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Mole National Park – The Great Ghana Safari

by Team Hazard
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Quick Facts about Mole National Park

Where is Mole Park located in Ghana?

Mole National Park is in Northern Ghana, about 146km (90 miles) southwest of Tamale – a 2 ½ – 3 hour drive.

How far is Mole National Park from Accra?

Mole National Park is 690km (430 miles) from Accra. It’s a 10-12 hour drive depending on your choice of transportation. Alternately, you can fly into Tamale Airport.

What kind of animals are at Mole National Park, Ghana?

Elephant, baboon, buffalo, kob, warthog, waterbuck, bushbuck, roan antelope are the easiest and most likely animals you’ll see in Mole Park. Though you might also catch sight of hartebeest, duikers, patas monkey or vervet monkeys. Predators are harder to spot, but special safaris can be arranged if you want to try.

What is the best time to visit Mole National Park?

The dry season runs from November to March. It’s easier to see wildlife at these times, and more animals have reason to visit the watering hole – which is one of the easiest places to view them. Dusty harmattan winds may blow from December to February, creating a hazy atmosphere.
 
The wet season, from April to October offers lush vegetation, but this gives the animals better places to hide. While it might not be as good for wildlife viewing as dry season, it’s still fine most of the time. If you find yourself in Ghana during the rainy season, don’t cross Mole off your list. Go anyway.

What’s So Special About Mole National Park?

Most people who head to the northern region of Ghana have their sights set on Mole National Park. While Ghana may not have the Big 5 when it comes to African animals, they are the only national park on the continent where walking safaris are allowed – according to the rangers.

Yes, you can (with a guide) trek across the savannah in search of elephants, baboons, warthogs, kob, green (vervet) monkeys and many other animals.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find yourself on the shore of the watering hole while a herd of elephants frolics in the cooling water.

Forest Elephant from West African Safari - Close-up

This is a magnificent experience. Seriously, there is nothing separating you from the animals. No cages, no glass, not even a windshield. You are right there. It’s the best safari in Ghana.

You do need to be in decent enough shape for some rugged terrain, but if I can do it, you probably can, too. I suggest bringing a hiking stick.

The animals in Mole National Park are completely free. There are no feeding stations or other draws to encourage them to adhere to a human schedule, so there are no guarantees that you’ll see any particular critter during your safari.

If you can spare a few extra days, you’ll have a better chance at some spectacular sightings. To get in a few safaris (walk, drive, night), we recommend 2-3 days at the bare minimum, 4-5 would be ideal.

Oh, and Tim had another close encounter with a member of the primate community. We’ll tell you about that in a little bit.

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Experiencing the Majesty of African Forest Elephants Up-Close

If you come for nothing else, come for Mole’s elephants. They are African Forest Elephants and are a bit smaller than their big savannah cousins, but they are still impressive. Their well-worn path takes them near the motel and ranger station so your chances of seeing one, or several, is very high.

Most of the elephants are docile and unconcerned about the humans that roam the park around them. That’s not to say there isn’t a rambunctious adolescent now and then, but overall, the elephants in Mole are not easily provoked.

Still, it’s recommended that you keep 30-50 meters away from any wild elephant. That’s just common sense.

The Walking Safari

Difficulty Rating:  8.5

Challenging for fit people. 

Very difficult for less-than-fit or impaired people.

On our first morning, I got to the ranger station early. It was a lucky morning, because a pair of elephants chose to have their breakfast just across the road. I, and some other early-birds, watched as they calmly stripped the branches off the trees.

Such strength, and such peace together made for a powerful combination. That the elephants were so calm told me that this environment they were in was a good one, free from harassment or stress.

When everyone arrived, the rangers told us a few things:

  1. Mole Park is the largest national park in Ghana.
  2. It is the only national park in Africa that allows walking safaris.
  3. The baboons are criminals so don’t leave your door unlocked at the motel, even if you’re in the room. (Oops…I’m sure Tim will be fine. Right?)
  4. We could do a walking or driving safari. Other options were available, but these were the main two that didn’t require planning ahead.

By the way, Tim didn’t accompany me for the walking safari because we suspected that it would be too difficult for both his fitness level (read about our Kakum adventure here), and his vision. We were right.

Everyone chose the walking safari because that is best done in the morning while it’s still cool. They broke us up into groups and then we set off.

There’s plenty of Visitor Info on safari options and other activities, as well as their set fees, at the ranger station.

Follow Those Elephants!

Our first quest was to follow the elephants we had seen earlier. The rangers know their common trail and favorite spots and we caught up with them soon enough. They were better hidden now, in denser foliage, so we were stealing glimpses here and there. When they moved on, so did we.

We circled around the other side of the motel and after a few minutes encountered another pair of elephants just off the side of the road. They were very calm and we were able to get a little closer.

It’s in these moments when you realize how amazing life can be – when you realize that you’re in Africa, standing a stone’s throw away from two wild elephants – and the elephants are letting you be there.

The walking safari is fantastic, by the way. If that’s not totally obvious. And it only gets better.

Behind us, just as those elephants disappeared into the bush, a pair of warthogs made their appearance. The warthogs were equally unconcerned with humans, mostly because they commonly root around the trash near the staff housing and are accustomed to people’s presence.

They’re definitely cute, in that ugly sort of way. They took their time meandering through the area. I think they like the attention.

This all happened near the road, still in the vicinity of the motel.

Trekking through the Bush

Now it was time to go off-trail in this foot safari. We trekked into the bush leaving the road behind. What started out in overgrown knee high grass soon became a scramble down some dusty rocks to a scrubby plateau.

I’ll admit, I was glad for my hiking stick and the help of our guide, Abdullah. I’m not a good climber and going down that kind of terrain makes me a little nervous. The guide’s extra hand to ensure my steadiness was just what I needed.

Abdullah - Our Mole Guide - with Rifle
The rifle is only precautionary and never gets used.

Let me pause for a moment to praise the guides at Mole National Park. They are both very knowledgeable and welcoming. Despite usually being the slow one in the group, I never felt like our guide became impatient or frustrated. He was there to help whenever I needed it and wanted to make sure everyone was included.

Other West African Wildlife We Saw

Now that we were down on this plain, we started seeing kob and bush back, types of antelope species. As we walked they would usually be in small groups. Keeping quiet and having a good zoom lens allowed me to get some good pics. We also saw red and vervet monkeys. They are wily when it comes to getting a good pic.

If you want a more detailed, and scientific, list of the wildlife in Mole National Park, check out this page on the UNESCO tentative list.

Let’s Talk About Cameras on Safari for a Minute

You might be surprised, but all of these pictures and video were taken with a compact camera, albeit a really good compact camera, the Panasonic DMC ZS-100. With having to carry all of Tim’s medical stuff we decided early on that a big camera rig was out of the question.

While I know there are some times when a DSLR with an awesome lens would have been great to have (like at a national park photographing wildlife), I’ve been very pleased with this little Panasonic.

On the pictures with the antelope and the monkeys, you can start to see the limitations of a compact camera. The zoom only has so much power, and fast-moving objects, or critters can be an issue unless you’re really prepared for them. However, besides photographing certain animals on this trip to Mole, I’ve found this camera to be great in a large range of situations.

First, I’m going to give you a link to a good camera shop to check out the current stats and price on the Panasonic I’ve been raving about. At last check, it’s nicely affordable for as much camera as you get. There may be a newer version, but check which features they’ve upgraded to see if it’s worth the price.

Find the Perfect Gift – Shop Samy’s Camera’s Gift

You can check out some of our other, non-safari, travel images here, (will open in a new tab). From an artistic standpoint, I’m especially proud of the Mauritania album.

But when you decide to come to Mole National Park, if you can, I recommend bringing a DSLR or Mirrorless camera with a couple of good lenses. With all these great animals, this is the time when it counts. You can use the link above to do some shopping if you need to. If you don’t know how to use the bigger camera, then I recommend taking this class at Udemy. It covers everything about photography you need to know.

Photography Masterclass: A Complete Guide to Photography

Just remember to leave yourself some time to watch the classes and practice before you get on your flight to Ghana.

Mole Park Elephants at the Watering Hole

Bamboo Bridge in Rough Terrain
A bit more challenging

It came time for us to head back to the ranger station, but our guide had word that there was an elephant group at the watering hole. He gave us the option to continue on, at a small additional cost for the extra time, to see the elephants once again in a different, more open environment.

I’ll admit, by this point I was tired. When I heard it was time to head back, I was relieved. However, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see the elephants up close again. I also didn’t want to be the only one in the group that voted to return and end up spoiling it for everyone else.

So I voted to continue on.

The terrain got more challenging as we worked our way toward the watering hole. I was definitely lagging behind. Just as I was about to ask how much further? I realized that we were almost there.

Have you ever had one of those moments where you’re struggling hard and then suddenly the difficulty breaks and it all becomes worth it?

Well, we walked around this curve in the high brush and suddenly there was a watering hole full of elephants. They were playing, and mating, and generally enjoying themselves. It’s amazing how close we were able to get and I love the fact that they were not remotely concerned with us.

Elephant with Trunk Up Out of the Water - African Safari
A nice, cooling bath for the elephants
Elephants Mating at the Watering Hole
The water probably makes mating easier, don’t you think?

We were seeing them act naturally, and that is a great treasure.

Trina at the Watering Hole with Elephants

It was excellent and awesome and I wished I could have been sharing it with Tim. Since I was alone, our guide was kind enough to get a picture of me with the elephants.

We watched until the elephants started to leave, and then we had to go, too.

We Have to Climb Where?

Now it was time for the real challenge.

The watering hole is right below Mole Motel. The climb is a rugged path up a steep, rocky hillside – and I was almost exhausted already.

As we reached the base of the path, I told our guide how tired I was. I could make the climb, but I was going to be slow. Because the rest of the group was pretty fit, he let them go on ahead, radioing another guide to meet them at the top and make sure everything was okay.

Then our guide stayed with me, going slow and taking breaks whenever I needed it. He made sure I stayed safe and helped to keep me motivated.

And, with some help, I made it!

I was exhausted, but happy and proud. I couldn’t wait to share my experiences with Tim – but you won’t believe what I found when I got back to the room.

The Criminals of Mole National Park

When I got back to our room, I was truly exhausted. Even climbing up the three (very tall) steps was a challenge. Then I discovered the door was locked. That wasn’t how I left it. We only had one key and I left it with Tim, so he wouldn’t be locked in.

So Tim comes to the door and gives me a helping hand up the stairs. I only get a few steps into the room when I see one of our bags spilled out on the floor. It’s the extra one where we keep snacks for long bus trips, among other things.

Fallen bag and snacks on floor after baboon visit
Not much mess for a baboon to leave behind

I think that Tim knocked it over, and can’t see well enough to pick everything up, because the room is quite dark. Turns out, Tim had an uninvited guest come into the room.

Yes, a baboon let herself into our room, found our snacks and sat down to enjoy some cookies.

Tim had been sleeping and didn’t even know she was there until another guest, after seeing her enter, came in and chased her out.

As the commotion awakened him out of a deep sleep, he once again mistook a wild primate for a dog (see our tale about Tim’s encounter with the queen orangutan in Borneo), and the other guest for someone on the cleaning staff. It was all over in a minute or two, but it was a crazy encounter.

Upon examining the remnant of the snacks and the dropped cookies, we determined two things.

One, the cookies were opened with a single slash down the side of the package and properly removed. The baboon was neater at eating snacks than we were.

Two, I think she ran off with some packages in her hands, a grab and run, as she was being chased out.

But her tidiness with the package she chose to sit and eat was remarkable. No crumbs, no partial cookies. The only thing left were the ones she hadn’t gotten to, still whole and within the package.

Tim’s kind of lucky it was a female because the adolescent males that roam around can get aggressive when being chased out of a room. Which brings us to a very important point.

Important Tip: If you’re staying at the Mole Motel, make sure you lock your door, even if you’re in the room. The baboons will check the locks and they will come in looking for food if they have the chance.

In our few days there, we heard our door handle rattle three more times, and every time we looked, it was a baboon looking for an easy snack.

The staff are supposed to warn guests about that, but they seem lax in that effort.

So, once again, Tim has attracted the attention of a female of the primate kind. If he keeps this up, he’s going to get a reputation.

Drive Safari in Mole National Park

Difficulty Rating:  1 – if you stay in the jeep

Easy, most people of even moderate mobility can do it.

Difficulty Rating:  4-6 – if you get out at certain points and take on the terrain

Easy for an average fit person.

Some challenge for less-than-fit or impaired people.

The next morning we chose the drive safari so Tim could come along. The introduction was the same, but no elephants came by to greet us beforehand. We definitely remembered to lock our room on our way out.

We joined up with another family in a large, very open jeep. The seating was stadium style, so everyone could see during the safari drive. Knowing of our challenges, the same guide that helped me the previous day made it a point to join our group this morning, which I appreciated.

We started out on a similar path, in search of elephants. It wasn’t long before we were getting out of the jeep to get a closer look. The terrain was challenging for Tim, but it was a short distance, so manageable.

The elephants were more elusive this time. I feared that Tim wasn’t going to get a chance to see one.

But finally, a large, solo elephant came down through the brush. It wasn’t running, but it had distinct intent and wasn’t going to deal with the puny humans that might get in its way.

At this point, we had to get Tim to back up in a hurry. This is a tough thing to do with a blind man in rough terrain. But we got him to a safe distance and the elephant, after pausing for a snack, marched on through to another patch of sheltered foliage. He was only fully exposed for a few seconds.

The thing is, with Tim’s bad eyes, and the elephant’s good camouflage, Tim really couldn’t see the elephant that had come so close.

Sometimes it goes that way on safari.

We got back to the jeep and continued on, staying on the main road going the other direction. The jeep definitely had a mighty, strong vehicle feel, rugged and ready-for-anything. It was not an unnecessarily rough ride, but not butter smooth, either and kind of noisy. When there was terrain that needed handling, it handled it well.

It wasn’t long before we came upon two large elephants in the middle of the road. They were coming straight for us – though still at a distance.

Two elephants walking straight toward us on the road
They weren’t concerned with us at all

Tim might have been able to see these two, except one of the other guests got nervous. He had seen a video of an elephant charging a safari jeep (not in Ghana) and didn’t want to get too close. I thought he just wanted to stop so he could zoom in with his camera (he had the big rig), but no, he didn’t want to get too close at all.

Now, I know the guide and driver would never have let us get close enough to irritate the elephants, or put us in danger, so it was a real disappointment when we couldn’t get closer to these two. Tim missed out again.

During this early portion of the driving safari, we saw a family of warthogs with some very cute babies. We also maneuvered through a large troupe of baboons jaywalking across the road.

As we got further from the ranger station, and civilization, we saw a lot more antelope, kob and bush back, in herds of 1-2 dozen. They watched us through the brush and from a distance. Then, at some point, they would decide it was time to leave and they’d all take off running.

If you’ve never seen in-person, an antelope run, and jump – oh my, can they jump – at speed, then the splendor of this is hard to describe. They have such control and strength, but they seem like such tiny things. They bound and fly like it was nothing.

Well, this city kid was impressed. I could have watched them run and jump all day.

Unfortunately, while we all happily narrated for Tim, most of these things were out of his range of vision.

After a good amount of time driving around looking at animals, we ended up the watering hole. Once again our guide had good word there were elephants about.

In an Elephant's Footsteps - on Safari in Mole National Park
Tim really wanted you to see his foot inside of an elephant’s footprint

The only problem was that there was some very challenging terrain between where the jeep could go and where we had to get to. Of course, we were near the end of our time for this driving safari.

I knew Tim would be slow. I also didn’t want him to miss out yet again. So I bought the extra time, paying for us, and the other family, so that Tim could get a good look at the elephants. And no, it was not as crazy expensive as that sounds. I only bring it up because when you travel with someone who has different challenges, sometimes you need to take a little more time, and sometimes that costs money.

Tim did magnificently on the terrain. Slow, for sure, but he made it in style. And lo and behold, there were elephants at the watering hole – and Tim could see them!

Yay!

He Could See These Elephants at the Watering Hole
These are the elephants he could see

We were all happy as we made our way back to the jeep. Finally, Tim saw something cool.

There is another…interesting…encounter with an elephant that we’ll tell you about in a little bit.

Going Deeper into the Mole Park

I just want to mention that it’s possible to go deeper into the park, doing overnights in a wildlife blind or tree hide or for longer outings. Cost will depend on what you’re trying to achieve.

If you have any hope of seeing the larger predators in the park, or some of the rare, or reticent wildlife, you would want to discuss this option with the rangers.

Failed Night Safari in Mole National Park

At night in Mole Park, different animals come out.

Definitely a driving safari, there’s the chance to see buffaloes, hyenas, roan antelopes, leopards, and hartebeest, among others.

With our limited time, Tim and I thought this would be a good idea – and it was – until it rained.

But the rain stopped in time for the night safari, or so we thought.

At this point, the ranger station was closed so we couldn’t call them. The night safaris are contracted out to other drivers and we didn’t have their contact info. When we asked at the front desk of the motel, they indicated that if the rain stopped there was no reason we wouldn’t go.

*I’ll note here that Mole Motel is not run by Mole National Park. It is an independent venture. More on them later.

They were wrong. In the mess of miscommunication, Tim and I ended up sitting on a damp bench in front of the ranger station as the light disappeared from the sky, waiting for a guide who would never show.

But something else happened.

In the not too far distance, a single elephant came to feed. We heard…something, and I could just barely make out the gray form against the graying landscape in the dim light as it crossed the road to our side.

Close, but still shrouded in shrubbery, the elephant was between us and motel. We weren’t going anywhere.

We sat quiet and listened. Branches snapped and rustled as the elephant stuffed them into her mouth. She was taking her time.

The thing was, because she stayed in one place and it was so quiet, Tim was able to see her in the blind person’s way – with his ears. He had all the time in the world to listen and sense what she was doing.

For Tim, this was the most intimate interaction he had with an elephant, even though he never saw her.

After a long while she moved on and we had determined that the night safari wasn’t happening, so we went to have dinner at the motel.

Our failed night safari turned into a quiet, special experience with an elephant we couldn’t see that we wouldn’t trade for anything.

How Much Does this African Safari Cost?

The costs of the rangers and drivers for the safaris is crazy reasonable – some would say downright cheap. Whatever you decide to do, Ghana has the most affordable safaris in Africa.

Mole National Park Costs

*Prices are approximate

Entrance Fees – Non-National – Adult 30GHS ($5usd), Children 7GHS ($1.25usd)

Vehicle Entry Fees – 5-25GHS

Guide Feesper person – 15GHS ($3) per hour, 25/50GHS per hour for overnight (junior/senior guide)

Walking Safari – 2-3 hours

Drive Safari – 2 hours (plus driver and vehicle fees) I’m researching this exact amount, but memory says about $20-30usd per person. I’ll update this when I get more accurate information.

Most of your expense for this adventure is going to come from your stay at Mole Motel or Zaina Lodge. We’ll cover more about these places in the Where to Stay section below.

While you’re at Mole, you’re going to want to set aside a few hours to visit Larabanga, a nearby village with an interesting tale of mythic proportions.

Larabanga Mosque and the Mystic Stone

About 4km from the entrance of Mole National Park, lies the village of Larabanga. Officially it’s in the West Gonja district, about 21 km from the district capital of Damongo.

According to legend, Larabanga is a place of great spiritual power. It is home to a mud-and-stick mosque that is the oldest in Ghana and is often called the Mecca of West Africa.

There are some pretty big stories surrounding the founder of the mosque and its creation.

Larbanga is also home to the Mystic Stone – with equally big stories of its own.

Let us tell you about the stories and what you can expect from a visit there.

Larabanga’s Mud-and-Stick Mosque

Difficulty Rating:  1

Easy, most people of even moderate mobility can do it.

Generally, you hire a car to take you to Larabanga, though some hearty people might consider getting there by bicycle.

When you arrive at the mosque, you’ll be asked to sign in and a modest donation ($1-2) is requested. Then they will happily give you a tour and tell you the story of the mosque’s origins. (Unless you’re Muslim, you won’t be going inside.) It is not a very large mosque, but it’s interesting and easy to walk around.

Larabanga's Mud and Stick Mosque in Northern Ghana
Larabanga’s mud-and-stick mosque in Northern Ghana

This is a place I visited on a solo trip in 2003 and revisited with Tim just recently. Both times, I heard the same story. But I see another founding story floating around the internet as well. I’m going to recount the one I’ve heard twice, from the source, because that seems more accurate to me.

Tim with Mosque Storyteller at the Baobob Tree in Larabanga

In the late 1600’s, after the end of a vicious war, a powerful mallam named Ibrahim Braimah sought to create a place of peace. He declared that he would throw his spear and wherever it landed, he would settle and build a community.

He threw his mighty spear and it flew far and long. Braimah built the mosque where it landed, just like he said he would. Then he named the place Larabanga, which means Land of Arabs.

Braimah created a robust, peaceful community that remains so to this day. When Braimah died, he was buried next to the mosque and a baobab tree sprung up over his grave. Its leaves are said to have healing properties.

There is a slightly more extensive version of this story here. Interestingly, while the author of the linked article seems like an academic, he is listed only as William. This is so very Ghanaian and in my mind, lends more credibility to the authenticity of the tale. There’s more history on the mosque here, too.

The mud-and-stick style of the mosque is actually Sudanese and this type of architecture can be seen throughout the Sahel region, especially in Sudan and Mali. The exterior has to be rebuilt and maintained regularly to protect it from the elements.

They’re happy to let you take as many pictures as you want, though I might have tested that supposedly non-existent limit.

Larabanga’s Mystic Stone

Difficulty Rating:  2.5

Easy, most people of even moderate mobility can do it.

The Mystic Stone of Larabanga is about a 5-10 minute drive away over some rough roads. It is surrounded by a rough-hewn brick wall and a handful of men that watch over it and wait for tourists to come by.

Back in 2003 there wasn’t a wall around the Mystic Stone, but even then it was getting vandalized by people who felt it necessary to etch their name into the stone, hence the need for the wall.

While you can park close to the stone, you have to climb down to the level where the stone is. It’s only two feet high, but the steps are random rocks that are quite unstable. Needless to say, it was a challenge for Tim. On the good side, we were in Ghana and they are very determined and helpful people. If Tim wanted to go down there, they were going to find a way to make it happen.

Tim and Trina at the Mystic Stone in Larabanga - Ghana
Tim and Trina listening to the tale of the Mystic Stone in Larabanga

The story of the Mystic Stone only dates back to the 1950’s. Ghana was still under colonial rule and British authorities were building a road through Larabanga when they came across this big rock. Of course, they simply moved it out of the way and continued their work.

The next morning, the rock had returned to its original position.

Stunned, and a little freaked, they moved it again – further away this time.

The next morning it had returned.

This went on for several more tries and the Brits even sent for a new construction crew because the original one refused to work at the site anymore.

Every time, no matter what they did, or how far they moved it, the stone would return to its original resting place.

Eventually the Brits gave up and changed the plan for the road so they could work around it.

The Mystic Stone is said to have healing, fertility and wish-granting powers. Some stories even tie it back to the founder of Larabanga, saying it was enchanted and that he was standing at, or on the stone when he threw the spear that determined the location of the mosque.

The keeper at the site does a wonderful job of telling the story of the Mystic Stone and you will be invited to touch it and to wish for whatever you want.

Both at the mosque and the stone, you get to experience a classic African storytelling tradition. The sites are interesting unto themselves, but hearing the stories live is a huge part of the experience.

This side trip to Larabanga’s Mosque and Mystic Stone is well worthwhile. If you’re visiting Mole National Park, don’t miss coming here, too.

Here’s a short documentary on the Mystic Stone. The part about the stone starts at the 2:10 mark.

Next Stop: Wa and the Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary

Easter Egg – A Tro-tro Tale

This next part of our scheduled trip was an utter, but funny failure. We want to share it with you to show that no matter how experienced a traveler you are, things can go wrong.

After a convoluted combination of taxis getting out of Mole Park, we ended up on a tro-tro that would take us to Wa.

A tro-tro is a minivan that’s had its seating adapted to fit as many humans as possible inside. Depending on the route, some are in raggedy condition – as you’re about to see.

The tro-tro stopped randomly to pick people up, and let them off, which is quite normal, especially as we were getting into some rural areas where there wasn’t much traffic and tro-tros are vital for moving people around.

The young ladies with the goat chose not to pay whatever price was being asked, but the guy with the propane tank did. You never know what you’re going to ride with on a tro-tro.

About halfway to Wa, after stopping to pick someone up, the tro-tro refused to start. All the standard coaxing, trying again, playing with the shifter and clutch etc. Nothing.

So the first mate and another young man, who was just a passenger, got out and pushed, hoping to get it started. When the engine caught, they had to run like crazy because if the driver slowed down, it was going to die again.

So they’re racing alongside and the passenger jumps, grabs and pulls himself into the front seat. The first mate is still running his heart out, when someone reaches their hand out. The mate leaps through the side door and everyone within reach helps him in.

Small cheers and laughter, and we continue on.

We make it through a few small towns, edging over the giant speed bumps that destroy our forward momentum and force the driver to pull out every ‘keep the engine running’ trick he had. If you’ve ever owned an old car, you know this. It’s a combination of clutch, gas, momentum and gears – with a little cursing and praying thrown in. (Go ahead, ask me how I know.)

But finally, despite the driver’s brilliant efforts, the tro-tro quit about two-thirds of the way to Wa.

Without hesitation, the driver and mate set to work fixing the tro-tro. They borrowed tools they didn’t have in their kit from a nearby shop, and shimmied underneath the busted minivan.

During this time, everyone inside the tro-tro (it wasn’t full), simply waited patiently. Seriously, no complaints, no worries. There was no doubt we would get to our destination one way or another, it just might take a little longer. This is Ghana and sometimes this is the way it goes.

So after about half an hour, they finish fixing the tro-tro, sort of. It’s still being held together by a lick and a promise. We repeat the Hollywood action scene above, with the young men leaping heroically into the moving vehicle and this time there is big applause. Everyone is happy to be moving again and we all get a good laugh.

We made it to Wa with no more problems.

The rest of our visit to Wa was a washout. Our first hotel was horrible so we moved to somewhere nicer the next day, but then it rained really hard and getting to the hippo sanctuary would have been challenging and likely not worthwhile because now the hippos had deeper water to hide in and if we were able to go out in a canoe we’d barely see their ears and the tops of their snouts.

By this time, Tim and I knew we would be returning to Ghana at some point, so we decided to leave the hippos for the next visit.

Take note: If you want to see hippos in Ghana, go in the dry season.

Getting to Mole National Park – the Taxi Scam

If you take anything besides private transportation, you’re going to have to make some transfers and none of them take you all the way into the Mole Park. You’ll get dropped off at Damongo, or Larabanga.

The taxi drivers that are waiting to take you to Mole have a small scam. They have a set price that’s way too high, and they’ve coordinated with the staff at Mole to back them up on that being the ‘proper’ price. Ultimately it’s only a few dollars, but the principle of it rubbed us the wrong way. Kind of the same with getting out.

Here’s the page on the official website of the routes and transport options, depending on where you’re coming from.

Where to Stay in Mole National Park

There are only two hotels within Mole Park proper. Despite the options not being perfect, we still highly recommend staying inside the park. There are so many opportunities for interesting things to happen (remember to lock your doors), and the atmosphere is kind of wondrous. It’s worth it.

Camping in Mole National Park

There are public campgrounds with toilet facilities near the Park Headquarters where you can rent tents and mosquito nets if you don’t have your own. This is definitely the cheapest option for staying inside the park. If you’re that kind of rugged traveler, more power to you.

Here’s the lowdown on the hotels.

Mole Motel

It hasn’t changed since 2003 when the kidney-busting ride on a crowded public bus down the dirt road stood as one of the worst bus rides I’d ever been on. I was splurging when I got the suite overlooking the watering hole for $17/night (in 2003). I loved the room and the view.

Now that they have a nicely paved road leading all the way to the park, the cheapest room costs triple that and the others went up accordingly. The rooms are large, but very dark and even though the staff loaned us a lantern, it wasn’t enough to make the last third of the room usable.

Food at the restaurant, the only place to eat without going into town, is good, not great, and overall the staff is pleasant. The motel is a short walk from the ranger station where you’ll go for all of your safaris. The views are excellent.

The one thing that makes it worth it, despite the negatives, is location.

Here’s a link to their room rates. Definitely book ahead, on their website. At the time of writing, they were not listed on any hotel booking sites.

Zaina Lodge

It looks pretty. It has a private road within the park and I’m sure everything is top notch. It’s out of our price range, but if you have the scratch, I’m sure it’s a significant upgrade from Mole Motel. If you can afford it and want to be extra comfortable during your African safari, this is the place.

Other Accommodations

There are also places you can stay in Larabanga, but we honestly didn’t have time to investigate those. One thing to keep in mind is that if you have an early morning start, you have to get going even earlier to get into the park on time.

What to Pack

There are a few things I would consider essential for a trip to Mole National Park:

  • Good sturdy trekking pants
  • Sun hat
  • Hiking stick
  • Sturdy, and pre-broken in, hiking shoes or boots
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent

We can easily recommend REI for all of your Ghana safari needs. I’ve been a member since 1995 and have never regretted it. Their gear is top notch, and their salespeople are extremely knowledgeable. The return policy alone makes it worthwhile.

If you’re going to Ghana, Mole National Park is definitely worth your time and energy. Do a few safaris and see as much as you can see. You’re sure to come home with some awesome stories to tell.


Thinking about making this trip? If you’re not into organizing an African safari by yourself, check out what Tour Radar has to offer. They’ve got a lot of options that include Mole National Park, as well as other parts of Ghana – which we highly recommend.


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