One of West Africa’s most stable nations, Senegal is a perfect destination to make the first contact with the African continent. Being an area with no extreme climate conditions, welcoming people and admissible facilities, Senegal is considered as the “soft Africa”. Less touristy and perhaps not as attractive as Tanzania and Kenya, Senegal is definitely not a country to see, but to feel.
3 Reasons to go
- People: Senegal is defined by the teranga (hospitality) of its people. Always wearing a big smile on their faces, Senegalese people love a good chat with both toubabs (travelers) and fellow Senegalese.
- Culture: made up by contradictions, Senegalese culture is really interesting. As an example, at night you will see how clubs get full of people dancing sensually, while in the street you can hear loud the calls to prayer for Muslim devotees. Reality beats up reason in this country, enjoy the madness!
- Music: music is everywhere in Senegal and is played on all occasions! You will hear music in the streets, markets, restaurants, taxis or buses and, of course, in nightclubs and bars. Local music will be the unforgettable soundtrack of your trip.
Destination A: Dakar
The beauty of Senegal’s capital is not really in its architecture, dusty streets or roads collapsed by traffic, but in its atmosphere and cheerful people. Their smiling locals walk through the city wearing flashy clothes while causing a colour explosion.
Destination B: Island of Gorée
Just a 30 minutes ferry ride from Dakar, visiting island of Goree is a must. Despite being a lovely place today, island of Goree has a nightmarish past: from the 15th to the 19th century, it was the largest slave-trading centre on the African coast. Part of the UNESCO world heritage since 1978, the Island of Gorée is today a memorial to the African diaspora and it continues to serve as a reminder of human exploitation and as a sanctuary for reconciliation.
Destination C: Mbour
Another destination not to be missed is Mbour, a city known for its fishmarket. Hundreds of pirogues put to sea every day from Mbour beach. At sunset, they return loaded with fish that they cut and sell on the seashore at the colorful and slightly nauseating fishmarket.
Destination D: Joal Fadiouth
About 30 minutes drive from Mbour, you will find Joal and Fadiouth, two nice sister towns where Muslims and Christians live together proud of their religious tolerance.
Destination E: Lake Retba
To finish the week, you can make a day trip to the unusual Pink Lake (Lake Retba). Located less than an hour away from Dakar, the pink color of its water will surely catch your eye.
How to book your vacation?
If you enjoy organizing your own trips.
Start booking hotels:
Day 1: Arriving in
Exiting the airport and finding a taxi to get to your accommodation may be the most stressful part of your trip. Most international flights arrive to Dakar late at night, you will be tired and the taxi drivers will be yelling for attention and all wanting a piece of you. Take a deep breath before walking out of the airport…
Remember you will need to bargain the taxi ride with your driver. It might seem challenging or scary at first, but after you get used to it, it becomes really fun.
Day 2-3: Dakar
Though it is worth a visit, the center of Dakar is definitely not the best place for a relaxing walk. In my experience, the best of Dakar is on the outskirts of the city and in the villages along the coast (like N’gor and Yoff).
Start your day with a relaxing morning in Ngor, a small fishing village on the outskirts of Dakar much more laid-back than the center of the capital. N’gor beach is relatively clean and quiet. It is usually full of young people playing djembe, street vendors and families. For 500 CFA, you can go to N’gor Island, just a short pirogue ride from the Ngor beach. I am sure you did not expect Senegal to have such nice beaches!
Have lunch in a beachfront restaurant in Ngor Island and then make your way to Yoff, a village characterized by its strong Islamic culture. It is not far from Ngor and it can be easily accessed by bus or taxi. Remember smoking and drinking are not allowed in Yoff and visitors should be appropriately dressed (meaning wearing clothes that cover legs and arms). You can visit the Layen Mausoleum and later go for a walk to Yoff beach. Completely different to Ngor island beach, you will have to be very careful to not to step on fish wastes. However, you will be rewarded with views and scenes of real Dakar.
The next day, you can visit Dakar downtown and some of its colorful markets. Have a walk through Dakar’s central Place de l’Indépendance, in the beating heart of the city. Not so far from there, you can walk to the Centre Culturel Francais where you can have a nice lunch. At sunset time, go to the westernmost point on the continent of Africa: le Pointe des Almadies (Almadies Bridge). Les Almadies is the wealthy neighborhood in Dakar where you will find plenty of seafood restaurants for dinner.
Day 4: Island of Goree
From Dakar port, take a ferry to the island of Goree (30 minutes). While Dakar is all noise, chaos, traffic and smoke, the Island of Gorée, with no cars and no paved roads, it is all calm and peace.
In the Island, you can visit the House of Slaves, a small house which used to be a jail for around 150 to 200 slaves who had to wait there before being carried away to America, Brazil or the Caribbean. The place is today a memorial to the African diaspora.
After that, you can spend the rest of the day in the picturesque island. You will find plenty of art exhibitions, cafes and a nice beach there.
Day 5: Mbour
The 5th day you should embrace another Senegalese adventure: traveling to Mbour in a sept-place (old Peugeot 504 with three rows of seats that can accommodate 7 passengers). Eighty kilometres south of Dakar, Mbour is nowadays a very important fishing centre and the perfect destination to observe local life in Senegal. Don’t miss the fishmarket and the incredible sunset from there!
Day 6: Joal Fadiouth
Around 30 minutes drive from Mbour, you will find Joal and Fadiouth, two sister towns where Muslims and Christians live together proud of their religious tolerance. The peculiarity of Fadiouth is that is an artificial island made entirely of shells and communicated with Joal by a wooden bridge. In their common cemetery, both Muslims and Christians rest in peace.
In Joal Fadiouth there are a couple of very interesting things to see. First, upon entering Joal, you will find the fishing port which is a magnificent sight during mornings and evenings. Another sight is the house where Leopold Senghor (Senegal’s first president) grew up. Lastly, you can also visit the grand baobab, supposed to be the biggest in Senegal. In the afternoon, make your way back to Dakar by sept-place.
Day 7: Lake Rekba
Finish your trip to Senegal with a day trip to the Lake Retba, a true natural phenomenon located only 30 miles from Dakar. This unusual lake will catch your eye because of its vivid pink colour. Its distinct colour is caused by the Dunaliella salina algae, which is attracted by the lake’s high salt content. The algae produces a red pigment in order to absorb the sunlight, while giving the lake its unique colour. Since the algae which gives the lake its color is completely harmless to humans, swimming is possible. Lac Rose is a perfect getaway for your last day in Senegal.
Day 8: Time to go back home… I hope you have enjoyed Senegal as much as I did!
Tips & advice
- Make sure to get the Yellow Fever vaccination before coming and to bring along the International certificate of vaccination. They might ask for it at the airport. It is recommended to get vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B, Tetanus and Typhus and to take antimalarial medication. Be extremely vigilant about not being bitten by mosquitoes too much. A good mosquito net is key! Even if flats/hotels have their own, it is better to trust yours, with no holes.
- Wear light, loose, and long-legged clothing. You will have to hand-wash your own clothes, so I’d suggest bringing things that dry quickly. Some white people wear shorts or little tank tops but, since everyone in Senegal covers their legs pretty much, I don’t think it is appropriate.
- Before getting into a taxi, you will have to bargain the price with the driver. Ask a local how much would be a fair price for the journey you want to do and then learn how to bargain. If you can’t get the price you have asked for, it’s fine to say no. There are lots of taxis to choose from in Dakar. If you do not get the price you want, start walking away and the taxi driver eventually will call you back giving you the price you have asked for.
- Senegalese people love toubabs (travelers) and you will need to get used to being the center of attention: everyone will want to talk to you. It is very important to come prepared to this (be ready to laugh a lot and don’t take anything too seriously).
Ana comes from Southern Spain, but you will hardly ever find her there. After a few years living in Germany and Ireland, she found out life without sun was not worthy for her! Now she lives in Istanbul where she teaches Spanish and writes about things she loves in her blog Ani Anywhere.
Photo credit: Ana