A warm welcome from Senegal

Former journalist Shahid Naqvi spent a few days in Senegal visiting the luxury hotels of Saly and the Sine Saloum Delta on his first ever trip to Africa, discovering there’s a lot to attract more adventurous travellers.

CONTRIBUTOR

CONTRIBUTOR
Shahid Naqvi travelled to Senegal with us in 2008 whilst working as a journalist for The Birmingham Post. His article recounts his first trip to Africa, summing up what first time visitors can expect.

 

Africa. Cradle of humanity. Home to one seventh of the world’s population and a fifth of its total land area. Up until now the nearest I’ve got to the great continent has been BBC wildlife documentaries, Bob Geldof and that song by Toto. All that changed recently, however, following a trip to Senegal. Of course, one country with a population of 11 million cannot be representative of a land mass made up of 61 nations and 922 million people. But the former French colony is stable, keen to promote itself to Western tourists and therefore a good place to start.

Its west coast location will already be familiar to some Brits who have visited the ex-British colony of The Gambia. Senegal is a bigger country with a different history and its French connection means, if nothing else, you can get a decent cup of coffee.

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The good news is unlike other popular long haul winter sun destinations, Senegal is on the same time zone as Britain between the tourist season of November to March, meaning no jet lag to contend with.

Stepping off the plane at Dakar airport the first thing to hit home is the heat – 32°C is something of a contrast to the single figure temperature in Britain. Luckily, though, it was the end of the rainy season, which runs between July and October, meaning it’s a dry heat which you adjust to surprisingly quickly.

The second thing that strikes the senses is the hordes of people walking on the motorway on the drive south to the holiday resort of Saly about 50 miles out. It felt as if Dakar’s entire population of two million was spreading out from the city the entire length of the journey. Among the many sights you wouldn’t ever expect to see on the M6 was a goat strapped to the roof of a car.

Arriving at Saly’s “most luxurious hotel”, the Lamantin Beach provides just the kind of escape from the maddening crowds you’d want after more than 12 hours’ travel. This was the first example of Senegal’s Government-controlled bid to capitalise on the lucrative Western tourism market.

Though the country’s climate, attractive beaches and decent standard hotels have been familiar to people from other parts of Europe, it’s a relatively new destination to British holidaymakers. The five star Lamantin Beach offers the kind of standard of luxury many western tourists have come to expect with good food, quality wine and a spa. In addition, there’s a private sandy beach and – best of all – warm tropical waters to swim in. A far cry from my last buttock-clenching dip in the sea off the Cornish coast this summer. There are a string of similar hotels along the coast. In Saly we also visited the four star Hotel Espadon which features a bar built on a jetty and the boutique-style Tama Lodge.

Further south in Sine Saloum is the sleepy Delta Niominka, accessed by boat, and the marvellous Lodge des Collines de Niassam – one of the world’s most unusual hotels with rooms built into trees overlooking a lagoon. But perhaps best of all was the luxurious Le Royal Lodge which has 28 beautifully appointed hut-style suites all of which contain a sunken Jacuzzi!

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Away from the pampered hotel world, there are a number of ways to explore Senegal. One of the most fun is heading out into the countryside on a souped-up golfing buggy-type vehicle where you get to see sights such as a massive ant hill, a crab-infested lake and local villages. We also visited a colourful local market where we bought supplies to pass on to villagers living a traditional rural life. Though on the edge of poverty, it was impossible not to be struck by their sense of community, humour and spirit. Something that was underlined many times during our visit.

Saly also boasts the Bandia Nature Reserve, where a trip on the back of a jeep will bring you into close proximity to wild rhino, giraffes, zebras and various other animals native to Africa. Visitors to Senegal should also make an effort to visit the famous Gorée Island – once a staging post for the transportation of slaves to America and Europe. It’s a moving experience, though watch out for the super-persistent street hawkers!

Senegal may have bugs the size of a small child’s hand, but for the more adventurous tourist the country offers a memorable holiday experience. And a great introduction to Africa.

Article reproduced with permission of the Birmingham Mail.

 
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