Zebras, Spas & Rickety Cars
Julie Pitt recalls her first trip to Africa – an action-packed trip to Senegal where she stayed in luxurious hotels, drove an off-road buggy into the African bush and experienced the big game at Bandia Nature Reserve.
Julie Pitt is a marketing
executive for Serenity
Holidays who first visited
Africa on a press trip to
Senegal in 2008. On page 8
you can read a full account
of her whirlwind travels to
Saly and the Sine Saloum
regions of the country.
Following a short hop to Brussels, we arrived in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, to be greeted with a gorgeous 30-degree heat and a smiling Senegalese tour guide. This trip was a twin centre adventure and our first stop was Saly, a beach resort about an hour and a half down the coast. The journey down to Saly was a spectacle in itself! Our mini bus drove bumper to bumper with rickety cars and trucks packed full of people travelling in and out of the city, plus one bemused goat strapped to the roof of a camper van! Adults and children alike also walked alongside the traffic, laden down with an array of interesting goods for sale. I saw everything from pens, sunglasses, exotic fruit and even a board game of Connect Four!
Saly offers immaculate sandy beaches and luxurious hotels you’d expect from any popular tropical destination. We stayed at the 5 star Lamantin Hotel, with thatched bungalows set amongst beautiful gardens with an inviting pool and a golden beachfront. There’s also an impressive thalassotherapy spa onsite, to rival any top class spa in the UK – just a peek around it left me feeling relaxed and refreshed!
There’s loads to do in Saly, particularly when it comes to watersports, deep-sea fishing and golf, but I was going to try something different – an off road buggy adventure! I’ve honestly never experienced anything like it; as it was coming to the end of the rainy season, the usually arid dirt tracks were interspersed with puddles here and there, and we followed the instructor, zooming (well, perhaps 30mph) through villages where barefoot children ran alongside waving and laughing. Let’s just say when I arrived at our lunch stop my yellow t-shirt was a muddy brown colour! For a girl who normally shies away from getting her hair wet in the swimming pool this was surprisingly fun!
The next day showed me yet another side of Senegal at the Bandia Nature Reserve in Saly. During the 1970s, Senegal suffered terrible droughts and many of the animals such as big cats, giraffe and antelope were driven out of the country. It is only in the last few years that environmentalists are slowly starting to introduce these animals back into Senegal and in an open top 4x4 a professional park guide took us around the 3500-hectare reserve for an amazing close encounter with rhinoceros, giraffes, zebras, buffalo and even a stop at a crocodile pool!
The second part of our trip involved a bumpy, yet incredibly scenic journey 40 miles down the coast to the Sine Saloum Delta, a 180,000-hectare National Park area and a region of great eco-diversity, including rivers, beaches, mangrove swamps and sand dunes. On the way we stopped at a market to buy supplies such as pens, soap and rice to give to a small village nearby. The poverty there was gut wrenching but the sheer community spirit and joy from the children as they raced to greet us made me feel extremely humble.
We stayed at the 5 star Royal Lodge, nestled on the outskirts of the National Park, and it really lives up to its name, with every magnificent suite fit for a film star. However, there are some other equally amazing places to stay in this area, from intimate river lodges to modern day tree houses that embrace the natural environment that surrounds them.
When we arrived back at Dakar for the flight home, there was just one more stop to make a bustling ferry ride over to Gorée Island, in my opinion a must do for any visitor. Just a couple of kilometres off the coast, this island, which today is dotted with colourful colonial style buildings and buzzing with street sellers (prepare to barter!), was a former slave trading port and the original slave house still stands, where you can hear a moving commentary on what life was like for those who left the shores destined for a life as a slave in America and beyond.
When I got home I felt I’d had my eyes opened to how much there is to experience here – and what a great introduction to Africa! Senegal might be a little known holiday destination at the moment, but watch out, it won’t be a secret for long.