Today I want to tell you about my trip to Joal Fadiouth. Have you ever heard of it?
Well, I’ll never stop believing that Senegal is one of best places to visit in Africa. Well, from the tourist point of view, it isn’t perfectly organized, but whether you are looking for history and nature or just a change of scenery rich in culture, Senegal is certainly one of the best destinations in Africa.
Just a 14 day Senegal itinerary is pretty much enough for an infinite variety of things to do and see. Here you can swim in a pink lake (Retba Lake), sleep in a desert (Lompoul Desert), visit some historical places such as San Louis or Gorée Island, take a boat trip at Sine Saloum Delta lagoon, go on a safari (Bandia Reserve) relax at a beach club in Saly, or even take a stroll around a shell-made island called Joal-Fadiouth
Joal Fadiouth, a small introduction.
Joal-Fadiouth is actually a town made up of two small rural villages: Joal and Fadiouth. It is in the Thiès Region at the end of the Petite Côte of Senegal, south-east of Dakar. The village of Joal is on the mainland, while the village of Fadiouth is an island which is linked to Joal by a 500 meter wooden bridge.
The main reason tourists visit this area of Senegal is Fadiouth, a pretty town of about 5.000 inhabitants with an “unique” feature that makes it unique in the world: it is a shell-made island.
For more than a century, its inhabitants have harvested mollusks and used the empty shells to build the island. Since it is the largest island made of shells in the Saloum Delta, Fadiouth, in fact, is one of Senegal’s most visited areas. You can see here houses and buildings made of shells.
Shells are not only used in local architecture but also in crafts.
The village of Fadiouth has no motorized transport so the only ways to reach the island is by walking over the longest pedestrian bridge or by taking a pirogue.
Check this out ▶ Private day trip to Gorée Island
How much does it cost to visit Fadiouth Island.
It was my impression that there were two options to enter Fadiouth Island: You can take a private tour, or you can pay the entrance ticket at the tourist information center by the bridge. But let me tell me you something. I’m not sure we had to pay.
As soon as you approach the bridge, you are immediately annoyed by hasslers wanting to be your guide. If you say no and don’t pay them, they will take you to a building which is supposedly an “Information Centre” demanding that you have to pay for a guide and a tour. Making you believe that you need a ticket. So actually, you end up paying.
Many tourists we met later said that it is not true.
I’ll tell you my experience here.
Since there were no boards or signs about the tourist information office, we didn’t realize that there was an entry ticket to Fadiouth. But as soon as we got close to the bridge, some guys came and stopped us. Everyone asked for money. It was a weird situation because it was not clear what they really meant.
It seemed like they were asking for money in exchange for giving us a tour. We kept saying no since we hadn’t planned to hire a guide but just wanted to stroll around Fadiouth on our own. But… that looked impossible. They wouldn’t let us go.
It was only when a Spanish speaking guide tried to convince us to take a trip with him privately and we kept saying no and no again that he got angry and he forced us to go inside an old building which was supposedly a tourist information office to pay. He was nervous. He was very annoyed that we didn’t want to take that trip with him. He also added that since we had enough money to get to Senegal, we must also have enough money to pay the entrance to Fadiouth. He was also a little aggressive.
Again, the tourist information center we are talking about had no board signs or anything else that made it clear that it was an information center with a ticket office. If we had figured this out before, we would have bought the tickets upon arrival without any problems. But believe me, it was impossible to understand. In addition, we hadn’t read anywhere that there was a fee to pay to enter Fadiouth.
Anyway, we entered the building and inside there was an old table and a chair. The man who was sitting on the chair asked 2400 CFA for both of us. Obviously, the price was not indicated anywhere. It also included a guide. It seemed that there were no packages without guides. Anyway, everything was all so unclear that we decided to stop arguing.
We gave him the money and he returned a piece of notebook paper on which he had handwritten the paid amount. Such a spartan receipt. Everything was so nonsensical. We felt really tricked by them.
You know what I say at this point? Negotiating with a private guide at the bridge would have been cheaper. They started with 1200.00 CFA, but if you show yourself to be interested without saying no they appeared to be willing to negotiate.
Things to do in Joal Fadiouth.
As I already said, I didn’t really want the guide for this trip to Joal Fadiouth. Honestly, he said nothing more than what we had read already on the internet or in guide books. I wanted to walk around Fadiouth calmly, but that was not possible because we had to respect his pace.
In summary here is what we did in Fadiouth:
Crossing the Joal Fadiouth bridge: During the morning hours, there is a low tide. That means that the water recedes, and consequently the ground under reappears and with it a huge variety of seafood and shells. It is at that very moment that you can see ladies and children collecting the seashells which are then processed both for food and craft purposes.
It was a really great experience because here is where the story of Fadiouth starts.
Strolling around in Fadiouth: Fadiouth is undoubtedly the most unusual village I have ever seen. I mean everything is made of seashells here! It is a special setting, isn’t it? If you dare to get lost in the small streets (quite an impossible thing with a guide) you will also be able to see people processing the seashells.
Know that there are two mosques and one Catholic church in Fadiouth which are worth seeing, at least from the outside.
Lunch: I’m not a huge fan of Senegalese cuisine. Wherever I went they offered white rice with fried fish or white rice with fried chicken. Sometimes they also had French fries. Well, you get tired of it after a while. You eat just to eat. There are just a couple of places to eat in Fadiouth and if you see them closed you can knock and ask. Most of the time they are happy to open the restaurant for you. Actually, it is a very high source of income for them so they appreciate it when they are asked to cook some food.
Samba Dia horse cart trip: We took a horse cart by the cemetery of Fadiouth to visit the giant baobab in Samba Dia. It’s about 8 km from Fadiouth. It is thelargest baobab in all of Senegal. At the Samba Dia baobab there are guides who can take you inside the empty trunk of the tree. It comes for another 500 CFA per person. I was glad I tried this experience, but I’m not sure if I’d do it again. It was worth it to see how enormous the tree really was, but there were many bats living inside, and it was quite disgusting feeling them flying above us. Also, the smell was pretty pungent.
The horse ride cost 5.000 CFA, but if you want to spend less, you can also take a donkey cart which costs 3500.00 CFA
Cemetery of shells: A 200 metre bridge from Fadiouth will lead you to a tiny shell island that houses a beautiful graveyard. The cemetery is largely covered in seashells but what is even more unique here is that Christians and Muslims are buried side by side and this is a rare occurrence in the world.
The tolerance that exists between Christians and Muslims of Joal-Fadiouth in Senegal’s Thies region exhibits levels of intercommunal harmony that many societies in Africa and the rest of world would envy. Muslims and Catholics not only live side by side, but they are even buried side by side in the same cemetery.
The cemetery is on a small hill from where you can see the surrounding lagoon areas covered with mangroves and granaries.
Among the things to do in Fadiouth there are also pirogue rides to, from, and around the island. Obviously, it is doable only during the high tide hours. I suggest that you try the pirogue ride around Fadiouth if you have enough time available, but if you are in a hurry, you can just take a pirogue on your way back to Joal.
Some curiosities about Joal Fadiouth.
- Joal was the childhood home of Léopold Sédar Senghor, writer, poet, politician, and first president of the Republic of Senegal (1960 – 1980).
- Pigs are everywhere in Joal which is also an unexpected sight in a majority Muslim country where most people do not eat pork.
- You can buy artisanal craft products here in Fadiouth. There are many vendors, but we were never harassed like in other places in Senegal. We never felt obliged to buy anything. Samba Dia baobab tree was the only place that they were a bit pushy.
- Sundays are festive here. Try to plan your trip to Joal Fadiouth accordingly.
- There are no hotels in Fadiouth. They all are in Joal.
- Almost 90% of Joal Fadiouth residents are Christians and only 10% are Muslims.
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How to get to Joel Fadiouth.
Wherever you are in Senegal, you can ask at your hotel for private transfers to Joel Fadiouth. This is obviously the easiest way to get to Joel Fadiouth but not the cheapest one.
We got to Joal-Fadiouth from Karang by public transportation, which was an extraordinary experience itself. We got off at the station and then took a taxi to our hotel in Joal. Fadiouth is walking distance from Joal (where the bus station is) and by asking around you can find the Joal-Fadiouth bridge easily. Everyone knows tourists are all seeking Fadiouth, so they don’t have trouble pointing it out.
My final thoughts about Joal Fadiouth.
I had an interesting couple of hours in Joel Fadiouth.
Fadiouth is really different from the average villages around the world, so it’s absolutely worth a visit if you are in Senegal. If your question is how many hours you need for this trip to Joal Fadiouth, I would tell you to consider it as a day trip.