Despite everything Senegal has to offer, you could easily schedule your entire trip within Dakar, the country’s capital, which has a population of more than 1.5 million. Open-air markets sell art, Senegalese 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.
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 salt traders scrape salt from the lake’s bottom by hand. Some inns offer horseback riding in the area.
An important stop on the slave transport route from the 16th to the mid-19th century, the island is a short ferry ride 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.
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 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.
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. 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 purchased in the charming village of Missirah.
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.
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 ten 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.
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.
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.
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.