A fascinating structure purported to be the oldest in Ghana, the famous mud mosque of Larabanga dates back to the 14th century. As it was right along our path to the Mole National Park, we couldn’t avoid paying a visit. But although the mosque itself was incredible, this was one of the most irritating experiences we had in Ghana.
The problem with Larabanga is its popularity. This is by far the most famous mosque of its kind in Ghana, prominently featured in any guide to the country. Although there are similar mosques in other spots (with similar claims to antiquity), Larabanga is found just outside the entrance to the Mole National Park, and so it’s the one most tourists visit. And these tourists, with the natural propensity to embellish their own experience, breathlessly relate their journey to Ghana’s “oldest” mosque, the “most amazing” one, which you have to see because they saw it and it was just life-changing. Which sends other tourists. Soon enough Larabanga is the only mud mosque anybody knows about.
That would be fine, but for the locals. Of course they’re going to take advantage of something so popular; it would be silly not to. So, a visit to Larabanga becomes an exercise in willpower and restraint. From the moment we left the taxi, we knew we were in trouble, as five different guys approached us. We ignored them and went straight to the mosque’s entrance, where it clearly says “10 Cedi Ticket”. They charged us 15 apiece. “The price has changed.” Then another 20 Cedi to take pictures. Another 50 to fly the drone.
Money’s money, and I get it, they’ve got a community to feed. But what ruined the experience irreparably was the “tour”. Our guide explained the history of Larabanga Mosque for three minutes, then spent the next thirty trying to sell us on other experiences. Visit the eco-park! I’ll take you on a canoe ride. Watch women make shea butter. Watch them make pottery. Help support our soccer team! We need a new soccer ball, will you buy us one? Why not? It’s not expensive for you! Come on! Well, the school needs support, so help with that instead! Speaking of education, I’m trying to save money to get to university, learning is so important don’t you think? I just need another $1000.
Jürgen had left to fly his drone as soon as the tour started to get scammy, so I had to endure this onslaught on my own. It brought me to the very edge of my patience, but I preserved my composure, politely shrugging off every advance. However, this did ruin the experience so completely that when I now hear “Larabanga” I react with an involuntary shiver of hatred. Really a shame, because the mosque itself was as strange and unique as we’d expected. A bright white rectangle with pyramidal towers, decorated with geometric black shapes, and supported by logs, it’s clearly the product of an architect who never met the European schools.
So, is Larabanga worth seeing? Almost definitely — and if you’re aware of the hassle up front, that goes a long way. But if possible, try and hunt down one the area’s other mud mosques; we’ve heard that Bole Mosque is similar in age and style, but has absolutely none of the annoyances. There are others in Banda Nkwanta and Maluwe — none of these we’d have the chance to see, but we’d welcome any comments from those of you who have.