Africa could be frightening if one listened only to the alarmist news of the major Western media. But everything is going well in Senegal: the tourist season is full and next year looks very good, hoteliers are happy and tourist guides too. Senegal is an easy gateway to discover Africa. Its open-mindedness, hospitality and French as the national language make Senegal a perfect destination for a first trip to Africa: we now have a brand new international airport and beautiful highways, baobabs are displaying their monkey loaves and birds are chirping in the blue sky. With its villages, tropical forests, paradisiacal beaches, deserts and wild animals, Senegal is a country with many treasures to discover. Dare and find a friendly people, a safe destination and the opportunity to live an unforgettable adventure. If you have never thought about traveling to Senegal, this is the best time. And it is explained to you why you should pack your bags now and set off to discover Africa.
Why go on a trip to Senegal?
Like Thailand for South East Asia, Senegal seems ideal for a first time in Africa. French is spoken there, the political climate is stable and the tourist infrastructure is well developed. Perfect to start. In addition, you can take a trip into the bush, walk in typical villages, go on a mini safari in the savannah, sunbathe on the white sandy beach under the coconut trees.
The Senegalese handicraft is surprising. What objects to bring back from Senegal? Wax, African masks, spices, carved wooden objects. There is a choice of travel souvenirs to bring back from Senegal. A beautiful mask seen on the island of Gorée or traditional necklaces made of Gorée pearl, wax … they are big and original, not necessarily easy to wear, but you can buy them as souvenirs and as decorative objects.
Sailing on the Siné Saloum is also a good reason to make a trip to Senegal. The Siné Saloum is the small preserved pearl of a trip to Senegal, an authentic, soft parenthesis, far from the hustle and bustle of the villages. There are its long hours of pirogue, the best way to navigate from islet to islet. The observation of the fauna, the flora, the typical mangroves of the region. Meeting and sharing with many children. The smiles and curiosity of the children. The quiet villages, a real leap in time. Years back in time, no electricity, no car, no computer, no electrical outlets. Simplicity in its most beautiful dress! Travelling in the Siné Saloum is like an ode to life you will see and a must for me if you want to go to Senegal.
There are actually a thousand and one good reasons to go to Senegal this year. For the smiles of the Senegalese and the laughter of the children. For the century-old baobabs, its Bandia reserve and all the exceptional fauna and flora of the country. The long endless roads through the bush and the ice in the Bissap (Hibiscus). The heavenly beaches (and spared from pollution) on the Petite-Côte and in Casamance, but also for the Senegalese cuisine, what a delight! For the sweetness of life and tranquility of small villages. For the monkeys on the roadsides.
In short, Senegal ticks a few boxes on the list of ideal winter vacation destinations.
Senegal is a country of great wealth and diversity, and one of the most stable in Africa. It is, in general, a very secure country, with the exception of the Casamance region below the Gambia. The most important thing is to travel with health insurance and to have the recommended vaccines for tropical destinations up to date. And then, relax and enjoy because Senegal loves tourists and knows how to welcome them like nobody else.
Senegal is an easy gateway to discover Africa. Its open-mindedness, its welcome and French as the national language make Senegal a perfect destination for a first trip to Africa. You will have to play negotiation, take the famous bush cabs, confront yourself with a completely different culture, but nothing too bad. And isn’t that why we travel too? To get out of our “comfort zone”, to go towards the other, to discover new horizons? The country abounds in beautiful beaches, some of them preserved from mass tourism, as in Casamance, ideal to mix cultural visits and relaxation, especially if you travel to Senegal with children.
A country of contrasts
Senegal is an extremely diverse and rich country: you can either spend a relaxing vacation on a paradisiacal beach while discovering the African charms in a quiet way, or discover the fauna and flora during safaris or explore the lakes and lost corners. A true paradise, still far from the crowds of tourists.
Dakar: a city not to be missed
Dakar is the capital of Senegal and a former French port colony. This cultural influence is visible in the streets, the architecture and even the language, since French is the official language of the country. Certain aspects of Senegalese culture are unmissable in this emblematic city: the music, which makes Dakar one of the most popular nightlife spots in Africa, and the local life, which you will discover by getting lost in the winding streets and strolling through the various markets of the Medina.
Dakar is the capital of Senegal, West Africa. This port city on the Atlantic Ocean is located on the peninsula of Cape Verde. Its traditional district, the Medina, is home to the Great Mosque, which is distinguished by its imposing minaret. The Theodore-Monot Museum exhibits cultural objects such as clothing, percussion instruments, sculptures and tools. The city’s lively nightlife finds its inspiration in the local music, the mbalax.
A commercial platform built on a harbour, Dakar is also the cultural and artistic center of the country, as evidenced by its famous ethnographic museum and its numerous music and dance festivals. Travellers will not fail to reach by ferry the island of Gorée, off the coast of Dakar, a haven of peace where the memory of the thousands of slaves forcibly shipped to America is celebrated.
Enter Dakar, the capital of Senegal which attracts boaters from all over the world. Don’t hesitate to stroll through its lively streets or visit its night clubs. The people of Dakar will transmit their passion for partying to you. But above all, this metropolis promises to seduce all lovers of festivities and authenticity. The national park of the Magdalen Islands, off the coast of Dakar, is home to an exceptional fauna: dolphins, turtles and especially birds (black kite, cormorant, gannets, red-billed hornbills …).
Not to be missed during your stay in Dakar: Kermel market; museum of the Fundamental Institute of Black Africa (IFAN) Cheikh Anta Diop; colonial buildings of the French Quarter (Governance, Chamber of Commerce, the City Hall); Medina, which houses the Great Mosque (closed to the public); mosque of the Divinity; admire Dakar from the Mamelles lighthouse, on the road to the West Corniche; the beaches…: anse Bernard, Hann, la Voile d’Or, Monaco; the island of Gorée (House of slaves, historical museum, colonial houses); the other islands of the Cape Verde peninsula (N’Gor, la Madeleine…); Lake Retba, better known under the name of “pink lake”.
The island of Gorée, or simply Gorée, is both an island in the North Atlantic Ocean located in the bay of Dakar and one of the 19 boroughs of the capital of Senegal.
This island, close to Dakar, was the main island where slaves were transported and then taken to other parts of the new world. The history of slavery is an important mark in Senegalese culture and you can learn more about this period at the Slave House, a memorial museum that tells the story of slavery and which has been considered a UNESCO heritage site because of its important cultural value. The island of Gorée had many advantages for sailors: safe anchorage, proximity to a continent with which there were great opportunities for trade and facilities for defending the place.
Situated on the Cape Verde peninsula, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Dakar stretches from Cape Manuel in the south to the tip of the Almadies in the north. Off the coast of Dakar are the small island of Gorée in the south, the Magdalen Islands in the west, and the islands of N’Gor and Yoff in the north.
The Pink Lake: Africa’s Dead Sea
Lake Retba, which literally translates as Pink Lake, is located north of the city of Dakar and is a destination not to be missed, considered a UNESCO natural heritage site. The pink color of the water is due to the presence of algae, but this lake is also popular because of its high salt content, which can reach 40, offering an experience similar to the Dead Sea: if you try to swim this way, you will probably float. Why is Senegal’s Pink Lake pink? The answer lies in the chemical composition of its waters, marked by a very high salt content, over 300 grams per liter. By way of comparison, the sea contains between 20 and 40 grams and the Dead Sea about 275 grams per liter. An extremophilic bacterium adapts to this environment, which is otherwise inhospitable to most forms of life. Dunaliella salina produces a dye of the beta-carotene family to protect against salt and ultraviolet rays from the sun. The pinkish, sometimes even mauve, tint of the water in Lake Retba therefore depends on the amount of sunshine and the salt concentration. When the weather is cloudy, the place can present a completely normal color.
North of Dakar, the Pink Lake forms with the island of Gorée one of the most popular tourist attractions in Senegal. Lake Retba, its official name, welcomes every year thousands of people eager to discover this natural curiosity. To convince you to contemplate it in your turn during a stay in Senegal, we give you five reasons to visit its shores.
There are many pink lakes throughout the world. These lakes all have in common that they have a very high salt content.
Lake Retba is probably the most famous of all the pink lakes. This large lagoon of almost 4 km², surrounded by dunes, is located 45 km northeast of Dakar, a few hundred meters from the Atlantic Ocean, on the territory of the village of Sangalkam. The salt of the pink lake is free of iodine, so it is not edible in its current state.
Popenguine: a jewel in the Atlantic Ocean
In the heart of Popenguine stands the oldest Christian church in Senegal. Its fame has been built especially around the Black Madonna, whom the Pope himself came to bless and to whom, for one hundred and thirty years, pilgrims have flocked on Whit Monday. Apart from that, the small village, located on the Petite Côte, south of Dakar, seems quite ordinary. With its roadside stalls, street vendors, and dirt streets, Popenguine is no different from the other towns around. To the south of Dakar lies Popenguine, a region of Senegal that has great natural wealth and much to discover. It is a popular village for its natural reserves and its Christian predominance, which receives the pilgrimage of the Black Madonna that you can see during a visit to the local church. There is also the region of Saly, with an excellent seafront and good seaside resorts, where you can relax and enjoy beaches with crystal clear waters. After relaxing, don’t forget to visit the nearby fishing villages and even take a trip on a pirogue where you can observe and discover the traditional way of angling, as it was done in the past and is still done in this region.
A safari in Bandia
You will leave from your hotel at 9 am and we will take you to the south-east of Dakar to enter the forest of Bandia, one of the most famous natural reserves in Senegal. Created in 1990, the Bandia reserve is a small private reserve of 3,500 hectares located 65 km south of Dakar in Senegal.
Along the way, you can admire the magnificent baobabs, the most symbolic tree of the African savannah. Did you know that the Senegalese often use them as burial chambers? You will discover many other exciting facts about African culture during the visit.
After a journey of about an hour, you will finally arrive at the Bandia reserve, a wilderness area of 3,000 hectares, populated by animal species native to the African continent. Once there, you will embark in a convertible all-terrain vehicle and start a safari to discover giraffes, zebras, rhinos, antelopes, ostriches or crocodiles.
Throughout the safari, you will be able to admire how these impressive living creatures live in total freedom. In addition, you will be able to photograph them from the 4×4 to keep an unforgettable memory of this excursion.
There are none. Except spotted hyenas in cages near the reception of the Bandia reserve. And it is very regrettable. The surface of the reserve of Bandia is much too small for the presence of carnivores. If you love wild animals and want to discover the wildest side of Senegal, you can not miss the nature reserve of Bandia. In this nature park you can go on a jeep safari and observe wild animals such as giraffes, rhinos and buffaloes. Among the flagship species are white rhino, giraffe, Derby eland, Cape eland, roan antelope, dama gazelle, red-fronted gazelle, Burchell’s zebra, great kudu, Fassa and Buffon’s cobes, Vervet, Pata monkey, Nile crocodile, jackal. Truly an unforgettable adventure.
Gastronomy: what to taste?
There is no lack of choice. It goes from the dibiterie, where one consumes the grilled sheep essentially very cheap and copious, to the gastronomic restaurant, in general European and especially established in the main cities or the tourist places, while passing by the small Senegalese, Lebanese restaurants, for the chawarma in sandwich or on plate, the falafels, balls of broad beans and other specialities not expensive at all, Franco-Senegalese, Italian, Asian. Senegal’s gastronomy is as rich as its landscapes: with a strong French influence, it is also inspired by Muslims and other African countries. Fish and shellfish play a very important role, “thiof” being the most common fish. The accompaniments are vegetables, rice or cous-cous, and the meat is usually poultry or lamb. Another delicacy that you can’t help but taste is peanuts. Some say that Senegal has the best peanuts in the world. In Dakar, because it is a more cosmopolitan neighborhood, you will discover trendy restaurants that reinterpret in an interesting way some typical dishes of gastronomy.