Saloum River Delta - A World Heritage Site (UNESCO)
The Saloum river delta is located on the west coast of Senegal, 280 km south of the capital Dakar and on the northern part of the neighbouring country The Gambia. The river delta is part of a vast wetland system, a transfrontier estuarine ecosystem that extends across the Senegal-Gambia border and includes the Niumi National Park in The Gambia. At the crossroad between the arid Sahel-Sahara in the North and the humid tropics in the South, the Saloum river delta harbours globally threatened species and species at the limit of their natural distribution.
Much of the Saloum river delta is a national park, a protected marine and estuarine area of about 70 000 ha with a fine mosaic of islands and creeks of vital importance for the breeding of a large variety of migratory birds and marine species. The national park thus covers about one fifth of the delta and constitutes the core area of the Saloum River Delta Biosphere Reserve set up both to conserve genetic diversity and to promote sustainable management of the unique natural and cultural heritage. The national park is also registered under the Ramsar Convention, known in full as the Convention on Wetlands of International importance. The Saloum River Delta is designated as a UNESCO World heritage site in 2011.
The area supports varied terrestrial and marine habitats with a diverse range of flora and fauna including 36 species of mammals, 115 species of fish, over 400 species of both sedentary and migratory birds and over 400 species of plants. Large marine mammals are the manatee, the river dolphin and the bottle-nosed dolphin. There is a wealth of bird life, with large nesting colonies of several migratory species. The river delta is one of the most important sites in the world for colonial breeding terns and gulls especially Royal and Caspian Terns, Grey-headed Gulls and Reef Egrets; and the most important site for wintering Great Egret in West Africa and the only known breeding site in Senegal for Grey Heron.
The biosphere reserve incorporates various cultural heritage sites ranging from an array of small and large megalith sites, proto-historic shell mounds used as burial sites, ruins of small fisher settlements, numerous sacred groves and sites of historical importance. The megaliths are circles of prism shaped stones ranging from three until ten metres in diameter and with heights up to three metres. The shell mounds are artificial islands built solemnly of shell leftover. The history behind these megaliths and shell mounds are still not fully uncovered.
The area called Niumi and comprising the southern part of the Saloum river delta and the north bank of the Gambia River delta has been a major base for early European expansion in West Africa and was the first region of sub-Saharan Africa to become a major exporter of slaves into the Atlantic economy. Important historical vestiges are found across Senegal and The Gambia known then as Senegambia. Thus, the region has much to offer for people interested in the Atlantic World and the history of people of African origin scattered throughout the Americas during the Middle Passage.
The Most Visited country in West Africa
Urbanisation and globalisation have altered the fabrics of the society but Senegalese - although predominantly Muslims - are still very tied to those traditional values that have contributed to the creation of a tolerant multi-ethnic society. This peaceful co-existence has generated a rich and diverse cultural heritage and various forms of cultural expression.
The Senegalese capital, Dakar, is known for its nightlife, and the country boasts one of Africa’s most varied music and art scenes. Senegalese art, music and dance music are today well appreciated around the world. The country’s appeal as a tourist destination is enhanced by its proximity to Europe and the Americas.
The warm climate during winter in Europe reinforces Senegal’s position as a major tourist destination. Senegal is without any doubt the gateway to Africa and for many tourists, Senegal will be their first visit to or the only destination ever visited in sub-Saharan Africa. Thus, Senegal is a leading travel destination in Africa characterized by political stability, great fishing and an important number of historic sites and national parks with a variety of ecosystems and wildlife.