Steeped in history and seducing visitors with its coastal charm and refreshingly laid-back vibe, Cape Coast is unsurprisingly one of Ghana’s top tourist destinations. Founded by the Portuguese in the 15th century and once the capital of Britain’s Gold Coast colony, this fascinating town offers endless exploring opportunities. Its architectural mishmash spanning centuries and hugging the town’s numerous low hills is a wanderer’s paradise.
Vestiges from the past are to be found on every corner.
What Cape Coast is mostly famous for though is its role at the heart of the transatlantic slave trade and its castle where some of the worst atrocities of that era were committed.
While the Castle first acted as a fortified base for overseeing the export of gold and other goods, the ‘market forces’ eventually turned its use towards human trafficking.
Frightening to think that at any given time throughout the 18th century, before the slave trade was abolished in 1807, there would have been up to 1,500 captured men and women awaiting in the castle dungeons to be shipped abroad.
The solid fortress is now a World Heritage Site and its location on the edge of town overlooking the coast is way more attractive than it should be given its dark history.
The visit in 2009 of Barack and Michelle Obama made the Castle almost more famous than it already was.
The 45-minute guided tour included in the ticket price is highly recommended and will take you from the governor’s upstairs apartments to the claustrophobic dungeons below and explain the gruesome details from that barbaric era.
Today you can witness from the old ramparts the late afternoon activity of local fishermen…
… and the occasional football match.
A major feature of the Castle is the large pentagonal courtyard overlooking the sea and where all the slaves would be fed together before returning to the dungeons.
Down that courtyard is the chilling ‘Door of No Return ‘ through which all the slaves passed before boarding a ship taking them to their final destination. Most of them would not survive to see it. On a more positive note, descendants of slaves have recently been invited to the Castle to symbolically return through the same door, hence christening it the ‘Door of Return ‘.
Passing through these doors today leads you right in the middle of the fishing port with colorful boats and flags all around.
Women and children can be seen laying the day’s catch out to dry in the sun around the Castle’s walls.
When you get hungry, down the street from the Castle is Baobab Vegetarian Restaurant which offers delicious and healthy vegetarian meals, snacks, and fresh juices, a lot of them including the super nutritious Moringa leaves. It is where I got addicted to Bissap, a popular and also super healthy hibiscus drink.
And the view from the terrace isn’t bad either…
Coast to Coast is another very good restaurant, this one right across from the Castle and serving Ghanaian specialties. I indulged in one of my favorites – grilled fish covered in Palavar sauce served with boiled yams.
Apart from loads of fascinating history and plenty of good food, I mostly enjoyed my time in Cape Coast because it’s also where the majority of the Global Mamas are located (the NGO I volunteer for). Walking around town you can’t help but noticing these gorgeous women sitting in front of colorful shops, sewing machine nearby, creating some beautiful garment or accessory.
A little more hidden but no less important are the batikers who usually work from their own backyards or in the case of Eli & Emma, straight on Cape Coast beach!
Matilda is well surrounded, working on her next batch of bright sun hats.
Elizabeth showcases the colorful batik quilt she just finished sewing together.
Juliana is dying fabric from up in the hills, ready for batiking later that day.
Gloria is all fashion, sewing shirts and dresses from her tiny street front shop.
And some like Charlotte give new meaning to bringing your child to the office…! I was lucky enough to be in charge of taking their portrait and shooting around their shops, giving me the best excuse to explore Cape Coast and meet as many Mamas as possible, truly a highlight of my stay here.
A sunset stroll is always a good bet and here will emphasize the pastel-colored colonial buildings and numerous churches such as the Methodist Church below, near the Castle.
Fort William, originally a lighthouse, towers above the whole town.
Just like any coastal town, it’s on the water that it’s most memorable to end the day. Here you can grab a front row seat at Oasis Beach Resort and watch dancers training, kids playing, and the incredible team work needed to bring a fishing boat back on the shore.
The Castle watches over it all…
If you’re longing for a bit of nature, there’s a large expense of greenery about 45 minutes drive north of Cape Coast called Kakum National Park. Although it’s often listed as one of the top attractions in the country, I’d definitely only recommend it to people who have a lot of free time on their hands as I was a bit unimpressed (especially after Mole!). Kakum is essentially 234 square miles of protected rainforest and the one cool thing about it is the Canopy Walkway – the only one in Africa apparently.
The 350 meters long suspended wooden walkway links six tree platforms elevated some 40m above the forest floor – definitely not for those with a fear of heights!
I quite enjoyed it though it doesn’t take long to walk the whole length and forget about seeing any wildlife besides butterflies and a few birds.
Just enjoy the scenery and the flock of butterflies flying all around you. The height of the rainforest is truly stunning.
Nearby Kakum, another advertised spot which is also not quite worth the detour is Hans Cottage Botel.
It’s a lunch stop on the road to Kakum though the main attraction here is the crocodile pond.
You have to pay to take pictures of two sleepy and completely inert crocodiles and you’re even able to touch them – they just seemed drugged up to me!
Heading out West now… beautiful beaches and more history on the horizon!