Whether you’re after a lazy poolside holiday or a pirogue adventure through lagoons and creeks, Senegal is the place for you. If you can pull yourself away from the pulsating live music clubs and busy markets of capital Dakar, there’s plenty to see elsewhere.
Both the Park National des Oiseaux du Djoudj and the Siné-Saloum Delta are bursting with wildlife: kingfishers and flamingos can both be crossed off your list. Île de Gorée, once a famous hub for the slave trade, is now a car-free island of narrow lanes and colonial buildings covered with bougainvillea. Head south to Toubab Dialao to avoid the resort hotels of Saly and enjoy safe swimming and a more local feel.
Learn a few words of Wolof and the names of African footballers playing in the premier league and you’ll make friends for life.
In Dakar, visit Tiossane – the nightclub of Senegalese musical hero Youssou N’Dour – a hot sweaty gem of a place.
Summer (June-October) is the hottest and wettest period; fewer tourists visit at this time. There is considerably less rain in the north, on the fringes of the Sahel.
Winter (November-May) is cooler and drier and the peak time for visitors. January and February are coolest, when evening temperatures on the coast can drop below 20° C. It tends to be warmer inland.
Dakar (DKR) 5km from the city.
Senegal’s main cities are connected by well-maintained roads plied by reasonably good buses, pricier petit car minibuses and sept-place seven-seater shared Peugeot 504s.
A 4WD with a driver is quite costly, but the only practical way to reach many destinations in Senegal. Self-drive car hire is possible, but usually more expensive than with a driver because of insurance implications.
The rail network, including the Dakar/Saint-Louis line, is now defunct. The only exceptions are a couple of lines to the Dakar suburbs, and the very hit-and-miss service from Dakar to Bamako in Mali.
Budget accommodation is hard to find in Dakar: most of the cheap hostels are pretty dodgy. Midrange and top end hotels are plentiful but overpriced. Inland, accommodation is offered in roundhuts or bungalows. In remote areas, there’s usually someone in the village willing to offer up a hut
Freshly landed Atlantic fish is cheap and delicious everywhere on the Senegalese coast. Much of the sole, grouper and tuna is air-freighted to Europe, so enjoy it here at a fraction of the price. Throughout Senegal there is a strong French influence, especially in the buttery sauces that accompany the ubiquitous fish and chicken stews with rice.
Most Senegalese are Muslims and don’t drink alcohol; however, restaurants serve costly French wine and reasonably priced, locally brewed Flag beer (avoid the watery alternative, Gazelle). Outside of Dakar, vegetarian food is hard to find: most people don’t understand why you’d choose not to eat meat.
It is essential to take anti-malarial prophylactics. Consult your GP or travel health clinic about vaccinations against tropical diseases.
The Casamance region, in the part of Senegal south of The Gambia, can be affected by separatist violence and banditry – stay alert for the latest information. Violent muggings are on the increase in Dakar.
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