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’s drive 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 about 40 US dollars.
Tour 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.
“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 of recent 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 is used locally for skincare. The more you venture into the three square kilometre body of water, the more vivid the pink colour becomes.
The lake is about three meters deep, one and a half metres has salt and another one and a half metres of water. 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 lake’s water produces fine table salt, as well as this coarse salt used to melt ice, that 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.
“Especially that we are now creating a platform which is the African Continent Free Trade Area, it is important that we prioritise 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, “ says head of an organisation called ONE Campaign in charge of Francophone Region, Desire Asogbavi.
But those like Diene who make money from tourists, not trade, are concerned business is not picking up fast enough.
“Insecurity in other countries poses a big problem for our tourism. For example Senegal is a stable country but we have neighboring countries like Mali that are facing conflicts by militia from the Al Qaeda group. Many Malians have fled to our country as refugees because we are a hospitable country.”
Diene hopes he will get more customers before July, when the rains fall for three months and the pink colour fades off.