A Walk in the Treetops
The long-tailed Verreaux's Touraco floats down from the sky. From your vantage point on the canopy walkway, you see a brilliant flash of red on the wings of this magnificent bird as it lands a few feet away to settle on a Kuntan tree, one of the tallest trees in the forest canopy. This is something you'd never see from the forest floor.
Located in Kakum National Park in the West African country of Ghana, Africa's only canopy walkway is suspended 100 feet above the ground, offering you what is truly a bird's eye view of the rainforest. At this height, you don't have to be an expert to identify the colorful patterns of tropical birds as they glide through the forest below you.
You don't even have to climb to get onto the walkway. It starts at ground level, and as you walk along, the land below you slopes into a valley, and you find yourself twelve stories up in the forest canopy. The horseshoe-like pattern of bridgesmade of steel cable, netting, and narrow wooden planksare connected by tree platforms that serve as observation points for viewing the rainforest. You circle back to complete your tour on level ground.
"The slight swaying is intimidating, but it's an incredible sensation to walk along it. The experience is pure adrenaline, and is definitely not for people with a fear of heights," said Mari Omland, project manager of the Ghana program at Conservation International. Despite its scary appearance, expert designers and climbers were consulted throughout all the phases of its construction, to ensure that the walkway was safely built and able to meet world-class safety standards.
Among other species, more than 300 kinds of birds and about 550 types of butterflies make their home in the forest canopy, and many of the canopy's inhabitants have never set foot on the forest floor. You can hear the distant rustling of leaves as a troop of monkeys travel through the canopy, but don't expect to see them. Kakum's mammals are known to be extremely elusive.
Kakum National Park is an island of tropical rainforest in a sea of agricultural landsan isolated fragment of what was once a continuous belt of rainforest extending from Guinea through Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Cote d'Ivoire to Ghana. Degraded by mining, farming, and settlement, and combed by hunters and timber extractors, Kakum now covers less than 140 square miles, but it provides one of the last remaining habitats for six globally-endangered species, including Diana monkeys, bongos, yellow-backed duikers, and forest elephants.
Exploring the forest with a local guide enhances your experience. Local knowledge of the forest is extensive, as its resources have been fulfilling people's spiritual, medicinal and subsistence needs for centuries. Guides help you identify animal prints found in the mud, and may explain how distinct marks on a tree resulted from a forest elephant scratching its back, or how the juicy contents missing from a fruit casing were a monkey's breakfast.
Walking the ethnobotanical trail, you learn about the hidden properties of Kakum's plant species. In traditional medicine, plants serve to fight infections, heal wounds, increase lactation, ease muscle strains, relieve stomach ailments, and eliminate fevers. Your guide picks up a chewing sponge containing medicinal properties, explaining how it is still used by the Akan people as a toothbrush. You pass the Kuntan tree, which has roots above the ground that extend out and down from its trunk. This characteristic makes it look as if it has been pulled 12 to 15 feet out of the soil with the roots forming a visible stand for the tree. Not only is the Kuntan tree unique in appearance, but the leaves are used as natural, healing bandages.
The local culture adds another facet to the forest experience through myths, stories, and practices. Among these practices is a revived traditional artform know as the bamboo orchestra, which local residents of the Masomagor community perform for your enjoyment. To the beating of the drum, the orchestra illustrates stories through an elaborate dance.
At the interactive exhibition Hidden Connections: the Web of Life in a Rainforest, in the park Visitor Center, you can explore the biological connections that exist within rainforest ecosystems, and the cultural connections that the Akan people of southern Ghana hold with the natural world.
Kakum National Park stands as part of one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the African continent. Valuable from both a global and a local perspective, this forest is an important conservation priority. For locals, who now have restricted use of forest resources under its national park status, the canopy walkway provides an alternative means of income through tourism. Since protecting the integrity of the forest was an essential element to the conservation of the area, Conservation International and Ghana's Wildlife Department constructed the walkway using materials and a design that would not harm the trees. By visiting Kakum, you are making an active contribution to the preservation of the rainforest.
With Kakum National Park as your starting point, Ghana's unique mix of culture, historical heritage, and rich biological diversity offers you an all-inclusive African experience. A short drive from the wonders of Kakum are other points of interest, including numerous European forts, lodges, and castles that line the 300 miles of Ghana's coastline. Two of the most notable are the recently restored Cape Coast and Elmina castles, built in 1655 and 1482 respectively, which served as central facilities in the centuries-long trans-Atlantic slave trade.
The area's vibrant markets are a great place to purchase or simply admire Ghana's pottery, adinkra cloth, brass castings, hand woven baskets, glass beads, symbolic kente cloth and intricately carved stools, which the Ashanti believe to be receptacles of the soul. Outside of Kakum, you'll notice how the colorful shapes and symbolic patterns in textiles and in other cultural artforms reflect images of the forest.
Traditional festivals, held each month, provide a glance into the cultural heritage from the past. As part of the Bakatue festival, the people of Elmina have been welcoming in the new fishing season with a variety of processions and competitions for the past 500 years. Other festivals, such as Bontungu, feature traditional drumming and dancing.
And after a busy day at a local markets and festivals, you can relax at one of the beautiful beaches. Brenu beach is considered by Ghana's tourism board as the best place to swim and sun in the Central Region.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication