Simultaneously exhilarating and tranquil, Senegal is captivating. Perched on the tip of a peninsula, Dakar, the capital, is a dizzying introduction to the country: elegance meets chaos, snarling traffic, vibrant markets and glittering nightlife, while nearby Île de Gorée and the beaches of Yoff and N'Gor tap to slow, lazy beats.
In northern Senegal, the enigmatic capital of Saint-Louis, a Unesco World Heritage Site, tempts with colonial architecture and proximity to scenic national parks. Along the Petite Côte and Cap Skirring, wide strips of beaches beckon and the wide deltas of the Casamance invite mesmerizing boat journeys amid astounding biodiversity, including hundreds of bird species.
Whether you want to mingle with the trendsetters of urban Africa or be alone with your thoughts and the sounds of nature, you'll find your place in Senegal.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Senegal.
For a quick escape from the frenetic streets of Dakar, head to peaceful Île de N'Gor, a tiny island just off Dakar's north shore. It has a few calm beaches on the bay side, and some legendary surf on the northern coastline. Most visitors just come for the day, to relax on the beaches, stroll the sandy lanes of the village and have lunch in one of the waterside eateries, but there are several appealing guesthouses here as well.
For those not heading to wildlife parks in other parts of Africa, this 60-sq-km reserve might be worth adding to your itinerary. This reserve was created in 2006 as a habitat for the western giant eland, and today includes troops of this critically endangered antelope, as well as giraffes, rhinos, warthogs, buffaloes and several monkey species. While it's pricey to visit, it can nevertheless be thrilling to see these animals in the (semi-)wild.
Set amid towering kapok trees on the main road between Oussouye and Elinkine, this striking case à impluvium houses an exhibition dedicated to Diola culture. A guide on hand can explain some of the rustic, crafted objects: hoops used for climbing palm trees, baskets that serve as fish traps, mortar and pestle for making palm wine, and shields made of thick hippopotamus skin.
Established in 1976, this lush national park is a water-filled wonderland with mangroves, salt marshes, islands and woodland all part of the great delta's backdrop. Birds are abundant in this reserve, harboring species like the dwarf flamingo, goliath heron and dimorph egret. There are also some 36 mammal species, including warthogs, spotted hyenas and red colobus monkeys.
The is one of Senegal's best museums. Exhibitions delve into African art and culture with over 9000 objects on display. Lively displays of masks and traditional dress from across the region (including Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Benin and Nigeria) give an excellent overview of styles without bombarding you with more than you can take in.
Allegedly Africa's highest statue, the African Renaissance Monument was unveiled in 2010 to commemorate Senegal's 50 years of independence from France. At 49m in height, it is taller than New York City's Statue of Liberty and Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer.
Transferred to Saint-Louis in 1897, the Pont Faidherbe is the city's most significant landmark. The metal arches of this bridge linking Saint-Louis to the mainland were designed by Gustav Eiffel and originally built to cross the Danube. You'll cross its steel planks when driving into town.
A photogenic 1864 lighthouse graces the top of one of Dakar's few hills. It's worth making leisurely 20-minute walk, with sweeping views across the city and the water waiting at the top. Once there, you can visit the exterior of the lighthouse (CFA1000) or pay a little extra (CFA2000) for a short guided tour through the lighthouse and up to the top.
Plage de N'gor is a small beach popular with families and football-playing youths, and there are a few snack spots with tables on the sands. It's not a bad beach, but there better options on Île de N'gor, which you can reach by pirogue (CFA500, 10 minutes) from here.