Senegal is a jewel in West Africa that should intrigue any traveler. The small country is popular with French travelers due to its past Colonial history, but packed with history, national parks, and extensive coastline, Senegal has a lot to offer. Learn about its somber slave-trade history in Goree Island, spot one of the endangered West African lions in the Niokolo Koba National Park, go cruising and birdwatching in the mangroves of the Saloum delta, and eat.

We visited Senegal a few years back in March, just before the wet season. My parents had visited the country about 50 years ago, and together we retraced some of their prior journeys while adding a few new experiences.

So if you wonder what to see in Senegal and how to plan your Senegal trip, search no more!

This post contains affiliate links, which means we receive a percentage if you make a purchase using these links – at no cost to you. Our opinions are our own and are not impacted by these partnerships.

Top Things to Do in Senegal

Dakar Senegal

Dakar is the capital of Senegal and will most likely be your entry point into the country. Plan to stay a few days in Dakar, so you can get the chance to see some of the top Dakar attractions.

  • Island of Gorée (more about our trip to Goree Island here)
  • House of Slaves (La Maison des Esclaves)
  • Ngor Island: located on the Cap-Vert peninsula off Ngor.
  • Marche Grand Yoff, where the town is built along the large beach on the Yoff Bay.
  • Dakar Medina, the traditional quarter of the city, and where you can find the Grande Mosquée, and the Marché soumbédioune
Things to Do in Senegal Travel Guide & Itinerary with Cruise // Sunset over Dakar

Sunset over Dakar

Other Things to Do in Dakar:

  • Cathedral of Dakar
  • Musée des Civilisations Noires
  • Marché Sandaga
  • Isles des Madeleines National Park
  • Massalikul Jinaan mosque
  • Village Des Arts
  • Leopold Sedar Senghor French Institute,
  • IFAN Historical Museum

Looking for Dakar tours? Check these guided tours:

 

 

Day Trips from Dakar

If you are short on time in Senegal and don’t have time to explore the rest of the country, consider one of these day trips:

  • Bandia Forest
  • Somone Lagoon Reserve
  • Lac Rose

Lac Rose

One of the most popular Senegal attractions, the Lac Rose (Pink Lake), is actually Lac Retba about 30 km (one hour drive) north of Dakar, Senegal’s capital. The lake is named after the Dunaliella salina algae that give its pink color. The lake’s high salt level is also a source of income for the local community, and salt is being harvested for sale worldwide.

Things to Do in Senegal Travel Guide & Itinerary with Cruise // Lac Rose

Lac Rose

To see the famous pink colors of Senegal Lac Rose, the sun needs to shine to light up the lake, and the wind to blow to stir up the algae and give the lake its pink hues. On the day we visited, there was neither sun nor wind, so, unfortunately, we did not get the chance to watch the natural phenomena that make the lake famous.

M’Bour (Mbour Senegal )

The fishing village is about 80 kilometers south of Dakar, on the Petite Cote (Little Coast). Watching the fishermen coming and selling their catch on the beach is an incredible sight. The sheer number of people coming and trading is mindblowing, a picture high in colors!

Things to Do in Senegal Travel Guide & Itinerary with Cruise // MBour

MBour

Sine-Saloum Delta

Sine-Saloum is a region in Senegal located north of the Gambia and south of the Petite Côte. Representing over 10% of Senegal’s surface, the region is mostly composed of mangroves. A portion of the Saloum Delta has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2011 and is home to the Saloum Delta National Park (Parc National du Delta du Saloum).

Saint-Louis

Saint-Louis borders Mauritania, separated by the Senegal River. The city was the country’s capital when it was a French colony from 1673 to 1902 before it was moved to Dakar. Saint Louis is known for the Faidherbe Bridge made of cast iron in the 19th century. Also worth visiting are the Musée Jean Mermoz and the Ndar Toute market. Make sure to walk the old streets where you can admire the balconies and architecture of the colonial houses.

Things to Do in Senegal Travel Guide & Itinerary with Cruise // Saint Louis

Saint Louis

A couple of day trips from Saint-Louis include the National Park of the Langue de Barbarie, National Park of the Birds of Djoudj (Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary), and the Reserve of Guembeul. Another great trip is the Lompoul Desert, especially as you head towards Dakar.

Touba

Located in the center of Senegal, Touba is the second-largest of the Senegal cities. Known as a Mouridism (Sufi order) holy city, Touba is famous for its mosque built in the 1960s.

The Great Mosque of Touba features three large domes and five minarets, including the iconic 285 ft (87-meter) Lamp Fall high central minaret.

Senegal National Parks and Reserves

Senegal has six national parks and reserves:

  • Niokolo-Koba National Park (Parc national du Niokolo-Koba): Known for its rich fauna, about 80 mammals live there (lions, leopards, monkeys, as well as some of the last Senegal elephants, and the massive Lord Derby elands (the largest and heaviest antelope in the world), around 40 reptiles like the Nile monitors and Nile Crocodiles, and over 300 birds including Abyssinian ground hornbills, black-crowned cranes, and great bustards.
  • Djoudj National Park (Parc National des Oiseaux du Djoudj): A birdwatching paradise, the Djoudj sees about three million migratory birds, from Great White pelicans, spur-winged geese, pink flamingos, and Pandion ospreys. Pythons, crocodiles, monitors, hyenas, servals, Patas monkeys, and antelopes.
  • Langue de Barbarie National Park (Parc national de la Langue de Barbarie), close to St. Louis on the Atlantic ocean, and mostly composed of dunes, the Ornithological park is known for being turtle nesting ground and for its pelican and flamingo populations.
Things to Do in Senegal Travel Guide & Itinerary with Cruise // Djoudj National Park

Djoudj National Park

  • Madeleine Islands National Park (Parc national des îles de la Madeleine): the small park near Dakar is composed of small volcanic islands and is another Ornithological Bird Reserve.
  • Saloum Delta National Park (Parc national du delta du Saloum): The region made of mangroves and bolongs (saltwater channels) is another bird-watching must-see. With around 100 bird species, be ready to spot large groups of lesser flamingos and pink-backed pelicans. Also present are Goliath herons and Royal Terns, among many others. There are few mammals, given the swamp type of flora, but it’s still home to spotted hyenas and harnessed bushbucks. Green sea turtles, manatees, and Souza dolphins are known to live in the park.
  • National Park of Basse Casamance (Parc national de la Basse-Casamance). That park has been closed for several years now because of the Casamance Conflict. Leopards, Colobus monkeys, and about 200 birds reside in the park.

Senegal Tour Itinerary: 15 Days including 7-Day Cruise

You can also do this Senegal Itinerary without the river cruise as part of a standard 7-day Senegal trip.

Day 1: Fly and Arrival in Dakar 

Your flight into Dakar is probably going to be a long one, whether you fly from Northern America or Europe. Depending on your time of arrival, you might want to stretch your legs for a short visit around your hotel, so you can adjust to the potential time difference with your country of origin.

Dakar Accommodations

We stayed at La Brazzérade in Yoff as we wanted to be close to the beach. However, other recommended lodging include the following hotels, depending on where you want to stay in Dakar:

  • Liberté
    • Bienvenue chez Vous: one of the Dakar best budget accommodation. Check prices
    • Villa Soleil du Sénégal: another bestseller at budget prices. Find latest prices
  • Yoff
    • La Brazzérade: quiet, simple yet comfortable hotel near the Ngor village with great views of the sea and Ngor island.
    • Nyéléni Maison Sahel: Top-rated tasteful decorated bed and breakfront with beachfront access. Read the latest reviews.
  • Almadies NGor
  • Mermorz-Sacré Coeur
  • Dakar-Plateau city center
    • Union Amicale Corse Dakar: Modern yet classic hotel with swimming pool and private beachfront. Check availability.
    • Pullman Dakar Teranga: High-end hotel with private beachfront. Read reviews

Day 2: Dakar City Sightseeing

Visit Dakar Medina and the area around NGor and Yoff. Spend time relaxing by the beach, eat in one of the beachfront restaurants.

Day 3: Dakar Sightseeing

Explore Senegal slave history on Goree Island. This visit was one of the highlights of our Dakar stay as the island is really fascinating. Make sure to allow for several hours there as you will love walking around the colorful streets.

Things to Do in Senegal Travel Guide & Itinerary with Cruise // Goree Island

Goree Island

Day 4: Lac Rose

Wander the shores of Lac Rose and spend the night there. As mentioned before, be prepared for a not-so-pink lake but if conditions are favorable, you will have a great time there.

Where to Stay at the Lac Rose:

  • Chez Salim: We spent the night in this charming complex, with individual secluded huts with lovely decorations in and out.
  • Le Calao du Lac Rose: calm cabanas close to Lake Retba. Check availability

Day 5: Bandia Reserve and MBour

To experience what type of safari Senegal can offer, head to the Bandia Reserve. The wildlife diversity was unexpected, to be honest. Giraffes, rhinoceros, zebra, Cape eland, greater kudu, Oryx, buffalo, monkeys, crocodiles, ostriches, and over 100 types of birds. No elephant or lion there, but a definite must-see as you get to enjoy a more natural approach thanks to fewer tourists.

Things to Do in Senegal Travel Guide & Itinerary with Cruise // Bandia Reserve

Bandia Reserve

Spend some time wandering among the fishermen and their catch of the day. A definite experience!

After MBour, spend the night around Nianing, which is an ideal location before reaching Sine Saloum. We spent the night at Le Ben’tenier in Nianing, but another recommended hotel would be B & B Teranga Warang, a top-rated beachfront hotel.

Day 6: Sine Saloum Delta

Visit the villages of Joal, Samba, Fimela, and Simal on your way to the Saloum delta.

Joal-Fadiouth

Located at the end of the Petite Côte, the village is actually made of two areas: Joal on the mainland, and Fadiouth across the bridge. Joal was one of the largest trading posts during the European colonial era in Western Senegal. But the most interesting part of the visit is Fadiouth, as the island is actually built over clamshells also used for construction and local art and craft. Definitely interesting!

Simal

The village of Simal is getting into the Siné Saloum, with views of the mangrove along one arm of the Saloum river (bolong). Simal is a great hub for exploration of the Saloum. We stayed at the Ecolodge de Simal, with rustic, traditional cabanas, and access right to the river. A pirogue tour took us to explore the mangrove, swimming in the river for a refreshing dip, wandering the streets of Simal as villagers went for their daily activities. Horseback riding on the beach at dusk was an added bonus to our stay! A top-rated experience shared by many visitors – click here to read more reviews of the Simal Ecolodge.

But Simal is not the only village from which you can explore the Siné Saloum:

Day 7: Sine Saloum Delta

Board a traditional pirogue to explore some parts of the Sine Saloum delta.
Then head to Saint Louis (St Louis) for the rest of the day to explore the old streets of the city.

Where to stay in Saint Louis:
  • Chez Titi Guesthouse: budget lodging with terrace and river view. Check availability
  • Siki Hotel: a charming hotel featured traditional Saint-Louis colonial architecture, with patio and balconies. Check the latest prices
  • Hotel La Résidence: the iconic Saint-Louis hotel is in the historic part of the city and offers 3-star treatment. Read the most recent reviews. 

Day 8: Saint Louis Sightseeing

Wander along the bridge in the morning, admire the colorful houses, spend some time shopping at one of the small markets.

In the afternoon, head to Podor to board the Bou El Mogdad for the first night of an incredible Senegal River cruise.

Things to Do in Senegal Travel Guide & Itinerary with Cruise // Boating in Sine Saloum

Boating in Sine Saloum

Day 9 – 14: Bou El Mogdad Cruise

The 1950-Bou El Mogdad was built in Holland and renovated in 2006. The boat used to be the only mean to carry people, good and mail between St-Louis and Podor along the Senegal River that separates Senegal and Mauritania. Going from the Atlantic Ocean to the doors of the Sahara desert, the cruise will let you pass by villages, where herds of goats wander freely around, kids play in the river, watched over by the elders. A great way to experience traditional Senegal.

Things to Do in Senegal Travel Guide & Itinerary with Cruise // Bou El Mogdad Cruise on Senegal River

Bou El Mogdad Cruise on Senegal River

During the 6-day cruise, the different attractions include:

  • Colonial trade post Podor and its fort
  • Traditional Toucouleur Village
  • Traditional Peuhl Village and its oblong huts
  • Dagana Wolof village
  • Traditional Senegalese village with famous Senegal food “Tiep bou dijen” (fish rice)
  • Colonial Richard Toll: City sightseeing and sugar cane manufacturing
  • Djoudj National Park, with its excellent birdwatching opportunities
  • Diama Dam

The cruise ended in Saint-Louis, where we spent the night.

Day 15: Saint Louis, Dakar, and Departure from Senegal

Leave St-Louis behind towards Dakar, 200 km and 3-4 hours away by car.

Food in Senegal

Mixing a combination of traditional Senegal cuisine with the influence of Portuguese, Dutch, French, and Arabic food, eating in Senegal is finger-licking! Must-try food includes:

  • Thie Bou Dijen (fish rice)
  • Yassa au Poulet (Chicken lemon rice). Sometimes also available “au Poisson” (fish)
  • Dem à la Saint-Louisienne (stuffed fish)
  • Thiou aux Crevettes (shrimp tomato rice)
Things to Do in Senegal Travel Guide & Itinerary with Cruise // Senegal Cuisine

Senegal Cuisine

Food is usually served while seated on the ground over a floor mat. People eat with their right hand (the left being used for other purposes and considered unclean).

Accompany your meal with a cold Gazelle, the local Senegal beer, or a cup of bissap, the national drink made of “oseille” flowers. Tea is also an important ceremony in Senegal – make sure to accept any tea invitation!

When to Visit Senegal

Senegal has a tropical climate and has two main seasons:

  • A dry season from November to June, with the dry, warm Harmattan wind that brings dust. Note that the temperatures can be mild and even coldish between November and February.
  • A wet season from July to October, with a South-West monsoon. Temperatures will be higher, with a high humidity level. While the rain makes for a greener landscape, it also makes driving difficult or even impossible on dirt roads.
Things to Do in Senegal Travel Guide & Itinerary with Cruise // Village Life in Senegal

Village Life in Senegal

How to Travel to Senegal

Most visitors will fly to Senegal, though a few might cross overland from Mauritania, Mali, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and The Gambia.

By Air:

International visitors usually land in Dakar Senegal airport (Blaise Diagne International Airport – DSS), located at 27 mi (43 km) east of downtown Dakar. Blaise Diagne replaced the previous airport Senegal had with the former Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport.

Airlines flying into Senegal include Air Senegal (former Senegal Airlines), Ethiopian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Delta Airlines, Emirates, Air France, Portugalia Airlines, Turkish Airlines, and Delta Airlines.

By Road:

Crossing into Senegal from Mauritania, Mali, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and The Gambia is possible for the overlanders. Land crossings can be tricky – different opening hours, processes, and paperwork. Check each country’s land border crossing for the latest information.

How to Travel in Senegal

You can take public transportation, rent a car, drive yourself through an independent road trip, take a private taxi, or join a guided tour. Or even do a mix of these options depending on where you are in the country.

In Dakar, you can choose between regular buses (Dakar Dem Dikk), taxis, “clandos” (private cars running regular routes), or Jakartas (Taxi Motorbike). In Saint Louis, horse-carriages are also a popular means of transportation.

Things to Do in Senegal Travel Guide & Itinerary with Cruise // Local buses

Local buses

Outside Dakar, you will find a combination of paved and unpaved roads. Though Senegal has one of the most extensive paved road systems in Africa, you can only reach many places via 4WD cars. Pirogues are also a common transportation alternative given the vast network of deltas and islands.

If you are renting a car, check whether you can take it on unpaved roads as most companies have such limitations. Moreover, a car with a driver might be an alternative for maximum freedom and flexibility but without the challenges of working your own itinerary.

Senegal Travel Tips

  • Mosquitoes can be an issue, bring mosquito repellent with you. Malaria is present in Senegal. On the vaccination side, yellow fever is highly recommended. Consult your doctor to see whether you need to take a malaria treatment, and what type of travel shots you might need ahead of your trip.
  • French is the official language but people working in tourism and many young speak English as well. A French-English phrasebook will come in handy in any case. Wolof is the national language, so consider bringing a Wolof-English phrasebook as well.
  • Electricity runs on 220V, and plugs are based on the French sockets. Bring a travel plug!
  • Bring binoculars for the best birdwatching experience. Check some of these top-rated binoculars: Gosky | Stellax | Noptix
  • Senegal is a traditional Muslim country, and while not as conservative as some other countries, dress modestly. For ideas on what to wear, check out our list of hot climate clothing.
  • Don’t forget to grab a copy of the Lonely Planet Guide Book Senegal West Africa!
  • Make sure to verify travel conditions with your Embassy.

Have you been to Senegal? What was your experience in this African country? Please share with us your adventures!

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