M’Bour, Senegal

Photo: Hotel Le Tama Lodge
Photo: Hotel Le Tama Lodge

Addicted to Africa’s beaches? It’s not surprising. They’re exotic, largely undeveloped, and strikingly beautiful. You’ve snorkeled in Kenya, sailed in Tanzania, paddleboarded in Mozambique, and surfed in South Africa. Plus, there are the islands. You’d give up your firstborn to return to the Seychelles or Mauritius. But what about the west coast? So far, your adventures have been limited to the more-popular east coast. It’s time to change that.

Senegal should be your first west-coast destination. The Atlantic-coast country was a trading post for European superpowers—the Portuguese, the French, the Dutch, and the British—in the 17th and 18th centuries. France eventually colonized the surrounding area and called the territory French West Africa. Tourism has been slow to develop since Senegal gained its independence in 1960. But with 435 miles of coastline, there are plenty of beaches to visit.

The Petite Côte (Small Coast), south of Dakar, might be the country’s best beach area. The village of Saly is quickly becoming a resort town; British tourists like to fly in for long weekends. You opt to head a little farther south, though, to M’Bour. The lively village has a long, golden-sand beach. The powerful aroma of fish fills the air. Brightly colored pirogues line the port, a makeshift market is set up on the sand, and smoke houses are nearby. Depending on the time of day, you might see men practicing their wrestling moves on the sand, kids playing in the water, or women singing rhythmic prayers.

Photo: Hotel Le Tama Lodge
Photo: Hotel Le Tama Lodge

You’re staying at the artsy Tama Lodge. The nine cabins are made of wood, straw, and daub. Their windows look like the eyes of a traditional mask. The beds are made of tree trunks. Handicrafts from the Congo, Mali, and Mauritania decorate the interiors. And the sand is right outside your door. You can kick off your shoes, you won’t need them here.

After a quick swim, claim a hammock. Wood carvings stand guard around you. Coconut tree leaves whisper in the breeze above you. The sound of waves lulls you into a blissful state. You hear horses being led down the beach. A pick-up football match starts nearby. You consider joining, but decide to stay right where you are. You take a sip of coconut water and continue rocking the hammock until the smell of dinner—zebu kebabs and thieboudienne, Senegal’s national dish—lures you away.

Tomorrow, start exploring. Visit a traditional Serere or Fula bush village. See giraffes, zebras, and white rhinos at the Bandia Nature Reserve. Walk over a bridge in Joal to the island of Fadiouth—it’s made of clam shells. Take a ferry to Gorée. The island was once Africa’s largest slave-trading center. It’s museums are fascinating and haunting. And then return to your sandy beach to figure out your next West Africa beach destination.

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