Senegal’s unusual landmark Lake Retba important for tourism, providing free salt

Senegal is well known for its musical heritage and sporting successes – but less well known is a very unusual, and distinctive, lake. “Lac Rose” as the locals call it, is about an hour from the capital Dakar, and as the name suggests – the lake is bright pink.

Lake Retba, to give it its proper name, is hugely important – both as a tourist attraction and for providing free salt.

For decades, people have come from far and wide to see Africa’s most distinctive lake. A ride to get a closer look costs us about 40 dollars.

Our guide Omar Diene says this has been the source of his livelihood for the past decade. But in the last few years, the people visiting the lake have changed.

Tour Guide Omar Diene says, “The COVID pandemic has caused a lot of problems here because we no longer have many tourists coming to visit. After easing the restrictions, we started receiving only domestic tourists, not foreigners. Local tourists are good for our industry. But In my 10 years, I never saw domestic tourists here, only foreigners. But now Senegalese have started going out to learn about their country.”

The unique colour of Lake Retba is caused by an algae that produces a red coloured pigment. It’s used locally for skincare.

The more you venture into the 3 square kilometre of water, the more vivid the pink colour becomes.

“Our guide tells us that this lake is about 3 metres deep. One and a half meters has salt and another one and a half metres of water. And he says that the salt is available throughout the year.”

The salinity content is similar to that of the Dead Sea, and during the dry season, it reportedly exceeds it.

The waters produce fine table salt, as well as this coarse salt used to melt ice, which is mostly exported.

Artisanal miners from across West Africa come here to collect free salt.

Experts say with proper planning, trade from natural resources like this should be extended beyond nearby countries.

Head of an organisation called ONE Campaign, Desire Asogbavi is in charge of the Francophone Region.

“Especially that we are now creating a platform which the African Continent Free Trade Area, it is important that we priorities industrialization that which we will be able to trade among ourselves, it is important that we start creating value using our resources so that we can share those products among African countries that will help us basically to create activities, jobs for the young people but also better use the resources from the continent.”

But those like Omar – who make money from tourists, not trade – are concerned business is not picking up fast enough.

Diene says, “Insecurity in other countries poses a big problem for our tourism. For example, Senegal is a stable country but we have neighbouring countries like Mali that are facing conflicts with militia from the Al Qaeda group. Many Malians have fled to our country as refugees because we are a hospital country.”

Omar hopes he will get more customers before July when the rains fall for 3 months and the pink colour fades off.

 

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