Welcoming British visitors to the Baobabs

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Baobabs forest

Senegal has long been a popular holiday destination for the French, but now a growing number of Brits are discovering the charms of this former French colony on the west coast of Africa. Frederic has a scorching time in Senegal

What do you know Senegal? At present about six percent of travellers that go there are British, but that will change as it is expected that more of us will visit the country in the next year or so.
At the moment the greatest number of visitors come from France (understandable as a former colony that still has strong ties including language.) One reason is that it has a long history of peace, plus various ethnic groups live side-by-side in harmony. Another is that the Senegalese are very friendly and like to meet people from outside. They are a welcoming people and you’ll find that even in the smallest village in the middle of nowhere. Smiles go a long way but a knowledge of a few basic French words will help the visitor even more.
For the visitor, Senegal is a hot country with rolling, lengthy beaches, various hotels ranging from five star ones to those more basic and rustic. The roads are quite good compared to some other African countries and there is a lot to discover. Mainly a dry savanna symbolised by baobabs (the  huge trees, without any leaves, which stand like lonesome giants) – the country shelters various fauna that are best seen inside the National Parks. Elsewhere, mainly in Casamance in the south of the country and in the Siné-Saloum delta, due to a less dry climate there is luxurious vegetation. Nature in Senegal has been generous with widespread opportunities for fishing, cultivation and farming. And you will get this generousity on your plate. Make a choice from numerous fish dishes or chicken recipes such as the well-known chicken-yassa.

Fishermen and their pirogues

In a recent interview with CD-Traveller, Mr Ibrahim Sarr, director of Senegal Tourism Promotion Board, confirmed the construction of a new tourist zone along the beautiful beaches of Mbodiene, a small village 100 km away from Dakar, the capital. The work for infrastructure will begin in early 2012 and this is the first step in a $ 380 million plan that will see the construction of various hotels (including five stars ones) inside a huge park, covering approximately 1000 acres. The hotels will have 6,000 rooms between all of them and is in answer to the increasing number of tourists coming from countries newer sources of visitors like the UK.
Mbodiene will be the third beach resort to be built in Senegal. The smallest is the Casamance in the southern part of the country, and to get there, you need to take a one-hour flight from Dakar. The main beach location is Saly-Portudal, reputed to be the most popular resort in the whole of West Africa. Found close to Dakar, as its name suggests, this was a former Portuguese area. Today its sandy beaches, hotels, bars, and tourist facilities welcome the wealthy and the long haul traveller.

 

At both Casamance and Saly-Portudal it is easy to relax, and throw the cares of the world away. They are what beach resorts should be. Lots of good accommodation, long sandy beaches, swimming pools and lots of quiet places to snooze in the sunshine or catch on all those fat novels you brought with you. Try walking on the beach and meeting returning fishermen when they come back on their long wooden boats (called pirogues). They unload their catch on the sandy beaches and you’ll see dozens of various coloured fishes. It’s quite unforgettable.

Alternatively visiting small villages hidden in the nearby savanna, is another way to meet new friends and see a different lifetsyle. Watch for the children. They’ll come running towards you as soon as they spot you, eager to welcome visitors to their village. And what about a stroll in a local market in the middle of a crowd of women all beautifully dressed in colourful boubous, the traditional long dresses, bargaining with vendors? It’s something not to be missed.
For a first visit and a taster of Senegal, a one week stay in Saly-Portudal is a good option. Dakar and the magic former slave island of Gorée are very close and easy to visit. As is the delta of Siné-Saloum, with its mangroves and huge variety of birds such as flamingoes, spoonbills and curlew sandpipers. And if you want to learn more about the history of Senegal, even St Louis right in the north, the untouched first colonial town and a UNESCO World Heritage site can be visited in a day trip.
You can make Dakar the base for your first trip as travel connections are good from here. For those who are able to stay two weeks, going to the seaside of Casamance for a second week could be a very good option. Having the Gambia as its neighbour means that many Britons could envisage what Senegal might be like and, to a certain extent, Senegal has copied the approach Gambia makes to encourage tourists. It probably means that those who operate to Gambia, are likely to be the ones that open up Senegal to us.
At the moment about 30 percent of all visitors, are those that have been here before. That’s always a good sign in that it isn’t so expensive as to be one of those places that you’ll visit only once in a lifetime and secondly, that it passes the international traveller test of appeal. The question you’ll be asking yourself is this:  when am I going back?Goree island

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