A sunny new frontier: Senegal’s offering bargain-basement winter breaks – and now you can fly direct
- The British tour operator Tui has launched its first direct-flight, package-tour holidays to Senegal
- Rob Crossan checks into Riu Baobab resort, which lies on the ‘fudge-yellow sands’ along Senegal’s coast
- A 4×4 drive takes him around the nearby Bandia Reserve, home to a wealth of giraffes, eland and zebras
- He says that Senegal will soon be ‘on the radar of those of us keen to escape the rigours of a British winter’
The creaking seems to be nothing more than the gentle listing of the wooden pirogue boat as it softly lolls on the green-tinged waters of the Sine-Saloum delta.
But the creaking is actually the sound of dinner in this coastal region of Senegal. What I can hear are oysters slowly opening their shells in cages submerged along the delta’s edge.
They are then caught and cooked by the Serer people, one of the dominant groups in this West African coastal region, which has just become a whole lot easier to access from the UK.
Vibrant nation: Rob Crossan checks into the gargantuan Riu Baobab resort in Senegal. Tui has launched its first direct-flight, package-tour holidays to the West African country, he reveals
British tour operator Tui has launched its first direct-flight, package-tour holidays to Senegal — a country where, up until now, tourism has been almost entirely made up of visitors from France, the colonial ruler of this vast nation until 1960.
My experience of floating serenely through the Sine-Saloum Delta was probably the quietest moment I had in this vibrant West African nation.
Riu Baobab resort is the fulcrum for Tui’s entry into Senegal: a white-washed behemoth with more than 500 rooms on the fudge-yellow sands of the Atlantic coast.
It’s around a 75-minute drive along the flat, acacia and scrub-dominated landscape from the international airport in the capital city, Dakar.
There are local touches to my room, with wooden masks and large black-and-white art prints of djembe drums on my wall.
The Riu Baobab resort is a 75-minute drive along the flat, acacia and scrub-dominated landscape from the international airport in the capital city, Dakar (above)
Though this is far from a boutique safari-esque experience. The tubby, middle-aged men drinking lager and eating chicken nuggets in the swim-up alfresco bar remind me of a flooded Wetherspoons.
And although there are Senegalese options on the menu, the main restaurant buffet is predominantly stocked with British staples.
A winter temperature of 30c is one draw; another is the all-inclusive option (it works out from £116.50 per day, per person with all food and alcohol), which is remarkable value, especially factoring in the water slides for children, evening entertainment and live music.
Rob finds that there’s a predominantly British crowd at Riu Baobab resort (above)
Riu Baobab resort’s all-inclusive option works out from £116.50 per day, per person with all food and alcohol
The local infrastructure can be dodgy, as I find during a seven-hour power blackout one evening, which means eating our dinner and finding the way to our rooms by mobile phone light. But these appear to be teething problems borne with good humour by the predominantly British crowd.
If you’re used to the vast expanse of the Kruger National Park in South Africa or Chobe in Botswana, then you’ll probably consider the day trip to the nearby Bandia Reserve something of a playpen.
But within its 13 square miles is a wealth of giraffes, eland, buffalo, zebras, sunbirds and even a couple of rhinos who, sadly, decided not to make an appearance during my 4×4 drive around. At the centre of the reserve is a baobab tree that holds a dark secret.
For, in a tradition dating back centuries and only outlawed in 1962, this baobab trunk (along with many others in Senegal) was used as a burial ground for sages, singers, musicians, poets and storytellers, known as griots to the Serer people.
Rob goes on a serene boat trip through the green-tinged waters of the Sine-Saloum delta (above)
Guests staying at the Riu Baobab resort can take a day trip to the nearby Bandia Reserve (pictured), home to a wealth of zebras
Sunbirds are native to Senegal and its Bandia Reserve, Rob reveals
Most human skeletons have now been removed but a skull remains on show at the base of the tree in Bandia.
Back at the resort I can’t resist taking one last dawn walk along the beach as the sun tips its hat upwards towards another day of balming heat. The undertow tug of the Atlantic warns me to keep my sea adventures to nothing more than a toe-tickling dip.
Yet the fishermen in the village of Pointe Sarene, a 30-minute walk from the resort, are hardier than me, tugging their pirogue boats towards the shore at 7am loaded with a nocturnal catch of dorada and captain fish.
I venture inside a shack on the shoreline that sells everything from soap powder to car axles and partake in a cup of touba coffee infused with cloves, which is quite a bargain at 70CFA (around 9p) for a cup. I suspect Senegal will shortly be on the radar of those of us keen to escape the rigours of a British winter.
TUI offers seven nights at the 4T+ Riu Baobab on an all-inclusive basis from £816 pp. Price is based on two adults sharing a double room with balcony or terrace, departing from London Gatwick on January 9, 2023, including transfers. See tui.co.uk, visit a TUI store or download the app.
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