Toubakouta, Senegal

Photo: Les Palétuviers Boutique Hotel

Birdwatching in a baobab forest. A lion walk. A louma market. An oyster tasting on a golden-sand beach. Pre-dawn fishing in a proa boat. A tea ceremony. There’s a lot more to do and see in southwest Senegal than you ever expected.

You’ve been to Senegal a handful of times. Correction. You’ve been to Dakar a handful of times. Aside from day trips to nearby beaches, you’ve always stuck pretty close to the capital. It’s not surprising. Dakar is an alluring, exciting city that’s constantly changing. It feels like you’re just starting to peel back all of its layers. So a trip south wasn’t a priority.

It is now. Fatick, a region that borders 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 their French colonizers in 1859. Plus they’ve managed to retain some of their long-standing traditions, including njom (wrestling) and sabar (drumming).

Photo: Les Palétuviers Boutique Hotel

This trip starts to coalesce when you discover Les Palétuviers. The boutique hotel is in a pretty town called Toubakouta, where motor-scooter taxis zip around and honey is made in the mangroves. The hotel is surrounded by baobab trees along the water. Bright-yellow weaver birds live in their branches. You have the option to sleep near them in your own treehouse-style room. The bungalows are more your style, though. The freestanding buildings have whitewashed walls and thatched roofs. Most importantly, they sit right on the sand.

The circular pool is just steps away, as well. It’s surrounded by white sun loungers and oversized cushions. Fresh fruit juice is squeezed at the open-air bar. Evenings begin with boat rides around Bird and Shell Islands. Three-course dinners and French wines are served on the terrace at night. White lights are strung overhead. Millions of stars hover over them. While everything else seems so very far away. You just revealed another layer of Senegal.

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