Niokolo-Koba National Park



Niokolo-Koba National Park in Senegal is the largest game park in West Africa and the most tantalizing on paper, with a species list that includes lion, leopard, elephant, chimpanzee, buffalo and a rich variety of antelope and other ungulates, including the last wild population of the western race of Derby's eland (the world's largest antelope).

However, thanks largely to poaching, it's not in the same league as its counterparts in eastern and southern Africa, and the only terrestrial mammals likely to be seen in the course of an ordinary visit are warthog, baboon, green monkey and various small to medium antelope.

Located 375 mi/600 km southeast of Dakar, Niokolo-Koba is rarely packed with tourists, in part because of its inaccessibility. The park is accessible only during the dry season (December-May) and is best reached by road (a long drive from Dakar). A notable feature of the park is its prolific birdlife, with the Abyssinian ground hornbill, Egyptian plover, African finfoot and martial eagle among the more eagerly sought of the 300 recorded bird species.

Simenti is the place to base yourself within the park; its remodeled hotel overlooking the Gambia River offers pirogue rides, four-wheel-drive excursions and guided walks within a limited area. For safety purposes, it is illegal to walk around the park without a guide. With very little effort you can see crocodiles, hippos, warthogs, monkeys and many kinds of birds; the evening boat ride is probably the most relaxing way to see the animals in their element.

If you have time after visiting the game park, you can take a side trip to the waterfall at Dindefelo, about 20 mi/30 km from Kedegou (a three-hour drive from Tambacounda). At the base of the Dindefelo waterfall is a refreshing pool where you can take a dip and cool off after the 1-mi/2-km walk to the falls from the village campement (similar to a bed-and-breakfast, only run by the community).

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