With its lush tropical landscapes, watered by the graceful, winding Casamance River, and the unique culture of the Diola, this area seems far from Dakar and its surroundings, in every sense. That's what many locals feel as well, so strongly that separatist rebellions have troubled the region for years.
Île de Gorée
Ruled in succession by the Portuguese, Dutch, English and French, the historical, Unesco-designated Île de Gorée is enveloped by an almost eerie calm. There are no sealed roads and no cars on this island, just narrow alleyways with trailing bougainvilleas and colonial brick buildings with wrought-iron balconies – it's a living, visual masterpiece.
The beaches at Cap Skiring are some of the finest in West Africa and, better still, they are usually empty. Most campements and hotels are on the beach, 1km from the village, at the end of a dirt track off the Ziguinchor road. Most hotels offer a mix of activities like kayaking, quad hire and fishing trips. Le Paradise is the best of a row of cheap campements.
Petite Côte & Siné-Saloum Delta
The 150km Petite Côte stretches south from Dakar and is one of Senegal's best beach areas. Where the Siné and Saloum Rivers meet the tidal waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the coast is broken into a stunning area of mangrove swamps, lagoons, forests and sand islands. It forms part of the magnificent 180-sq-km Siné-Saloum Delta.
Mbour & Saly
Eighty kilometres south of Dakar, Mbour is the main town on the Petite Côte and the region's most vibrant and important fishing centre. Nearby Saly, with its strip of big ocean-front hotels, is the heavier weight when it comes to tourism. Mbour's busy, slightly nauseating fish market on the beach, where the catch is immediately gutted and dispatched, is a sight to behold.
Roughly halfway between Ziguinchor and Cap Skiring, relaxed Oussouye is the main town in the Basse Casamance. For the local Diola population, this town is of significance because it's home to an animist king who is often sought for advice. Bikes can be hired and tours booked at Casamance VTT.
Elinkine & Île De Karabane
Elinkine is a busy fishing village and jumping-off point for the peaceful Île de Karabane, a former French trading station (1836–1900). On the island, you can still see the Breton-style church, with dusty pews and crumbling statues and visit the dilapidated cemetery where settlers and sailors were laid to rest.
Parc National de Niokolo-Koba
Niokolo-Koba, at 900 sq km, is Senegal's largest national park. It's listed as a World Heritage Site in danger, as park resources barely suffice to adequately protect the remaining animals (including elephants, lions, warthogs, and various monkey and antelope species). You can explore the park by 4WD, though sightings of the rare mammals are far from guaranteed.
Parc National du Delta du Saloum
Covering over 76,000 hectares of mangrove-lined creeks, sandy islands, large sea areas and woodland, the Parc National du Delta du Saloum is Senegal's second-largest national park. Beyond the mangrove swamps and a large marine section its main attraction is the fantastically varied landscape and the hundreds of bird species it attracts is the south.
Parc National des Oiseaux du Djoudj
With almost 300 species of bird, this 16,000-hectare park is one of the most important bird sanctuaries in the world. Flamingos, pelicans and waders are most plentiful, and large numbers of migrating birds travel here in November. The park is best explored by pirogue. Boats trips can be arranged at the park entrance or at the hotels.