This is an article about the island of Gorée, which lies off the coast of Senegal and is one of the musts in every visit to the country. You can get there in an easy journey by ferry from Dakar and I can promise you will not regret.
The Island of Gorée is one of the 19 communes of the capital of Senegal, officially recognized by the United Nations (UN) in 1978 as the symbolic place of the memory of the slave trade in Africa. Moreover, Gorée was also one of the very first places to be placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
From the 15th to the 19th century, it was the largest slave-trading centre on the African coast. Ruled in succession by the Portuguese, Dutch, English and French, its architecture is characterized by the contrast between the grim slave-quarters and the elegant houses of the slave traders. Therefore is an exceptional testimony of one the greatest tragedies in the history of humankind.
Nowadays is possible to visit one of the trade houses converted into a slavery museum. Besides its historical importance, the island is an authentic place to enjoy the relaxed local lifestyle, taste local specialities and enjoy the sunsets having a drink in front of the Ocean.
Aren’t you convinced enough to go? We list below the main five reasons why not to miss a visit to the island.
1- A nice journey across The Atlantic Ocean
There is a waiting room in the Port of Dakar; same crowded as the outside streets are, since the boat is the only way to supply the island and to visit it. The journey to Gorée is short and well-organized. From the port of Dakar, takes around 15 minutes by boat to reach the island. A return ticket from Dakar to Island of Gorée for foreigners is 5.200 CFA, around 8 euros, in 2020.
2- An amazing shore
The views of the Ocean, of Dakar Port while departing and of the Island when arriving are just a nice gift. Gorée welcomes the visitor with its beach located not far from the harbor. The colors there are definitely different, lighter, and smoother.
The beaches of Gorée are among the few around Dakar where swimming is allowed all year long. So especially during weekends, the island is full of Dakar youths and families that come to take a bath in the turquoise waters that surround the island.
3- A well-preserved historic architecture
Reached 1444 by the Portuguese navigator Dinis Dias, Gorée underwent several influences which shaped its architecture. Portuguese, English, French and Dutch have left a very visible print on the traditional patterns of the colonial houses and the names of the streets.
4- The alive memory of a humankind tragedy
The House of Slaves is one of the sites which has received the visit of the most illustrious personalities who have ever stepped on the island. The house was visited by Pope John Paul II, US President Barack Obama and even of course by Nelson Mandela.
The House of Slaves (Maison des Esclaves) and its Door of No Return, from where the slaves were forced to get into the ships to never get back, is a museum and memorial to the Atlantic slave trade on Gorée Island. It’s much recommended to listen the explanations by an official guide there to understand the living conditions of the slaves during the 18th Century.
Near the slave house, the liberation from slavery statue shows a man breaking his shackles. And for more information, in the Old Fort of Estrées there is the IFAN Historical Museum.
Gorée has kept alive the slavery resistance memory until recent times and even nowadays is very present. In the central square of Gorée, not far from the town hall, there is a bust sculpture of one of its most illustrious sons: Blaise Diagne. Born October 13, 1872 in Gorée, Senegal, he was the first African deputy elected to the French Chamber of Deputies. By the way, just in front of his bust is another stele in memory of the doctors and pharmacists who lost their lives during the yellow fever epidemic of 1878. Tragedies are never new.
5- The authentic local vibe
So close from the mainland and so far of the chaos of Dakar… That came to my mind sometimes when I was calmly walking along the cute colorful streets of the island. No one pressed you to buy anything, no one wanted to join me for any reason (at least not that much). I had the feeling of being in a quiet bubble that could burst any moment, but it did not.
I was walking on the street and someone called me by my name, yelling from the distance. It was Jorge, a guy from Madrid I met in Western Sahara some weeks before. We crossed together the Mauritanian border and he came directly to Senegal looking for fun while I went to the Inner Mauritania to search libraries on the desert. We decided quickly to exchange stories about arriving here and to have a drink. Gorée offers that, if you get there you will find a nice terrace in the middle of an adventure to tell and listen nice travel stories.