Back in March I went on an epic trip to Senegal with some of my best friends. Senegal is a French-speaking country on the West coast of Africa and it’s where my lovely friend Sofia has been living for around two years.
I’ve been meaning to share the trip on here for MONTHS, but with job hunting, starting a new job, then flat hunting things have been a little busy. I also wanted to do this trip justice and didn’t want to miss out any of the things we did!
As a travel blogger, I make it my mission to research any place I’m planning to visit for weeks or even months before the actual trip takes place. I’m used to trawling TripAdvisor for the best restaurants, Instagram for the prettiest places, Booking.com for the best hotels and blogs and Lonely Planet for itinerary suggestions. But when Sofia said she’d organise everything for our group, I was kind of relieved. For once, I could just show up at the airport having done almost no research, whilst knowing that our itinerary had been organised by someone who knows all the best places to visit! For those of you who aren’t lucky enough to have someone like Sofia planning everything for you, I thought I’d share our brilliant itinerary.
Our one week itinerary:
- Lisbon layover / stay near Dakar airport
- St Louis (2 nights)
- Lompoul desert
- Dakar (2 nights)
- Camping and kayak
Day 1: Flight to Dakar via Lisbon
There are no direct flights from London to Senegal (that I know of) and the most affordable flights are usually with TAP Air Portugal via Lisbon. Although I would not recommend TAP at all for various reasons, I can recommend leaving Lisbon airport to explore the city if you have a few hours. That’s what we did, and we spent the afternoon browsing shops, drinking sangria and eating delicious Portuguese food.
When we finally arrived at Dakar airport very late at night (after some delays courtesy of TAP) we got a driver to take us to an Airbnb we’d booked by the sea and went straight to bed after hugging Sofia.
Do this: Get out of Lisbon airport! Make the most of the time you have.
Days 2 and 3: Saint Louis
Up early, we picked up a rental car and drove over to beautiful Saint Louis for the weekend. I was so excited to visit this city because I’d seen a few pictures of its colourful colonial architecture (check out Spirited Pursuit’s blog) and I just knew I’d love taking pictures there! On top of that, Saint Louis puts on a great jazz festival every year, and we happened to visit when the festival was on.
Over the course of two days, we enjoyed some concerts at the festival, went to an Electrafrique party, ate poulet yassa (one of Senegal’s most popular dishes), visited the photography museum, and had a lovely lunch at the beach in the Langue de Barbarie national park.
Day 4: Lompoul Desert
After a fun couple of days in the city, we headed to the desert of Lompoul. This amazing place looks like the Sahara desert and is a great place to spend 24 hours.
The five of us stayed in a big white glamping tent, which comes complete with its own toilet and shower. We had a great time taking photos in the sand dunes and trying out sandboarding (like in Peru!) before having a lovely dinner at the ecolodge’s “restaurant” tent.
Do this: take photos with a camel, and sandboard down a dune
Stay & eat here: Lompoul Ecolodge
Days 5 & 6: Dakar
Back to city life for a couple of days in the capital. I really enjoyed discovering what life is like for locals and expats in Dakar. Some of the highlights of these two days include eating at seaside restaurants, watching a sunset from the lighthouse, and getting a seamstress to make me a top using fabric I’d bought at HLM market.
We spent one of our afternoons wandering around beautiful Gorée island, which once was an important slave-trading centre (photos above). It’s strange to think that such a colourful, sunny island has a very dark past. We walked up a hill past some (sometimes pushy) street sellers to see the main memorial and a view of the sea, then walked back down to visit the House of Slaves museum.
Stay here: I stayed at my friend’s place but I think these look great – Pullman for luxury, La Villa 126 for mid-range, Quiksilver Boardriders Surf Camp for a cheaper option. I wouldn’t worry too much about the location because Dakar is a city that’s made for cars, not walking, and taxis are affordable.
Day 7: Kayaking and camping in the mangroves
We left early in the morning and drove to the Sine-Saloum region, stopping for a wonderful lunch at Keur Marrakis. In the afternoon we arrived at the village of Palmarin where we were greeted by Pierre, our guide for the next 24 hours.
After buying a few supplies in the village shop, Pierre took us to our kayaks. Most of us had never kayaked before so getting to our campsite was quite the adventure! We had to make our way though the mangroves, sometimes in very narrow spaces. We crashed into spiky branches and got stuck a few times but thankfully Pierre was there to help us.
Once we got to our campsite, Pierre went to work on our dinner of fresh fish while we explored the area and watched the sunset over the mangroves. When the fish was ready, we sat by the campfire with a few beers, ate with our hands, and chatted away for a few hours before heading to our tents for some well-deserved sleep.
Some of us were very unlucky to get woken up by some flies called mout mout biting them in the middle of the night! I got spared but some of the girls had to finish the night outside!
Eat here: Keur Marrakis for lunch between Dakar and the Sine-Saloum area.
Stay & eat here: a patch of sand by the mangroves! If you want to book the same experience as us, contact Sangomar Kayak. Pierre will pitch the tents for you and cook a nice dinner. Just be aware that the tents and sleeping bags/blankets are very basic and maybe not the cleanest.
Day 8: Simal
The next day, we kayaked back to the village (we got the hang of it at this point!), said our goodbyes to Pierre and drove to our next destination, the Ecolodge de Simal. When we got there the place was incredibly busy with a big group of French tourists, so we were sent to Boundao Lodge for lunch.
Initially we were a bit annoyed but the Boundao (pictured above) turned out to be such a beautiful place. We had a lovely lunch of poulet yassa and a swim in the pool, before relaxing under a mango tree full of bats!
After returning to the Ecolodge de Simal (pictured below), we had showers (finally!) and went for a little boat trip up and down the river organised by the hotel staff. We enjoyed a riverside dinner and cocktails before going back to the cabana for some sleep.
Stay & eat here: I’d go for Boundao Lodge if they have space, otherwise Ecolodge de Simal was good too.
Day 9: Fadiouth Shell Island
We spent the morning lazing by the pool at the Ecolodge before driving to Joal-Fadiouth. After some car troubles (we got a flat tyre TWICE!) which helpful locals saved us from, we made it to La Taverne du Pecheur for a late lunch (I went for poulet yassa again because I love it) overlooking the bridge to Fadiouth Shell Island.
This amazing island is covered in clam shells, which are also used in the cement for building houses. It is car-free, has lots of piglets roaming around, and is the perfect place to pick up a few handmade souvenirs. The most amazing thing about the island has to be how Muslims and Christians live side by side in perfect harmony – even in the cemetery!
After a guided tour of the island, it was sadly time to drive back towards the airport. Before saying goodbye to Sofia, we had a nice dinner at L’Echo Cotier which is only 25 minutes away from the airport. A beautiful setting by the sea for our last meal in Senegal!
Do this: visit Fadiouth Shell Island, it’s a beautiful, unusual place
After only one week in Senegal, I felt like I’d done and seen so much, and had many stories to tell. From flat tyres and mout mout attacks, to a jazz festival and glamping in the desert, we really went through a lot in a short space of time! I had a wonderful time and especially enjoyed the friendliness of the locals we came across. The fact that the country isn’t a typical tourist destination makes it even better in my eyes, so make your way there ASAP!
Are you heading to Senegal?
Send me any questions you have and I’ll do my best to answer them (or rather I’ll ask Sofia for some local knowledge!)