Situated on the westernmost hump of the African continent, Senegal has earned itself a reputation as one of the region's most stable nations. It's also a chameleon country with the ability to be all things to all people - whether you're looking for sun-drenched beaches, remote wildlife destinations or urban playgrounds pulsing with hypnotic African rhythms. Here are a few must-see additions to your Senegal itinerary.
Île de Gorée
Île de Gorée is a small island situated just off the coast of Dakar, Senegal's sprawling capital city. Once an important stop on the slave trade route, it now attracts those wishing to learn more about one of the darkest periods in human history. The island is home to several historic forts and monuments, the most important of which is the Maison des Esclaves. Hailed as the final point of departure for slaves being transported from Africa to America, the house now serves as an iconic museum and memorial.
The Senegalese capital is famed for its nightlife, with countless clubs and bars offering the chance to experience the country's legendary Mbalax music scene. Dakar is also a hub for West African art, with several world-class museums and galleries. In particular, IFAN Museum of African Arts is a must-see, with fascinating displays of colorful masks, carvings, instruments and more. With plenty of street markets, restaurants, and nearby beaches to choose from, Dakar has something for everyone.
Also known as Lac Rose or Pink Lake, Lake Retba is located less than an hour's drive north of Dakar. Once the finishing point for the Dakar Rally, the lake is so named for its unique rose-colored waters. Its unusual appearance is caused by an abundance of Dunaliella salina algae, and during the dry season, its salinity exceeds even that of the Dead Sea. The high salt content makes swimming a buoyant affair, while salt collectors around the water's edge offer an interesting insight into the local culture.
In the north of the country, the historic city of Saint Louis perches upon an island at the mouth of the Senegal River. Founded in the 17th century as the first French settlement in West Africa, the city once served as the colony's capital and is now known for the beauty of its European architecture. Saint Louis was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, and its most iconic landmark is the Pont Faidherbe, a stunning bridge completed at the end of the 19th century.
If you find yourself drawn to Senegal by the promise of pale gold beaches and languid days spent reading under swaying palms, don't miss the paradise coastline of Petite Côte. Stretching south of Dakar for approximately 150 kilometers/ 95 miles, this spectacular region is home to a wealth of uncrowded beaches perfect for swimming, snorkeling and sunbathing. Along the way, a handful of European-influenced settlements offer a range of charismatic dining and accommodation options.
Just south of Petite Côte lies the tangled maze of estuaries, creeks and saline wetlands known as the Siné-Saloum Delta. This is one of the country's most important nature areas, as recognized by its UNESCO-protected status and its designation as a Birdlife International Important Bird Area. Here, you can pole down tropical waterways in search of exotic bird species, or keep an eye out for indigenous wildlife in the Réserve de Fathala park. Highlights include roan antelope and an endangered subspecies of eland.
Separated from the rest of the country by the protruding finger of The Gambia, Senegal's Casamance region feels like a world of its own. Once shadowed by the specter of separatist conflict, it is now largely peaceful and well worth visiting for its lush tropical landscapes and rich wildlife. Meandering rivers are best explored by boat, and eventually, find their way to the beautiful beaches of Cap Skirring. Local villages line the river banks and offer visitors the chance to experience the proud culture of the Diola people.