• Senegal
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Senegal

By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile

The Casamance region of south-western Senegal remains affected by incidents involving presumed separatist groups and by incidents of banditry. The FCO advises against road travel to Senegal's Casamance region to the west of Kolda, other than on, the main road from Ziguinchor to Cap Skirring which is often used by groups of tourists.

Senegal has been attracting European tourists for a long time and for many reasons. With almost guaranteed sunshine, time passes peacefully in the land famous for teranga, meaning "hospitality" in the native Wolof language. On the holiday agenda you will find a lazy stay on the "Petite Côte" or in a tranquil corner along the country's 280 miles of beautiful beaches. Another idea is to head off on safari in the national parks of Djoudj, Niokolo-Koba and Lower Casamance. Not to be forgotten are the colonial towns, ones you shouldn't miss at any cost are the Gorée Island, a symbol of the ancient slave trade and Dakar, the capital city where an unforgettable experience can be had by simply wandering in the hustle and bustle of the colourful market scene.

Travel guide

Lake Retba:

Located just a short drive from the capital city of Dakar is Lake Retba or Lac Rose or simple Pink Lake. Its name is no misnomer, the lake's high salt content make it a perfect environment for Dunaliella salina micro-algae, which radiate pink as a result of their ability to produce organic pink pigments known as Carotenoids. Do not be dissuaded by its colour, both the algae and the pigment it produces are completely harmless to humans so if you do visit the Pink lake be sure to take a dip. To experience the full wonder of this UNESCO World Heritage Site be sure to visit during the dry season, which lasts between November and December. During this time the algae get the most sun exposure which in turn leads them to produce more pigment. Recent years have seen Lake Retba become a popular tourist destination which means that travellers will find a number of hotels and restaurants on its shores.

Safari:

In the southeast of Senegal lies the National Niokolo-Koba Park. Considered as one of the few West African nature reserves that exist on the same scale as the famous safari destinations of eastern and southern Africa, the Parc National de Niokolo-Koba stretches out over some 9,130sq km of woodland and savannah. When the park was first listed as a UNESCO World Heritage some 30 odd years ago in 1981 it was world famous for the large herds of elephants, buffalos, hippos as well as for the number of its lions. Unfortunately today, the wildlife is nowhere near as extraordinary. However for the amateur safari-lover Niokolo-Koba still has plenty to offer, with a chance to see lions, leopards, elephants, buffalos, giraffes and hippos as well as several species on the IUCN endangered list (African wild dog, common chimpanzee, red colobus monkey and Derby's giant eland). Sadly, due to poaching, a lot of these animals might be hard to spot. That being said the park is still worth a visit, even if to only see its exceptional array of birdlife.

Dakar's markets:

There are few experiences that compare to visiting a West African market. The noise, the haggling, the colours, the chaos all add to an experience which can only be described as "spiritually enriching". Dakar's three principal markets worth exploring are Marché Kermel, Marché des HLM and Marche Sandaga. Kermel and Sandaga are markets that locals frequent to buy their food. Sandaga is found in an imposing, seemingly decrepit concrete structure, however within you will find three floors buzzing with activity. The basement is allocated for fresh fish, the ground floor for meat, poultry and vegetable and on the roof you will be able to find several restaurants. Marche Kermel is smaller than Sandaga and much less chaotic however, it offers artisanal goods of far better quality. Also worth visiting is Kermel's remarkable sea food section. Unlike the two previously mentioned markets Marché HLM, located in Grand Dakar, specialises in fabric. If you are trying to embrace the local fashion one thing to bear in mind is that the more extravagantly colourful the fabric the better. With the best material often being sold for as high as 80GBP for six meters it is worth searching for a bargain.

Music scene

Senegal is a country that is "alive with the sound of music", music is weaved in to the very fabric of daily life here. Even if you are not a particular fan of world music we guarantee that once you hear that rhythm and beat you shall forget all of your apprehensions. If in search of a music festival look no further than the Saint Louis Jazz festival which is held every year some 200km out of Dakar. The Saint Louis festival is it is the most famous jazz festival in all of Africa and every year it attracts scores of the genres biggest names, both from African and abroad. However one shouldn't travel out of Dakar to find a vibrant music scene. In fact it would be quite acceptable to call Dakar Africa's music capital. Two of the city's clubs worth visiting are Just 4 U, a laid-back cosy venue where you will get to chance to hear such legends as Omar Pene and Orchestre Baobab play Senegalese classics, and Thiossane which is Youssou N'Dour's nightclub. Unlike Just 4 U, Thiossane has a large, albeit packed, dance floor where you are guaranteed to spend the majority of your night. However, you should be aware that in Senegal a night out does not start early, with most venues becoming busy only around 1am and concerts starting usually at around 2am.

Our Editorial team's advice

To say that Senegal is a multi-layered destination would be understating the experience, here you will find relaxation, the spirit of discovery and will top it all off with a sense of utter disorientation. If you wish to try and see everything that Senegal has to offer in a limited amount of time, we recommend taking a tour rather than trying to do it by yourself. With a guided tour you will be able to get a good overview of the country's "must-sees" as well as get the life altering experience that is so synonymous with the country's cultural and natural cites and culture. However if traveling off the beaten track is more your style, fret not, this too is manageable in Senegal. If you do chose to discover the country this way we recommend organizing your trip with a small group (5 to 14 people) as this will facilitate your navigation of the country as well as interaction with local culture. However be advised that if you decide to book this type of holiday, the accommodation offered will be basic and renting a 4x4 vehicle will be a necessity. Those, for whom relaxation is key do not hesitate and book a seaside holiday. The Senegalese coast offers some excellent luxury resorts. As previously mentioned Senegal is still a relatively new travel destination for English speaking tourists, so do not expect everyone to speak your language, although the majority of the resort's staff should be able to understand and speak with you. And lastly, note that cruises are available on the Saloum River, which provide the opportunity to both explore this remarkable country and relax at the same time.

Now for a short list of things you should not miss when on you Senegalese adventure (a more detailed list is available above). In the region of Cape Verde, on the road to Rufisque, be sure to stop by the baobab forest. These trees, thought by some to resemble a witch's grasping fingers, can become quite ominous looking at sunset, but this just adds a taste of something mysterious to a naturally beautiful sight. Circles of megaliths, which are located in the region of Sine-Saloum, are another fascinating curiosity. Between Nganda and Nioro you will find some 150 standing stones that form several circles, tools discovered at this site helped date the structures creation to 1,000 years ago, however the purpose remains a mystery to this day, the most common hypothesis is that they were solar temples.

You should be aware that the region of Casamance is known for sporadic unrest. However, the famous Cap Skirring region hosts many tourists and has not seen any major events in recent years.

pros

  • +You can combine a beach holiday with tours to discover the rest of the country

cons

  • -The southern part of the country is not easily accessed, especially after the rainy season

Traditions

Senegal has many traditions that are an integral part of the country's culture and daily life. Muslim religious leaders known as marabouts have a prominent place in Senegal's everyday life, they are active in all fields from religion and education to politics, economics and social issues. The majority of Senegalese listen to them and trust them, particularly in regards to their children's religious education. The marabouts can be divided in to three categories: religious marabouts, animist marabouts (these are similar to witch doctors and are consulted by locals on numerous occasions and for many reasons) and "ficelles" marabouts (these are charlatans, ficelles in French means string and refers to their ability to make people believe them).

Unfortunately while many parents entrust their children to marabouts some are then forced to beg in the streets. The sight inescapable sight of hundreds of young children begging by the side of the road might be too much for certain tourists, although you should be aware that not all children that you will see begging are actually poor. That being said, if they are made to beg then earning money for them can be even more crucial than for those that need it to survive, since they have to report all of their earnings in the evening. Children that are forced to beg are called Talibes, they are a serious problem in Senegal and the local government does not seem to be doing much to help them and better the situation.

Another prominent Senegalese tradition is the griot. Griots are itinerant musicians that are a part of a caste. They go from village to village in order to sing the praise to a lord, a king, a teacher or even a boss. Griots do not only feature prominently in Senegalese society, they are also an intricate part of society throughout the entire western Africa. Seeing griots perform are one Senegalese tradition you should not avoid during your stay in the country.

As previously mentioned Senegal's markets should be on the "must see" list of any tourist traveling this country. One extremely useful skill for getting the most out of a Senegalese market is haggling however be aware that haggling in Senegal requires skill and patience. Instead of arguing about the price take time to discuss the goods themselves, however do not give away your desire to own the object you are talking about, this is perhaps the best way to get it at the desired price.

Food

Senegal's national dish is tiep-bou-dien, which is rice cooked with vegetables and fish (usually red snapper). Meat (beef, mutton, chicken) can be served with a peanut sauce (mafé) or an onion marinade known as Yassa. The Senegalese coast is a credit to seafood: oysters, shrimp, lobsters here are remarkable. If your travels take you to the bush, be sure to taste the game, warthog in particular. Exotic fruits are varied and excellent: mangoes, papayas, soursop, goyave and sweet detar. To quench your thirst try Senegal's national drink bissap, which is a herbal tea made from hibiscus. Also on offer you will find palm wine and millet beer.

Ideal Weather Search

Find weekly weather forecasts for Senegal . Different criteria make it possible to predict with precision the best time of year to go to Senegal . A comprehensive weather score, made up of temperature indicators, bad weather predictions, sunshine levels and wind speeds, will allow you to choose the activities best suited to the weather conditions and therefore make the most of your holiday in Senegal .

Reviewed hotels

Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin

Our journalists' reviews for you 46 hotels Senegal . Take a look at our hotels, their facilities or their value-for-money score according to your departure dates so that we can find the best offer to suit you Senegal . Book a hotel Senegal it's never been so simple !

Souvenirs

Purchase some of the local hand-painted fabric which can be used to custom-make outfits by the local tailors and dressmakers. You can also bring back gold or silver filigreed jewels, wooden masks or statues, wickerwork (baskets, trays), wood dishes, copper statuettes and native paintings. However, leave aside crocodile bags, shoes and belts so as not to encourage poaching. Shops are open from 8:00am to 12:00pm and from 4:00pm to 7:30pm on weekdays.

What to see

Desert Ferlo , The Ferlo desert , Senegal
Desert Ferlo
Cape Verde Peninsula , Senegal
Cape Verde Peninsula
Sine Saloum Delta , Senegal
Sine Saloum Delta
Casamance , Senegal
Casamance
The Senegal river , The Senegal River , Senegal
The Senegal river
The region around Tambacounda , Tambacounda region , Senegal
The region around Tambacounda
Le lac Rose , Lac Rose (Pink Lake) , Senegal
Le lac Rose
Petite Côte , Traditional-style fishing in Senegal , Senegal
Petite Côte
Cape Skirring , Senegal
Cape Skirring
Goree Island , Senegal
Goree Island
Djoudj National Park , Senegal
Djoudj National Park
The Niokolo-Koba Park , Niokolo-Koba Park , Senegal
The Niokolo-Koba Park
The Park of Lower Casamance , Bandia Wildlife Reserve , Senegal
The Park of Lower Casamance
The Ifan Museum , IFAN Museum of African Arts , Senegal
The Ifan Museum
The Decorative Art Manufacture. , Decorative art production , Senegal
The Decorative Art Manufacture.