The Akosombo Dam is Ghana’s equivalent of Big Ben. The country’s signature monument, a world-famous sight that every visitor wants to see. And when you get there, you look at it, take a photo, and … well, that’s about it.
You can’t walk on the Akosombo Dam without prior arrangement with the owners (and ‘prior arrangement’ is a loosely understood concept in Ghana). You can’t even get that close – the best viewing point is the balcony of the Volta Hotel, several hundred metres away.
And yet, like Big Ben, it is still worth the effort to see it – to marvel at its size and wonder whether it really is just the pile of rocks and mud it appears to be. There’s no information boards, no museum and no guide, so these questions remain unanswered until you can get home and google them.
The region has other plus points as well, making a trip out here worthwhile. Chief among them is the Aylos Bay Hotel, perched on the bank of the Akosombo River. Hannah and I, with Manu and Flo, visiting friends from Germany, had arrived the night before after a hellish tro-tro journey from Kpando – thunderstorms, potholes, darkness and a maniacal driver are not a good mix.
The hotel’s lazy charms were the perfect remedy after such a journey. The highlight is the riverside dining area, especially the pontoons that float on the river. You cannot see the dam from here, but the impressive bridge at Atimpoku is visible.
We immediately made our way there and our nerves were soon restored as we sank beers and enjoyed the good quality Ghanaian food (the best palaver sauce I have had here). It takes time to arrive – service here is as slow as most places – but for once the lethargy is in keeping with the surroundings.
Two bats called to each other in a tree nearby, a high-pitched squeak they repeated for two hours. The only other sounds were the oars of the occasional pirogue splashing into the water, and of course frogs and cicadas – the soundtrack to any night in Ghana. Certainly no interruptions from the staff; when I walked up to the bar to order more drinks, they had long since gone and the bar was closed.
Our visit to Akosombo could be summarised as an attraction you can’t visit, and a hotel with staff who would rather you didn’t bother them. It would be mean-spirited to conclude it was a typical Ghanaian experience. It would also miss the point; Ghana does understated better than anywhere, and in places as peaceful as Aylos Bay, that’s no bad thing at all. The dam was merely the cherry on a very sleepy cake.