Last Updated on May 17, 2022 by Nellie Huang
Visit Senegal for a peek into West African culture and history. Here’s my detailed Senegal travel guide and itinerary.
Perched on the westernmost tip of Africa, Senegal beats to a different rhythm as its neighbors. The country is lined with beaches popular with surfers and dotted with islands that are home to crumbling but charming French colonial buildings.
The Senegalese pride themselves on the teranga, or warm hospitality in Wolof language. It’s one of the many reasons that makes Senegal so special in my eyes and is at the core of their culture. I traveled solo in Senegal, and met many people along the way who made a difference to my trip.
As one of the most stable countries in West Africa, Senegal is easily the best place to go for an introduction to the region. Whether it’s your first or 10th time in Africa, a trip to Senegal is never dull. Here’s my detailed guide with everything you need to know about Senegal travel.
Table of Contents
- Senegal Travel Guide 2022
- How to Visit Senegal
- When to Visit Senegal
- How Long to Travel Senegal?
- Is it Safe to Visit Senegal?
- How to Get Around Senegal
- Travel Senegal Independently or on Guided Tours?
- Where to Stay in Senegal
- What to Eat in Senegal
- Where to Eat in Senegal
- Cost of Travel in Senegal
- Religion in Senegal
- People of Senegal
- Language in Senegal
- Health Risks in Senegal
- Senegal Travel Itinerary: Things to Do in Senegal
- Senegal Travel Day 1: Explore Downtown Dakar & Ouakam
- Senegal Travel Day 2: Visit Goree Island
- Senegal Travel Day 3: Explore Ngor and Ngor Island
- Senegal Travel Day 4: Head to Saint-Louis
- Senegal Travel Day 5: Explore more of Saint Louis
- Senegal Travel Day 6: See Wildlife at Langue du Barbarie
- Senegal Travel Day 7: Return to Dakar
- Other Things to Do in Senegal
Senegal Travel Guide 2022
How to Visit Senegal
The Blaise Diagne International International Airport is the main gateway to Senegal. The airport is brand new, opened in December 2017, and it’s amazingly efficient. But it is located 27 miles (43km) from downtown Dakar (1-hour car journey).
Dakar Airport is easily accessible by direct flight from major cities in Europe, including Lisbon and Paris. Major airlines that serve this airport include Emirates, Air France, TAP Air Portugal and Turkish Airlines.
The cheapest way to fly to Dakar is from Lisbon on TAP Portugal. Flights from Lisbon to Dakar usually cost around $500 return. But I got a great deal: my flight from Amsterdam to Dakar cost only US$280 return!
Those flying from the US will have to fly via Europe. Flights from New York to Dakar cost around US$850 return (16-hour journey). Flights from Los Angeles to Dakar cost around $1000 return with stopovers in Chicago or Toronto.
Senegal has borders with Mauritania, Mali, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Gambia. The most notorious border crossing is the Senegal-Mauritania border at Rosso. It’s just two hours from Saint Louis and there’s a free ferry crossing to get you across the Senegal River. Some travelers have reported attacks at the border crossing. Read this blog post for details.
Another border crossing that is open is the Senegal-Gambia border in Karang/Amdallai. This border has frequent protests and closures. Karang is about a 5-hour journey from Dakar. After crossing the border, you’ll need to catch a taxi to Barra and from there, a ferry to Banjul, capital of Gambia.
Overland travel in Senegal is only recommended for those who have traveled West Africa and who can handle rough situations.
When to Visit Senegal
The best time to visit Senegal is during the dry season from November to February. These are the coolest months and the best time to see wildlife.
It’s best to avoid the rainy season from late June to September. Some national parks can become inaccessible and even closed. The heat and humidity can be extreme and malaria is a serious problem. If you’re planning to travel only around Dakar, you won’t have to worry about malaria.
I visited Senegal in early June and the weather was perfect. It wasn’t too hot or cold. The average temperature during the day was around 75 deg F (24 deg C) and it was dusty but not rainy.
How Long to Travel Senegal?
I spent one week in Senegal and got to explore three areas: Dakar, Saint-Louis and the Langue du Barbarie National Park. It gave me a good sense of the country, though I wished I had more time to go down south.
The best thing about traveling to Senegal is that it’s easily accessible from Europe where I’m based. Flights from Europe are short (3.5 hours) and cheap (mine cost $350 return). So I can easily come back anytime!
If you have the time though, I recommend having at least two weeks in Senegal. This will give you enough time to go to the desert and wildlife parks. See my Senegal itinerary at the bottom of the post.
Is it Safe to Visit Senegal?
Senegal is known as one of the safest countries in West Africa. With relatively low levels of crime and disease, plus a stable democracy, Senegal is quite a safe travel destination.
As a solo female traveler, I felt rather safe when traveling around Senegal. I got hassled a lot though, with usually 3-4 men (and women) approaching me each day. Mind you, they’re usually not that persistent.
West Africa tends to be more challenging than other parts of Africa for those who don’t speak French. I recommend hiring a guide if you’re not confident being alone. I traveled independently in and around Dakar and then hired a guide to explore Saint-Louis and a nearby national park. I didn’t get hassled one bit while traveling with him.
How to Get Around Senegal
It is possible to rent a car in Dakar and drive around on your own. Roads in Senegal are actually not too bad, especially those connecting Dakar with major cities/sights.
But there are quite a few unpaved roads so it’s best to hire a 4×4. I’d advise driving only if you’re an experienced driver and can navigate unpaved roads and crazy drivers. A 1-week car rental from Dakar Airport cost around $285 for a compact car and $1000 for a 4×4.
A popular way of getting around cities is by Ndiaga Ndiayes (colorful 30-seater minibuses). These buses aren’t the most comfortable way to get by but give you an interesting local experience.
To get from one city to another, the best way is by sept-place (Peugeot cars converted into 7-seaters). These cars leave from the main taxi station of each city and depart only when they’re full. Be prepared to be squashed!
Taxis are common and easy to get everywhere, but be sure to bargain. Prices to get around the downtown area are around 1000 CFA.
From downtown Dakar to Ngor shouldn’t cost more than 3000 CFA each way. And a taxi from Dakar to the airport is priced at 25,000 – 30,000 CFA each way.
Travel Senegal Independently or on Guided Tours?
West Africa tends to be more challenging than other parts of Africa for those who don’t speak French. I traveled independently around Dakar and then used the service of a guide to explore the north. I hired Moctar, founder of From Dakar, that focuses on immersion trips. He’s multi-talented guy who’s also a photographer and media company owner.
If you prefer to travel with a group, check out this 10-day Senegal and Gambia adventure with small-group operator G Adventures. I’ve traveled with them many times (to Mongolia, Antarctica, Brazil, Nepal etc.) and can highly recommend them. Every single trip was epic and I made many lifelong friendships on my trips with them.
Alternatively, you can book day tours on Viator to have a guide only on certain days. Here are some day tours from Dakar worth checking out:
- Museum and Mosques: Exploring the Cultural Fabric of Senegal
- Day trip around Dakar and Goree Island
- Day trip to Bandia National Park and Pink Lake
- Solidarity Tourism in Traditional Villages
Where to Stay in Senegal
There are lots of affordable choices when it comes to accommodation, especially in Dakar. A good resource for apartment or villa rental in Senegal is MyAfric.com (akin to the Airbnb of West Africa). If you’re an upscale traveler, then that’s the best place to find comfortable accommodation.
Blaise Diagne Airport: Radisson Hotel Dakar Diamniadio
If you’re arriving late into Dakar, I recommend booking a hotel near the airport as Dakar is an hour away by taxi. This is the only airport hotel (albeit around 20 minutes away) with a free airport shuttle. It’s a proper 5-star hotel with an excellent pool and restaurant. Check the latest rates.
Dakar: Villa Renaissance
This was the best place I stayed at in Senegal. The private mansion has been converted into a comfortable boutique hotel with clean and stylish rooms and a swimming pool. Rooms are air-conditioned and feature 4-poster beds and a turquoise beach theme. It’s just a 10-minute walk from the beach in Ngor. Check the latest rates.
Dakar: Hotel du Plateau
I also stayed at this clean and pleasant hotel located right in the heart of downtown Dakar. This area is where all the colonial buildings stand and there’s quite a lot to see here. But it is a gritty area, so be prepared for some hassling. The hotel is a great escape from the chaos of the city though, with comfortable air-conditioned rooms. Check the latest rates.
Saint-Louis: Hotel La Residence
This is one of Saint-Louis’ oldest hotels, located right in the heart of the island. The owners (an ancient Saint-Louisian family) have done a great job in evoking the sense of history. The heritage hotel is well located and definitely the best place to stay in town. Check the latest rates. Check the latest rates.
Langue du Barbarie: Zebra Bar
Located on the edge of the Senegal River, this campsite has awesome views and access to the bird reserve of Langue du Barberie. The spacious kid-friendly camp has accommodation in simple huts and big bungalows. Check the latest rates.
What to Eat in Senegal
Senegalese food took me by surprise: it’s hearty, spicy and comforting. Traditional Senegalese dishes often come with rice and a dollop of chili or mustard.
Fish and seafood are staples of Senegalese cuisine. You’ll find grilled sole, dorade and calamari in many restaurants. Otherwise, chicken and goat are always available. Vegetarians might have some difficulty finding options in Senegal as meat is found in almost every dish here.
There are the three main Senegalese dishes you need to try:
- Thieboudienne (pronounced Chebu Jen) literally means “fish and rice” in the local Wolof language.
- Yassa is a sauce of onions, lemons and garlic. It is used to garnish chicken and fish.
- Mafé is a succulent peanut butter-based sauce that is usually served in curry form with beef, pork, goat, or chicken.
Where to Eat in Senegal
There are lots of cheap eateries and patisseries all over the main cities. Food hygiene may be a problem at street-side stalls and some dibuterie (barbecue meat stands), so be careful.
Here are some of the best places I ate at:
- Keur N’Dya, Dakar — This is undoubtedly one of the best places to try thieboudienne in Dakar. They serve traditional Senegalese dishes that are sometimes accompanied by the kora (West African harp-like instrument).
- Chez Katia, Ngor — This hip restaurant in Ngor is particularly popular with Senegalese. It’s got an affordable menu that includes amazing pastries, grilled meat, and pizza.
- Le Reveil, Saint-Louis — This humble restaurant/bar in the heart of Saint-Louis serves up amazing mafé with goat meat. My guide said it’s the best place to eat in Saint-Louis.
Cost of Travel in Senegal
The currency used in Senegal is West African Franc (CFA). The exchange rate is roughly US$1=580 CFA. You can get a decent exchange rate at the airport, so changing money at the change bureau near baggage claim is definitely worth it.
Senegal is generally cheap when it comes to accommodation and transport. You can get a room at a guesthouse/campsite for around $20/night and a comfortable air-conditioned room in Dakar for $50-70/night.
Food isn’t as cheap as you’d think. A dish of thieboudienne in a local eatery usually costs 2000-3000 CFA ($3.70-5.50), and grilled fish or calamar in a tourist town costs around 4000-6000 CFA ($7.50-11).
Religion in Senegal
The majority of Senegalese are Muslims, but they tend to be less conservative than their counterparts elsewhere in Africa.
Most Senegalese are understanding of western cultures, with many adopting western-style dress themselves. It is acceptable to dress in singlets and dresses, but you should still be mindful of local cultural practices and beliefs. Cover up when entering religious buildings.
In particular, take extra caution during religious festivals. During Ramadan, it’s not polite to eat and drink on the street during daylight hours, while most are abstaining.
People of Senegal
The Senegalese take pride in “teranga”, a Wolof word for hospitality. You’ll hear that a lot during your Senegal trip.
People tend to be open and welcoming towards visitors. I lost count of the number of locals who approached me to strike up a conversation. The hassling can be annoying, but stay firm and calm.
Most of the time, they want to show you their shop or be your guide. I usually respond with a firm “no”. But if I sense that the man is trying to make an honest living, I would hire him for a short tour and pay 2000 CFA for his time.
Language in Senegal
The main languages spoken in Senegal are Wolof and French. But I’ve found quite a few people who speak English, particularly the young Senegalese who are constantly hassling tourists.
Don’t expect taxi drivers or waiters to speak English. Knowing a few key words in French or Wolof can be very useful. Start with a friendly “Bonjour” (Hello) and “Ça va? Bien?” (How are you? Good?) in French. Even better, say “Salaam Alaykum” to greet locals and “Jërejëf” (Thank you in Wolof).
I can understand a bit of French (but can’t really speak it), and didn’t find it difficult to get by. You can always find help at your hotel or use Google Translator.
Health Risks in Senegal
In recent years, Senegal has made vast strides in the battle against malaria, with cases falling from over 30% in the early 2000s to less than 5% in 2015.
Dakar and Saint-Louis can be visited without malaria medication. But you should take precautions during the rainy season (late June – September) and if heading inland (especially the southeast). I visited in early June and didn’t take any malaria medication. It didn’t rain at the all when I was there and mosquitoes were very few.
Though a yellow fever vaccine isn’t required to enter Senegal, it’s recommended. Once you get one, it’s effective for life. Remember to bring a good mosquito repellent, tissue and sunblock.
Senegal Travel Itinerary: Things to Do in Senegal
I’m sharing my 1-week Senegal itinerary to help you plan your Senegal trip. Many of the interesting sights like Lac Rose and Goree Island are near Dakar, so it’s easy to base yourself in Dakar and explore the area.
Senegal Travel Day 1: Explore Downtown Dakar & Ouakam
Downtown Dakar is where most of the old colonial buildings are found. It is quite rough, be prepared for some hassling.
Some of the points of interest in downtown Dakar worth checking out are Le Musée des Civilisations Noires, Gare du Dakar, Hotel du Ville and Marche Kermel (street market).
Continue to the Ouakam fishing village that is home to two major sights: Monument de la Renaissance Africaine (tallest statue in Africa) and Mosquée de la Divinité.
Senegal Travel Day 2: Visit Goree Island
Île de Gorée (or Goree Island) is a gorgeous island and UNESCO site just 1.8 miles (3km) from downtown Dakar. The tiny island makes for an ideal day trip, as it’s just a 20-minute ferry ride from the Gare du Dakar.
The island’s sandy car-free lanes and pastel-colored colonial buildings flanked by lush bougainvillea flowers and baobab trees are undeniably alluring.
But don’t let the bright colors here fool you — the island bears witness to some of the worst brutalities in human history. From the 15th to the 19th century, it was the largest slave-trading centre on the Senegalese coast.
Senegal Travel Day 3: Explore Ngor and Ngor Island
Next morning, head to Ngor, a fishing village that is one of Dakar’s most attractive areas. A taxi ride from downtown Dakar to Ngor costs around 3000 CFA ($5).
Ngor itself has a nice beach with lots of colorful boats lined up on the sand and kids frolicking in the water. Next to the seafront is an interesting labyrinth-like residential area where locals live.
Then head out on a pirogue (leaves whenever it is full) to Ngor island or Île de N’Gor, just off the shore. The peaceful islet has a few calm beaches with some legendary surf on the norther end. The sandy walkways are flanked by surf camps, eclectic art galleries and artistic houses.
Senegal Travel Day 4: Head to Saint-Louis
It’s time to head out to explore the countryside of Senegal. Saint-Louis is a 4-hour journey from Dakar on the sept-place (7-seater). Catch a sept-place from the Gare Routiere Pompiers.
Saint-Louis was the first French settlement in Africa, founded in 1659. It became a thriving trading centre, and eventually the capital of the French colonial empire.
The old town stands on an island in the middle of Senegal River. Today it’s a shadow of its former self, existing as a sprawl of dilapidated colonial buildings which hint at former glory. A few of the beautiful buildings have been wonderfully restored such as the Museum of Photography and Keur Fall Artisan shop.
Senegal Travel Day 5: Explore more of Saint Louis
There is a lot to Saint-Louis so I recommend spending another day wandering its dusty roads and checking out the interesting shops and museums.
The best way to explore every corner of Saint-Louis is by horse-drawn carriage, the original mode of transport here. Make a stop at the Faidherbe Bridge, the city’s most significant landmark. It was designed by Gustav Eiffel, the famous engineer behind Eiffel Tower.
Cross the bridge and you’ll find a very different side to Saint Louis. The fishing district of Guet Ndar is an extremely lively area with thousands of pirogues parked on the beach and gritty houses lining the dusty roads.
Senegal Travel Day 6: See Wildlife at Langue du Barbarie
Located around a 30-minute taxi ride from Saint-Louis, the Langue du Barbarie National Park is a protected area around the estuary where the Senegal River and the Atlantic Ocean meet.
It is home to many bird species, including the flamingo, pelican, cormorant heron and egret. Catch a pirogue and you’ll see them in big flocks, especially from November to April.
There are also lots of small villages within the national park. We took a stroll to a village just outside Zebra Bar and it was fascinating to visit the market and see how locals live in the rural area.
Senegal Travel Day 7: Return to Dakar
It’s time to head back to Dakar. Spend some time in the morning wandering around Saint Louis (lots of markets, interesting shops and boutiques) before catching a sept-place back to Dakar.
I’d advise staying near the Blaise Diagne airport if you have a morning flight to catch as Dakar is an hour away. There’s not a lot going on around the airport and the only hotel that’s near is the Radisson Hotel Dakar Diamniadio.
Other Things to Do in Senegal
- Lac Rose — A pink lake that shimmers under the sun due to the cyanobacteria that flourish in the water.The degree of pinkness depends on the season.
- Toubab Dialow — My local guide’s favorite surfing spot in Senegal. The cliffs drop off to the Atlantic Ocean beneath. This fishing town is home to a hippy campsite and backpackers’ favorite, Sobo Bade.
- Sine-Saloum Delta — If you have more than 1 week in Senegal, I highly recommend visiting this delta. About three hours from Dakar, Sine-Saloum is a beautiful area of shimmering flat plains, palm groves, salt marshes and lagoons.
- Desert du Lompoul — Near the Grand Cote lies giant dunes that stretch from the coast far into the country’s interior. You can stay in Mauritanian desert tents right in the middle of the dunes.
- Bandia Wildlife Reserve — If it’s your first time in Africa and you’re dying to see big animals, head to Bandia Reserve just outside Dakar.
Did I miss out on anything? Ask me anything in the comment field below!
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