Mar Lodj is a rural community in Central Senegal. It belongs to the district of Fimela, in the Fatick administrative region.
Mar Lodj (also spelled Mar Lothie) is the name of an island in the Saloum delta, as well as the largest village on the island.
Peacefully protected near the mouth of the Sine-Saloum delta, half a day’s drive and a short pirogue ride from the commotion and noise of Dakar, the island of Mar Lodj is a calm and refreshing sanctuary. The local population, the perennially friendly and laidback Sérères, live in the island’s three villages of Mar Lodj, Mar Soulou, and Mar Fafaco, as well as on the quaint island-within-an-island of Mar Wandié. Mar Lodj, the largest, has a population of about 2000 and is the only village on the island to be predominantly Catholic. Some ten campements and lodges spread along the island’s beaches provide a range of accommodations.
The travel season in Mar Lodj (and Senegal more generally) corresponds with the dry season, beginning in mid-October and continuing to early-June. This time of year is characterized by relatively little rainfall, lower humidity and milder temperatures. Temperatures range in the mid to high seventies. June through October constitute the wet season and see increased rainfall and rising temperatures, typically peaking in August and September.
Travel to Mar Lodj can be organized through lodging establishments, by private car or through public transit options. The most common access point for Mar Lodj is the village of Ndangane Sambou; from there, the island is a short pirogue ride away. Wait around for the public shuttle boat (250FCFA) or hire a private one.
To reach the embarkation village of Ndangane Sambou from Dakar, take the highway N1 south through Mbour and then continue south on the Joal route. After Joal the road changes from asphalt to a red bush-road; the quality of the road after Joal is poor and can become impassable during the rainy season without a 4x4. Follow the signs in Samba Dia directing you to Fimela; continue past Ndangane Campement to the "docks" at Ndangane Sambou.
Alternatively, take N1 (direction Kaolack) through Mbour to the Croisement Ndiosmone (between the towns of Thiadiaye and Tattaguine). Take the Route Ndiosmone-Djoffior-Ndangane south past Ndangane Campement to Ndangane Sambou. The Route Ndiosmone-Djoffior-Ndangane is horribly potholed asphalt; the red bush-road from Joal is preferable during the dry season.
An easy public transportation option exists as well. Catch the Ndangane Sambou mini-bus from the BEAUX MARAICHERS GARE ROUTIERE DE DAKAR in Pikine (the large bus station just outside of Dakar) (1900 FCFA per person + 500 FCFA max per bag). Make sure to arrive at the garage in the morning to be sure to catch the afternoon public shuttle boat once in Ndangane. As of August, 2019, a weekday bus leaves at noon each day, but be sure to arrive an hour early to secure a spot.
Within Mar Lodj The distance between most of the lodging establishments on Mar Lodj and the village itself is fairly small; it is easy to walk or rent a horse-drawn cart. Taking a horse-drawn cart is the best option to reach the other villages on the island, which are in general farther away.
The best way to explore and learn about the Sérères of Mar Lodj is from one of the local guides who, unfortunately at the time of writing, aren’t very organized or visible. Your campement should be able to put you in touch with one, or the guides are easy to find at the artisan ateliers where they sell their sand paintings in the village. Any tour of the village of Mar Lodj will include a visit to
Ask to visit the boulangerie, too, where Mbaye uses a giant mud oven to make traditional village bread (it’s delicious and your campement will probably serve it!)
Horse-and-carriage visits to Mar Soulou, Mar Farfako and Mar Wandie (by pirogue for the latter) are available and can give you a broader understanding of life on Mar Lodj, from the “floating” millet-storage huts to the fishing culture of Mar Wandie.
No visit to Senegal is complete without experiencing the sights and sounds of a traditional wrestling match, known in Sérère as Njom. Although today traditional wrestling is a national phenomenon in Senegal, it is rooted in Sérère tradition. Every Sérère village still regularly holds organized tournaments and supports their own local champions. Mar Lodj’s annual wrestling competitions are held during a weekend in January. Each village will have its own 3-day competition; call your accommodations provider for exact dates and special lutte events.
Fishing Mar Lodj and the Sine-Saloum delta are famous for the incredible fishing available among the mangrove-lined channels. Fish from the banks or hire a pirogue to take you out into the hidden mangrove channels.
Many campements also arrange kayak trips, charette or horse-back tours, nature walks, etc.
The national currency of Senegal is the CFA Franc. Along with the CFA, some locals also accept Euros. One Euro is permanently fixed at 650CFA, making the conversion simple.
The Grouppe Sassang is an NGO-initiated collection of three small businesses working to empower women in Mar Lodj by creating a small source of revenue in a sustainable manner. MarTex offers beautiful hand-designed and hand-dyed clothing and cloths. Mar Delices offers artisanally produced honey and locally-sourced fruit juices and jams. MarFoods offers whole chickens and dried or pickled shellfish items.
Individual artisans-cum-guides are also popular in Mar Lodj. A number of workshop-huts house their creative sand-art tableaux throughout the village. These artists create scenes of typical Mar Lodj imagery using un-dyed sand with glue made from baobab sap, both found naturally on the island.
The Mar Lodj women's artisanal market is located in an enclosure on the salt flat between the village and the river. Some hotels also offer their own souvenir shops. Souvenirs available for sale include handmade cloth dolls; wooden crafts; bead necklaces or other jewelry (some handmade).
For those looking for a good meal while on Mar Lodj, each campement has its own restaurant, usually serving up a variation of local fare. Going beyond your own accommodations’ restaurant can add a little variety to your trip. Most places prepare a set meal for the day (no menus here), but will try to accommodate dinners’ preferences when possible. Just be sure to call beforehand to check availability as most campements are only staffed and supplied if they are expecting clients (many products have to be transported from the main land in advance). Another option is the free-standing restaurant Black + White Chez Marie, located just off the salt flat to the north of the Women’s Antiquary Market. The advice to call ahead stands for this place as well; the restaurant is rarely open during the off-season or when no clients are expected.
All hotel restaurants sell a limited selection of wine, beer and spirits. A few general shops ("boutiques") do as well.
Thomas Amadou Alpha Ba, owner of the campement Le Limboko, is also the vice president of the Association for the Promotion of Tourism in the Sine-Saloum Region and an excellent source of information for visitors, whether at his campement or another. +221 77 429 9908
Leaving Mar Lodj via Public Transport Mini-buses leave Ndangane-Sambou every morning for Dakar (1900 FCFA per person + 500 FCFA max per bag). You will have to be flexible on the exact departure time as cars leave when they fill up. For destinations other than Dakar, get off at the Mbour garage and continue your travel from there. Make sure to arrange an early pirogue departure from your campement to arrive in Ndangane-Sambou to catch the morning buses.
Heading to Other Parts of the Sine Saloum Visits to other parts of the Sine Saloum Delta - including many of its beautiful uninhabited islands (such as Pointe de Sangomar or Isle aux Oiseaux) and the villages further upriver – can be arranged through your accommodations provider. Many pirogues leave for tours from Ndangane-Campement, but will pass through Mar Lodj if arranged by your campement.