Rhia Steele has recently returned from a fact finding trip touring Senegal and Gambia. This is her blog from the trip.
Day 1 – Dakar
After a delayed flight, a missed connection and overnight stop in Madrid, I finally make it to Dakar. We arrived ahead of schedule and after passing through immigration I was again comfortable in the back of the air-conditioned car taking me to Dakar centre, and to the hotel Ganale.
The drive takes about 40 minutes, and the roads and infrastructure are better than I thought. At this time of night, there wasn’t a lot of traffic, however I imagine arriving during the day the transfer may take longer.
I check-in and no sooner than I am in the room that I fall asleep, exhausted from the extended travelling times.
Day 2 – Lac Rose – Lampoul Desert
This morning I experience Monday morning rush hour in Dakar on the way to meet up with the group and my guide. Just as busy as the UK, if not worse, as no marked lanes and the locals drive like crazy, proven by the fact I witness a crash right in front of me!
Although the drive couldn’t have taken more than 10 minutes, it was enough for me to experience!
I meet the group as they come off the ferry from Gore Island, and we are quickly on our way to our first stop; Lac Rose. After about an hour and a half we arrived to the lake which, in some light, did look a pink colour due to the high concentration of minerals.
After some time for swimming we go by 4WD over sand dunes along the coast to Cayar, a fishing village where we see the locals bringing in their catch from the morning. After a stroll along the beach and through the village, we are invited to our local guide’s house for lunch. He lives with his sisters, brother and mum, who had nothing prepared.
They are happy for us to stay for lunch, and our guides Alleman and Serigne went off to the market to buy fresh fish and watermelon. This was a lovely experience of Senegalese hospitality, and whilst waiting for lunch (which took around 3 hours as cooked from scratch for about 10 people), we were given nuts, tea and good company.
We then continue to Lampoul which is about a 2.5-hour drive. Most is on good roads until we go off-road on the sand dunes to reach our tented camp.
The camps are spacious and are made for families of 4, with beds, mosquito nets and a western-style toilet and shower. We arrive in time to watch the beautiful sunset before taking seats in the ‘bar’ for some local drumming and dancing by some of the Malinke group, followed by a hearty 3 course dinner.
Day 3 – Saint Louis
This morning we drive back to Lampoul and head for the charming town of St Louis. The journey isn’t too long; approx. 1.5 hours, and after checking-in to our hotel located on the island, we explore the narrow streets by calash (horse and cart).
About 10 minutes in to the tour the wheel explodes and we are left without a calash. Luckily there are plenty available, and it is not long before another one is with us. After exploring the streets, our tour ends with a stop at the Faidherbe bridge, the main road bridge connecting the island to the mainland. It only opens up for ferries and boats to cross once a month, and for only 30 minutes!
The rest of the afternoon was for us to explore more of the narrow streets. One thing that stood out was you can talk to anyone and they will be happy to talk to you, everyone is very friendly!
We go to a local restaurant in the evening by the river – they do not get many English-speaking tourists in so when we arrived all the waiters were extremely pleased to see us so they could practise their English.
Day 4 – Djoudj National Park
Today is an early start to get to the park before the other groups of tourists, and before the sun gets too hot. After an hour and a half we arrive, and en route we have already seen a variety of birdlife including herons and rollers. We also saw a monitor lizard taking shade underneath a bush.
We take a boat for about an hour around the national park, seeing a wide variety of wildlife, which ends by seeing a pod of pelicans, about 6000 pairs, all on one island. What a sight!
The sun was getting hot so we head back to the comfort of our minivan and head back to Saint Louis for lunch, where we visit a crepery for some savoury and sweet crepes before we drive to the Ferlo desert.
We head into the village of a Fulani tribe, where it is a commune of one family. We visit whilst they are in the middle of making arrangements for an upcoming wedding for one of the women at the commune. We are invited to sit and observe, and watch as gifts from the groom’s family are given to the bride’s family.
All in all a very happy and exciting occasion and I feel very fortunate to have witnessed this event. We head back to the ecolodge where we have dinner under a sky filled with stars, and it is clear enough that we can also see Jupiter from where we are.
Day 5 – Touba
We were invited to see the milking of the herd of cows by the Fulani, part of their morning daily routine. After this we drive to Touba, one of Senegal’s largest cities. They have strict rules here where women are not allowed to wear trousers and music is forbidden.
The only music/singing is from inside the mosque, which we spend an hour walking around. We then head to Kaolack for the night. The hotel is on the river and we have an early dinner as we have an early departure for Banjul in the morning.
Day 6 – Banjul
Before heading to Banjul we stop at the Senegal version of Stonehenge. After following a diversion due to the main route being damaged during the rainy season, we arrive at the megalith site of 52 stone circles.
No one knows how they got there, however they seem to be graves of the king, queen and soldiers. Skeletons, jewellery and pottery have been found here, which are shown in the small museum at the site, as well as the museum in Dakar.
We leave the megaliths and drive to the border with the Gambia, my touring Senegal now complete.
Overall the border formalities are straightforward – leaving Senegal you queue and get a departure stamp in your passport, and then in the Gambia it is another entry stamp if you are an EU or UK citizen.
US citizens (and other nationalities) require a visa. This can be obtained in advance (which we would advise) or you can get it at the border. However, it became clear that they do not get many US citizens crossing the border without obtaining a visa beforehand.
Overall the whole process took about 2 hours – we did happen to be crossing when a lot of locals were also crossing the border in preparation for the Prophet’s birthday the following day! We drive for about 2 hours to the ferry for Banjul. Be prepared for the minibus to be stopped by police several times – this is common in the Gambia.
The ferry to Banjul takes about 35-40 minutes, followed by a drive of about 20 minutes to our hotel, Senemgambia Beach. This hotel is also a mini national park, and there is a good chance of seeing a variety of birdlife, as well as monkeys, which roam freely around the hotel grounds.
Day 7 – Banjul Departure
This morning we are taken on a walk through a natural area to spot birdlife, including the small owl, which we were lucky enough to see. After a walk of about an hour we are picked up and taken to Banjul’s National Museum showcasing the history of Banjul.
My time in West Africa was at an end after the visit whilst the rest of the group continued on to Guinea Bissau. The local people have left a lasting impression on me with their kindness and hospitality shown to us whilst visiting their country.
Rhia Steele was touring Senegal and the Gambia in November 2019. Call Undiscovered Destinations to find out more about our tours in this region.