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Senegal... a toe in the water!

Dave Williams

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Dave Williams

I guess a lot of members of ST would dismiss the idea of a fly and flop holiday on the West African coast but from previous experience I think a package holiday is a great way of dipping a toe in the water to get a feel for a new destination. I also have to consider budget too and when I spotted a 2 week all inclusive package at a recently opened Riu hotel for just £2007 for myself and my o/h Claire, it was a no brainer. Having not long previously had a 34 night self drive trip around South Africa it was only fair to give Claire the sort of holiday she enjoys, fly and flop on a sunbed with a good book to read.

Me? Well, it was what it was, I'd find out when I got there.I have been to neighbouring The Gambia many times and it's perfect from our point of view. Our favoured hotel there has excellent birding in the local vicinity. I can wander off at will and return as and when to have a brief sit on the sunned, a dip in the pool or whatever. We are both kept occupied in the way we want to be. The question was how would it be in Pointe Sarene where the Riu Baobab was situated? Looking at Google maps I could see that the hotel was situated on a stretch of coast which isn't particularly well developed. There was hope there then. The famous Saloum Delta was not that far away, around 50kms or so. That might be doable! Other than that it was hope for the best.

To get to Senegal isn't that easy from the UK, or at least it wasn't until TUI decided to add it to their portfolio of destinations from this November. The country is a former French colony which gained independence in 1960. French is widely spoken but the suggestion English isn't was wide of the mark. I was surprised how many spoke it and did so well. Communication wasn't the problem I imagined it might be.

Unfortunately for me though TUI only fly from Gatwick airport in the south of England so that meant a five and a half hour journey and a pre departure hotel the night before. As the flights are currently restricted to one a week on a Monday, it meant the road was at least quiet on a Sunday as we headed south. The Travelodge at Gatwick airport just £36 for a room was very convenient and the arranged "Meet and Greet" parking just a short drive away...more of that later!!

That was it then. A five hour plus flight and we landed in Dakar airport which is south of the city centre and the right side for the direction we were travelling. The airport is impressive, we sailed through fairly quickly and were soon I a convoy of four coaches heading down the motorway. The journey took an hour and a half. The motorway ended just outside Senegal's second city Mbor, and that was slow going with nose to tail traffic. Prior to that I had been impressed with how green everywhere looked, especially after having flown over the deserts of Mauritania and Western Sahara. Once past Mbor though the road opened up but by now it was dark and there wasn't too much to see. our TUI rep explained that we should stay on the coach, we were last in the queue, until each coach was dealt with which they were in efficient style with plenty of hotel staff on hand to give a very friendly greeting, stack bags and cases to one side ready to be sent up to the rooms whilst everyone checked in. Meantime we had all been manacled with the usual all inclusive plastic band around your wrist. Whilst most stood in the queue for check in Claire and I went and sat at the bar and enjoyed a few G&T's until there was no one left! The omens were good, the drinks were quality brands like Gordons ,Absolut and Havana ! Our room keys obtained we had a quick refresh before heading to dinner whilst it was still open.

The first nights meal was superb. All self service, which is not a problem other than tempting gluttony, but the choice was vast. The jumbo prawn curry was to die for! 

It had been a long day so it was an early night in our very comfortable room.

So far so good!




Edited by Dave Williams
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This is going to be interesting, looking forward to more.

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Dave Williams

The next morning we were up early and headed off to another vast array of food choices for breakfast. It was a good job the walk from our room to the main restaurant and back was 0.95km. I was going to need as much exercise as I could get so armed with my camera/lens ( I only took my R5 and 100-500mm lens plus a 1.4TC) and a spare battery off I went having first left Claire installed on a sunbed in a quiet spot which was another good walk from our room. Leaving our hotel grounds I headed off down the beach to a distant point where I could see a rocky headland . the beach was almost deserted and it was like that more most of the week. Very few of our fellow guests ventured away from the hotel, the swamp bar and the sunbeams. That suited me just fine!

The beach was a beautiful golden sand which sadly was covered in rubbish washed up from the Atlantic. I'm pretty certain that it's not all of Senegalese origin either.It makes you wonder about the state of our oceans.



Some parts were more polluted than others. The stretch in from to the hotel was kept clean by a team who raked it every day, but the returning tide brought more each day. It's truly a sad sight to behold.



My search on Google Earth had shown there was the possibility of an inland lagoon which was probably topped up during winter storms. Despite all the rubbish there was an interesting number of species in and around the water. I was later to find that much was dependant on tidal activity. As the tide retreated more and more birds appeared on the beach offering excellent photo opportunities  of several wader species. Overhead, Osprey were flying out in search of breakfast. Some returning successfully!

52571141492_eddcacb1df_b.jpgOsprey.   BY440.  Senegal. by Dave Williams, on Flickr


The first morning had proved to be very successful but I needed more to keep me occupied for two weeks.

That's when I got lucky and met up with two other guests who were by their own admission, novice birders and photographers. They had acquired a local who was determined he was not going to let them get away easily! being experienced in this kind of hassle I intervened and sent him on his way. Slightly aggrieved at my intervention he refused my offered parting handshake but hey ho!

Evelyn and Mick were to be my birding companions for the next two weeks. I could help them spot and identify just about all the birds we saw, and our final list made it to 97 which wasn't too bad a figure all told. In return I had someone who was keen to take a couple of trips with whom to share the costs. A win win then!

Confident of my abilities to deal with the locals I entered a debate on how much a taxi to the Saloum Delta with a boat trip thrown in would cost. I think somewhere in the region of 160 euro was mentioned. TUI were offering trips to the area but they were asking that much for just one person, not three of us and besides they included visits to an orphanage , a local village and so on. We weren't interested in that.

So, before forking out the 160 euro I decided we'd do a test run . The boys knew a place where the pelicans fish not far away. It was about 11kms as it turned out.

The price of about £20 was agreed and a taxi was called.To my surprise, not only were there the three of us but the car also ended up with a driver and three locals! When I asked why they were coming too I got the reply "security"!

Off we went then and at quite some speed in this battered old 7 seater !

The road south was all rural  and after some debate we turned off somewhere where our three guides/minders asked for directions. They were lost!!!

Anyway, back on track we were taken down to the beach area on the inland side of a lagoon not dissimilar from the one near the hotel. It was immediately obvious that this trip wouldn't work out well as a) it was a fairly long walk through the undergrowth alongside the lagoon to get to the point where the Pelicans supposedly fish but more importantly b) photography would be impossible as we were looking straight in to the sun.

The boys were keen to know how this test had gone and I'm afraid I had to tell them the truth.


I told them there was probably good business to be made as birding guides but they must first learn where to look, what the species were and when was the best time to visit.

In fairness they took my comments in good stead and understood my decision not to give them any further business.


I'm not sure how a trip to the Saloum Delta would have panned out but  wasn't risking 160 euros to find out.






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Dave Williams

My new found friends  Evelyn and Mick had, via the web and before they arrived, arranged a trip to the wildlife reserve at Bandia. They thoroughly enjoyed it but it is more akin to a zoo in many ways, well the predators are anyway. As all the animals are reintroduced they don't want the Lions eating the new arrivals, the Hyenas either. They I am told have separate areas which some criticised as being a bit inadequate in space. The Lions are encouraged to clamber over the guided tourist vehicles giving the occupants the closest of sightings ever imaginable, protected only by some sort of mesh wire I believe. It's not something I want to see but not everyone can afford a full blown safari nor understand the basic needs of wild animals for that matter. 

They had also arranged a separate trip with a birding guide to which I was invited and did tag along. The guide spoke excellent English and certainly knew his bird species it seemed, however, whereas I thought we were heading to the Saloum Delta we were in fact heading elsewhere as I realised when I checked my map which confirmed we were heading in the wrong direction. I was a bit taken aback but it was my fault , I'd had a copy of the proposed itinerary and for an extra 30 euros I had been added to the original 125 quote. Oh well, we'd see what the day brought us.

Picked up at 6.45 am we had to battle through the traffic of Mbor once again before arriving at the place our guide lived not long before 10am. Difficult to describe it was a kind of suburbia before stretching out to cultivated land. We found quite a few birds in and around the dusty tracks that existed between his neighbours walled compounds. Hindsight would prove that there were just three species we couldn't have found locally to the hotel .The next stop , a boat trip not in the Saloum but the local Somone lagoon. A supposedly protected area there were people apparently breaking the law  by walking on the sandbanks and in to the mangroves to collect shellfish. There were still an impressive number of birds , mainly Grey-headed Gulls and Caspian Terns, roosting on the sand though and it was an enjoyable if relatively short ride. The drive back took us through Mbor again and the half day trip lasted until about 2.45 in total so longer than we imagined we'd be out. 

Our guide had to drive through Mbor four times for that trip.We contacted him a week or so later after we'd been to the Saloum Delta by which time we'd also found another excellent local birding spot but he was unimpressed by our suggestion that it would make more sense for hime to head on south to Saloum as well as taking in the local birding. It was actually less mileage and better birding but he said the area around the hotel was being developed and there would be no birds there soon. He was correct that there are plans to double the capacity of the hotel to 1000 rooms and yes, there was building going on nearby but it would take a few years to totally destroy the local surrounds from a birding perspective.



There are a couple of considerations though, where there is water you can't build so birds will still be attracted there. However during the time we were there in early December the rate at which the water was evaporating as the temperatures rose was quite astounding. Perhaps by January a lot of these bird magnets would be gone until the next rains. I thought I'd throw that in the mix in case someone reads my report and books a trip this winter!



This last spot was about a mile, 2km, from our hotel and proved to be very productive indeed. Not only for waders but for a variety of other birds too.

Out of a final count of 97 species seen nearly 90 were within this sort of range of the hotel. Some were seen only once, others could be virtually guaranteed everyday.



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Dave Williams

Well for those interested I have included all the birds I managed to photograph in Senegal in my Big Year 2022 thread. Having wrongly identified a couple the final count was 95 I think.

The local birding was indeed enough to keep me occupied but I was dying to see what the Saloum Delta had to offer. If truth be known it was a little disappointing on the species count but quantity made up for that !

I decided that we would be better with the tried and tested guide that Evelyn and Mick had used to go to Bandia after he had organised a trip to Dakar and surrounds for the three of us plus Claire. This after all wasn't a birding trip although I took my camera along just in case.

No the highlight, if you can call it that, was a trip to Goree Island, the staging post for slavery where the unfortunate many were held before being sent to the Americas.



It's a short ferry ride from the centre of Dakar and is now the home to 1800 people nearly all who ironically live on the back of tourism.

 I was very moved by the appalling experience it must have been to be taken in to slavery.What's equally disturbing is that there are still many racist people in the world today. We can't turn back the clock but we can at least treat everyone with the respect they are entitled to no matter what religion or race they belong to. All lives matter

After Goree Island we had a tour of the sights of Dakar, not that the majority are that spectacular, but the monument to those who were to live and die in slavery is both impressive and huge too.



The trip ended with a visit to the stretch of dunes and beach which marks the end of the Paris-Dakar Rally and a short 4x4 ride in a clapped out Land Rover which in hindsight we were fortunate made the journey back to the starting point. There was an almighty bang and the exhaust system fell off as we reached the end! Having seen the traffic in Dakar, this vehicle wasn't that unusual in it's condition. The traffic was numbing and of our 14.5 hours spent on the trip at least 8 was in a traffic jam with horrendous fumes from the vehicle emissions. Not the best way to spend a day but there you go.It was worth doing, and we all agreed too.

The other trip on the other hand avoided all built up areas and headed south to the Saloum.What a joy that made in comparison.

We had asked to get to the Saloum as early as possible and told our guide we simply wanted to take a 3 hour boat trip and then return to our hotel. Arriving at 8am made no difference as the boat didn't go until 9.00am. I'm not sure if the boat had been arranged before we got there or when we arrived. Anyway, we found some good subject matter .

52581034387_51b10bee39_b.jpgWestern Reef Egret.  BY472 by Dave Williams, on Flickr

We'd wanted to make the best of the "Golden hour" but by the time we set sail it was getting on the bright side.



The trip was very enjoyable, I have never seen so many Pelicans. Cormorants and Gulls in one roost as they were on the sandbanks that day.

What we hadn't expected ...or asked for ....was a lunch stop.



Unfortunately Mick is allergic to fish and prawns and that was what was on the menu. We could hardly say don't bother but our guide, the driver and the captain of the boat were all expecting to be fed. It took about 90 minutes to prepare and BBQ everything which was a long time to kill on a little sandy strip of land with little to see although we did get lucky and had our only Vultures, Rupell's Griffons, fly overhead.

By the time we returned to the hotel it was mid afternoon so good value for our 60 euro per person fee.

So that just about wraps up my impression of Senegal.

The coastal strip from Dakar to Mbor is not particularly attractive. The Saloum Delta is vast and we only scratched the surface. The Riu Baobob is definitely worth a visit but go now as there are big plans to develop the area in to a tourist destination and the wildlife will no doubt suffer as a result. 

The people of Senegal were all very welcoming and friendly. What's not to like!

If you want a safari type holiday in Senegal then you had better read @Pictus Safarisreport . I'm sure inland there are some excellent and as yet largely undiscovered spots. Personally at the moment I would prefer to fly and flop to The Gambia where there are far more recognised bird guides and organising a day out is easy, an overnight or two "up river" is well worth the effort .... and discomfort too! Senegal might catch up though. There are plenty of Europeans looking for winter sun and it's only 6 hours at most from the UK. Currently there are only 4 recognised bird guides in the whole of the country. If they latch on then maybe it will actually benefit the wildlife , it's a big tourism draw after all. 

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