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HIDDEN TREASURES OF THE GOLD COASTHIDDEN TREASURES OF THE GOLD COAST?A LOOK AT GHANA?S UNTAPPED RESOURCES

?People don?t take trips . . . trips take people. ? John Steinbeck
The Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary, a community protected area, is located at the extreme north-western corner of the Upper West Region of Ghana. It consists of a 40-kilometre stretch down the length of the Black Volta River which forms the region?s western boundary with Burkina Faso.It is home to hippos, bats, chameleons, hedgehogs and many different types of lizards and snakes. The sanctuary is an excellent place to see birds with over 200 species identified and new sights seen regularly.
The sanctuary contains much more than just hippos. It is an excellent spot for bird watching, including woodland savannah, riverine and forest shore bird species.
Trek through the many hiking trails, searching for monitor lizards, bats, hedgehogs, pythons, and even chameleons.
Drink some Pito, the local beer, with the headmen and hear stories of days past or listen to the xylophone music.
Take a river safari on the Black Volta with a chance to see the hippopotamus, Violet Turacoes, Malachite Kingfishers and Vervet monkeys.
Enjoy a cultural tour, where you will visit a Lobi compound and learn about traditional practices and ways of life.
In this edition, Hidden Treasures takes you to the Upper West region of Ghana for a once in a lifetime engagement with nature. Read on?

The WCHS Wildlife ExperienceWechiau?s hippos are, of course, the primary attraction ? but there is a huge diversity of wildlife in the Sanctuary.  The joy is that, the Sanctuary is a place where you can experience wildlife in a totally peaceful, unspoiled environment with knowledgeable local guides who are more than willing to assist each visitor.  Do you want to get up early to see the more than 250 species of birds come to life at sunrise, hippos wallowing at your eye level or spend the night at a hippo hide to see hippos feeding?  How about Baboons?  Bats? Hedgehogs? Chameleons? Pythons?  They?re all here? Most visitors will certainly want to experience a trip on the river to see the hippos ? many of the lodging packages will include such a trip.  While a hippo sighting is never guaranteed on just one outing (true wild-animal watching always has an element of luck), the significant majority of visitors will see hippos in their natural, protected environment.  If you are able to spend 2 or 3 days with us (this is easy because there is so much to do between the wildlife and local community immersion), you will get the opportunity for multiple trips down different sectors of the Black Volta River.  Seeing a wallowing or sleeping hippo when you are at eye level (albeit at a safe distance!) is an experience not to be missed!    Wechiau is home to over 250 species of birds, making it one of the most diverse and spectacular bird watching destinations on the African continent.  Rise before sunrise and depart into the bush with one of our experienced guides, and be prepared to see (and hear) an amazing array of bird life.  In fact, the birdlife is so diverse that every year, usually one or two previously unrecorded species are sighted ? can you help discover more?  Some of the favourites sighted by previous visitors include;Violet Turacos Kingfishers Hornbills Owls (many different species) Cattle Egrets Venecious Doves Grey Herons

Visitor AccountThe next stop on our itinerary was Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary, an ecotourism project in the upper western region of Ghana. The Lonely Planet guide describes it as the most underrated tourist attraction in Ghana. The problem with Wechiau is that it?s difficult to visit. By car it?s almost three hours from Mole, and public transport is limited to tro-tros only, so only the stubbornly determined make the trip. Which is a shame, because Wechiau is awesome.When we arrived at the sanctuary, we were blown away by the hospitality of the staff. On arrival, they found us a nice comfortable seat and then they presented us with a menu of activities that we could do at the sanctuary. Obviously they had hippopotamus safaris, but they also had a plethora of community visits. We ended up selecting the river water safari and a village walk.We had a short 10 minute drive out to our accommodation. The lodging is basic, but that?s part of the charm; no electricity, mosquito nets abound, drop toilets and bucket showers. Normally I?d squirm at this kind of thing, but I was so excited to be visiting the sanctuary that I didn?t really mind. They set your expectations well in advance.Once we dropped our bags off, we headed straight out to our hippo safari. The three of us, a couple from Holland, and two guides piled into a rather rickety looking canoe and headed off looking for hippos. We didn?t have to go far; a group of 13 had formed less than 200 metres from the landing, and so we paddled straight over and started taking photos. Unfortunately there isn?t much of a hippo you can see during the day, but we stayed out there for 40 minutes. It was excruciatingly hot on the water, but I?m glad we got to see such a large group. Back at the camp, I spoke to someone that spent three hours on the safari and could only find one.After the safari, we visited a local village. The money from the tours goes directly back into the villages; the sanctuary just recently installed two water pumps at each of the 17 villages within the sanctuary.Back at the lodging, we were supplied with a boiling pot of water to cook our two minute noodles, and after a couple of glasses of wine we retired for the night. The girls decided that they wanted to sleep on the roof, whereas conservative me decided it was better to stay inside. Inside was the better choice, as at 1:00pm it started to rain heavily, and everyone had to come back in.I could have spent days at the sanctuary, there was that much to see, and I?d highly recommend it to anyone who finds themselves in Ghana. Unfortunately, due to the limited amount of available time, we had to leave early the next morning to head back to Kumasi.

Lodging at WCHSLodging for visitors at the Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary is offered at the Mark Donohue Lodge, Talawona, located approximately 1km from the Black Volta River. Accommodation is basic ? but provides a unique and exciting experience.  The Lodge offers basic rooms, with local architecture, for 2-3 people, with simple mattresses and mosquito netting.  Couples can be accommodated.  You also have the option of spending comfortable nights on the roof, sleeping under the beautiful starry African sky.  If you prefer to bring your own tent, there is a large area for pitching tents within the grounds of the Lodge.Across the road from the Lodge is a large tree deck, big enough for 10 people to sit and enjoy the fantastic view at any time of the day.  At night time, it can sleep 3-4 people comfortably (on a first-come, first-served basis).  Relaxing on this deck is one of the quiet treats of the Lodge.At the camp, water is brought from a borehole approximately 1km away and stored in large tanks.  While it is clean, the Lodge recommends further filtration before drinking, or drinking bottled water.  Bathing is by means of a ?bucket bath? in a bath house ? beautifully refreshing after a day of wildlife watching!  The camp has 3 clean outhouses for pit toilet facilities.A final, very exciting, lodging possibility is to spend a night in one of the two hippo hides, located along the Black Volta River.  These two hides are located adjacent to the river at established feeding grounds of the hippos.  Hippos come out of the water at sunset and feed all night.  You have to be lucky, but these hides provide perhaps the greatest chance of watching wild hippos feed by moonlight.
Directions to WCHSWa is the capital city of Ghana?s Upper West Region, well served by road and bus routes from other parts of the country.Once in Wa, there are a number of possibilities for reaching Wechiau village and the WCHS:Vehicles can be chartered easily in Wa.  From Wa (46km away from Wechiau), take the road past the Uplands Hotel to the Vieri T-intersection and turn left.  The next village is Wechiau.  In the center of Wechiau is the WCHS Welcome Centre ? a modern building providing information on the sanctuary, a gift shop with local handicrafts, and even flush toilets!  Stop by there to arrange your trip to WCHS. From Ga (23km away from Wechiau): Turn at the Sanctuary signboard (left if heading north, right if heading south) and drive into Wechiau to the Welcome Centre.From Wechiau village, the best option to reach the Sanctuary is to take a tro-tro (local shared transport), or rent a bicycle.  Assistance can be given at the Welcome Centre.

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