No trip to Senegal can be considered valid without a visit to its Gorée Island. It is a place of extraordinary historical importance for humanity which has an outstanding universal value. I guess you already know what Gorée Island is famous for!
Yes, Gorée Island ( Île de Gorée in French and Beer Dun in Wolof), a small island west of mainland Senegal, is famous for being one of the most important slave trading markets that supplied the United States, the Caribbean, and Brazil for more than three centuries (15th to 19th century).
That been said, let’s take a look at a step-by-step guide to everything you need to know about how to get to Gorée Island, what to do in Gorée Island, where to eat in Gorée Island, where to stay in Gorée Island, and so on.
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Gorée Island, geography and history.
Gorée Island lies off the coast of Senegal, 3 KM from the capital, Dakar. It is a rather barren volcanic rock of only 900 metres in length and 350 metres in width.
It is one of the oldest sites of European settlement on the African coast. Since it lacks drinking water, the island was rarely frequented by the indigenous before the Europeans’ arrival on the island.
Because of its strategic geographical position, many European countries fought to claim it. In fact, it was ruled in succession by the Portuguese, Dutch, English, and French, which led to a somewhat surprising history and architecture.
More in detail, in 1444, it was invaded by the Portuguese, who used the island as a docking port for their ships until 1536, when they built one of the first slave houses. In 1621, the Dutch built a settlement to protect their slave trade business. Later in 1667, Gorée was conquered by the French who dominated it until the independence of Senegal in 1960. After the French invasion of the island, however, there were brief periods of British occupation during the various wars fought by France and Britain. Gorée Island was notably taken and occupied by the British between 1758 and 1763 and again between 1779 and 1783, before being returned again to the French definitely in 1783.
France abolished its slave trade in 1848 and the enslaved people probably started to work for wealthy European merchants who made their homes in Gorée.
So it happens that buildings in Gorée reflect the contrast between the grim slave quarters and the elegant houses of the rich slave traders. All this is gathered in a very small geographical space.
The island is now a UNESCO World Heritage site where visitors can see slave houses and commercial buildings dating to the eighteenth century.
Nowadays the island has about 1,300 inhabitants and there are no cars here. Gorée Island is said to be safe and those who visit Gorée are said to feel more for humanity than for tourism.
How to get to Gorée Island by Public Ferry.
Wondering how to get to Gorée Island in Senegal? It’s easy! Here is the best way to get to Gorée Island with step-by-step directions.
The first step to get to Gorée Island is reaching the main port in Dakar. In our case we were staying in a Hotel in Dakar called Quicksilver board riders. From there we went to the ferry station by taxi, and it cost 2000 CFA. If you want to spend less money for this route, you can take the public bus line called Dakar Dem Dak. It is very cheap. This ride will not cost more than 2 CFA. Look for the nearest bus stop or you can ask for help at your hotel in Dakar.
The second step to get to Gorée Island is buying the ticket, and after that you wait at the Dakar dock until they give the signal to board. Tourist tickets for the public ferry from Dakar to Gorée Island cost 5200 CFA for roundtrip.
Once you reach the island, right outside the dock in Gorée, you are asked to pay 500 CFA as a tourist tax to enter into the island. This is the third and last step to get to Gorée Island.
So summing up, we can say that the day trip from Dakar to Gorée Island itself isn’t expensive. They cheapest amount you pay on a public transportation to get to Gorée Island is 5702 CFA.
If instead you want to get to Goree Island on a private tour, I suggest you book your tour here.
What to know about the Public Ferry from Dakar to Gorée Island.
- The ferry station in Dakar is very chaotic and many will approach to sell some local items or to offer help. It is easy to be distracted, especially if it’s your first day in Senegal. By the time we were in Dakar, we were at the end of our trip in Senegal, consequently we had learned to handle these situations. Therefore, we didn’t get too involved in this confusion during our ferry trip from Dakar to Gorée Island.
- The public ferry from Dakar to Gorée Island takes only 20 minutes and they normally run every half an hour from 6:15am-10:30pm with later services on weekends. Please note that schedules may change according to what may be happening that day, meaning ferries are very old and breakdowns happen often.
- Because it is very close and because there are very few hotels, most visitors choose to visit Gorée Island on a day trip from Dakar.
- You can’t reserve seats on the public ferry from Dakar to Gorée and since the upper seats have better views, it could be difficult to find seats there during the high season time.
- Locals load animals, produce, and whatever else is needed for their daily life. Many of them sell souvenir items on the island, so they (or a person they know) start to approach you on the ferry in order to convince you to buy their products once you’ve arrived on the island. I suggest that you talk to them but DO NOT give them too much confidence. More importantly, don’t promise to visit their store in Gorée. Yes, this is what they want to make sure of when they approach you during the boat trip from Dakar to Gorée. Then they will expect you to keep your word, and when they see you strolling around Gorée Island they will insist on getting you to buy something. This could be a bit annoying, especially if you are on a day trip from Dakar and you don’t have enough time to spend with the vendors.
- If you take a day trip from Dakar to Gorée Island, I suggest that you follow our itinerary which turned out to be perfect: We caught the ferry in Dakar around 10 am. When we reached the island we immediately went to visit the House of Slaves. We had our lunch around 01 pm at one of the local restaurants right on the beach, and we then enjoyed a good stroll around before taking the ferry back to Dakar at 5 pm
Read Also: 14 Day Senegal Itinerary
Slave Depot from Gorée Island.
The shipping of slaves from Gorée Island lasted from 1536 when the Portuguese launched the slave trade to the time the French abolished slavery in 1848. It is stated that an estimated 20 million Africans passed through the Island between the mid-1500s and the mid-1800s.
The island, being very small in size with surrounding waters very deep, facilitated the control of the slaves, who with heavy metal balls tied to their feet or necks could never even imagine escaping from there.
People kidnapped from different part of West Africa were brought to Gorée Island where they were chained, imprisoned, and forced to live in crowded conditions until they were transferred in boats across the Atlantic Ocean to be sold.
The largest House of Slaves house was built in 1776 by the Dutch. It still stands in Gorée, and it’s completely open to visitors.
Maison des Esclaves, Goree Island.
So, arriving to the point, let’s say that the highlight of Gorée Island is precisely this: Maison des Esclaves, in English, House of Slaves. This place evokes strong emotions. Few places in the world evoke such emotions. Not only because of the brutality of the slave trade at Maison des Esclaves on Gorée Island in Senegal, but also because you realize how horribly humans can act against their fellow human beings.
Built around 1776 by the Dutch, House of Slaves is a red house overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. According to the official Gorée Island history it is home to the so-called “Door of No Return,” through which Africans slaves were forced onto slave ships bound for the American coasts. From which they would have never returned. In other words, it was the final step from their home continent and onto the slave ships that would bring them to the New World, if they survived the journey.
House of Slaves in Gorée Island is a unique place that offers a touching experience. It tells the sad story of the transatlantic slave trade. Nowadays it welcomes thousands of visitors every year. Among the famous people who visited the House of Slaves in Gorée Island are Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, Bill Clinton, George W Bush, and Barack Obama.
House of Slaves remains intact with cells and shackles. It is in my opinion a place that everyone must visit. Believe me; this experience will leave you with a heavy heart.
The entrance ticket to the House of Slaves costs 500 CFA and it takes about an hour for the entire visit.
Exploring Gorée Island.
Apart from its terrible past, Gorée Island itself is really very nice and serene. Colonial architecture gives an exotic feel and the day we were there the weather was wonderful. There are a couple of places to stay, several good restaurants, a nice swimming beach, some art galleries, and plenty of artisanal shops here.
Besides the House of Slaves which is a must, there are some other monuments to see on the island. In our case, since we were on a day trip from Dakar, after visiting the House of Slaves, we did nothing other than wandering through the picturesque streets with beautiful historic buildings. Touring around can take up to half a day.
The moment you set foot on the island, many men will approach to tour guide you. We didn’t accept one, but I think that it could be a great way to learn the back roots that you would have never discovered on your own.
They will also take you inside the House of Slaves which is really great, because it isn’t the same without a guide! Of course you will need to negotiate a fair price, because since they strongly believe that you are rich, their starting price is very high.
Having said that, I still feel that they are genuine people who just want to make some money, not to become financially rich but only to have a better everyday life.
Gorée Island, in conclusion.
I think visiting Gorée Island is a must. This is a very important historical site and its past should be known by everyone. Learning what happened here is not only a cultural enrichment. A visit to Goree Island is an emotional experience that besides helping you understand current society, enriches you as a person. This never hurts!!!
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