Exterior View of Elmina Castle, a World Heritage Site  in Ghana.
Photo: DepositPhotos Elmina Castle World Heritage Site in Ghana

West Africa is home to 18 World Heritage Sites and in this article, I’ll tell give you an overview of the 12 Heritage sites found in West Africa’s most visited countries for you to add to your bucket list when you visit West Africa.

These sites are located in places of incredible vistas and showcase things such as nature, culture, tradition, biodiversity, history, and spirituality.

What is a World Heritage Site?

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) was founded in November 1945, and one of its activities is to determine what constitutes a World Heritage Site.

According to UNESCO, World Heritage Sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria.

12 World Heritage Sites in West Africa’s Most Visited Countries


  • Asante Traditional Buildings: Northeast of Kumasi in the Ashanti Region

Remnants of ten buildings and shrines constructed of clay, bamboo, and mud plaster adorned with geometric designs and symbolic Adinkra symbols stand as a stark testimony of Ghana’s past great Asante Kingdom.

Notable for: African/World history, culture and tradition, traditional African architecture.

  • Forts and Castles:  Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions

Castles (some with slave dungeons) and forts in various stages of preservation are situated in strategic points along Ghana’s 500 km (#miles) coastal region. Erected and occupied by various European traders, primarily, British, Dutch, and Portuguese between 1482 -1786, the buildings were initially constructed to engage in trade in gold and other commodities. Later, they played a prominent role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

The most well-preserved and visited of these monuments are Elmina Castle, and Cape Coast Castle in the Central Region. However, there are many others including, Christiansborg Castle at Osu in Greater Accra, Fort Apollonia at Beyin in the Western Region and Fort Groos Frederickborg at Princesstown in the Western Region, and Fort Vernon at Prampram in the Eastern Region.

Notable for: World History, African History and Heritage in general, and especially for African-Americans and The African Diaspora.


  • Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove: Southern Nigeria, just outside the City of Osogbo

This dense grove, an iconic and sacred symbol of Yoruba identity and tradition, is home to Osun, the Yoruba Goddess of Fertility. A river runs through the forest and numerous sculptures and shrines stand in silent dedication and reverence to the Goddess Osun and other Deities.

Notable for: African culture, tradition, and religion/spirituality, specifically, Yoruba.

The Gambia

  • Kunta Kinteh Island and Related Sites

Along the Gambia River lies this somber reminder of the encounters between Africans and Europeans, memorialized in Alex Hayley’s groundbreaking book, “Roots”, as the birthplace of his enslaved African ancestor, Kunta Kinte.

The site includes the entire Kunta Kinteh Island, as well as the twin villages of Albreda and Juffureh, and other related sites. Today, only ruins remain of the slave house, chapel, store, fort and blacksmith shop that once existed and played such a major role during the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Notable for: World history, African History, African-American history.


  • Bassari Country: Bassari, Fulu and Bedik Cultural Landscapes in Southern Senegal

This remote site features rice paddies and villages built in groups of thatched dwellings with conical roofs built closely together around a central compound. The site is notable for its multicultural and agricultural landscapes evident by the three ethnic groups living and farming closely together.

Visitors gain insight into the ways people of different cultures adapted, and continue to adapt to the environment in which they live.

Notable for: Agriculture, society and culture, spirituality in living spaces, architecture, sustainable living, and multicultural living.

  • Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary: The Senegal River Delta in Northern Biffeche

The Senegal River Delta wetland comprised of a large lake, streams, and ponds provides an oasis for hundreds of bird species, most notably, pelicans and flamingos. It’s an important stopover for migrating birds. Other occupants of the sanctuary include crocodiles, monkeys, African manatees, gazelles, and more.

Will appeal to: Visitors interested in bird-watching, bird life, wildlife, natural habitats, and biodiversity.

  • Island of Goree: Off the coast of Senegal

A 30-minute ferry ride from Dakar takes visitors to Goree Island, one of the earliest European settlements in West Africa, and a major slave trade center during the 15th-19th centuries. The Slave House (Maison des Eclaves), now the site of a museum, serves as a reminder of the island’s history.

Visitors can also stroll around the small, picturesque island as it exists today and take in the former dwellings of slaveholders juxtaposed against the backdrop of quarters that once held enslaved Africans.

Notable for: World History, African History and Heritage, African Diaspora, Colonial African History, French colonial architecture.

  • Niokolo-Koba National Park: Southeastern Senegal near the Guinea border.

Rich in habitats, plants and animals, this site lies along the banks of the Gambia River and is Senegal’s largest park. It stands out for the variety of terrain, ranging from grassy woodlands and forests to wetlands and a complex ecosystem.

The park’s most notable feature is its variety of wildlife where visitors can view amphibians, hundreds of birds species, reptiles, lions, leopards, hippos, elephants and so much more including Derby’s Eland, the largest antelopes in the world.

Notable for: Biodiversity, wildlife, plant life, ecosystems, wildlife photography opportunities.

  • Saloum Delta: 100 km (miles) south of Dakar

The Saloum Delta has been the site of fishing villages and settlements for centuries. The area is characterized by islands, islets, rivers, mud flats, creeks, mangrove forests, and swamps.

Over 200 man-made shellfish mounds feature prominently in the area, some of which were used as burial sites and cemeteries. The area is also an important habitat for birds.

Notable for: Ecosystems, birdlife, traditional human settlements, cultures, tradition, and religion.

  • Stone Circles of Senegambia: Senegal and The Gambia

Enigmatic vertical stones arrange in fields of circles span across Senegal and The Gambia, giving the landscape an air of mystery.

Four of the most important of these fields are in The Gambia while the other two lie in Senegal. The exact purpose of the stone circles is unknown, but discovery of archeological relics such as tools, pottery, and skeletal remains lead many to believe that the circle may have been burial sites.

Notable for: Culture, spirituality/burial rites, world heritage, and archaeology.

  • Island of Saint Louis

Originally a French colonial settlement, St. Louis was the capital of Senegal from 1872-1957, and located in, of all places, a lagoon formed by the Senegal River.

The main feature of this site is the French colonial architecture reflected prominently on the buildings that include former homes of colonial merchants and buildings currently used as offices, hotels and homes.

Notable for: World History, African History, French Colonial Architecture.

Cabo Verde (Cape Verde)

  • Cidade Velha, Historic Centre of Ribeira: Ribeira Grande

South of the island of Santiago, this town is often described as the first European colonial outpost in the topics and it played a key role in trade including the Transatlantic slave trade.

Colonial town planning and architecture are key features of this Centre which can be seen in the ruins of a fortress, and the layout of some of the streets and historical buildings.

Notable for: Interaction between Europeans and Africans reflected in a segment of today’s population, world history, African history cultural heritage, and colonial architecture.

What is the Best Way to Visit West Africa’s World Heritage Sites?

Getting to countries in West Africa is no problem since many countries are serviced by many of the world’s major airlines, some offering daily flights.  

The story is a little different when it comes to visiting the World Heritage sites, as many of these stunning sites are in remote locations or challenging environments. It’s a good thing to have help.

This help comes in the form of a professional tour operator company that will coordinate your visit and provide you with a trusted, registered guide to accompany you on your visit.

You can try visiting the sites on your own, but to fully understand and gain greater insight into what you are witnessing or observing, as well as deeper knowledge of the history, people, and cultures currently living in the area, I recommend working with travel professionals and local experts.

Now that you know where to find some of West Africa’s World Heritage sites, visit one or more of them and experience a one of a kind adventure you’ll never forget.

For a quick glance at West African countries, check out this article, An Introduction to West Africa’s 16 Countries.