. Located in the northern part of the country’s Volta region, for example, right on the border of Togo, is Kyabobo National Park, one of the more remote places.
Kyabobo (pronounced CHAY-a-bobo) may not be easy to reach, via rough roads from either the north or the south, but travellers note it is well worth the effort. Get there and you will be rewarded: chances are that you won’t cross paths with another tourist the entire time.
Covering New Terrain
Kyabobo is Ghana’s newest national park, stretching over 360 square kilometres and contiguous with Fazao National Park, just across the border in Togo. Seen from a distance, Kyabobo’s Breast Mountains, so named for the distinctive shape of two adjacent hills, are at its front door. The rest of the park is surrounded by dry plains that rise into hilly terrain covered in semi-deciduous forest.
Nkwanta is the nearest town and the gateway to Kyabobo. About four kilometres from the park headquarters, it is on the main north-south road running from the Volta region to northern Ghana in the area between Lake Volta and Togo. Since Kyabobo is really the only tourist draw in the area and well off Ghana’s tourist circuits, not many travellers make it Nkwanta. There are a couple of good reasons why, the main being how long and dusty the road is. By public transport, it can take two days to reach Nkwanta from Tamale with at least one transfer. There is also direct transportation from Accra that takes around eight hours.
Given the challenges of getting to Kyabobo, it is well worth staying a few days. Fortunately there are some good options for accommodation in the area. The Gateway and Kilimanjaro are good hotels in Nkwanta. At the park headquarters there are two nicely equipped guesthouses, each with a kitchen and bathroom, and camping sites. There are a number of other camps within the park, including a platform on top of a mountain ridge overlooking the shrine of the village of Kue.
Nature and Culture in Kyabobo
Everyone who enjoys the outdoors will find something exciting at Kyabobo, especially the network of trails for hiking, waterfalls to visit, biking, camping, canoeing, wildlife viewing and inner tubing on the Kue River. Hiking is the best way to explore the park. While there are some great trails only a couple of hours long or day hikes to waterfalls, others span the entire park and can take several days to complete involving some solitary camping. To get a good feel for the park, try the four-hour round-trip trek to Laboum Falls. You can extend it with another hour or two of hiking to the upper falls.
During any activity, animals to be spotted in the park include elephants, leopards, buffalo, waterbuck and several primate species. Unfortunately, due to the density of the forest and the steep hilly terrain, not everyone will be lucky enough to spy much large wildlife, although there are smaller more visible species bushbuck and duikers. You can also count on seeing butterflies and birds. Recent park surveys indicate the presence of at least 500 species of butterflies and 235 birds.
The symbol for the park is the rock hyrax, which is a large and very common rodent in Ghana, sometimes called a grass cutter. Roadside merchants often sell them… in the form of kabobs. In the wild, they are often seen on rocky outcroppings within the park.
For culture buffs, surrounding the park are a number of small communities called the Hanging Villages. They are said to resemble villages in the Himalayas that hug the sides of the mountains. Some even have shrines and hikes around the villages that guests can experience after visiting and drinking local gin with the chief. They’re accessible on foot or by bicycle. Travellers can even enjoy settling into village life with an overnight homestay.
An Ecotourism Future
The park represents a very interesting attempt to balance the goals of environmental protection, ecotourism and the preservation of endangered communities. It is an ongoing experiment with high stakes – the survival of the area’s natural and human environment.
Organisation at Kyabobo is still in its early stages, however, so be patient and persistent when seeking information. Right now, a new visitors’ area definitely serves as an essential part of the learning experience – you can at least count on finding brochures at the park entrance – and the proceeds help the surrounding communities.
Additionally, for the host communities, ecotourism means “improved livelihood activities” or jobs as guides, cooks and craftspeople. The income generated from the park is used for local development projects, like bringing electricity to nearby communities and providing materials for the construction of schools and toilets.
If you are looking for an active vacation to a naturally beautiful and undiscovered part of Ghana, and if you are interested in contributing to a vital and ongoing real-world learning experience, Kyabobo Park is well worth the dusty road trip it takes to get there and back.