Travel Diary: Cape Coast Castle, Ghana

When you think of the word castle, images of romance, grandeur and fairy tales may come to mind. The castles at Cape Coast and Elmina in Ghana do not comprise these things. However, they do fit the actual definition of the word  castle - a large fortified building or set of buildings. These castles  were built as places to hold people kidnapped  from throughout  Africa, enslaved  and exiled to the West. They were not solely depots for containing precious lives though. They were also constructed  to provide defense against  those intent on attack {usually pirates and rival slave traders}. As grim as this description may be, it does not begin to scrape the surface of the ugly history that lies beneath the ground and behind the walls. The enslaved people were beaten, tortured and raped before being forced to board the ships going to the Americas. These buildings were the last sight of their homelands that most of them saw. 

Given the inhumanity plastered into the foundation  of these castles and others like them in Senegal , the Gambia, Angola etc. they may seem unappealing sites to visit while on vacation. Why spend time confronting the  uncomfortable topics of  racism, oppression  etc when that time could be spent doing fun things like shopping, sun bathing, partying and so on? Well, having been to slave castles in West Africa  twice now, I believe  that  the experience  can be a valuable  one, especially  for people  of African descent. On both occasions (but particularly the first time), I left feeling as though a piece of a puzzle was put back into place. That may come off as overly simplistic but that's what my visits to the castles in both Ghana and Senegal evoked. At a time when some black people seek to distance themselves from our connection to slavery, I think it's urgent for us to face this part of history. It is not something we should be ashamed of but honour

When I saw the dungeons where men, women and children were kept, the instruments of their bondage, the so called 'Doors of No Return", I did feel anger. This might be understandable but I also felt a torrent of other not -so- expected emotions. Looking out unto the sea, I felt pride, joy, reverence and gratitude. I thought of those ancestors who jumped over board the ships because they preferred to die free than live enslaved. I thought of those ancestors who waged war against their captors from the Caribbean to the Carolinas. I thought of those ancestors who escaped from the plantations and helped others to freedom. I thought of those who formed maroon settlements and free towns. I thought of all the amazing, beautiful things that our ancestors created despite systems bent on eroding their humanity. When I pondered all these things, I couldn't help but think about how powerful we are and how awesome it is that we, forcibly estranged children, can return home! It is my hope that many more  will visit these sites and feel inspired to honour all our fore-parents endured for us to thrive. 

Here are a few tips for visiting....

The drive from Accra to Kakum took us about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, including a pit stop for petrol and food. After spending a few hours in Kakum, we continued on to the castle in Cape Coast (about a 45 mins away from the Park). Elmina was a bit further afoot. I rode with my Ghanaian photographer friend so didn't have to figure out how much taxis and buses would cost. I'll try to find out and update this post with that information. I can say for now that taxis in Ghana are usually reasonably priced. Just make sure to have a Ghanaian person negotiate the fare(s) for you in order to avoid 'the tourist tax'. 

*Both the Cape Coast and Elmina Castles Road are open daily and cost 9 cedis for non-Ghanaians and 2 cedis for students, and include a highly recommended 45-minute tour. There is a photography fee of 1 cedi per camera. There is an additional fee for commercial photography and videography if I remember correctly.

*At the Elmina Castle, it may be possible to see the Butwaku traditional dance and drum ensemble. To arrange dance and drumming lessons, contact (I'm not sure if this email address is up to date).

What To Pack
* Sunglasses.
*A journal for recording your thoughts.
* Shea butter for non toxic, natural protection from the sun.
*Comfortable shoes but they need not be sneakers.
*Environmentally friendly insect repellant, mainly for keeping mosquitos at bay.
*Food, snacks  and beverages. You will not be able to drink while on tour but you will be glad to have these refreshments afterwards.
*There are some additional items that I'm planning to bring next time for something special.  I want to make an offering to the sea and to the ancestors. This may not be something that interests you based on your religious or spiritual beliefs but if it does,  here's what I would like to include. A white candle, fresh fruit, brown sugar, white flowers, a white stone like opal and clean water.

Since I only made a day trip to the Cape Coast, I didn't stay at any of these lodgings. However, I'm noting them to consider for when I may be able to stay overnight. (Click on each name to be routed  to the respective website).

*Coconut Grove Hotels

*Golden Beach Hotels

*One Africa Guest House & Health Resort


In this post I'm wearing the Esi dress from my Ancestral Memory S/S '18 collection.
Photography Credit: Dextdee Photography

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