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Africa

KAKUM NATIONAL PARK

Kakum National Park, 12 miles (19 km) north of seaside Cape Coast in Ghana’s central region, protects—with adjacent Assin Attandaso Reserve—some 135 square miles (350 km2) of tropical moist natural evergreen and semi-deciduous forest. Sheltered in them are forest elephants, rare yellow-backed duiker antelopes, bongos, bushbucks, giant red river hogs, and seven kinds of primates—including handsome long-tailed Diana monkeys—flying squirrels, honey badgers, African civet cats, and a few seldom-seen leopards. More than 650 species of butterflies, many endemic to this place, ranging in size from tiny blues to giant swallowtails just under eight inches (20 cm) across, flutter around flowering vines and moist puddles.

Five kinds of raucous hornbills with outsized beaks sail among fruiting trees. Fraser’s eagleowls roam through the night. Senegal and scarlet-tailed African gray parrots can seem to be everywhere, chattering and screeching, among more than 300 bird species. Best birding spots include Abrafo trails, roads to Antwikwaa, Kruwa logging road.

A spectacular 1,180-foot (360-m) canopy walkway constructed of a series of single wooden planks with rope handrails enables visitors to walk over and through branches 130 feet (40 m) above the forest floor, designed with help from Conservation International. It affords rain forest sights possible in no other way—shining green Verreaux’s touracos looping by on red-flashing wings, monkeys swinging through branches, all at eye level. But it can be unnerving for those insecure about heights, especially with a support that tends to sway, despite steel cables and tests meeting world-class safety standards (some say it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, others say that’s what they’re afraid of). In any case much of this richly diverse park is best seen from trails below, either self-guided or with a guide usefully pointing out where to look.

A visitor center an hour’s drive (20 miles/33 km) north of Cape Coast on the Jukwa Road offers exhibits, helpful staff, and literature, including an excellent Field Guide to Kakum NationalPark. It can be a day trip, or lengthier stay at a nearby rest house.

It’s sometimes possible to arrange overnight camping trips with special excursions to watch birds or track elephants. Campers with their own equipment can stay on a tree platform. Or, a few miles south is a “boatel” with lodging on a terrace overlooking a crocodile pool, with excellent birding. Facilities at Kakum as over much of Ghana are not comfort on a world-class scale, butthey are improving. At Kakum especially, the government hopes to increase ecotourism with community involvement in permanent sustainable environmental protection. Best times are other than March–June when heaviest rainfall occurs, but humidity averages 90 percent any time.

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