World’s smallest national park, Ile de Madeleine, is full of mystery
From the western coastal road in Dakar, you can look straight out onto Ile de Madeleine if the sky is clear. But here on Africa’s westernmost point, it is often hazy and then you can barely get a glimpse of the two rocky islands in the horizon. Locals believed earlier that the islands were possessed by evil spirits and therefore uninhabited. No one has tried to settle here with the exception of a French missionary in the 1700s that according to our guide Amadou was sentenced to settle here. A strange story that probably has been colored over the centuries, but remains from his house still remains on top of the island.
Ile de Madeleine became a National Park in 1976 and is listed on the Unesco World Heritage tentative list. The largest island is called Sarpan and it is the one we will visit. It was not easy to find the office where we could arrange a visit in the national park Ile de Madeleine. According to our map the national park office should be situated just north of the amusement park Magic Land, but it proved to be just south of the park. No taxi drivers knew where it was, but we were set off at Magic Land where we met a nice man who followed us over to the office. It was a sign not easily spotted and it was hard to find the entrance. We had hardly figured it out by our own.
We agreed to meet the same place the day after at 11am for a guided trip out to the world’s smallest national park. But the next day the office was absolutely empty of people and in the shed beside was a work gang busy loading sandbags into boats. Our guide did not come. But solutions were made, another guide appeared and we set off in a long narrow boat with the whole work team and a lot of sand as well.
Boats depart between 10am and 16pm. It costs 10,000 CFA pp. for the boat trip and2, 500 CFA pp. for guiding. Stay on the island is normally 2-3 hours. The guide will take you around the island in for about 1 hour. It is not particularly difficult terrain, perhaps a bit steep in some places. But wear sneakers, not sandals. Bring swimwear, it’s a lovely little lagoon to swim in, very refreshing after the walk.
Ile de Madeleine is made of volcanic lava rock and it is a bit difficult to access. The islands have a rich birdlife. We saw many cormorant-like birds. Also it was a type of bird found only here and in the Galapagos, Phaeton, still according to our guide. We saw one of them lying on a nest, built in between the rocks on the cliff down to the water. But after some searching online, I’m not sure if it is really true that the bird is only found here and on the Galapagos, it is probably a bit more widespread, although it is a rare bird.
The most fascinating were all the Baobab trees that were spread across the plateau in the middle of the island. They were quite low unlike in other places we have been. The trees were filled with fruits, called ape food. It was a very hard fruit and we struck it against the rocks to open it. Inside we found rather large white seeds that tasted good of both sweet and slightly acidic.
Baobab trees do not grow upwards as they do in most other places, but crawls across like mountain pine, due to the wind and climate. One of the big baobab trees on top of the island is the subject of idol worship. Our guide, Amadou told us that an elderly man cultivates this particular tree and comes out to the island nearly every day to sacrifice sweets to the tree so that the city Dakar can be protected from what ever it should be protected against! In front of the tree he has cleared a space and marked it with stones.
Having walked around the whole island in cruel heat it was lovely to wade in the lagoon and eat our packed lunch. Take some food with you, its not possible to buy anything on the island, not even water. The trip out to the Ile de Madeleine was a lovely break from Dakar`s noise and pollution. Our guide Amadou was knowledgeable and gave us a good introduction to the conditions in the world’s smallest national park. A visit here is highly recommended.