Senegal Travel Guide: Essential Facts and Information

Île de Gorée
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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. 

Location

Senegal is located on the shoulder of West Africa, on the shores of the north Atlantic Ocean. It shares a border with no fewer than five countries, including Mauritania to the north, Mali to the east, and Guinea and Guinea Bissau to the south. It is intersected in the south by The Gambia and is the westernmost country on the continent.  

Size

Senegal has a total area of 75,955 square miles/196,722 square kilometers, making it slightly smaller than the U.S. state of South Dakota. 

Independence square overhead in Dakar
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Capital City

The capital of Senegal is Dakar. Located on the coastal Cap-Vert peninsula, it is the westernmost city on the African mainland and has a population of just over three million people.

Population

According to July 2018 estimates by the CIA World Factbook, Senegal has a total population of just over 15 million people. The average life expectancy is 62.5 years, and the most populous age bracket is 0 - 14. Consequently, infants and children account for just over 41% of the population. 

Language

Senegal's official language is French, however most people speak one of more than 30 indigenous languages as their mother tongue. Of these, 11 are designated as national languages, with Wolof being the most commonly spoken throughout the country.

Scenic View with Mosque in Dakar, Senegal
Marie-Pier Arseneault / EyeEm / Getty Images

Religion

Islam is the predominant religion in Senegal, accounting for 95.9% of the population. The remaining 4.1% of the population is Christian, with Roman Catholicism being the most popular denomination.

Currency

Senegal's currency is the West African CFA franc.

Climate

Senegal has a tropical climate and enjoys pleasant temperatures throughout the year. There are two main seasons—the rainy season (May to November) and the dry season (December to April). The rainy season is typically humid; however, humidity is kept to a minimum during the dry season by the predominantly hot, dry harmattan wind.

When to Go

The dry season is generally the best time to visit 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 beautiful green scenery.

Typical scene on the street in Saint-Louis-du-Sénégal
aroundtheworld.photography / Getty Images

Key Attractions

Dakar

Dakar, 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. 

Île de Gorée

Located just 25 minutes from Dakar by boat, Île de Gorée is a small island known for the major role it played in the African slave trade. Several monuments and museums offer 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. 

Siné-Saloum Delta

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 as well as large flocks of greater flamingo. 

Saint-Louis

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 art and music festivals. There are also several beautiful beaches and prime birding areas nearby.

Getting There

The main port of entry for most visitors is Blaise Diagne International Airport, which replaced Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport as the country's primary air transport hub in 2017. It is located roughly an hour's drive from central Dakar and hosts an extensive array of domestic, regional, and international airlines. Delta flies direct to Blaise Diagne from New York City.

Citizens of several countries including the United States, Canada, and European Union members can visit Senegal for up to 90 days without a visa. Contact your nearest Senegalese embassy to find out about extended stay visas or to ask about the requirements for non-visa-exempt nationalities.

Medical Requirements

In addition to making sure that your routine vaccinations are up to date, the CDC recommends getting vaccinated against hepatitis A, typhoid, and yellow fever before traveling to Senegal. In fact, if you're traveling from a country where yellow fever is present, proof of vaccination against the disease is a mandatory entry requirement. Depending on your intended destination and activities, hepatitis B, meningitis, and rabies vaccinations may also be advised. All visitors to Senegal should take anti-malaria prophylactics.

This article was updated and re-written in part by Jessica Macdonald on December 4 2019.

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