Endless beaches, cocktails with a rhino, walking with lions and NO JETLAG! Senegal is a traveller’s best-kept secret
Senegal may not be the first destination you think of when booking your annual beach holiday. But, for the adventurous traveler, it ticks the boxes of many long-haul locations, minus the jetlag that can disrupt even the most-seasoned tourist. So, before you book that trip to Thailand or the Maldives (yawn!), here are five reasons why you must give Senegal a try.
1. The Time Difference
We’ve just said it, but one of the best bits about our week away to Senegal was the fact we had all the benefits of a tropical long-haul holiday – without the painful days spent readjusting to local time. Senegal is just an hour behind British Summer Time, so you are good to start your holiday from the moment you land. There are currently no direct flights to Senegal from the UK, so you have to fly to Madrid, Barcelona or Morocco and then change, but total journey times are around eight hours.
2. Beautiful Beaches
Even in peak season, the 94-mile long stretches of white sandy beaches on Senegal’s Petite Cote are virtually unpopulated. Senegal has 3000 hours of sunshine a year, so if you are looking for some R&R on a sun lounger, look no further than the Lemantin Beach Hotel Resort & Spa, just 90 minutes outside of the capital of Dakar. You can get some amazing deals – a garden room for two people on a half-board basis was £120 per night on booking.com (although deals are updated all the time). The hotel is beautiful, with smiling staff just waiting to answer any question or cater to your every need.
Every night the buffet of Las Vegas proportions changes, depending on the theme of the evening – be it oriental or Oriental night. The hotel has plenty on offer in the way of excursions, including visits to local villages, fishing, or quad bikes, but there are lots of reasons to never move from the hotel itself.
The spa boasts a hydrotherapy pool with massaging jets, saunas, steam rooms and beauty therapists who can knead your cares away. For those wanting to work off the incredible buffet, there is also a tennis court and gym. Best of all, there are buttons on the beach to summon a cold beer or cocktail whenever the urge takes you.
3. Get up close to lions and rhinos
There are few places on Earth where you can take a lion for a walk without fearing for your life. Enter Fathala Resort, which lies in the Saloum Delta National Park. We had the most magical stay and, despite being a little wary before our lion walk, we were soon put at ease by the team of professional keepers who have hand-reared the now ‘teenager lions’ since they were cubs.
We not only got to wander around with our four-legged escorts, but also stroke them and even give them a little scratch behind the ears like they were just over-sized family cats. We watched in awe as they play-fought, sprang up trees and affectionately pawed their handlers.
At night, we would spend our evenings taking a glass of wine to the poolside post dinner, to listen out for the tell-tale trample of the resort’s resident rhino. On our first night we were just meters away from this magnificent, prehistoric animal.
We stayed in one of the 20 luxurious fully air-conditioned tents, complete with open-air shower. Each tent has a porch looking out on to the wildlife reserve, where you can while away hours watching groups of monkeys making death-defying leaps from branch to branch or keep an ear out for the snort of a warthog.
Room rates are around £112 for two people. The lodge is only five miles from the Gambian border, but will take half a day’s travel from Dakar. The journey is an adventure in itself, travelling by ferry and then on a dirt track through local villages where farmers still toil the fields with ox-pulled ploughs.
4. Lac Rose
The Pink Lake is one of Senegal’s most popular tourist destinations and the shallow lake gets its name from the colour of the water which, thanks to its high salt content, can appear bright pink on sunny days. Tourists can swim in the warm waters or simply sit by and observe the local traders collecting the salt from the lake bed to sell.
5. Île de Gorée
While in Dakar, schedule in a trip to Goree Island, 30 minutes out to sea by ferry. Despite its idyllic waters and beautiful colonial buildings, it has a dark past. From the 16th to the mid 19th-century it was an important stop on the slave route and was where slaves were kept before they were shipped out to the New World.
Follow in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton who have all visited the island and made emotional visits to La Maison des Esclaves where you can see the cramped conditions men and women were forced to endure as they waited their fate. During Mandela’s visit, he made headlines by insisting on crawling into a claustrophobic holding cell.
Need to know
Best time to visit: Between December and April – Senegal’s dry season. Also, remember to research the dates of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan (the dates are based on the lunar cycle and change from year to year). Because most of the population will be fasting, many restaurants will be closed.
Vaccinations: Check with your local GP to ensure all your vaccinations are up to date for travel. Like many countries in Africa, you will need to take a course of anti-malarials before, during and after your stay.