It’s hard to comprehend the depths of human suffering that occurred in one of Africa’s most scenic regions. It’s difficult to think that only a couple hundred years ago, such atrocities were possible. It’s equally challenging to understand how a country has moved on towards something positive.
Enter the Elmina Castle to experience a truly sobering site.
Located on Ghana’s southern coast, the small town of Elmina is steeped in history. Though the region has now developed to meet modern needs, it was originally established by the Portuguese in the 15th century. Despite the site becoming a welcoming place for locals and foreigners alike, Elmina has a dark history of being used for the slave trade.
Rather than destroy the structures of a troubled past, local authorities have decided to showcase these landmarks as reminders of the atrocities that the Ghanaian people once had to endure.
No place is more representative of Elmina’s history than the castle. Deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, the structure was originally built as part of a trade route with Europe. It wasn’t until the 17th century that the main commodity became people.
Exploring the Castle
Upon arriving at the castle, you’ll have to pay a small fee to both enter the complex and to take pictures. Additionally, look to get yourself a guide who can explain the importance of what you’re seeing.
On what will likely be an emotional visit, odds are that you’ll be most affected by the Door of No Return. The entrance-way more famously used as an exit is where slaves left the castle, only to be placed on boats and shipped away from their homeland. It is estimated that there were around 30,000 people brought through this very sombre site.
Beyond the castle’s most notable feature, the structure is open to be explored. Once visitors have crossed the draw bridge, they can wander around open courtyards and up towards the building’s second and third floor. Vistas from the castle’s windows offer scenic views of the sea.
Before or after wandering around the castle, guests are free to enter a small museum, grab a bite to eat at the modest restaurant, or buy a souvenir from the gift shop. Whether these added features are necessary or appropriate, is certainly up for debate.
Credit: Adam Jones, Ph.D.
Fort St. Jago
While the Portuguese were the first to settle in the area, Fort St. Jago was built by the Dutch in the 17th century. Constructed with protection in mind, the fort is set atop a hill, a short distance from the coast. Visitors are free to explore the structure’s bastions, taking in the view of the now-thriving fishing village below.
Credit: Adam Jones, Ph.D.
When To Go
Elmira’s castle is open to be visited year-round. With consistent temperatures in the area, don’t limit yourself to travel during any particular season.
Lows throughout the year can get down towards 11°C, while highs can climb up towards 22°C. Expect the rainy season to occur around May or June.
Getting There & Around
After flying into Accra’s Kotoka international Airport, hop in a chartered car to take you to the Cape Coast. From there, get in a taxi that will take you to Elmina.
- Mid-range accommodations: $40-80
- Meal: $3-6
- Beer: $1.50
- Hire a guide to get the most out of your experience.
- Arrive early to beat the crowds.
- Hop over to a resort if you plan on spending a day at the beach.
- Take pictures of the castle without buying a photo pass.
- Worry about going to the museum if you’ve already taken a guided tour.
- Use your left hand to eat while in Ghana.
- There is another slave castle located just down the road at Cape Coast.
- Ghana has had a European presence since the 15th century.
- The country has some of Africa’s best surfing spots.
Feature Image Credit: benketaro