My adventure to Senegal is one I won’t forget in a hurry. Having been on my bucketlist for a while, I just couldn’t wait to hop on the plane when the opportunity came through. Now, the goal was to actually kill 3 birds with one stone on this trip. Explore Senegal, Gambia and Cape Verde in one fell swoop – since they’re all next door neighbours – but I was in for a shocker. Dakar humbled my pocket. I practically got more than what I bargained for – in all ramifications lol. So beautiful a country, yet expensive. But regardless, I had the best time ever. What a rollercoaster experience it was!
So let’s begin. For starters, Senegal is a coastal West African country, bordered by Mauritania in the north, Mali to the east, Guinea to the southeast and Guinea-Bissau to the southwest. It is a predominantly Muslim country with more 90% of the 15million population practicing Islam, while the remaining 10% is split between Christians and traditional religion adherents. French and Wollof are the two most popular languages spoken, alongside six other local languages. And the West African CFA franc is the official currency.
These are the four destinations I visited during my adventurous odyssey in Senegal. The historic and iconic Goree island; the unbelievably beautiful Pink Lake, also known as Lac Rose; the majestic African Renaissance Monument, the tallest of its kind on the continent; and the dare-devil adrenaline Lions Walk experience at the Fathala Wildlife Conservation Park.
This iconic 28-hectare island off the coast of Dakar was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. Originally called ‘Ber’ Island before the invasion and occupation of the colonialists, this historic island was the largest slave trading centre on the African coast from the 15th to 19th century, with more than 20 million slaves passing through. It was ruled in quick succession by the Portuguese, Dutch, English and French colonialists between 1444 and 1960 when Senegal gained independence from France. The island currently has a thriving population of about 2,000 residents, and boasts of its own Mayor, hospitals, schools, markets, churches, mosques and other institutions that makes it a thriving and habitable city. When visiting, look out for the lovely flowers that line the narrow-cobbled streets, the colourful colonial era buildings, the 6-tonne canon, the bunkers, the markets, the restaurants and cafés, and of course the many slave holding houses which have now been converted to museums.
African Renaissance Monument
This majestic monument is a 52m (171ft) tall copper statue located on top of one of the twin hills known as Collines des Mamelles, on the outskirts of Dakar. It is the tallest statue in Africa, designed by a local architect, the legendary Pierre Goudiaby Atepa. Completed in 2010, this statue was meant to symbolize the triumph of African liberation, as well as a tourist destination aimed to rival the Statue of Liberty in New York, and the Eiffel Tower in France. When next you visit, be sure to enter the statue itself for another mind-blowing experience, especially the 3-floors of museums within the statue – and the elevator ride to the 15th floor.
Lac Rose (meaning Pink Lake) is famous for being the only pink lake in Africa. Originally known as Lake Retba, this is a stunning coral pink lake nestled between white sand dunes and the Atlantic Ocean. It has been a source of livelihood for thousands of people from around Senegal and the west coast of Africa who come there for salt harvesting. Its distinct pink colour is caused by the Dunaliella Salina bacteria, which is attracted by the lake’s salt content. The bacteria produces a red pigment in order to absorb the sunlight, thus giving the lake its unique colour. Getting to Lac Rose is about 45 minutes drive from Dakar, and the best time to visit the lake is November – June, primarily because its colour is visible during the dry season (which lasts from November to June) and less during the rainy season (July-October). Be sure to get there between 9am – 1pm so you can experience the dazzling colour in all its glory!
The Lion Walk Experience
The drive to Karang from Dakar for 4 long hours was one of the most anticipated journeys of my travel life. I was about to walk with the kings of the jungle and cuddle their babies. OMG, the adrenaline rush was real! It was a mix of fear, excitement, joy and fulfillment – all wrapped in one.
For starters, Fathala Wildlife Reserve is situated in Karang, Senegal in an area that consists of approximately 6,000 hectares of original and protected forest, providing tourists with the opportunity to visit an endless stretch of the African wilderness in its original condition.
Now back to why I really came. So, the Lion Walk is a 45-minute experience with the majestic 6-year-old Chris and Lisa. They were brought into the park as cubs from South Africa. Mohammed and other handlers in the Reserve nurtured them from infancy till their current age. And yes, lions are known to live up to 10 – 15years.
Coming up close and personal with these beasts is an experience of a lifetime. Their massive head, eyes, skin, teeth, hair, gait and roar are such a wonder to behold. The pleasure of walking and posing with them, taking pictures and videos – and even touching the younger 1-year olds – as well as feed the cubs with milk – gosh! Such an unexplainably beautiful feeling!!
If you are one with a swag, your pictures will come out amazing! The handlers are on standby with your phone to take the best shots while you’re strutting with the jungle royals. For those curious as to the safety of this experience, just relax; be rest assured that you are in good hands. Aside the fact that you have at least three hefty men with you, the lions were practically groomed (from babies to adults) by these handlers for the past 10 years, so they have never had the opportunity to hunt game or taste human blood. Moreover, they are always fed every four days with four big donkeys, so they are never hungry.
Having said that, you are still required to sign an Idemnity form before joining any of the 5 daily Lion Walks – scheduled for 8.30am, 9.30am, 10.30am, 12.30am and 2.30pm. Each session costs 25,000CFA, while the Baby Cubs experience costs 10,000CFA. If you’re doing both, you’re given a 5k discount – to pay 30,000CFA. Finally, here are the rules to note ahead, in order to ensure you feel safe while enjoying the walk:
1. No bags, purses, backpacks or similar items are allowed on the walk
2. Make sure your clothes are not too wide, loose or swingy; and make sure your shoelaces are tied
3. No sunglasses
4. No clothing with animal prints
5. Refrain from running or jumping during the walk. Keep the movement as normal and calm as possible
6. Do not bend or kneel down in front of the lions
7. Never touch the lions or approach the lions without instructions from the lion guides
8. Please speak quietly, calmly and normally; but do not hesitate to ask questions
9. All visitors are reminded that although the lions were raised by the handlers, they are still wild animals, and failure to comply to the above rules could lead to serious harm, to yourself and others
10. Should you wish to end the walk, please feel free to ask the guide. They will escort you to the exit
11. All visitors must sign the indemnity form before participating in the walk with the lions.
Enjoy your Walk with the Kings Of The Jungle!