In the last two trips we have run in Senegal in late 2016 and early 2017, we have explored the northern part of Senegal along the river that gives the name the country.
Travel to remote nothern Senegal
Due to the timely conflict and border closure in Gambia because of the former dictator Yahya Jammeh’s refusal to relinquish power and give up his job to the winner of the Adama Barrow elections, we decided to change the initial route and travel through northern Senegal to Kidira, surround the whole country and visit one of the most incredible and less touristy areas of Senegal.
Places to visit in nothern Senegal
January is perhaps the best month to visit Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary, home to one of the largest concentrations of birds in the world.
In addition, we enter the territory of Fouta Toro located in the valley of the Senegal River, Southern Mauritania and Mali, zone in which was founded the old empire of the Tukulor.
We visited Sudanese mosques and adobe villages, we overnight in Peul villages whose women showed proudly their lip tattoos and also traveled throughout northern Senegal to Bakel where we enjoyed camping in the savannah.
Because we left Dakar late waiting for our Guinea Conakry visas, we could not get to Gandiol that afternoon and we had to overnight on the way.
We just took any deviation from the main road and we entered through a sand track arriving at a small Peul town. We don’t know why there were, only women and children living in this village. We asked for permission to camp and while we were setting up the tents they approached us curiously. We were surprised to discover the tattoos that these women have and around their lips.
We started our trip through northern Senegal visiting Saint Louis and its surroundings.
In Gandiol, about 15 km away from Saint Louis, you will find the famous Zebra Bar, a mandatory stop on the trans-Saharan and trans-African routes, especially if you come from the arid Sahara, which is the perfect base for visiting the region.
Saint Louis city, located on the Atlantic coast and in the mouth of Senegal River, is clearly divided into three zones: the mainland, the island of N’Dar (the historical part) and the peninsula Guet N’Dar (Langue de Barbarie) where you will find one of the most spectacular fishing ports in this part of Africa with another bridge to the mainland.
Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary
If we visit Saint Louis from November to March and especially in January, we cannot miss a visit to the nearby Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary.
Each year, thousands of birds migrate from southern and eastern Africa, Europe and Asia to the wetlands of the Senegalese coast to breed, feed, escape from winter or as a transit zone to other skies. Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary is the third largest bird reserve in the world.
Our visit to Djoudj N.P. in January was a wonderful experience one of the best in Africa.
Early in the morning we saw monkeys, a crocodile, a barano, some warthogs and particularly an incredible variety and quantity of birds, but without a doubt the boat trip to the pelicans breeding island was just amazing.
We stayed in the community camp at the entry of Djoudj N.P. We were surprised by the local’s hospitality with us when we were looking for dinner. We discovered a curious village with little adobe houses and nomadic tents.
The town of Podor, border with Mauritania
Podor, a historic city used by the French as a commercial port for goods, has beautiful colorful buildings. Today Podor is a quiet village from which we can see and cross to Mauritania on the other side of the river.
We enter the country Tukulor, traditionally warrior people that inhabit northern Senegal, southern Mauritania and Mali.
On our way we reach really traditional villages without electricity and muddy houses, farmland next to the Senegal River and semi-arid plains dotted with acacias.
We move on dusty tracks, our truck raises an enormous cloud of dust on its way. We feel like we are traveling through a really remote area. From time to time we come across pastors leading their flocks.
On the banks of the river Senegal women wash their clothes, after a herd of zebu drinks water and in the background we hear the mosque on the Mauritanian side calling to prayer.
Sudanese style mosques in Senegal
We go to Donaye where there is a Sudanese style mosque built around year 1870 by the Tukulor.
Donaye is a very beautiful village, open to the river. We thought about staying there at night but the insistence of some of the children asking for a “cado” (gift) made us continue travelling a few more kilometers to the east.
Not three kilometers driven when we found a beautiful river beach with an open space, large enough for our camp. And there by the river, we took a bath, washed our clothes, set up the tents, cooked and when we realized we had a sky full of stars above our heads.
This is one of the advantages of traveling overland by truck in Senegal and being self-sufficient, that we can overnight in fantastic places.
On the other hand and because of the proximity to the Sahara desert by day there is a blazing sun and at night the temperatures drop considerably.
The next morning we continued travelling through Tukulor territory and we discovered more adobe villages and mosques on Morphil Island. Back on the main road, we found a tarmac road but in bad conditions, with terrible holes up to Kidal.
Again in an acacias forest we set up the tents in a small settlement. The inhabitants, as their traditions, invited us for a tea at home.
From Kidal to Kidira, beautiful journey
The next day we continued towards Kidal and Kidira.
The miles passed by and we noticed how the landscape changed, we enjoyed the baobab forests, these big trees with strange appearance that makes you feel as if you were in another world.
If the country Tukulor seemed remote, then the surroundings of Kidal seemed of another planet. Primitive villages, big baobabs, monkeys and baboons and huge herds of zebus is what we found on our way.
It was in one of these beautiful baobab forests, in the savannah, where we set up camp for the third consecutive night.
Further on we continued to Velingara and Gambia, which had just reopened the borders after its former dictator left the country.