There is some controversy about some of the sites listed below. Goree Island in Senegal for example has long marketed itself as a major slave-trade port, but historians argue it didn't play a huge role in exporting slaves to the Americas. For most people, it's the symbolism that matters. There is no one that can visit these sites without reflecting deeply about the human and social cost of slavery.
Ghana is a very popular destination for African-Americans in particular to visit the slave-trade sites. President Obama visited Ghana and the Cape Coast slave-forts with his family, it was the first official African country he went to as President.
Important slavery sites in Ghana include:
St George's Castle also known as Elmina Castle in Elmina, one of several former slave forts along Ghana's Atlantic coast, is a hugely popular destination and place of pilgrimage for African-American tourists and visitors from all over the world. A guided tour will lead you through slave dungeons and punishment cells. A slave auctioning room now houses a small museum. More about Elmina and photos of Elmina ...
Cape Coast Castle and Museum. The Cape Coast Castle played a prominent role in the slave trade and daily guided tours include the slave dungeons, Palaver hall, the grave of an English Governor, and more. The castle was the headquarters for the British colonial administration for nearly 200 years. The Museum houses objects from around the region including artifacts used during the slave trade. An informative video gives you a good introduction to the business of slavery and how it was conducted.
The Gold Coast in Ghana is in fact lined with old forts used by European powers during the slave trade. Some of the forts have been turned into guesthouses offering basic accommodation. Other forts like Fort Amsterdam in Abanze have many original features, which gives you a good idea of what it was like during the slave trade.
Donko Nsuo at Assin Manso is a "slave river site", where slaves would bathe after their long journeys, and get cleaned up (and even oiled) for sale. It would be their last bath before they headed on to the slave ships, never to return to Africa. There are several similar sites in Ghana, but Donko Nsuo in Assin Manso is just an hour drive away from the coastal forts (inland) and makes for an easy day trip, or a stop en route to Kumasi. A tour with the on site guide includes visiting some graves and walking down to the river to see where the men and women would bathe separately. There's a wall where you can put a plaque in memory of the poor souls who passed through this way. There's also a room for prayer.
Salaga in northern Ghana was the site of a major slave market. Today visitors can see the grounds of the slave market; slave wells which were used to wash slaves and spruce them up for a good price; and a huge cemetery where slaves who had died were laid to rest.
Goree Island (Ile de Goree) , is Senegal's premiere destination for those interested in the history of the trans-Atlantic slave-trade.
The main attraction is the Maison des Esclaves (House of Slaves) built by the Dutch in 1776 as a holding point for slaves. The house has been converted into a museum and is open every day except Monday. Tours will take you through the dungeons where the slaves were held and explain exactly how they were sold and shipped.
Find out more about getting to Goree Island, tours and lodging.
BENINPorto-Novo is the capital of Benin and was established as a major slave-trading post by the Portuguese in the 17th century. Ruined castles can still be explored.
Ouidah (west of Coutonou) is where slaves captured in Togo and Benin would spend their final night before embarking on their trans-Atlantic journey. There's a History Museum (Musee d'Histoire d'Ouidah) which tells the story of the slave trade. It is open daily (but closed for lunch).
The Route des Esclaves is a 2.5 mile (4km) road lined with fetishes and statues where the slaves would take their final walk down to beach and to the slave-ships. Important memorials have been set up in the last village on this road, which was the "point of no return".
Albreda is an island that was an important slave post for the French. There is now a slave museum.
Jufureh is the home village of Kunta Kinte and visitors on a tour can sometimes meet the members of the Kinte clan.
James Island was used to hold slaves for several weeks before they were shipped to other West African ports for sale. A dungeon still remains intact, where slaves were held for punishment.
Tours which focus on the novel "Roots" are popular for visitors to the Gambia and will cover all the slave sites listed above. You can also meet descendants of Kunta Kinte's clan.
More Slave Sites ....Lesser known slave trade sites but worth visiting in West Africa include Gberefu Island and Badagry in Nigeria; Arochukwu, Nigeria; and Guinea's Atlantic Coast.
Recommended Slave Tours to West Africa
- Jolinaiko Eco Tours offers customized tours in Ghana, Benin, Togo and Burkina Faso. I used them for my trip to Ghana and they were fantastic. You can opt to use local transport or hire your own car and driver. The company is eco-friendly and gives back to the community, they are based in Accra.
- Spector Travel based in Boston (US), specializes in Africa Roots tours and offers itineraries for Benin, Ghana, Senegal, the Gambia and Cote d'Ivoire.
- 10 Day Cultural and Roots Program. This tour from West African Adventures covers Senegal and the Gambia. Major sights on the tour include Goree island, Jufureh and James island in the Gambia.
- Ashanti African Tours - offers heritage tours as well as repatriation tours to Ghana.
- 14 Days Senegal Tour, Senegal Sufi Tours offers a 2 week package includes Goree Island, St Louis, and more cultural excursions, and starting at $2500 per adult.