Lake Retba (Lac Rose)
The Pink Lake of Senegal
It’s like I’m in a pool of strawberry milkshake! And yet, the vivid pink mass of water you see here is actually a salt water lake. Less than an hour away from the capital city of Senegal, Lake Retba, or Lac Rose, as it is known by the locals is a saltwater lake – just 3km big. Lake Retba has a salinity that compares to the Dead Sea, and even exceeds it in dry weather, making it look even pinker. It’s distinct pink colour is caused by the Dunaliella salina algae, which is attracted by the lake’s salt content. In order to absorb sunlight, the bacteria produces a red pigment, and in the process, gives the lake it’s unique pink colour.
The locals tell me that the best time to see the pink lake in it’s full pink glory is in the dry season, which is usually from November to June. Quite a big window eh? And it’s just as well, as the high salinity makes the lake unsuitable for most organisms to survive. The lake thus serves mainly as a tourist attraction, and for salt production. And boy is it a sight to behold! The combination of the pink water, green trees and golden sand dunes looks unreal!
Salt collection is a major activity here, and I see piles and piles of salt, here on the shores of the lake. The locals tell me that they collect the salt by hand from the bottom of the lake in baskets. It is mainly used to preserve fish, a major component of the national, and very tasty dish thieboudienne. To protect their hands, they use Shea butter.
If you ever want to feel like you’re swimming in strawberry milkshake, this is the place for it! The algae in the lake are completely harmless to humans, and as we all know, swimming is much easier in saline waters. In fact, you could just float along here. I’m off for a swim!