Don't Miss Places In Senegal
Carved wooden masks, musical instruments made from large gourds, dancers, singers, and storytellers are all part of Senegal’s rich culture. This culture stretches back to the ancient Ghana, Mali and Songhai empires of West Africa, which thrived between the 500s and the 1500s A.D. The country is a land of sandy plains, which give way to a rich forest in the southern Casamance region.
During the summer season, ocean winds bring tropical rains, which turn the parched earth green. Most people live in rural areas and are relatively poor farmers or herders. They grow millet, cassava, and rice for food. Cotton and peanuts are also grown as cash crops. Senegal’s cities, home to one-fourth of the population, show the country’s modern face. Today, there are apartment buildings; busy highways, oil refineries, factories, and a variety of people that mingle on the streets. Some Senegalese are wandering street traders traveling to ports around the world in order to make some money before returning home to Senegal.
Here are some of the must-see places in Senegal:
La Maison des Esclaves (Dakar)
Dakar is a bustling capital and port. Located on the southern coast of the Cape Verde Peninsula, it is a center for government, industry, commerce, and communications. Just off the coast of Senegal and a half-hour ferry ride from Dakar, you’ll reach Gorée Island (named and occupied by Dutch colonizers in the 17th century). Visit the museum La Maison des Esclaves (The House of Slaves), which memorializes slavery and hardship during the Dutch occupation. Once on the island you will immediately experience an influence of European culture - the homes resemble buildings in Portugal or Greece. The House of Slaves is all that remains of the many buildings that have been changed to fit new uses. This one remains intact for tourists to visit. Upon visiting, you can hear the story of the “door of no return” through which African slaves exited before boarding boats to other continents. The original cells are still visible where children, men, and women were held in captivity until being sold.
The house/slavery museum at Goree Island near Dakar City is a grim reminder of the cruelty and misery that existed during the slave trade. It was one of the many coastal trading posts founded by the French in the 1600s. Some of the rooms still have the slaves’ metal shackles - restraints used to bind their hands and feet. These shackles remain a symbol of African slavery worldwide. There is also a statue representing bondage and freedom in the courtyard. The restored House of Slaves highlights all of these spaces, the shameful “door of no return,” and includes a small museum. Hire an English-speaking local guide to learn about all of the anecdotes concerning this symbolic place.
Besides offering a painful piece of Senegal’s history, the museum in Gorée Island also offers a wide variety of contemporary artists. Here visitors can find carvings, oil paintings, homemade jewelry and even sand creations. It is an intriguing day trip that will invoke intense sensations of pain, sadness, despair, and hope. Even the walls tell a tragic story.
Le Monument de la Renaissance Africaine
The Le Monument de la Renaissance Africaine was built by former President Wade of Senegal. Located on the hill next to Faro, this area sits at the highest point of Dakar. At 52 meters, the monument to the man's head is quite high and can be accessed at the foot of the complex through a flight of steps and an elevator. The view from the hill is unique; you see the airport and airplanes flying in from the sea. The statue depicts a man holding a baby in his arms and a partially clothed woman standing beside him. The construction of this monument was very controversial, as its price tag exceeded the costs of some sectors of the nation’s budget. Others objected to its North Korean construction and partially-clothed depiction of the woman.
Today, however, many people appreciate President Wade’s mark of distinction for the city of Dakar. However, some observations cannot be missed; for example, the fact that at first glance, it does not seem to represent a typical African family. The figures appear more Russian than African and the features, such as the woman’s straight, smooth hair, do not match the people of West Africa.
Even more, the headdress atop the man’s head, (which is also a small space that is accessible to visitors for taking pictures) does not match African culture and neither does the small child. The monument is striking, but the small details leave the spectator a bit disappointed. It is free to climb the stairs to the base of the figures. The statue is lit up at night, offering a truly impressive sight even from afar.
After the elevator ride to the man's head at the top of this spectacular monument (as well as from the visual gallery), you’ll have panoramic view- a full 360 degrees- of Dakar and the surrounding area. Along the way, you’ll pass through a series of rooms illustrating the fascinating history of the city and its Renaissance. The gallery area is where you will find the most beautiful display of the key historical figures of Senegal. Once finished, you can also travel along the road that joins this monument and flows into the Corniche for a very enjoyable visit to Dakar by night. For these reasons, this is an ideal place to visit while in Senegal.
The Accrobaobab Adventure is part of a small sports park located 10 km from Dakar. Using a set of connected strings, the park uses the baobab tree for acrobatic and daring jumps that are exciting yet secure enough for anyone to enjoy. The staff is well-trained and well-equipped for an exciting yet safe adventure. This attraction is strongly recommended for those who enjoy extreme sports and adrenaline-pushing action while in Senegal. Aside from the guided tree-top ropes course, you will also have a beautiful view of the thick Baobabs. There is a circuit for adults that includes challenging courses, as well as courses suitable for children as young as four years old. Children aged 3 and up can complete some of the courses with a guide.
Besides the harnessed rope course, there are other possible activities such as free climbing on the Baobab. Bring your camera to the adventure for the best shots (with the help of their expert guides). After the tour, you’ll leave with a beautiful certificate - if you have braved all the adventures inside the park. You can also drink and dine in a quaint hut with cushions and hammocks. Do not miss this site - unless you have vertigo or acrophobia (fear of heights).
Le Lac Rose (The Pink Lake)
Located not far from Dakar, there's an incredible salty lake that owes its color to the presence of a specific algae. The Le Lac Rose, or the Pink Lake, is surrounded by marshes that accumulate salt, which is collected directly by men who enter the lake. To limit the damage to their skin from the highly salted water, they cover themselves with locally sourced Shea butter. This lake was once famous for being a part of the Paris-Dakar Rally. In fact, a long wall still marks the finish line, and nearby a former racer maintains a hut where he displays his trophies and tells stories about the famous finish line.
Here at Le Lac Rose, you’ll not only witness hardworking salt harvesters, but you can also find women playing an important role in the livelihood of the community. During a tour, you’ll meet some groups of women living on the banks, completing the meticulous job of collecting the salt in sacks for distribution in Senegal and neighboring countries. Just minutes from the shores of the lake, you can also visit one of the villages, named Fulani. A guide will accompany you, explaining the customs and habits of the people of this community. You’ll get to know the children and live an unforgettable experience. If you go, bring cookies, colors, notebooks or other useful things to give to the headman who will then distribute the goods to each family.
IFAN Museum (African Arts Museum)
The IFAN Museum (African Arts Museum) was built in the 1930s and is a beautiful architectural complex made in Africa by France. It was one of the first to be inspired by local cultures. There are two large rooms that contain artifacts (masks, weapons, old vestments, etc.,) from West Africa. The Museum is an informative representation of the history and development of Dakar and Senegal. Inside, you can observe the reconstruction of homes and traditional African art.
This small museum gives an overview of the cultural differences and rituals of the different ethnic groups existing in Senegal. The guides also have vast knowledge of the objects as well as rites and rituals of the tribal villages. This museum is essential for anyone visiting Senegal.
Reserve De Bandia (La Petite Cote)
The Reserve De Bandia is a wildlife and nature reserve for viewing giraffes, zebras, ostriches, buffalo, rhinos, and gazelles that freely roam the estate. You’ll need to hire a ranger who will accompany you on your excursion between the massive baobab trees and animals. The area, where the crocodiles reside, is exquisite, as it is surrounded by green plants and grazing animals clearly seen from your table in the bar/restaurant. You need to spend a few hours in order to see the stunning landscape and have the chance to photograph the animals up close.
To access this reserve, it is about a 2-hour drive from the center of Dakar City, covering about 70 km on the southern part of Senegal. When you arrive, you will enter the quaint town of La Petite Cote. At the entrance to the park, there are off-road vehicles and guides. Compared to the parks of other African countries, the price is much lower and includes a restaurant that serves traditional dishes. Senegal’s nature reserve serves as a refuge for the many species of animals lost to poaching. The park is well-kept and the guides are very helpful and friendly. Although the structure looks a bit touristy, the restaurant is excellent and allows you to dine alongside lizards, crocodiles, and monkeys. The park is ideal for those looking to have an African photo safari while admiring the wildlife within walking distance. It can be expensive, but a safari adventure is worth every penny.
The Plage Popenguine is an amazing beach with a beautifully cut cliff that has almost no vendors. There is an excellent (and nicely decorated) French restaurant located on its beach. They are also sunbeds, yet no hotels or shops like the other beaches in Senegal. It is the perfect spot for a tranquil visit.
Visitors to this beach will find a clean, wide, and gently sloping destination that is bordered on its north and south by rocks. Enjoy the long walks or climb the top of the rocky cliffs to admire the ocean. With its great sunset, this is an almost paradise-like attraction in Senegal.
The shellfish island of Joal Fadiouth is really a must-visit location in southeast Senegal. It is a mixture of cemeteries, Christian and Muslim culture, and unique granaries resting upon mangrove. The town of Joal-Fadiout is an attractive location with two distinct parts. Joal is the mainland which includes a main road that is full of traffic and shops, while Fadiouth is a small island connected by a bridge. Both sides are beautiful to visit- especially Joal with its layer of bright white shells.
If you’re near the bridge, you’ll either walk past the bridge or the dugout that leads to the beautiful cemetery for Christians and Muslims. You’ll need to hire a guide for this tour if you intend to visit. Joal Fadiout offers dominant colors of the landscape, from the blue lagoon, the green mangroves, white shells and small huts. This town defines the beauty of Senegal.
Parc Exotique de Nguerigne (Ngaparou)
The Parc Exotique de Nguerigne (Ngaparou) contains different kinds of exotic birds in an enormous variety of shapes, colors, and species as well as other birds native to Africa. Enjoy a complimentary drink with the admission ticket, which is nice, considering the hot environment. You can stay as long as you want, taking pictures with the birds, feeding them, and learning about their basic behaviors and characteristics from the well trained park guides.
Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary (Saint –Louis)
The Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary is one of the best places to visit with lots of activities between October and March. This is because it is around these months that the largest number of birds migrate. The canoe ride along the shores of the lake offers the chance to see a variety of migratory birds with the highlight being a nursery of white pelicans. Professional birdwatchers can identify (in addition to the pelicans) at least 6 species of herons, raptors, plus all kinds of waterfowl, waders, and other passerines at the beginning of the season. This, of course, excludes the many monkeys and monitor lizards. On the way you’ll also have the chance to see crocodiles and warthogs. However, it is highly advisable (if you’re not a migratory bird enthusiast) to be accompanied by a local guide to truly enjoy this fascinating part of Senegal.
Aside from its rich slave history, Senegal offers luxurious scenes and extraordinary sights that will change your impression of West Africa. Whether you enjoy nature reserves that are rich in various sorts of winged animals and extensive vertebrates, or stunning shorelines flanked by lavish and abundant vegetation, you’ll find excitement in Senegal. The always smiling Senegalese people are one of the many surprises awaiting you. Senegal has everything to lure the curious traveler into discovering and exploring - it is definitely worth the trip.