Bustling, colorful Senegal is one of West Africa's most popular destinations, and also one of the region's safest. The capital, Dakar, is a vibrant city famous for its lively markets and rich musical culture. Elsewhere, Senegal boasts beautiful colonial architecture, secluded beaches blessed with world-famous surf breaks, and remote riverine deltas teeming with wildlife.
Senegal is located on the shoulder of West Africa on the coast of the North Atlantic Ocean. It shares a border with no fewer than five countries, including Mauritania to the north, Guinea Bissau to the southwest, Guinea to the southeast and Mali to the east. It is intersected in the south by The Gambia and is the westernmost country on the continent.
Senegal has a total landmass of 119,632 square miles/192,530 square kilometers, making it slightly smaller than the U.S. state of South Dakota.
According to the CIA World Factbook, Senegal has a population of almost 14 million people. The average life expectancy is 61 years, and the most populous age bracket is 25 - 54, which accounts for just over 30% of the population.
Senegal's official language is French, however, most people speak one of several indigenous dialects as their first language. Of these, 12 are designated as 'national languages', with Wolof being the most commonly spoken throughout the country.
Islam is the predominant religion in Senegal, accounting for 95.4% of the population. The remaining 4.6% of the population hold indigenous or Christian beliefs, with Roman Catholicism being the most popular denomination.
Senegal's currency is the CFA Franc.
Senegal has a tropical climate and enjoys pleasant temperatures throughout the year. There are two main seasons—the rainy season (May - November) and the dry season (December - April). The rainy season is typically humid; however, humidity is kept to a minimum during the dry season by the predominant hot, dry harmattan wind.
When to Go
The dry season is generally the best time to travel to Senegal, especially if you're planning a trip to the country's magnificent beaches. However, the rainy season offers spectacular birding in the more remote regions, complemented by beautifully lush scenery.
Senegal's vibrant capital might take a few days to get used to, but once you're in the groove there's plenty to see and do in this shining example of an emerging African metropolis. Colorful markets, excellent music , and good beaches are all part of the city's charm, as is its bustling restaurant and nightlife scene.
Located just 20 minutes from Dakar, Île de Gorée is a small island known for the major role it played in the African slave trade. Several monuments and museums provide an insight into the island's tragic past; to which the quiet streets and pretty pastel homes of modern-day Île de Gorée provide a powerful antidote.
In the south of Senegal lies Siné-Saloum Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site defined by its wild tangle of mangrove forests, lagoons, islands, and rivers. Cruises offer the opportunity to experience life in the region's traditional fishing villages, and to spot a multitude of rare bird species including large flocks of greater flamingo.
The former capital of French West Africa, Saint-Louis has an extensive history dating back to 1659. Today, visitors are attracted by its elegant old-world charm, its picturesque colonial architecture and a cultural calendar packed full of music and art festivals. There are also several beautiful beaches and prime birding areas nearby.
The main port of entry for most visitors to Senegal is the Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport, located just 11 miles/18 kilometers from Dakar's city center. The airport is one of West Africa's most important transport hubs, and as such there are plenty of regional flights available as well as direct flights from New York, Washington D.C. and several of Europe's larger capitals.
Travelers from the United States don't need a visa to enter Senegal, as long as the visit doesn't exceed 90 days. Citizens of other countries should contact their nearest Senegalese embassy to find out whether or not they need a visa.
Although the risk of contracting it is low, travelers should be aware that Zika Virus is endemic in Senegal. Consequently, pregnant women or those that are planning to become pregnant should seek the advice of their physician before booking a trip to Senegal. Vaccinations for Hepatitis A, Typhoid, and Yellow Fever are strongly recommended, as are anti-malaria prophylactics. Check this article for a full list of suggested vaccinations.
This article was updated by Jessica Macdonald on September 8th, 2016.