Travel Tips for Senegal
As the Senegalese Do. . .
Enjoy the music! Don’t take life so seriously and don’t over think things, just enjoy the music and dance, definitely dance. Be friendly to those you meet and you will surely have the courtesy exchanged. Get what you need to done and spend the rest of the day or evening just enjoying the life that has been given to you.
As noted, Senegal is one of the most peaceful countries in the world and individuals from different ethnic groups, nationalities, and religions are generally openly accepted.
An unfortunate exception to this rule is acceptance of the LGBT community. Views on homosexuality are shaped largely by religious beliefs and with laws making homosexuality a crime, the Senegalese population seems to have become empowered with the ideas behind their homophobia. While the violent attacks or even blatant disrespect and hate seen in other African nations are not common, LGBT individuals should use some caution in Senegal, considering that homosexuality is illegal and there have been a number of arrests made, in the enforcement of this law. There have not been reported incidents of abuse of foreign travelers from the LGBT community, but DU would advise travelers to be aware of the situation.
The relaxed, laid-back atmosphere of Senegal allows for a generally hassle-free holiday. However, as with travel to any new country, there are certain annoyances that do pop up.
Not unlike other countries in the region, but certainly much less so than The Gambia, which Senegal engulfs, there is certain heckling of tourists, particularly Caucasian tourists. In Senegal, unlike in other countries, this is primarily limited to the more tourist areas and is not really as intense as it may feel in other places. Marketplaces are definitely the worst and there are parts of Dakar where tourists may be followed for some time by someone hoping to sell you any number of different things. A strong no goes a long way and you should be aware that this heckling is almost never meant to be aggressive in any way.
Getting around in Senegal can also be an annoyance, as the road conditions outside of Dakar (and sometimes in Dakar) are not the best, with large potholes plaguing nearly every strip of road, including “highways.” Travel to areas outside of the city can be extremely difficult and time-consuming, as cars need to use caution and take it slow. Moreover, travel in the city, with huge amounts of traffic, can also be very frustrating. When you can, try to walk or bike, otherwise, just take it in as part of the experience. Slow paces do allow great camera moments when out on the roads!
The capital city of Dakar is one of the highlights of Senegal. This vibrant city, situated right on the Atlantic Ocean, offers spectacular views, amazing food, and a vibrant lifestyle. The bustling city is the center of all major business activity in the country and is one of the largest ports in West Africa, but also has a very artistic and fun side. The nightlife in this capital city is one of the best you will find in the world, with local artists and DJs blasting music that will make even the shyest want to get up and move. The historical center also offers a glimpse into the colonial past of the country and has a number of different architectural beauties worth having a look. There is a little something for everyone and the people make this city feel warm and inviting.
Climate and Best Weather Months
When planning a trip to Senegal, it is highly, highly recommended that you avoid the rainy season, running from sometime in June until usually the end of October. While the country is typically warm to hot, the rainy season can be unbearably hot and humid. In addition, torrential downpours leave the roads and pathways (which outside of the city are made mostly of sand or dirt) almost impossible to get around.
The remaining part of the year, particularly the end of November until around February, is extremely pleasant in Senegal. During these months, the nights can almost be too cool, particularly in Dakar, which is surrounded by water, giving rise to cool breezes, so be sure to bring a sweater. No matter the time of year, however, Senegal provides a great climate to take a break from chilling temperatures further north!
Holidays to Avoid
While the experience of the holy month of Ramadan can be an absolutely incredible one for non-Muslims who have taken the time to understand the meaning religious significances of this month of fasting, if you are planning only a vacation and are not interested in fully engulfing yourself in this beautiful tradition, it is highly recommended that you do not travel to Senegal during this month. The exact dates of Ramadan vary from year to year, so it is important that you look before booking.
The reason for avoiding the month of Ramadan, over all else, is respect for the people of Senegal, who are largely (approximately 90%) Muslim. The month of Ramadan is a month of modesty and fasting. While restaurants, hotels and even most bars will stay open, it is in poor form to be frolicking on the beach in a bikini and ordering large lunches and drinking beer. If you do choose to go to the country during this month, be sure to be respectful, particularly from sunrise to sunset, of the Senegalese people and the sacrifices they are making.
Holidays worth traveling for
Senegal has an artistic heritage that in many ways has put this country on the map. The numerous artistic festivals hosted throughout the year, in all parts of the country wonderfully display the best of what Senegal has to offer. As holidays are largely a family affair, we recommend booking a trip to correspond with one of the many festivals highlighted below, rather than any specific holiday. That said, however, Independence Day, on April 4, is also a wonderful time to visit Dakar, as there is a large parade throughout the city center and a number of different celebrations throughout the day.
Our favorite festivals include:
Abene Festivalo: a ten-day drumming festival that is celebrated over the new year, in the end of December and January, in the southern region of Casamance, Senegal, in Abene. This is a colorful and rhythmic celebration of one of Senegal’s specialties.
Saint Louis Jazz Festival: a world-renowned festival, in May of each year, that brings the best from Senegal and around the world, not only for jazz but in different genres as well, to the beautiful city of Saint Louis. Music is played throughout the city, in restaurants and bars and on the street and can also be enjoyed from boats on the river.
Kaay Fec: a dance festival that truly celebrates the beauty of dance, in various forms, held in Dakar in May or June of each year.
Dak’Art Biennale: this incredible art festival, held once every other year, in Dakar, is the ultimate celebration of the beauty of art and the contributions Senegal has made.
International Film Festival: with Senegalese films being played in venues throughout Dakar, this film festival, held in December each year, showcases not only art but also a glimpse into different issues and lifestyles of the country.
Aside from Dakar, which is the largest city in Senegal, there are a few other notable cities in the country, each with a very different way of life.
Touba: Touba is the second largest city in the country and is the home of Mouridism, an Islamic sect. This city has one of the largest and most beautiful mosques in Africa, which is in and of itself worth the visit. Religion is the primary focus of this city and there are strict religious observances enforced. Travelers should bear this in mind when visiting and should assure that they are dressed in proper attire and that they are respectful of the traditions and beliefs of the people, not partaking in any activities that may be considered inappropriate.
Thies: The third largest city in Senegal is an art lovers paradise, with one of the largest tapestry factories on the continent open to visitors. Whether in the larger factory or in a smaller workshop, you will get the opportunity to see the vibrant fabrics of Senegal come to life, from start to finish, if you desire.
Saint Louis: Many will say that a trip to Saint Louis, on the northwest border of Senegal, right by Mauritania, is the highlight of their trip to the country. This colonial town has been very well preserved and plays host to a number of different festivals throughout the year, including the world-famous jazz festival, usually in May of each year. Stroll the streets and take in the architecture, or enjoy the river, which is a highlight of the city and can be seen by boat cruise.
Senegal is one of the most stable countries in Africa and has had a long history of peace, in most of the country. The ethnic and religious tensions that exist in other countries in the region have not been seen in Senegal. That said, the region of Casamance, in the southwest of the country, in the slice of land that runs under The Gambia, was in a civil conflict for over 30 years, with the MFDC rebel group. The Jolo people of the region were seeking independence from Senegal and carried out a number of attacks against government forces, for over three decades. They then declared a unilateral cease-fire in 2014, which has resulted in peace in the region. Traveling to this area is now safe, which is great news, considering the beauty of the region.
There are pickpockets and petty theft in Dakar, as with any large city and you should use care in properly storing your belongings when walking the city. You should also stay in more crowded and well-lit areas at night, which there are plenty of in Dakar and should avoid walking alone in quieter, less secure areas, at night. Violent crime is very rare in Senegal and incidents of theft outside of the city and tourist areas are also very low.