With fine golden sand making up most of Senegal’s 330 miles (531 km) of Atlantic coastline, Senegal is a beach lover’s paradise. Here are six of the best to visit.
Bordering vibrant cities, lazy fishing villages, verdant deltas and dune-filled deserts, Senegal’s beaches are as diverse as the country itself. From endless expanses to hidden coves, the country’s sandy offerings are tailor-made for all types of beachgoer. So, whether unwinding, drinking, eating or water sports is at the top of your list, Senegal has the beach for you.
Situated on the Cap-Vert Peninsula and almost entirely surrounded by the Atlantic, you don’t need to look very hard to find a beach in Dakar. From private beach clubs to public beach gyms, Dakar’s beaches come in all shapes and sizes, one of which easily fits under the ‘badly-kept secret’ tag: Plage des Mamelles. Tucked away down a dirt track behind the Mamelles roundabout, this short stretch of golden sand is a stunning hideaway sandwiched between the Phare des Mamelles (Mamelles Lighthouse) and the endless ocean. The main draw, though, is the small collection of beach bars, which give Plage des Mamelles its distinctive feel. Think mellow reggae, ice-cold beers and a laid-back atmosphere under the cliffs. With its handmade decorations, lazy seating (hammocks or car seats dug into the sand) and convivial host, Chez Max is the undisputed king of the three and a great place to watch the sun disappear into the horizon after a long day.
Yoff is the widest of Dakar’s 19 communes and the vast majority of its broad northern crown is bordered by the Atlantic. Stretching from the tip of Yoff Tonghor to the outskirts of Pikine, the coast’s length gives rise to its multiple faces: from fishing nets and football games to surfing and sunbathing, no one section is the same. Slap bang in the middle is BCEAO beach, which boasts the most scenic stretch on the Yoff coastline. A stretch where the surf schools cater for every ability. A stretch filled with paillotes (thatched beach huts) and beach mats. A stretch infused with the enticing smell of grilled fish, barbecued at beachside food shacks. It’s also an ideal base camp for those who like taking long sandy strolls (and one of Dakar’s coolest buildings, the Seydina Limamou Laye Mausoleum, is less than 1 mile (1.6km) away). Although, it’s worth noting that on Friday afternoons, the beach becomes a thronging mass of bodies, as young locals swarm out of Friday prayers to play football, while the beach bars here don’t tend to serve alcohol.
A short 10-minute pirogue ride from Ngor beach in the north of Dakar, Ile de Ngor is not technically one beach, but four tiny coves within walking distance of each other. Connected by a labyrinth of cobbled streets, each beach offers up parasols, sunbeds and the most beautiful crystal blue water around Dakar. Throw in a host of water-based activities (surfing, fishing, diving) and a smattering of local restaurants, serving up locally caught fare and cold beers, and Ile de Ngor is the perfect one-stop-shop. The best beach to while away a day in Dakar.
Choosing the best beach on the Petite-Côte is no easy task as it is, in effect, one big beach. Stretching from the outskirts of Dakar to the Sine-Saloum Delta, the ‘Small Coast’ (as opposed to the ‘Grande-Côte’ between Dakar and Saint-Louis in the north), is a string of fishing villages and small towns that share the same endless sandy haven. However, each locale offers up something new, such as the arts and crafts in Toubab Dialao and the oyster-filled lagoon of Somone, but the winner may well be Popenguine. A pilgrimage spot for Senegal’s Catholics, Popenguine boasts perhaps the best restaurant on the Petite-Côte: L’Echo Côtier. Think white table cloths, exquisite seafood, fantastic wines and a private deck, all nestled above a wide-open beach with lapping Atlantic waves.
50 miles (80km) from Dakar and only 15 minutes from the new Blaise Diagne airport is the swanky seaside town of Saly-Portudal. With high-class hotels, casinos and a golf course, Saly is the playboy resort of the Petite-Côte and attracts a large number of French tourists over the European winter. One of the leading drivers behind Saly’s growth is its long arching beach, where palm-fronded hotel-restaurants line the back of the broad sand, while aquamarine water glistens ahead. With a number of beach side businesses offering jet ski hire, windsurfing and sport fishing, this is the perfect beach to indulge in a little bit of the ‘high-roller’ lifestyle at a reasonable price.
There’s a reason that Cap Skirring is the most popular tourist town in Casamance: its seemingly infinite white sandy beach. From Club Med near the airstrip to Bar de la Mer next to the Guinea-Bissau border, Cap Skirring beach offers up 3.5 miles (5.6 km) of uninterrupted coast. With a tropical backdrop of palm trees and bountiful foliage, shimmering Atlantic waters and sugar-like sand, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in the Caribbean. Due to its size, the beach bars, food shacks and hotels are interspersed along the beach and serve up everything from basic one-pot meals to full-on four course meals. Depending on the weather, there may be small waves to surf, but Cap Skirring is begging out for you to whip off your shoes, dig in your toes and walk and walk. Just watch out for the cows.
Before laying out your towel and tucking into Senegal’s sandy delights, there are a few things that every visitor should bear in mind.
– Dress code: swimming trunks and bikinis are fine, but topless sunbathing (by women) is very much a no-no.
– Crowds: akin to Western parks, beaches in Senegal are the main free-to-use, open spaces. As such, they are often used for exercising by locals after work.
– Private beaches: high-end hotels, beach clubs and restaurants, such as Terrou-Bi, Marina Bay and Lagon 1 in Dakar, often have their own private beaches, which tend to cost between USD$10-20 for a day pass.
– Lifeguards: most swimming is unsupervised, so take care when swimming as currents can be strong.
– Water temperature: be aware that the North Atlantic gets cold. Senegal is less extreme, of course, but sea temperatures drop to wetsuit levels between January-April.