November 2019: I visited Senegal twice. In Senegal I only had one goal..to visit Gorée Island. My first Senegal visit was via on a one-night stop-over from Mali enroute to Sierra Leone. In Mali, I met this loud and boisterous American security contractor, who checked every box for qualifying as a CIA agent. He and I roamed the beach bars all night in Dakar enjoying the lively entertainment scene. The CIA guy claimed to own a bar in Kabul with his wife and I planned to visit the bar when in Afghanistan but of course his contact details proved to be invalid. Well, I had half a day in Senegal before my afternoon flight to Sierra Leone and slept through any plans to visit the colonial era island that was once one of the centers of the African slave trade- Gorée Island. 

It wasn’t until my second visit to Senegal, when I had 2 nights instead of only 1, that I finally made it to Gorée Island.  On my 2nd trip, I noticed that the international airport had changed from a convenient downtown location to a new place in the middle of nowhere over 50 miles away. Since my friend Richard and I had a very early morning flight on our last day, we booked an airport hotel for convenience. Our itinerary allowed us one full day to visit Gorée Island. We hired a taxi from our hotel to take us to the ferry port to Gorée Island. 

Location of Senegal

Gorée Island. 

Gorée Island. 

Gorée Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is one of the oldest European settlements in Africa. Gorée Island was first settled during the 1400’s by Europeans and the country of Senegal before finally become a French colony changed hands between various European countries multiple times. Gorée Island was at one time one of the centers of the African slave trade. The number of slaves that actual passed through the island could have been anywhere between 30,000-1 million. Many slaves were captives of rival African tribes that were sold to European slavers. Slaves were then sold and shipped to the America’s and Europe from places such as Gorée Island. Sadly, for many slaves, Gorée Island would be the last pace place in Africa they would see. Many of the slaves would never even see land again as so many perished in the deplorable conditions of crossing the Atlantic. 

Gorée Island is easily reached by public ferry that normally leaves every 30 minutes. Be sure to bring a passport for the ferry as the police will require it before entering the marina. My friend didn’t have his and I had a very tough time convincing the police to accept a copy of his passport instead. 

The ferry ride is relaxing, and you will pass small rickety fishing boats battling the waves as they head out to sea and goliath sized cargo ships in the harbor that tower above your ferry. 

 

 

View of Gorée Island from ferry

Huge cargo ships in the harbor

Fishing boat

Gorée Island is a great day trip. The island has a tranquil vibe, there is no vehicle traffic, and it is an easy place to walk and explore. Everywhere you look there are old colonial era houses and forts that are steeped in history. There are many guesthouses, tourist shops, restaurants and cafes that provide fresh seafood and mixed drinks. Stay overnight on the island if you can have the full experience. The downside of the island is all of the venders’ selling tours or souvenirs that will start stalking you the moment you step foot on on the ferry. Also, the island at the time of my visit was undergoing renovations and many of the old buildings that were beautifully decayed were under scaffolding being renovated. The constant hammering and pounding of construction equipment was hard to tune out while trying to relax on the island.  Its obvious that there are big plans for the island. Hopefully things do not change too much given the development restrictions imposed by the islands UNESCO status.

Gorée Island Colonial Fort

Ferry parked at the dock

Colonial Architecture 

Colonial Architecture 

Old wooden windows

courtyard

One interesting bit of history I learned about Gorée Island was it was the scene of fighting in World War II between the British and French. The French in this part of Africa were Vichy and allied with the Nazis. A canon fired by Vichy French forces from Gorée Island sunk a British warship. Despite this small victory, the British defeated the Vichy French forces. and seized control of the island and the region keeping it from falling into Nazi hands. World War II era canons and concrete bunkers can be found all around Gorée Island. 

WWII bunker

More Photos of Gorée Island. 

Walking paths

Fortress

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