Too gorgeous to be real, one may say: With an average rainfall greater than the rest of Senegal, Casamance is a real Garden of Eden, one of the world most treasured destinations at the heart of Sahel.
Senegal holds a strong reputation as one of Africa’s model democracies: politically and economically stable, the country rarely falls into the stereotype of tribal wars and political coups that plague the rest of the Continent.
Located at the south-east of Senegal, between Guinea Bissau and Gambia, Casamance’s luscious vegetation displays a striking contrast with the rest of the Sahelian country.
Senegal is a transition country between the Sahara desert in the north and the Sudanian Savanna in the south. It has a pleasantly tropical climate with average temperatures of between 26° and 30°c, with uninterrupted sunshine from November through to May, and a short rainy season between June and October. The capital and the largest city of Senegal is Dakar.
Casamance belongs to the Zinguinchor region, comprising upper and lower regions.
The Casamance Cap Skirring beaches are, by all standards, the Senegalese response to the American Siesta Beach in Sarasota, Florida.
The overwhelming sense of space along the vast beaches, even at the height of the tourist season, makes them even more attractive, calming and intimate than the Florida ones.
The people, the lush tropical forest, the palm-fringed sandy beaches, the perfect ocean temperatures, all add the extra splash that most of the manufactured northern beaches lack.
A real heaven on earth, these secluded beaches are ideal for those looking for privacy during their break to spend quality time, either alone, in a couple, or with the family. You will be away from those beaches where tourists are hanging around to display either their latest eccentric bikinis, tattoos or boob jobs.
The variety of bamboos, palm trees, coco trees, giant kapok trees, and sapodilla trees with their delicate fruits, add some spark to the magnificent landscape.
The flora is composed of such exotic plants as silk-cotton trees, African teaks, mangroves, gingerbread plums, acacias, African locust beans, mango trees, palm trees, kapok trees, baobabs, and coconut trees, to list only a few.
The rich animal life of Senegal includes elephants, lions, hippopotamuses, buffaloes, leopards, hares, antelopes, chimpanzees, monkeys, wart hogs, jackals, tortoises, lizards and snakes. There are migratory birds such as bustards, quails, ducks, spatulas, ospreys, sparrows, black rails, crowned ibises, little bee-eaters, and guinea fowls.
The colourful marine life of the coast of Senegal sports swordfish, oysters, marlins, barracudas and tunas.
Casamance remains a destination consumed by its tourism industry, because it has been an area forbidden by regulations for more than 25 years, due to fighting between the Senegalese army and the separatist guerrillas, the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MDFC).
Casamance accepted Islam only relatively recently and, until 1886, was a Portuguese colony and shared more in common with Guinea-Bissau.
In Casamance, white people are known as “Lolum”, different from the more common Wolof term “Toubab”.
Air Senegal offers scheduled and chartered flights from the UK to Dakar and Bajul, which is twelve hours journey from Dakar, or the Casamancais capital, Ziguinchor (which use to be a key French trading post during the days of the slave trade). Cap Skirring village is quite a laidback area with many things to catch one’s eyes.
The market there is stacked with fruits, vegetable, fish and seafood. The main street is lined with nightclubs, restaurants (serving delicious brochettes and salads), shops and bars.
There are Four Star individual villas available at affordable prices, 40,000CFA (£60) for two people per night, or Three Star B&B rooms from 29,000CFA (£39), with swimming pools and friendly staff.
The picturesque and crafted Saint Maur des Fossés market is well worth paying a visit, and there will always be a boatman available to take you for a trip.
Senegalese are known for being laidback, placid, friendly and welcoming people. Even their motto has its roots on the word “terranga”, a Wolof term which means “Welcome”.
As a foreigner, you will never spend a night outdoors, there will always be a Senegalese family available to shelter you and share their home and food with you, even offer to guide you on a sightseeing tour of their village or town.
Senegal cuisine is believed to have been influenced not only by its largest Islam ethnic group, the Wolof, but also by dietary traditions of North Africa, France and Portugal.
Its Atlantic-skirted coastline has made fish Senegal’s staple food. The Senegalese also eat lamb, beef, chicken, peas, black eyes beans, but not pork, due to their largely Muslin population.
Many crops, such as white rice, lentils, black-eyed peas, couscous, sweet potatoes, are include in their recipes.
People’s favourite fresh juices are made from mango, or other fruits or wild trees such as ginger, bissap, buy (pronounced buoy), which is the baobab fruit of the tree also known as “monkey bread fruit”.
The national dish of Senegal is the succulent Thiéboudienne: marinated fish cooked with tomato paste and different vegetables.
The dish “Yassa,” is lamb, beef, fish or chicken simmered in lots of onion with a garlic, mustard, and lemon sauce.
The “Maafe” is a seasoned chicken, beef, lamb, or fish, cooked with vegetables in a tomato and peanut butter sauce.
From an artistic and cultural point of view, Senegal’s musical heritage is perhaps Africa’s most celebrated, due to the popularity of the “Mabalax” music genre: dynamic arrangements of musical instruments that capture the spirit and power of ritual and traditional drumming.
The Senegal music genre has been popularised by Youssou Ndour, the Grammy award-winning singer who was disqualified from running for Senegal’s presidency this year, but who ended up being appointed to the country’s Cabinet as Culture and Tourism Minister by the newly elected President, Macky Sall.
Rolling Stone magazine once described Ndour as “perhaps the most famous singer alive” in Senegal and much of Africa.
For those who can afford a resort-style hotel with Five Star facilities and services, there is a Beach Resort on Cap Skirring where double rooms for half board begin at 558, 00CFA, which works out as £731 per person.
Activities you can get involved in include: surfing, cycling, fishing, and sharing the traditional tea, called “attire”, or “the ordinary three”, on the beach. The term “ordinary three” refers to a ritual way of having tea in Senegalese tradition, which has to be three little cups of tea, or nothing, from the less concentrated cup through to the more concentrated.
You should not be scared away by news of separatist activism, because security is quite tight for tourists. However, it is always better to keep yourself updated before you travel.