Things to see and do in Senegal
Senegal Tourist Office in the USATelephone: (404) 995 6628.
Attractions in Senegal
Cap Vert Peninsula
Strap on the flippers and discover Senegal's underwater world by scuba diving off the awe-inspiring Cap Vert peninsula. Enthusiasts will find good diving waters all around this area, with February to April being the best months. Located about 80km (50 miles) off the coast of Dakar, the Cape Verde Islands are home to more than 70 shipwrecks that have sunk over the last four centuries. These include the U.S.S. Yorktown, The Lady Burgess, The Norfolk, and The Hartwell, among others. Not all of the older wrecks are accessible to divers, but many of the artefacts are on display in the capital, Praia.
Hidden amongst the bolongs (mangroves), in the Casamance region of Senegal, L'île de Carabane is a perfect place for those looking for good value accommodation, in a quiet and relaxed location rich in history, local legends and culture. It's possible to rent a dugout canoe and go fishing, walk to the mouth of the Casamance River, or get a guided tour of the many interesting places that overflow with mysterious stories. Why not ask about why the Colonial General is buried upside down with his dog in the old colonial cemetery? For more information get in touch with the Campement Villageois D'Elinkine (www.campementvillageoiselinkine.e-monsite.com).
Tour the well-watered, fertile Casamance area in the south of Senegal, and choose to drop into Cap Skirring where you'll find some of the finest beaches in West Africa, can visit some of the inland islands rich in culture, legends and colonial history, or explore the old colonial towns where structural remnants of the infamous transatlantic slave trade still remain. For a list of community-based ecotourism projects contact the Fédération des Campements Villageois (FECAV) (tel: 77 558 1421). Check the latest developments before venturing as the area has been home to a long-running conflict.
Gaze at the soaring Grande Mosquée, Dakar's most famous mosque (noted for its minaret, which is lit at night). Although closed to the public, it is located in Medina, a bustling area that makes for some interesting people-watching. Built in 1964 with financial assistance from King Hassan of Morocco, the building is inspired by the Mohammed V mosque in Rabat in the Maghreb style. It is possible to climb its tall minaret every day except Friday, when the mosque is only open to Muslims for prayer.
Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noire (IFAN)
Check out the Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noire (IFAN) (http://ifan.ucad.sn), Dakar's main museum, which has a collection of masks, statues and musical instruments from West Africa; and the Palais Présidentiel (Presidential Palace) which is surrounded by luscious gardens. Art, historical artefacts, and ethnographic material have been collected for the IFAN museum since 1941. Now there are other branches of IFAN across West Africa, in Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Benin, Burkina-Faso, Cameroon, Togo and Niger.
Join an ecotourism programme in the beautiful town of Kafountine, in the Basse Casamance region. Situated in a typical fishing and farming village, the community-based tourism camp called 'Sitoko' (tel: 77 403 6218) is a great introduction to traditional life in the southern region of Senegal. Other villages around the area also offer traditional accommodation and activities for tourists. (Note that political instability and a long-running conflict in this area means travellers should check before venturing there.)
Sightsee around eastern Senegal, one of the best-kept secrets of the country, and visit the Bedik, Bassari and Tenda people of the Kedougou area - their villages are situated in the middle of breathtaking landscapes. It is not easy to access the villages of these sometimes nomadic tribes, and therefore it may be advisable to find a guide who is knowledgeable of the tribes' migration patterns, and who speaks the local dialects to avoid any misunderstandings. In Kedougou you can rent bicycles. If you think you are fit enough, cycle all the way to Dindefelo (www.ecosenegal.org/en/kedougou), located at the bottom of a cliff that marks the beginning of the Futa Djalon escarpment and entry point to one of the only two waterfalls in Senegal.
Named because of the unusual tint of pink that the lake displays at certain times of the year as a result of a high concentration of algae-eating bacteria associated with very salty bodies of water, the 'Lac Rose' is popular with the adventurous travellers as well as thousands of birds including flamingos, spoonbills, pelicans, herons, terns and waders. It is possible to swim in the lake, or just float as the high concentration of salt allows for bathers to remain afloat without trying very hard. The locals also farm salt here.
Lac de Guiers
The largest inland lake in Senegal, the Lac de Guiers attracts visitors for its wealth of birdlife and its hunting reserve found to the east of the lake. Fed by the Ferlo River, the lake is also teaming with fish, and during the months of November and January, huge nets are cast from the banks by the local population and drawn in by fishermen in pirogues, the local name for the dugout canoes.
L'île de N'Gor is located a few minutes away from Dakar's main airport, and is a gem for unexpected events, good seafood, and fun characters if you are inclined to explore some of the more off-the-beaten track alleyways meandering across this small Caribbean-like paradise. Whether you are looking to catch some of the best surf in West Africa (www.gosurf.dk), are looking for a culinary treat of fresh fish straight from the sea, prefer to relax on golden sand beaches whilst listening to the reggae rhythms, or are an art enthusiast looking for your next purchase, this is the place to go.
Palmarin is rural community running along a 17km- (11-mile) peninsula on the most southern stretches of Senegal's Petite Côte. To the west are the sandy beaches skirting the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. Located to the east is the protected National Reserve de Palmarin, a patchwork delta consisting of mangrove channels, salt flats, grass lands and forest. This unique combination of habitat supports a wide assortment of plant and animal life. An exciting place to stay in Palmarin is at the Lodge des Collines de Niassam (www.niassam.com) where there is an option to stay in a tree house, in the mighty Baobab tree.
Parc National Aux Oiseaux Du Djoudj
Prime the binoculars at Parc National Aux Oiseaux Du Djoudj, a birdwatchers paradise at the southern edge of the Sahara. Created in 1971, the park extends over 60000 hectares (150,000 acres) and is one of the most important bird sanctuaries in the world and is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. Djoudj, the world's ninth most important ornithological site, attracts thousands of birdwatchers every year. The park is open from 1st November to 30th April and closes each day at noon. This means a very early start is required if one is taking a pirogue excursion to Djoudj from St. Louis or driving the 90 minutes ride to the reserve.
Parc National de Niokolo-Koba
Spot large mammals in the Parc National de Niokolo Koba (www.niokolo.com). The park encompasses Sudanese savannah and the Guinea forest. Over 84 species of mammal live here, including Africa's largest lions, elephants (extremely rare), panthers, crocodiles and a variety of antelopes. The region is the nearest part of Africa to Europe and the US where it is possible to view such a variety of birds and animals in natural surroundings.
Petite Côte (Little Coast)
At an hour's drive south of Dakar, la Petite Côte (Little Coast) stretches for some 150km (94 miles) and is considered one of Senegal's best beach areas. With a stunning coastline, idyllic climate and a number of good modern hotels, this area has become a magnet for European sun lovers who have little interest for the more adventurous side of Senegal. The main tourist resorts in the area are Mbour and, slightly further north, Saly Portudal.
This small village on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean is located just 70km (43 miles) south of Dakar on the Petit Cote. Popenguine is a member of Global Ecovillage Network of Senegal (GENSEN). It is known for its natural reserve, pristine sandy beach, and religious significance. It is also the weekend getaway for the President of Senegal, as the second presidential residence is located between Popenguine and the village of Ndayane.
Try your luck with a fishing rod. Deep sea sport fishing can be organised in Saly, or, for a more relaxed fishing experience, float down Senegal's creeks and rivers. Senegal offers fantastic fishing for enthusiasts as well as holidaymakers with a casual interest, from the Nile Perch in the Senegal River to the abundance of sailfish and marlin in its offshore waters. Deep sea fishing can be arranged in Saly whilst more relaxing trips can be arranged in the creeks, rivers and mangroves of the Sine Saloum delta. Most hotels organise such trips either in small pirogues or motorised boats.
Explore the Siné-Saloum delta, a wild region of mangrove swamps, dunes and lagoons. Go on a trip in a pirogue (traditional African boat) through the Parc National du Delta du Saloum, out to the delta's myriad small islands, scattered between bolongs (channels). Another exciting activity available in the delta is a flight in a ULM or micro-light over the mangroves, where you may, if you are lucky, follow the impressive flight of the pink flamingos as they migrate from one feeding spot to another. For more information on ULM activities, visit Senegal Experience (www.senegal.co.uk).
Wander the nostalgic and provincial streets of Senegal's former capital, St Louis. Its narrow, atmospheric streets are flanked by beautiful colonial houses, balconies and verandas. The fishing community here is the most interesting area of town, especially when their day's catch is laid out to dry. Don't miss the Faidherbe Bridge, a testament to St. Louis' colonial past or if you happen to be in the city at the right time, the world-renowned St. Louis International Jazz Festival (www.saintlouisjazz.org).
This small village to the south of Dakar, past Rufisque, is noted for its spectacular setting. In contrast to the rest of La Petite Côte, Toubab Dialao's beaches are bounded by steep cliffs of red rock. The beach's breathtaking potential reveals itself at sunset, at which time the sun reflects, off the cliff faces, hues of bright orange, red and deep crimson upon the little fishing beach. A Gaudi-esque accommodation option is available at Sobo Bade (www.sobobade.com), or for something a little more quaint and intimate, contact Daouda Fall, a local poet, to stay at his appropriately named 'Chez le Poete' (www.gvcc.sn).
Île de Gorée (Gorée Island)
Head for the tranquil, World Heritage-listed Île de Gorée (Gorée Island) just 3km (1.8 miles) outside of Dakar, and accessible by boat. One of the most infamous slave trading posts in West Africa, it has a long colonial history and is crammed with attractions such as the Maison des Esclaves (Slaves' House), Le Castel, a towering castle-like structure complete with WWII gun turrets, or the many restaurants serving delicious seafood, fish and local dishes.