Senegal is one of the most popular tourist destinations in West Africa, which is home to Dakar and Saint Louis, two dynamic cultural hubs. Senegal is also home to several diverse wildlife parks, including the Niokolo-Koba National Park, the Oiseaux du Djoudj National Park, and the Bandia Game Reserve. Senegal is known as the land of “teranga”, which is the Senegalese value of hospitality, respect, and community. Teranga is a Wolof word (one of the national languages) which encompasses the Senegalese spirit of warmth and friendliness to visitors. Visitors to Senegal are sure to experience a warm welcome on their arrival, as well as throughout their visit. The Senegalese beaches are beautiful and sandy, with rich populations of fish. Savory Senegalese food is sure to tempt your taste as well.
While in Dakar, the vibrant capital city of Senegal, one can visit the Independence Square, with colonial buildings and new African-inspired architecture. Explore Dakar’s vibrant marketplaces, with their colorful flowers, fruits, fabrics, clothing and souvenirs. View the impressive government buildings: the Palais Présidentiel (Presidential Palace) surrounded by luscious gardens, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Cornice with the Anse Bernard Beach. One can drive through Soweto Square to see the National Assembly and the main museum, Institut Fondemental d’Afrique Noir (IFAN), which houses an amazing collection of masks, statues, musical instruments, and other lovely artifacts from West Africa. One can also visit the Cathedral and the National Theatre as well as Dakar’s Grand Mosque, which is a very impressive religious hub. The well-known craftsman’s village of Soumedioune, is also an enjoyable destination, where high quality goods in many mediums may be admired or purchased.
Goree Island, off the coast of Dakar, was the departure point of thousands of slaves who were sent to the Americas. Now a tranquil UNESCO World Heritage Site, Goree was one of the first French settlements in Africa. Visitors to Goree will have the opportunity to enter the Museum Maison des Eclaves (Slaves’ House), and to enjoy a spectacular view of Goree and the sparkling blue ocean beyond. While on the tiny island, travelers can visit the Town Square, the Historical Museum, and the many local artisan shops displaying a variety oil paintings, water colors and handmade crafts.
Saint Louis, once Senegal’s capital, is another French settlement from the days of slave trade. Named by the French in honor of King Louis XIV, Saint Louis is the oldest European settled city on the west coast of Africa. Saint Louis is considered the capital of good taste. The local restaurants in Saint Louis are the best in the country and visitors are encouraged to try the fresh local seafood dishes, such as the iconic Senegalese dish, Thieboudienne (savory seasoned rice with fish and vegetables).
One can also visit the Oiseaux du Djoudj National Park, north east of Saint Louis. This park provides a range of wetland habitats which are very populous with migrating birds, many of which have just crossed the Sahara. Thousands of Pelicans can be seen perched on rocks overlooking the wetlands. A wide range of other wildlife also inhabits the park.
In the Tambacounda area, located in southeastern Senegal, is the country’s largest national reserve, the Niokolo-Koba Park, which occupies about 3530 sq miles. It is estimated that the park contains 20 species of amphibians, 60 species of fish, 38 species of reptiles (of which four are tortoises). There are some 80 mammal species. These included (as of 2005) an estimated 11,000 buffaloes, 6,000 hippopotami, 400 western giant eland antelope, 50 elephants, 120 lions, and 150 chimpanzees. The park’s official opening season is 15 December to 30 April. It is open during the rest of the year but is largely inaccessible during the wet season (June to September). The best option for wildlife viewing is a river tour, where you’ll most certainly be able to see hippos and crocodiles. Visitors can also explore Simenti, the centre of the park, where the nearby waterhole is a wonderful viewing spot.
The Pink Lake (‘Lac Rose’ in French, ‘Retba’ in Wolof). is an incredible rose-colored body of water which is northeast of Dakar. Visitors are welcome to swim in the shallow, warm waters without any fear of drowning. Swimmers are guaranteed to float (as everything floats on this lake due to its very high salinity)! During the week, men and mostly women are busy crushing the bottom of the lake, which consists of a thick crust of salt. The lake is particularly spectacular at dawn and dusk, when the feldspar deposits reflect the sunlight through the salty waters and produce the unique and vibrant pink color.
Nearby the Lac Rose is the bustling Kayar village, a fishing community along the Atlantic coastline where donkey drawn buggies are the most common form of transportation. Visitors who arrive in time will be able to witness the spectacular return of the local fishermen from the high sea where they have spent the night. They will bring tons of fish, shrimp, and lobsters in their brightly colored pirogues (painted canoes).
The Bandia Wildlife Reserve is one of the most popular tourist destinations and has succeeded in reintroducing much of the marvelous native flora and of some of Africa’s best loved animals. Many of which have gradually disappeared, some of them centuries ago, due to demographic pressure and poaching. Surrounding the reserve is the massive Baobab Forest, which visitors will drive through on the way. All this lies within the 14 sq miles of fenced natural habitat. Visitors can get around the reserve in a private car or four-wheel drive vehicle, which are available at the reserve. After touring the game reserve, visitors can enjoy a meal at the Bandia restaurant which overlooks a waterhole where buffaloes and crocodiles relax, and monkeys chatter in the trees.
There are many things to embrace and experience in Senegal, here are a few other amazing activities you can try!
– Deep Sea fishing (Albacore, Yellow-fin Tuna, Barracuda, Blue Marlin, Swordfish, Grouper, Hammer Shark, etc.)
– Jet skis
– Ocean kayaking
– Zipline Tour in Baobab Forest