Comprising 2,844 square miles of land roughly 421 miles northwest of Accra, Mole National Park is the preeminent wildlife refuge in Ghana. Crisscrossed by the Mole and Lovi Rivers, the park is unparalleled in its rich biodiversity. As Ghana’s largest and most prestigious protected area, it is a must for any animal lover visiting Ghana. That said, the top things to do in Mole National Park, Ghana offer quite a bit for culture and history lovers as well!
Located in Ghana’s Savannah Region, Mole National Park was first designated a wildlife refuge in 1958. Thirteen years later, in 1971, the relatively small number of people living within the refuge’s boundaries were relocated. The refuge became a national park that year.
The park is underfunded, so it has yet to be developed into a major tourist attraction. Lack of funds has raised concerns about poaching and sustainability, but there are benefits as well. It has also created a relatively untouched environment where hundreds of animal species thrive.
Mole National Park is home to roughly 90 different species of mammal and a whopping 334 species of bird. Thirty-three species of reptile, nine types of amphibian, and even 120 unique species of butterfly also live within its boundaries. It’s also known for its rare breed of elephant, which tends to be less hostile and aggressive to other African elephants. Leopards and lions are rare sightings within the park, while antelopes and buffalo are more common.
In addition to its prominence as a protected wildlife refuge, Mole National Park also boasts an impressive cultural heritage. The park borders 33 fringe communities, where much of the traditional way of life and architecture have been preserved. One of them, Larabanga, is the park’s entry point and is home to Ghana’s oldest mosque.
Because of its biodiversity and cultural significance, there are many who hope to see the park protected further. Mole National Park is currently in the running to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
My Visit to Mole National Park
The time I spent in Mole National Park was very quick, just 48 hours. But in that time, the animal lover in me got an incredible look at West Africa’s famous wildlife. My guide Isaac and driver Ben from Jolinaiko Eco Tours gave me an incredible experience that took me to a luxury lodge, a cultural village, a centuries-old house of worship, and much more.
It was honestly everything I could have ever wanted. It’s a place I hope more people visit, as it’s sort of a gem hidden in plain sight. The experiences I had there will stick with me for the rest of my life. These are the top 5 things you must do in Mole National Park, Ghana.
Stay at Zaina Lodge
With so many things to do, I highly recommend staying in Mole National Park at least two nights. Accommodations inside the park are limited to only two—the bare bones but affordable Mole Motel and the swanky Zaina Lodge.
This award-winning accommodation is the first luxury resort in West Africa. As such, it’s much pricier than Mole Motel. But the quality of the experience, views, and food you’ll enjoy there are worth the higher rates. Staying at Zaina Lodge is easily one of the top things to do in Mole National Park, Ghana.
The lodge is surrounded by a mud wall, similar to structures I’d seen photos of in Burkina Faso. It’s also built in a similar architectural style to West African mosques, including the nearby Larabanga Mosque.
Inside is an expansive reception area with extremely high, thatched ceilings. There’s also an open-air dining area that overlooks the pool and the expansive savannah beyond. Within the grounds are two watering holes where local wildlife congregates. You can view them from the resort’s 25 luxury tents, which serve as hotel rooms.
The tents offer a spacious terrace, which are the perfect place to view the animals at the watering holes. Sometimes elephants will wander within just a few feet of your terrace as they search for food!
They contain one solid wall, and inside you’ll find a king-sized bed, a television, a workstation, and a functioning bathroom with two sinks and a separate toilet room.
The tents line a beautiful path, but I don’t recommend lingering for long or wandering off of it. Wild animals do pass through the grounds occasionally—as I learned when a massive bull elephant came through on my second evening at the lodge—so stick to the path as you come and go for safety reasons.
Adding to the luxurious nature of its accommodations, Zaina Lodge also offers some of the best food in northern Ghana.
Breakfast consists of a wide range of items, from fresh fruit to eggs to granola to donuts. The eggs, especially when cooked up with peppers and chilies, with spicy sausage on the side, were fantastic.
For lunch, I recommend the grilled chicken with beet glaze. It came with a wonderful chili sauce, a rich and spicy vegetable stew, and a creamy green pea soup. They also served some garlic rice and a crisp and refreshing cabbage salad on the side.
For dessert, they brought me three varieties of gourmet ice cream. If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll know that sweets aren’t usually my thing, and I’ve never been a huge ice cream guy. But that said, these ice creams were outstanding!
On my first night in Mole National Park, Ghana, I enjoyed a fantastic dinner of baked pork chops, yam fries, vegetables with fish oil, tomato soup, and a Greek salad. The pork chop came drenched in a caramelized, soy-like glaze, and the tomato soup was creamy with a touch of sweetness.
I also really enjoyed the vegetables and salad. While vegetables are common in Ghanaian cuisine, I found that they’re usually so broken down in the stew-like dishes that you almost don’t realize they’re there. Eating whole vegetables, with the glaze and fish oil, was a nice change of pace!
Dinner on my second night was light but bursting with flavor—chicken kebabs with red and green peppers and onions. Alongside them, I enjoyed carrot salad, Caesar salad, and a creamy pumpkin soup.
It’s worth noting that the food is certainly made to cater to international visitors, but still has nice West African twists to it. The dishes also had the best presentations of any I had in Ghana—they were all beautiful to look at and smelled incredible!
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Go on a Game Drive
Of course, no visit to Mole National Park in northern Ghana is complete without a couple of game drives. Going on guided safari tours is one of the many unique joys of traveling to Africa, and my very first game drives in West Africa did not disappoint.
If you’re staying at Zaina Lodge, you’ll have access to a number of unique safari experiences, including mobile safaris, walking safaris, and special Eco-Learning safaris. The different options allow you to tailor your safari to what you want.
You can enjoy a safari from a vehicle, explore the savannah on foot, or do a combination of both. For the most immersive experience, and the best chance of seeing lots of animals, I went with the mobile safari, or game drive.
On your game drives, you’ll be accompanied by a guide and a ranger, who is there to ensure your safety. Any dangerous animals that wander too close will be scared away by the ranger, who will shoot his gun in the air to make the animal flee. Don’t worry, as they never shoot the animal!
My First West African Game Drive
I set out on my first drive in Mole National Park, Ghana, within minutes of arriving at Zaina Lodge. As someone who has been on many game drives in Rwanda, Malawi, and India, I knew to set my expectations low, as you can’t control the animals and when they appear. They’re very luck-of-the-draw, so patience is key.
When you do see something, it’s always a dream for an animal lover like me. I got to see antelopes, a warthog, some juvenile waterbucks, and a baboon that taunted my guides and park ranger on my first game drive.
My Second Game Drive
My second took place the following morning and was far more eventful. One of the two watering holes, which had been devoid of animal life the previous day, was teeming with elephants during my game drive. I had the pleasure of watching six beautiful elephants drink and bathe from the opposite shore.
My guide and I also were able to get out of the vehicle and view the elephants from a small, man-made stone structure called a hide. As its name suggests, the hide keeps you hidden from the animals and allows you to get even better views of the lumbering animals as they stroll through the park!
The best time to see animals is during the wet season, but keep in mind that the weather is often uncooperative. Therefore, I recommend visiting during the dry season. The savannah is less lush and the probability of seeing animals drops, but you won’t have to deal with inclement weather conditions.
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Explore Mole Village and the Mole River
Located within Mole National Park, between Zaina Lodge and Larabanga, is Mole Village, Ghana. This functioning village is made up of traditional mud huts with thatched grass roofs.
I noticed during my visit that the architecture was quite different from that the villages I visited in southern Ghana. These huts looked closer in design to the ones I saw when I visited Lesotho, the Sky Kingdom of Africa, years earlier.
The Mole River
The village is just two minutes from the Mole River. The river gets really high during the rainy season, but I was told there are no crocodiles lurking beneath its surface. One of the best things to do there is to take a river tour in a canoe!
River tours take an hour and allow you to experience this pristine area of Ghana while enjoying a relaxing journey down the river. I took an abbreviated, fifteen-minute tour that allowed me to see several birds, including some kingfishers and the western green plantain eater.
Just remember to apply insect repellent before coming to Mole Village. You’ll need some to keep the pesky tsetse flies at bay!
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Visit Larabanga Mosque
Arguably the most famous site in the area, outside of the park itself, is Larabanga Mosque. This mosque, built in the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style that’s common in parts of West Africa, is located in the Muslim village of Larabanga. It’s characterized by its whitewashed adobe walls (which are fitted with protruding timbers) and two large, pyramidal towers.
Founded in 1421, it’s the oldest mosque in Ghana and among the oldest in West Africa. Because of its significance as a pilgrimage site, it is known as the Mecca of West Africa.
This small, Sahelian mosque has been restored numerous times over the centuries and is listed as an endangered site. It is said to be the home of a Qu’ran gifted from heaven to Imam Yidan Barimah Bramah in 1650.
The mosque’s founding is also steeped in legend, as it’s said that an Islamic trader named Ayuba dreamed that he was instructed to build a mosque near a mystic stone. When he woke up, there were already foundations in place, and he then built the mosque on top of it.
Ayuba also asked to be buried close to the mosque. His grave is said to lie beneath the roots of a baobab tree on the site. It is believed that the leaves and stem of the tree have healing properties. It’s a gorgeous and unique mosque and a must-see when you visit Mole National Park, Ghana!
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Check Out the Larabanga Mystic Stone
While you’re in the Larabanga area, I suggest taking a few minutes to see another of its famed sites, the Larabanga Mystic Stone. This large stone, which rests on a plinth on the outskirts of town, is purported to have mystical properties. Its purported powers are detailed in a local legend dating back to the 1950s.
It is said that British authorities building a road in the area came across this stone. They moved it elsewhere to continue building the road. However, according to legend, the stone had reappeared in its original location the next day. The legend goes on to assert that the stone was moved several more times. Each time, it returned to its original location.
In fact, the stone now lies in the exact spot the British had tried to move it from. The site is sacred to many, who view the stone as a miracle giver and pray to it for everything from fertility to money.
Whether you believe the stories about the stone or not, it’s definitely a unique location in Mole National Park, Ghana. It’s one of the best things to do when you visit the park and is a fascinating piece of the local culture!
Between the majestic animals that roam the park, its amazing food, and its unique cultural landmarks, Mole National Park is a can’t-miss destination in Ghana. No Ghanaian itinerary is complete without spending at least two days in the park. There, you’ll find an incredible world that will further expand your idea of what Ghana is all about. It’s something I hope more people check out! Book a visit to Mole National Park to experience it all for yourself!
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