Stretching almost 100 km (62 miles) from Dakar to the Sine-Saloum Delta, La Petite Côte is Senegal’s playground. Its pristine sandy beaches, nature reserves and islands made of shells mean there’s something for everyone. Here’s our pick of the best experiences around.
L’Echo-Côtier is perhaps the best restaurant on La Petite Côte. After weaving through the village of Popenguine (the site of an annual pilgrimage for Catholics in Senegal), and walking down a stone staircase to an almost secluded stretch of coastline, you come face-to-face with just one restaurant. One restaurant with sand-covered floors, large white awnings cut like kites and its own raised platform with sun loungers staring out across a golden beach. Luckily, L’Echo-Côtier has the food to match the environment with a delectable selection of starters and main courses that takes its inspiration from the ocean opposite. Think langoustines infused with Pastis, freshly grilled turbot and zesty squid, all washed down with Provençal rosé. For such a heavenly retreat, it’s not even a silly price, although you may want to book ahead if going on the weekend.
Toubab Dialaw (or Dialao) is a fishing village that houses a hidden gem: Espace Sobo Badé. Perched on a cliff-edge above breaking waves, Sobo Badé is the closest you’ll come to Gaudí’s park in Africa. Founded by Haitian-born artist Gerard Chenet, Sobo Badé is a creative hub filled with mosaic fountains, sweeping archways and camel hump huts. Take part in a wide array of classes such as weaving, batik-printing and dance, before relaxing in the candle-lit, thatch-roofed restaurant and hotel.
The Somone lagoon is a draw in itself, but Chez Rasta is its beating heart. Having taken a boat across the lagoon, you are greeted by a homage to Rastafarianism all decked out in the traditional red, gold and green. Primarily it’s a lagoon-side restaurant serving up local fish and rice with smooth reggae wafting out the speakers, but Chez Rasta is also an activity centre offering canoes, kayaks and fishing trips. An ideal spot to while away a lazy day drinking and eating for all the ages.
Unlike other parts of the continent, Senegal isn’t known for its ‘safari’ wildlife. The Niokola-Koba National Park in the south-east offers lions, leopards and elephants, but the park is only guaranteed to be open between December and April and takes an eight-hour drive from Dakar. Step forward Bandia. An ecological park filled with baobabs and grasslands, Bandia has reintroduced some of Africa’s best-loved animals to this part of the continent. Herds of antelopes and gazelles mingle with prancing ostriches, while mischievous monkeys annoy rhinos and buffaloes in Bandia’s 3,500 hectares. Visitors can either rent a jeep or take their own car round the park or even just visit the restaurant-bar (free to enter), which overlooks the crocodile-filled watering hole.
Saly has many faces. To some it’s a playboy town of casinos and golf, to others it’s a French beach resort with European holiday homes. Either way, you’re never short of things to do, especially down on Saly’s beach. Here you can whizz around the bay on jet skis and flyboards (water jet packs) or head out into the ocean blue to catch a trophy fish. Big game fish, such as tuna and blue marlin, pepper Senegal’s coastal currents from September to December, and Saly has a host of companies offering up a trip.
Baobabs are Senegal’s national tree and are found all over the country. During nine months of the year, they are leafless, deformed tree monsters, with fat trunks and waving arms, but during the seasonal rains (July-September), they come alive with bushels of green afros. They also live for thousands of years. In Nianing, a small village 8 km (5 miles) south of Mbour, lives the oldest Baobab in Senegal (supposedly). In fairytale realism, the sacred tree sits right at the heart of a Baobab forest, with a trunk so vast (32 metres (105 feet) in diameter) that you can go inside as if it were a cave. Well, it has been growing for 18 centuries.
At the southern extremity of La Petite Côte, lies the former Portuguese colony of Joal-Fadiouth: Joal, on the mainland, connected by a single bridge to Fadiouth, an island made of shells (‘l’île aux coquillages‘) never touched by motorised transport. Either wander across on your own two feet or hop on a canoe and visit the pod of thatched granaries protruding out of the water like giant mushrooms, before climbing aboard the shell kingdom. One of the main attractions on the island is the cemetery, which is emblematic of Senegal’s religious tolerance. Both Catholic and Muslim communities live here and take the almost unprecedented step of sharing the same burial ground.
After leaving the new state-of-the-art motorway, almost all journeys down La Petite Côte will likely involve cruising along the N1 – a crumbling tarmacked road that is lined with a throng of markets, shops, homes and general hubbub. However, a little before the turning to Saly and Mbour, stands a symbol of peace and serenity: the magnificent Grand Mosque of Gandigal-Est. With its impressive minarets and bulging blue domes, all surrounded by a sub-tropical garden of palm trees, the mosque makes a perfect stopping point on any journey south or north.
Chez Rasta may be the most well-known spot on the Somone Lagoon, but Chez Norbert can lay claim to having the ‘best oysters in Senegal’. Perched on the lagoon’s edge, Chez Norbert is less of a restaurant and more a mollusc-tasting heaven. Large ceramic dishes are brought to the long wooden tables stacked high with freshly-plucked oysters, mussels, clams, whelks and scallops. After leaving mountainous piles of empty shells, the neighbouring shellfish market allows you to go and repeat the exact same trick at home.
Considering Senegal’s love affair with these trees, it may come as no surprise that you can find the world’s only park made entirely of baobabs along La Petite Côte. Accro Baobab Adventure is open for all ages and encompasses rope swings, wooden bridges and a 315-metre (1,033-foot)-long zipline. The trees’ distinctive shape makes them a climbing dream – a hark back to the innocent pleasures of one’s youth. After you’re done conquering the natural playground, unwind in one of the shade-covered hammocks or stretch out in the Moroccan lounge.
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