Dakar is surrounded by three beautiful islands; to the west of the city is the Îles des Madeleines nature reserve, to the north lies Ngor, a go-to spot for surfers, and finally to the east is Gorée, a Unesco World Heritage Site which houses the Maison des Esclaves (House of Slaves), a museum and memorial to the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
Gorée wasn’t one of the principal centres for the slave trade in West Africa, but the Maison des Esclaves has become the most famous symbol of this time.
It’s a truly emotive experience to see the place where thousands of people torn from their communities and families waited – in unimaginable conditions – to face a perilous journey across the ocean into a life of servitude, and one which no trip to Dakar is complete without.
But after this dark period in it’s history, Gorée has become a centre for architectural beauty, artistic endeavour and educational excellence.
Away from the main tourist area, you can wander Gorée’s streets in relative solitude, and discover hidden alleyways, striking colonial architecture, and bougainvillea-clad buildings.
Wide baobab-lined avenues are given over to impromptu art displays, and artisans produce beautiful objects in the numerous studios and workshops dotted around the island.
A calm and sheltered bay provides an excellent swimming spot, or just a place to dip your toes in the water while you wait for the ferry back to the mainland.
The Island is also home to the Maison d’Education Mariama Ba, a top boarding school for girls which was founded in the 1970’s by Leopold Senghor, the first president of Senegal.
Each year, it admits twenty-five girls from across the country on the basis of outstanding achievement in their national secondary school exams, and puts them on a path to a bright future – surely the best tribute to all those who were denied their freedoms in times gone by.
Gorée is small, but each time I go there I discover something new – an artist’s studio, a secret courtyard, an intriguing doorway into an ancient mariner’s drinking spot. There’s always a new story waiting around every corner of this island’s cobbled streets; a whisper from the past, or a glimpse into a promising future.