With a history rich in French colonialism, this country has spectacular architectural sites, coastal vistas, and tranquil nature. Senegal enjoys a rich culture full of music and dancing, with the capital city of Dakar embracing a strong contemporary art scene that often draws the younger population out at night. It has been compared to an almost Parisian-like city found in the exotic landscape of West Africa.
The first French settlement to find its way to West Africa is found in Senegal. Saint-Louis is a history lover’s dream, with incredible colonial architecture that will make you feel you are stepping back in time. Located on a small island in the center of the Senegal River, you will truly feel engulfed by the powerful stories and ambience of this city.
For the wildlife seekers take some time to visit the Niokolo-Koba National park where many majestic creatures are protected. Here you might come across some elephants, hippopotamus, or even some crocodiles.
No matter where you find yourself in Senegal, you’ll be greeted with friendly people and a lively energy that begs visitors to join. From the sparks of energy found in the capital city to the luxurious calm found along the coastline, Senegal has something for everyone.
WHEN TO TRAVEL – WEATHER
The best time to visit Senegal is between November in February when you will see the driest and coolest season for the country. However, the closer you visit to the rainy season means you’ll encounter a more verdant landscape with popping flower blossoms and countless birds soaring through the sky. The rainy season is seen between June and September, however, take note that many hotels offer lower prices during this time of year to try and encourage more visitors during the more humid season.
One thing to take note of during the dry season is the strong harmattan winds that come blowing down from the Sahara desert. These winds can become quite powerful and often bring along with them heavy dust and dry air. This is especially important to be aware of should you struggle with any breathing ailments or sensitivity to exceptionally dusty weather.
You’ll often see temperatures floating somewhere around 83-degrees Fahrenheit, so be sure to pack clothes that are comfortable and lightweight. Prepare for cooler evenings and even some possible showers by bringing along a light sweater and light rain jacket. If you plan on exploring the country by foot, be sure to pack a sturdy pair of walking shoes to accommodate your adventures.
SENEGAL CUISINE AND DRINKS
You don’t have to look far to see the French influence within Senegal cuisine. From croissant and pastries, to freshly baked breads, it’s clear that the former colony of France embraced some of the tastes and textures of the European country. Stop and grab a quick baguette sandwich for lunch of breakfast as you explore the capital city of Dakar by foot.
However, when looking for staple meals enjoyed by the people of Senegal, you’ll often find meals that are rich in rice, couscous, and millet. One of the favorite dishes of the country, often seen as the national dish of Senegal, is a meal called thiéboudienne (sometimes seen Thiebou jen) which is comprised of large pieces of fish stuffed with various flavorful herbs and then presented atop rice and vegetables.
Deserts are often very rich and sweet, with the influence of a popular Senegal crop – the peanut – showing in various forms. Enjoy thiakry after your meal, a sweet couscous pudding. Or stop by a local market and buy yourself a cinq cetimes, which literally translates to “five-cent cookie.”
If hoping to taste some of the more popular beverages of Senegal, one of the more commonly enjoyed beverages is a drink called bissap. Made with hibiscus, sugar and water, this fruitful and light drink is a sweet treat for a warm day. The French inspired ginger drink, gingembre, is also a favorite of the locals. The country also loves tea and prefers attaya tea.
POPULAR SITES OF SENEGAL
- Saint Louis Jazz Festival: Held every year in the early part of May in the city of Saint-Louis, this festival is the most well-known festival in all of West Africa. Pulling talent from a variety of international locations, there is an open air stage that fills the sky with the pulsing heartbeat of jazz and musical energy.
- Marché Kermel: Located in the capital city of Dakar, this market is a feast for the eyes, ears, and nose. Filled with all local items from flowers to textiles to food, you’re sure to find at least one item you simply can’t live without. A little more low-key than other markets you might encounter throughout Africa, you’ll find yourself wanting to go back again to enjoy the energy that throbs from the center of the city.
- Cap Skiring: If you are looking for some of the best beaches in all of West Africa, look no further than Cap Skiring located on the coast of Senegal. This is a perfect getaway from the busy life of Dakar and possible to do in a day trip. Though it is usually full of beach-goers, Cap Skiring still manages to hold tight to the tranquility and calm that can only be found in a remote, idyllic beach.
- Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary: This UNESCO World Heritage Site is located along the Senegal River delta and is a massive bird sanctuary, full of flight and life that any nature lover would revel to see. Boat tours are available to take you along the lush waterway, revealing more and more birds with every turn. From flamingos to pelicans and varieties of ducks, you’ll find yourself wanting to take flight right alongside these elegant creatures.
PRACTICAL INFO FOR SENEGAL
Though it is possible it may change, Senegal no longer requires visas for US citizens visiting the country for fewer than 90 days. This was put into place in 2015 in hopes of encouraging tourists to visit Senegal following the Ebola outbreak in neighboring countries. This is why it is quite possible the necessity for a visa may again be put into place at a future date. However, should you wish to visit Senegal for more than 90 days you will still need to obtain a visa from the Senegalese Embassy in Washington DC. It is also advised that you receive a yellow fever vaccination before entering the country.
Banks and Currency
The official currency of Senegal is the West African CFA franc. The currency comes in both bill and coin form, with coins in the following range: 1, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 500 coins. The CFA bill is found in the following denominations: 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, and 10,000. CFA stands for “Coopération financiére en Afrique centrale” and is the currency found in the majority of West Africa.
It is most efficient to bring USD or the Euro to be exchanged into the West African CFA franc and most banks will exchange them for you for fairly reasonable rates.
ATMs can be found in the larger cities and towns throughout Senegal, though it is wise to withdraw larger amounts of cash to avoid running into a malfunctioning ATM machine.
The most efficient way to get around Senegal is by using a sept-place taxi. Though these vehicles do not provide the most comfortable of rides to its passengers, it is the fastest way to get from point A to point B. Keep in mind when using taxis that there will be an extra charge for luggage you bring on board, though it usually is just an extra 10% - 20% of the total bill. While this extra fee is negotiable, it will most likely always be present.
Though they are not exceptionally common, there have been public demonstrations, protests, and gatherings held throughout Senegal that may lead to violent situations. In addition, due to its proximity to other countries that see political unrest and instability, it is wise to stay conscious of any borders you may be traveling near. It is advisable to avoid any public gatherings and travel at night in convoy or with a guide, especially in the more remote areas of the country. For safety, be sure to check the US Department of State before venturing to Senegal to ensure you have all pertinent information to guarantee and safe and enjoyable trip.