Even though you can easily spot Îlot Sarpant from the West Corniche in Dakar, it's still hard to believe that this national park is just a stone's throw away from the hustle & bustle of the city. The islands provide a different, yet welcome feel from Dakar (and even nearby Ngor Island), because they're an archipelago of completely uninhabited nature reserves filled with volcanic rock formations, rare bird species, with a few baobab trees. Currently on the Unesco World Heritage tentative list, it's a great place to escape the city and enjoy a day out in nature with friends.
To get to the main office, take a taxi to Soumbediounne, where you can then easily spot the newly renovated offices that read "Parc National - Îles de Madeleines". After sorting out your entrance fees, the staff will provide you with a life jacket as you board a motorized pirogue (canoe) to head to the islands. It's about a 20 minute ride made scenic by the surrounding fishermen out on their own pirogues, massive rock formations and the massive half sunken ship while en route. Pretty fascination to see various birds gather and perch on it like Christmas ornaments.
Pirogue: 4,000 CFA per person
Park entrance: 1,000 CFA per person
Parasol (optional): 2,000 CFA per person
Tour guide (optional): 5,000 CFA per group of persons. If you're by yourself, I suggest you wait for a few other visitors so that you can share this cost with them. However, negotiate and see if you can get lower prices if you're in a group.
WHAT TO BRING
1. Food & Water. Since the island is completely natural and uninhabited, there are no restaurants or food vendors available. Bring snacks, water, and other drinks to be able to make the most of the time you're there.
2. Sunscreen & a towel. You're going to want to protect your skin since there aren't too many places for shade (it might be nice to rent a parasol from the park office). The towel will come in handy to sit on or dry yourself off with after a swim.
3. Snorkel gear. In between the main island and the volcanic island is a small bay/natural pool with calm waters and plenty of colorful fish you'll want to see.
4. (Waterproof) camera. I'm sure you'll want to take some photos and I highly recommend a waterproof one to capture your underwater moments and avoiding a heart attack if it gets wet. I took my iPhone 7 (it's waterproof) and it was sufficient.
5. Comfortable sneakers (not sandals or flip flops) that you don't mind getting wet. One of my favorite things about the island is being able to hike up the volcanic rocks to take in the insane views, which you'll want sturdy shoes for. You can of course do it bare foot, but I wouldn't recommend it since there are plenty of sea urchin and jagged rocks everywhere. Leave your expensive/fancy shoes at home though.
HOW LONG TO STAY
Don't expect to stay overnight because again, this national park is completely void of development. Instead, gather some friends and enjoy a perfect day trip away from Dakar. I would highly recommend you visit on a weekday to avoid crowds and have it all to yourself. Get there around 11:30am and stay until about 4:30 to get back to Dakar comfortably before the sun sets. If it's your first visit, you have the option to hire a guide to come along with you and show you around the main island (where the baobab trees are). The islands also have a very rich birdlife and is home to a rare sub-species of seabirds only found on these islands, so if you're a bird lover you'll be in for a treat. The park is open from 9 am to 5 pm.
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If you would like more detailed information about how to travel off the beaten path in Senegal and Africa as a whole, get all the my tips in my detailed guides below.