West-Africa’s Golden Child, Ghana, is not a first-pick destination for many travellers. But being a so-called ‘Donor Darling’, it is a common destination for many international donors, volunteers and interns who intend to do a little good in this approachable and welcoming African country. For these travellers wanting to escape on weekends, Ghana has a lot to offer. A research project brought me to this gripping country full of contradictions and led me through its unexplored tourist paths towards the beaches of Cape Coast. Here, you will find a combination of luxurious resorts, poor fishing villages and backpacker bonfires. But most of all: it is home to impressive fortresses haunted by the history of the colonial slave trade.
CAPE COAST CASTLE
Not to miss when you arrive is the impressive Cape Coast Castle: a large fortress right at the seashore. The Portuguese colonisers built the castle in the 15th century to store gold and ivory for international trade. However, it soon became a warehouse for the storage of thousands of slaves before shipping them off to the Americas. After the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British conquered, they too used the castle for the same purpose. Now, it is a must-visit for those who dare to explore the world’s darkest parts of history.
First of all, join a guided tour around the castle for a small price. A friendly, knowledgeable guide will take you down to the dungeons. For weeks (and sometimes months) imprisoned slaves stayed in these dungeons, cramped together in absolute darkness without any toilet facilities nor ventilation. Consequently, many did not survive their stay. Those who did survive had a dangerous journey ahead of them after exiting the castle through ‘The Door of No Return’. Goosebumps guaranteed.
Many African-Americans visit the castle to get a sense of their ancestors’ roots and history. Many leave behind a bouquet of flowers or jewellery to honour their lives. However, as a Dutch person, a sense of unease crept on me by encountering Dutch colonial texts engraved on many walls.
Secondly, after the guided tour, explore the castle on your own. Just one or two levels up from the dungeons, church masses were held for European residents of the fort preaching charity. Furthermore, generals were leading a life of luxury on the top floor of the fort. Finally, stroll around the castle and the rows of canons for amazing views of Ghana’s coastline while reflecting on the tour experience.
Peak through one of the many windows and find yourself observing hundreds of fishermen pulling in their nets in the early afternoon. Soon after they finish, the beach turns into a large fish market.
If you have time, visit the neighbouring town of Elmina, which is home to another large fortress. Currently, it is a bustling fishing town. The name Elmina seems to originate from the Portuguese words ‘ El Mina’ or ‘ A Mina’, which means ‘the mine’. In the early times, the Portuguese used the town of Elmina as trade headquarters of a country that was considered a goldmine in itself.
WHERE TO STAY
A perfect place to stay and explore the history of Ghana’s coastline is Oasis Beach Resort, located in Cape Coast. While staying in a comfortable cottage, enjoy the beach, amazing seafood and a good match of volleyball after returning from a journey through history. Located right by the beach, watch the fishing boats that have replaced the slave ships of the past.
Cape Coast and its remnants of the past will leave you with an impression you’re not likely to forget. The experience not only helps you put your worries into perspective by taking you on a journey exploring the darker parts of history, it also offers a chance to relax by the beach and enjoying a cocktail while appreciating one of the best sunsets in the country.
Writer: Romy Santpoort
Photographer: Romy Santpoort