Road-trip­ping Sene­gal: Ex­pe­ri­ence Africa’s west coast by car

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE TRAVEL - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Dakar, Sene­gal

From dizzy­ing Dakar to vi­brant Saint-Louis, Sene­gal pul­sates with rich cul­ture, history and charm.

If you want to ex­pe­ri­ence it all — from bustling cities to sleepy, sea­side vil­lages — hop in a rental car, charge up your fa­vorite nav­i­ga­tion de­vice or app, brush up on your con­ver­sa­tional French, and start your road trip across Africa’s col­or­ful west­ern coast.

Dakar for the mu­sic, and the art lover

Sene­gal’s largest city perched on the tip of the CapVert penin­sula is an ideal start­ing place for your jour­ney.

Spend the af­ter­noons fill­ing your suit­cases with trin­kets and T-shirts from the cap­i­tal’s many fre­netic street mar­kets.

For a more serene shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence, head to La Ga­lerie An­tenna. This African art mecca boasts an im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of sculp­tures, paint­ings, masks and jew­elry from across the con­ti­nent.

Rest up and head out after mid­night to ex­pe­ri­ence Dakar’s thriv­ing mu­sic scene at a lo­cal bar or club. After your late night, re­group by the beach at one of Dakar’s lux­ury ho­tels.

While most of Sene­gal is sur­pris­ingly driv­able, Dakar traf­fic is not for the faint of heart. Be pre­pared for a gen­eral dis­re­gard of road signs and dis­com­bob­u­lat­ing round­abouts.

Some rental-car pack­ages in­clude driv­ers or one can be ar­ranged through your ho­tel.

Or hop in taxis for short trips. They’re abun­dant and in­ex­pen­sive. Be sure to check rates with a lo­cal be­fore hail­ing a ride and ne­go­ti­ate the fare with your driver in ad­vance.

Goree Is­land for history buffs

An af­ter­noon (at least) spent ex­plor­ing the history and ar­chi­tec­ture of Ile de Goree is a must when visit­ing Dakar.

The UNESCO World Her­itage site was a ship­ping point for African slaves dur­ing the 16th through 19th cen­turies.

The is­land’s most fa­mous and sober­ing at­trac­tion, Mai­son des Es­claves (SlaveHouse), has had many high-pro­file vis­i­tors, in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Obama in 2013. It is now a mu­seum and me­mo­rial site serv­ing as sym­bol for the larger slave trade through­out Africa.

You can eas­ily book a tour guide when you ar­rive, but the small, tran­quil is­land is quite walk­a­ble on your own.

Take in the scenic ocean views, col­or­ful, crum­bling ar­chi­tec­ture, shops and street ven­dors be­fore din­ing on fresh fish at the hill­top res­tau­rant, Dolce Vita.

Fer­ries leave reg­u­larly from Dakar’s main port and cost $9 round trip.

Saint-Louis for day trip­pers

Crav­ing a quick trip out­side the city? Head 320 kilo­me­ters north to the French colonial set­tle­ment Saint-Louis.

This lively fish­ing com­mu­nity con­nects to the his­toric city cen­ter, a small is­land in the Sene­gal river brim­ming with colonial charm.

Rem­i­nis­cent of New Or­leans, Saint-Louis boasts bou­tique ho­tels, trendy restau­rants, gal­leries and an an­nual jazz fes­ti­val.

Don’t miss Sene­galese de­signer Rama Diaw’s bou­tique, which fea­tures col­or­ful and wear­able cloth­ing and ac­ces­sories for women.

If you have the time, head far­ther north to the lush wet­lands of the Djoudj Na­tional Bird Sanctuary, an­other UNESCOWorldHer­itage site.

On your way back to Dakar stop by Lake Retba, Sene­gal’s “pink lake”, about an hour out­side of the cap­i­tal. The wa­ter may ap­pear more murky than rosy de­pend­ing on the sea­son and time of your visit.

Glamp­ing and wildlife

Fathala Wildlife Re­serve of­fers glamp­ing, with three­course meals and lux­ury air­con­di­tioned tents, near the Gam­bia bor­der, about 260 kilo­me­ters from Dakar, de­pend­ing on your route.

Ex­cur­sions range from jeep sa­faris to man­grove boat tours. The at­trac­tion started as a con­ser­va­tion project for an an­te­lope, the Gi­ant Derby eland, but an­i­mals from other parts of Africa can be seen here, too, such as ze­bras and gi­raffes.

The lone rhi­noc­eros is known for his nightly pil­grim­age to the smartly placed wa­ter­ing hole in front of the din­ing area.

It’s din­ner with a show.

PHO­TOS BY NI­COLE EVATT / AP

Left: A side street on the Ile de Goree, or Goree Is­land, off the coast of Dakar, Sene­gal. Right: The beach­side pool at the Ter­rou-Bi ho­tel in Dakar, Sene­gal. From dizzy­ing Dakar to vi­brant Saint-Louis, Sene­gal pul­sates with rich cul­ture, history and charm.

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