Senegal is a favorite destination among tourists to Western Africa. With its eventful history, serene plains and farmland, luxurious seaside resorts, and bustling capital Dakar, Senegal stands out among its neighbors and peers as very much a "go to" spot. Dakar is a modern spacious city with an intimate feel, hopping cafes, and friendly atmosphere. It's a city of more than a million residents and yet feels very open and easy to maneuver (and to escape, if you so choose). Check out the the beautiful gardens of the Palais Présidentiel, or the bustling markets Marché Kermel and Marché Sandaga, both full of fruits and vegetables, crafts and a variety of local fabrics.
Cap Skiring is home to some of Africa's finest beaches and best resorts. It's also home to much of Senegal's large and growing ex-pat population and Western tourists. It may be more like Monaco than traditional West Africa, but if you're craving a break and want a little taste of luxury, this may be the place for you.
Ile de Gorée is notable for a number of reasons; including its good beaches; friendly atmosphere; and small, laid-back community. But the most important aspect of this island isn't what happens in the present, it's what happened in the past. Ile de Gorée was one of the last stops for African slaves before being shipped to a life sentence in the United States. It's worth a visit.
Traveler's warning: The Casamance region, Senegal's southern farmland, has a large number of rebel groups and bandits, making it a potentially unsafe place to travel if you're not prepared. Do your research, find out what specific areas are most affected when you're there, and use common sense.
Traveling in Senegal
Traveling to and within Senegal can be done readily by air. There are a number of airlines to choose from, including Bamako, Banjul, Abidjan, and Bissau. For the cheapest flights and most efficient planning, use a travel agent, and be sure your exit fee is included in your ticket.
Road links to Senegal include Trans-Gambia Highway, though, in some cases, you may find the ferry service between Dakar, and Banjul and Ziguinchor to be faster, more comfortable, and safer--if more expensive--than the bush taxis. Within the country, buses are available, as are minibuses (though, it's worth mentioning the cars rapides are actually slow and dilapidated minibuses that are best avoided). Hire a taxi to take you where you need to go; renting a car is expensive and trying--that is, not advised.
Due to poor road conditions, the best overland route to Mali is by the Mistral International train, which departs Dakar once weekly and has good first-class seating and a dining car. One important tip: you'll need to show your passport at each border crossing; it may be taken on the train by an inspector, but you must retrieve it yourself at the office. When your passport is taken, find out where you can pick it up... They will not remind you, so it's on your shoulders to keep track of this essential item.
Weather in Senegal
Travel to Senegal between November and February, when when the air is cool and dry. But be wary of the harmattan winds coming off the Sahara, which can add some discomfort. For water-based activities, such as diving, February to April are the best months. The best bird watching can be done from November to April.
Republic of Senegal
Population: 10.3 million
Government: Republic under multiparty democratic rule
Square Miles: 75,750 sq mi (196,190 sq km)
Capitol: Dakar (pop 2 million)
Official Language: French (official), Wolof, Pulaar, Diola, Mandingo
People: Wolof (36%), Fula (17%), Sérèr (17%), Toucouleur (9%), Diola (9%), Mandinka (9%), European and Lebanese (1%)
Religion: 96% Islam, 6% indigenous beliefs, 2% Christian
Major products/industries: agricultural and fish processing, phosphate mining, petroleum refining, construction materials