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Senegal has it all: it is one the most beautiful countries of the West African coast. Most tourists come for the region’s exceptional weather — more than 3,000 hours of sunlight per year — and dazzling, sparsely populated beaches. But Senegal also offers a broad variety of crafts and textiles, and the country’s six major game parks and reserves have great opportunities for hunting, bird watching and ecotourism.
The Senegalese capital, Dakar, is known for its nightlife, and the country boasts one of Africa’s most varied music scenes. French jazz, American funk and hip-hop, and percussion-based genres all thrive in the country, and Senegal’s many musical exports include Youssou N’Dour, Daara J and Akon.
1. Dakar: Despite everything Senegal has to offer, you could easily schedule your entire trip taking in the sights and sounds of Dakar, the country’s capital, which has a population of more than 1.5 million. Open-air markets sell art, food, jewelry and many other items whose prices can often be bargained down to very reasonable levels. The museums, especially the Musée Théodore Monod (for African art) and the Institut Français Léopold Sédar Senghor (for African art of French influence), are on a par with the best museums in European and American cities.
2. Lac Rose: Also known as the Pink Lake, this shallow, salty lake is one of Senegal’s most popular tourist destinations. On sunny days, the water appears bright pink, owing to the water’s high salt content. Tourists are welcome to swim in the lake’s warm waters or watch the local traders scrape salt from the lake’s bottom by hand. Some inns offer horseback riding in the area.
3. Île de Gorée: An important stop on the slave transport route from the 16th to the mid-19th century, Goree Island is a short ferry ride (or pirogue trip) from Dakar. It has a number of historic forts, houses, and museums, including La Maison des Esclaves, where visitors can see where slaves and their traders lived while waiting to be transported to the New World. Despite its unpleasant history, the island is known for its beautiful Mediterranean architecture, and many travelers find in the Île de Gorée a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of Dakar.
4. Beaches: Senegal’s beaches are among the most photographed in the world and are not to be missed. Some of the best (and most popular) beaches near Dakar are the ones on the Île N’Gor and at Toubab Dialao (a site famous for its stunning red cliffs). Beaches farther south of Dakar are generally larger and less crowded, the Petite Côte spanning over 94 miles (151 kilometers). The Casamance region is known for its beaches as well, and the region is welcoming to tourists. Resorts in the city of Saly, near M’bour, offer a variety of water sports, including jet skiing and scuba diving.
5. Fathala Reserve: One of the most accessible ways to experience Senegal’s natural beauty is to visit the Fathala Reserve, part of the Parc Nationale du Delta du Saloum (Saloum Delta National Park). The park is known for its forest and wetlands, with hundreds of species of wildlife. Excursions on pirogues (small boats), fishing trips and hiking tours can be arranged in the charming village of Missirah.
6. Saint Louis: A namesake of the American city, Saint Louis retains much of its colonial-era architecture. It offers excellent shopping and walking tours, as well as easy day trips to the Djoudj and Langue de la Barbarie national parks.
7. Stone Circles: Spread throughout central Senegal and Gambia, stone circles make up the largest group of megalithic complexes in the world, and they are protected World Heritage Sites. The stones weigh up to 10 tons apiece. Smaller than the ones in Stonehenge, their carvings are nonetheless quite sophisticated, and although they are found near burial grounds, their exact purpose is unknown. The two main locations in Senegal, Sine Ngayène Kaolack and Wanar Kaolack, have visitor centers that offer guided tours.
8. Keur Moussa: A large Benedictine complex, Keur Moussa is secluded in the hills outside of Dakar. Tourists are welcome to observe mass, which incorporates indigenous musical instruments into the liturgy. Locals and visitors alike praise the goat cheese sold by the monks after services.
9. Sine Saloum Delta: Although the Delta offers easy access to the Petite Côte, its highlights are the gorgeous rivers and forest groves, which have many opportunities for hiking, bird watching and boat tours.
10. Bassari Country: This remote area in eastern Senegal is worth the trip. It has good accommodations, especially in the city of Kédougou, and provides a rare opportunity to observe life in tiny, rural villages that adhere to traditional lifestyles. This region is best explored by means of hiking, and guides can be found in most of Kédougou’s hotels.
When to Go
We recommend visiting Senegal during its dry season, between December and April. Heavy rains during other times of the year mean that some national parks may close and overland travel can be difficult.
When planning your trip, you will want to take Ramadan into consideration. While the evening festivities are among the most exciting and memorable experiences available to visitors, most restaurants are closed during the day and the country’s nightlife goes dormant for the monthlong fast. The dates of Ramadan are based on the lunar cycle and vary from year to year.