South and East Africa are home to the world’s most popular safari destinations. South Africa. Botswana. Zimbabwe. Tanzania. Kenya. Everyone knows that their national parks are vast, their animals are fascinating, and their lodges are luxurious. That means you’ll have spots in West Africa all to yourself.
Senegal is known for its exciting capital, colonial architecture, heart-stopping historic sites, and gorgeous beaches. No one comes here for its reserves or wildlife. Most people don’t even know that it has reserves and wildlife. But there’s an area in the southwest corner of the country that resembles the great Serengeti.
Fatick, a region along the border of the Gambia, doesn’t look like the rest of the country. This is where the Serer people—Senegal’s third-largest ethnic group—live. Their ancient monuments line the Sine River. They led an uprising, the Battle of Logandème, against the country’s French colonizers in 1859. While they’ve managed to retain some of their long-standing traditions, including njom (wrestling) and sabar (drumming), to this day.
During the last few decades, some of the Serer’s land has been preserved to keep the African wilderness in its original condition. The Fathala Wildlife Reserve was established south of Toubakouta, one of their main villages, in 2006. Its 6,000 hectares still contain their original forest, including many massive baobab trees. Rare herds of Lord Derby elands, antelopes only found in this part of Africa, live here. Burchell’s zebras, patas monkeys, African forest buffalo, and white rhinos do, too.
It’s possible to experience the Fathala Wildlife Reserve on a day trip. You can visit the lion encounter, go on a game drive, and be back in Dakar for a late dinner if you make a long day of it. But why rush it? The reserve has its own lodge with tented suites, an open-air restaurant, and a long pool. The suites have four-poster beds and freestanding bathtubs. The Mahogany Restaurant & Lounge serves seafood with a view of a waterhole and the Senegalese bush. While colorful Abyssinian rollers, which make screeching sounds like crows, hang out by the pool, where cold cocktails will be served before you head back out on a sunset drive. This is a game-changer for African safaris.