I just love stuff like this. I grew up in the small town of Bangor in Northern Ireland. It was bliss but we never had places like this. A pink lake? Yes, a lake with a pink tint. But on my ridiculous journey around the globe, this wasn’t even the first pink or red lake I’d seen. It was the fourth. Back in 2003, I visited the pink lake of Torrevieja, near Alicante in Spain. Then, a hot day in the heights of Bolivia saw me tour Laguna Colorada (Lagoon coloured red) in 2010. Up next, in 2013, I was at it again, backpacking in Azerbaijan to see Lake Masazir. Flashbacks to those glory days (I have no photo of the Alicante one):
Money Supermarket.com had sent me out to Senegal on a lost luggage mission. As tough as it was to have no laptop and have to handwash my clothes everyday, the stress and madness was relieved by journeys like this. I heard about Lac Rose a few times, indeed internet photos of it show how pink or red it can get. The truth is, you really have to go there to quench your thirsty curiosity.
Getting to Lac Rose
While there are hotels and resorts near Lac Rose, I personally recommend visiting it on a day trip from Dakar, Senegal’s capital city. I was based downtown at the Hotel Baraka and chose to day trip it out to the lake. The problem is, there just aren’t many backpackers around to share with. In fact, on this luggage free trip, I wasn’t even a backpacker! But at least I was a tourist. There are two main ways to get from Dakar to Lac Rose, and here they are.
1. Get a rocky bus from Dakar to the town of Keur Massar.
This will take around an hour and a half due to the stops and should cost $2-3 US. From Keur Massar, you can then walk the crazy 6 kilometre distance on foot to Lac Rose or get a local taxi to take you there, wait and bring you back. You’ll have to bargain the price down of course, expect to pay up to $15 US. Taxi drivers notoriously rip off tourists. If you’re French, you’re likely to be able to bargain it cheaper, and shockingly, there is racism as well – a black French person will pay less than a white person.
2. Hire a driver for the day from Dakar.
For me, this was the best option as I wanted a full day out, not just the lake. It’s the whole time v. money argument all over again. But basically as a travel writer, to see all the main sights of Dakar and Lac Rose, I decided I could do it all in one day by hiring a driver to take me to every spot. Again it was a lot of bargaining and in the end I paid $50 US for the whole day. It sounds dear but if I had been with 1 other person, then $25 each is good, even better to pile 4 in the car and do it for $12.50 each. But sadly I was alone and due to my travel fatigue and an odd skin issue, I had, I was so happy to pay $50US for this. My driver was Papa M’ Bye and he looked after me for the day. We were in a yellow and black taxi.
The journey from Dakar to Lac Rose took just over an hour. On route we were on a highway and we passed through the town of Pikine (more like a large Dakar suburb) and then through the small town of Keur Massar.
After an hour or so, we took a left turn on the road which leads to Lac Rose. From here it’s a 10 minute drive to the Lake itself.
Arrival at Lac Rose
On arrival at Lac Rose, we are greeted by a local lad who says he is a guide. I didn’t want or need a guide. I just wanted to see the lake, have a dip in it and get some photos, videos and souvenirs. However, he assured me he is a free guide and there is no charge.
I was sceptical at first, I agreed and he introduces himself as Pele and walks me past some camels to the lake. It’s a three minute walk.
We walk through a swanky resort on route. It has a swimming pool and a bar. Some people choose to stay overnight here by Lac Rose, I was happy with my hotels in Dakar – I stayed in 2 – one by N’Gor beach (Maison Abaka) and one in the city centre (Hotel Baraka).
Is Lac Rose really that pink?
You knew the answer didn’t you? It’s not that pink. Internet photos and clever marketing always dress it up as more pink than it is. Images from the air when the sun is high also give the impression that the lake is really pink. Yes it’s pink, it’s red, it’s still pretty amazing!
Down by the lakeside, of course it has a pinky/red tint to it. In parts it looks brown, in parts even blue. But in all honesty, it still feels special to me. There’s a calmness and a beauty here. Staying in busy Dakar city can be chaotic. As a white tourist, you get stopped every few metres and get asked random questions. You have to just ignore and keep walking. But here by Lac Rose, I relax.
I take my shoes off for a paddle, Pele tells me about the salt extraction and I get some photos with my Northern Ireland flag. Boat tours are also available but I decline. After seeing two different parts of the lake, I buy a fridge magnet for my Mum and some postcards to post my brother.
I paid 1000 CFA for 4 cards and 1000 CFA for the magnet. This is probably a bit much, but as a guide, Pele was free so if the money helps towards the lake’s maintenance then it’s fine by me. After that we head back. While in Dakar, I also stayed at Maison Abaka by N’Gor beach, tried the yassa fish, stayed downtown at Hotel Baraka and I had a cool night out watching Belly Dancing. So yes it is worth seeing and not as pink as you think but I was still buzzing. As a footnote, Lac Rose is also called Lac Retba.
Here are some videos from the Lac Rose visit: