From Cosy Camping to Glamorous Glamping – Shai Hills adventures in Accra, Ghana

For those of us living in the city of Accra there are definite times when our souls simply crave the perfect peace of nature. If you have been reading my blog, you know that I love the crazy market places and the walking tours through fascinating parts of the city but these activities are intense and full on – your ears fill with a constant stream of voices coming over loudspeakers preaching or advertising goods, vendors talking and calling you, music blasting, cars hooting! The bright colours….constant movement….clutter and people in your space with moving carts or vehicles carrying big loads of goods….

Accra is an energising, exciting city to live in, but sometimes it is also an exhausting one and you can quickly feel sensory overload!

The Shai Hills Resource Reserve

But the perfect antidote to all of this hustle and bustle is the Shai Hills Resource Reserve. Located in the greater Accra area, about 57km from town, it takes about an hour and a half to get there if the traffic is playing kind.

A map showing where the Shai Hills Resource Reserve is in Accra Ghana

More than a century ago it was home to the Shai people but in 1892 the British sent them away. In 1962 it was declared forest reserve and in 1971 it was made into a game reserve. Today it is home to hundreds of bird species, baboons, lizards, guinea fowl, some antelopes, zebras and ostriches.

A view of the savannah plains and trees of the Shai Hills Resource Reserve in Accra Ghana

Cosy Camping at the Shai Hills

Back in October 2018 lovely friends that we met at the German Swiss International School invited us to join them on an overnight camping trip to the reserve. Having very little experience camping, but a great desire to be ‘adventurers’ and see something new in Ghana with lovely people, we quickly said “Yes!” and from the get-go our initiation to the Shai Hills was truly memorable! As soon as we arrived in the car park, we all piled onto the top of the cars with roof racks for a true ‘safari style’ entrance. Feeling like joyful dogs with heads sticking out of car windows, we enjoyed the feeling of the wind against our whole bodies as we sat on the top of the cars, along the sometimes bumpy road, taking in the green all around us and admiring lofty rock faces. We would shriek and duck every now and then for oncoming branches that were sticking out into the path!

There was no official camping site which meant of course that ablutions were replaced by a loo roll balanced on top of a spade, on the way into some well selected, dense bushes chosen for their ‘privacy’! On a semi flat grassy patch we got to work pitching the tents that were kindly on loan to us and once the hard work was done we made our way to the flat topped hillock (a new word I’ve learnt thanks to my husband meaning ‘small hill’) and enjoyed some sundowners!

My daughter Emma and I went exploring as the sun was setting, and I watched her happily skipping and climbing ahead of me. From the top we found ourselves looking out onto the endless green plains and trees of the Shai Hills, and the setting sun added glow and beauty to an already idyllic scene. Sometimes pictures just don’t capture fully what something FEELS like, so share in the magic of our moment in the video below.

For the first time in Ghana I had an intensely reassuring, familiar ‘African’ moment as this landscape in nature is similar to those that as a South African I’ve been fortunate to experience many times and I almost expected to spot the necks of elegant giraffes appearing through the trees! 

We made a camp fire near the baobab tree on the streaked black rock and if I close my eyes I can remember clearly the lovely cosy energy in our group that night. Kids wearing head lamps on their heads and excitedly gathering firewood and choosing fallen branches to pierce their sausages and marshmallows with, to cook on the fire. Mesmerizing orange flames dancing before our eyes. The crackling sound of sticks snapping as they momentarily glowed from within and then succumbed to the heat. Our voices, a blend of German and English, filling the air with chatter late into the night, air that is usually so still and silent filled only with the night-time noises of the nocturnal. There is something particularly special and ‘grounding’ about sitting on the ground for the night and then later sleeping on that same ground.

You can’t help but feel very connected to the earth when lying on a hard rock that has the day’s heat stored in it and staring up at the plentiful starred sky.

None of us slept very well – it was rather hot, we were a little cramped and as we were concerned about mosquitoes, malaria worries trumped over desires to unzip the doors of our tents to allow some cool breeze to enter to aid sleep. But that really didn’t matter as the experience of being out in the ‘wild’ for a night and immersed in nature without any usual comforts, was exhilarating and refreshing!

Watching the sunrise at the Shai Hills Resource Reserve in Accra Ghana

The following morning everyone was up early and little gas burners were lit and we enjoyed sunrise coffee and breakfast on our rock, and by this stage we were all very much looking forward to a shower to freshen up. We packed up the tents and once again we exited the reserve in the same fabulous free way we had entered, making a quick stop at the gate to see the group of baboons who were looking very chilled and laid-back sitting on the benches. What a splendid 24 hours we had spent in the Shai Hills and later when we were sharing the photos we had taken, we also discussed just how glorious our showers under running water had felt when we were back home!

A photo of a baboon at the Shai Hills Resource Reserve Accra Ghana

Glamorous Glamping at the Shai Hills

Fast forward to this year just after the lock down in Accra and our friend Sue had heard about some fancy new accommodation options at the Shai Hills! There was mention of chandeliers and comfortable couches…could this really be true!?

We braved the typically bad Friday afternoon traffic, and although we had a flat tyre which required attending to, we were pleasantly surprised that it didn’t take long to get out of Accra into greener spaces where I can immediately notice a difference in my breathing. In Accra I find myself inhaling and exhaling in rhythm with the busyness, but as soon as the banana trees, long grasses and hills start to come into view through the car windows I feel how relieved my lungs are to sslllloooowww down!

As it had been 18 months since our camping trip to the Shai Hills it was wonderful driving into the reserve again and being reminded of what an open vast green space it is, and to see the tall burnt red rock faces lit so spectacularly by the dusk golden sun. We followed one of the guides on his motorbike to the spot where the new ‘glamping’ tents are and were welcomed by dozens of butterflies fluttering freely in the late afternoon breeze. I found myself squealing with glee in the car with this beautiful surprise as I love butterflies!

Rock faces as you enter the Shai Hills Resource Reserve Accra Ghana

Three beautiful tents to sleep in at the Shai Hills

The Shai Hills Resource Reserve has recently acquired three glamping tents that were previously owned privately, by a mining company. Two of the tents are located close enough to each other to make them perfect for two families on a trip together and these are the ones with the spoken of couches inside! However they also far enough apart to not be on top of one another if you travelling as a single family or alone.

The third tent is more of a ‘honeymoon’ one and is a little smaller than the others but is more separate from the other two and requires walking up some steps to a spectacular mountainous view. The deck is spacious and you look down onto the trees and valley below. The tented accommodation is also very suitable for a group of 3 families which is what we were. The tents have both fans and portable air conditioners for the hotter months and a small fridge to keep a few items cold. This comfortable and luxurious accommodation now makes it possible to not just visit the Shai Hills for day trips which has always been the norm!

Inside one of the lower family tents – the chairs can be moved to the deck to enjoy the view!

Days well spent in nature

Our kids spent the days playing in the area just in front of the tents, pretending they were explorers and climbing on the rock mounds around the accommodation. The cost includes a guide who can take you on a daily walk or hike and we went to a picturesque look out point where we sat on the trunks of baobab trees for a photo, and admired the scenery, and then we went on a walk through some unique rock formations to a bat cave! We also saw a few antelope on the way.

View from one of the lower tents

We have since returned for another weekend of glamping and I can recommend this accommodation, who wouldn’t want to enjoy a cup of coffee in the mornings on the loungers or couches on the deck watching the reserve wake up, have a luxurious bath with a stunning panoramic view of all the shades of green you can imagine, sleep in very comfortable beds (in a tent!!) and relax and read a book while watching the numerous butterflies flying by, beating their colourful wings! But you do need to take quite a lot of things with you so please read my tips below if you thinking of booking to stay, so that you are well equipped!

Biking and hiking at the Shai Hills

We also hired bikes one morning and had a splendid ride through the reserve and the following morning our guide took us on a beautiful walk to the highest point in the Shai Hills on the T1 Hiewayo Trail with spectacular views and the most incredible baobab trees!! To read about that walk and see some beautiful photos of nature see my post Beautiful Baobab Encounters in a new tab.

We barbecued at night and ate dinner on the wooden benches that have been set up in the middle of the site, and sipped on red wine – a treat in the cooler rainy season months as often it feels too hot and humid to enjoy anything but a glass of chilled white wine or a cold beer in Accra!

When it was time to sadly leave this place of slow breathing and relaxation, we packed the car and just before getting in, my friend Johani spotted a very pretty brown and light blue butterfly flying nearby, one that despite seeing so many, we hadn’t seen before! ! A final gift from the Shai Hills!

Booking the tented glamping accommodation at Shai Hills

The Shai Hills tented accommodation is currently being managed by the Forestry department and the Shai Hills Resource Reserve. To book contact Tina on +233241757685

If you would like to experience some wild animals in a game reserve in South Africa, see my post The Lion that almost got away

Tips on what to take along for your glamping stay at the Shai Hills

  • To make your stay relaxing you need to take what you would normally take for a camping trip – which is just about everything 😉
  • Each tent sleeps two people and has a lounge area in it. There are single mattresses available to hire for children or additional people sharing a tent. You need to take your own extra linen and pillows.
  • There are pillow protectors on the pillows but you may want to take your own pillow cases.
  • Breakfast is included in the price and there is apparently the option of ordering food from a nearby restaurant for other meals but I don’t have personal experience using this service. When we stayed we took meat or hamburgers to bbq for dinners along with some salad things that will fit into the small fridge. You need to remember to take bbq tongs, a tray for the meat, plates, your own crockery, cutlery, plastic cups and wine glasses. Some of the tents do have a few of these items but it isn’t consistent.  
  • The fridge is small so simple things like hot dogs for lunch worked well for us.
  • Take lots of drinking water and you will likely need a cooler full of ice to keep drinks cold.
  • Take bath towels, extra toilet rolls and black bags to throw rubbish into.
  • Take washing up liquid and dish towels for doing dishes. We washed these in the bathroom sinks but I was told that they are planning to build an outdoor sink soon.
  • At times during the day the generator electricity is turned off so be prepared for that.
  • There is a guard on the premises while you are there.
  • Bicycles are 50 ghc each to hire if you want to ride to one of the look out points.
  • Take mosquito room spray to spray the tent at night and repellant – we really got bitten on out last trip as we forgot the spray and the tent flap being open a lot means that there is opportunity for mosquitoes to get in.
  • Enjoy the glorious peace and quiet in nature!
The spectacular hilly view from the upper ‘honeymoon’ tent

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