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Petite Côte - A view from our expert author
Five-star resorts and fine dining jostle for space with chilled-out beach bars and backpacker haunts along the Petite Côte’s 100km stretch of beach.
At the very heart of Senegal’s tourism industry, the sun-soaked shores and gentle blue waters of the Petite Côte are prime postcard material, and tens of thousands of visitors flock here annually, tracing the countless wing-beats of their avian neighbours also headed south for some winter sun. The coast is home to an eclectic cluster of settlements, but this is the one part of Senegal where package tourism is truly king, and many visitors see no more of the country than their resort and the route to the airport. (And even this trip is set to shrink with the opening of Blaise Diagne International Airport, positioned barely 30km from Saly, with exactly these visitors in mind.)
Still, there are something like a dozen easily accessible settlements scattered along the shore here, and while all enjoy their own slice of the dazzling waterfront for which the coast here is famous, they are otherwise an incongruous and enticingly eclectic mix, offering everything from djembe dance lessons and dibiterie to hot stone massage and charcuterie. Thus, whether you’re seeking authenticity and starry nights or indulgence and laser lights, there’s room enough for all on the sands of the Petite Côte. In sharp contrast to the windswept Grande Côte to the north, the waterfront here is protected from strong ocean currents by the Cap Vert peninsula; the Petite Côte traces a white sand arc for nearly 100km southeast from Dakar, until it finally trails off into the serpentine channels and mangrove islands of the Sine Saloum Delta at Joal-Fadiouth. Between these two points, life for both tourists and locals largely revolves around one thing: the beach. Every morning in Mbour, sinewy, sure-footed fisherman hurl their pirogues into the water and manhandle their shimmering, fish-laden nets back out by night, while a few kilometres up the sand in Saly, well-oiled Europeans bronze themselves (or attempt to), try their hands at all variety of watersports, or sip drinks whose colours compete with the landscape for the title of most tropical.