Resting on the coast at the westernmost tip of West Africa’s bulge, Senegal is best known for its dramatic natural landscapes of scenic desert, lush tropical forest, and pristine white-sand beaches. While those seeking urban distractions typically head for the capital city of Dakar, with its colourful markets and vibrant live music scene; travellers eager to relax can make their way to the nearby Goree Island or the laidback beaches of Yoff and N'Gor. When the novelty of the beach wears off, there are plenty of inland nature reserves, the lovely Casamance River, and the bright pink Lake Retba to explore. Other must-see sights include: the Fathala Game Reserve, inhabited by some of Africa’s most exotic wildlife; and the Old Town area of the historical city of Saint-Louis, filled to the brim with exquisite French Colonial architecture.
Banking and Currency
The Senegal currency is the CFA Franc XOF (divided into 100 Centimes). Notes are in denominations of XOF10,000, 5,000, 2,500, 1,000 and 500. Coins are in denominations of XOF250, 100, 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1. Euros are also widely used and most accommodation establishments charge in foreign currency, so it is advisable to have both local and foreign currency available for small bills (curios, bar, gratuities).
Banking hours: Monday-Friday 08h00-11h150 and 14h30-16h30.
Credit cards are only accepted by major establishments catering to the tourist trade, with VISA being the most widely accepted; commission is charged. Outside of 4 and 5 star accommodations credit card facilities are not widespread and cash machines (ATMs) are only found in the major hubs.
Travellers' cheques can be cashed in Dakar. To avoid additional exchange rate charges travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques/travel cash cards in Euros. Banks often require proof of purchase, so all receipts should be kept as a precautionary measure. There are ATMs in Dakar but facilities are limited in the rest of the country. The best option is to travel with Euros in cash.
Travel, Transport and Getting Around
Senegal Airlines offers domestic flights linking Dakar to the southern region of Casamance via Cap Skirring and Ziguinchor, gateway to the beautiful stretches of golden sands on the coast. The flight times are around 45 minutes.
By far the most used and safest way to travel in Senegal is by road. There are a number of local transport options depending on your budget and comfort requirements. You can find major international car hire companies in Dakar and in the main towns. Pick-up points are available at Dakar Airport and at several depots throughout the city. It's also possible to rent vehicles from private companies or individuals as long as you have a valid driving licence that allows you to drive in this country. Vehicles are driven on the right side of the road:
Taxi’s are available in most towns; fares are metered. Rates increase after midnight. It's cheaper to hail a taxi in the street than to arrange to be collected from your hotel. Taxi prices are theoretically fixed. However, standard practice is to bargain with the driver. Bush taxis are good for journeys into the interior. By far the quickest and safest way of getting around the country is by Sept-place (shared taxi) - battered Peugeots that negotiate even the most ragged routes of the country.
Regarding inter-city travel, apart from the Sept-taxis mentioned above, there is the option of taking a minibus, which is often crowded, or a coach that will often be delayed for departure until it is full.
Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice
Senegalese food is considered among the best in Africa, with an unmistakable influence from French and Moroccan cuisine. Peanuts are the main crop of Senegal and everywhere the aroma of roasted peanuts fills the air, whilst seafood is the mainstay of the diet. The basis of many dishes is chicken or fish whilst beef and lamb are eaten less frequently but peanuts infuse a distinctive taste to local dishes. This food is served in many restaurants in Dakar, while provincial rest houses serve less sophisticated but delicious variations.
All water should be regarded as being potentially contaminated, and water used for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice should first be boiled or otherwise sterilised. Bottled water is readily available everywhere. Milk is likely to be unpasteurised and should be boiled. Alternatively, use powdered or tinned milk, both of which are available. Avoid dairy products which are likely to have been made from unpasteurised milk. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish, preferably served hot. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.
Tipping waiters in bars and restaurants is always welcome but not expected.
Climate and Weather
Situated just above the equator, Senegal benefits from a warm and tropical climate, which sees temperatures hovering from warm to extremely hot throughout the year. The coast tends to see the country's coolest temperatures, ranging from around 18-27 degrees centigrade. Moving into the interior, temperatures heat up, with averages hovering around 30 degrees centigrade. The hottest temperatures are found in the east on the Malian border, where the mercury has been known to hit 50 degrees centigrade and higher.
The dry season runs from December through April with cool trade winds (called harmattan winds) in coastal areas. This is generally the best time to visit. Throughout the rest of the year, from May to November, a hot monsoon wind blows from the south bringing the rainy season and hot, humid weather. Rainfall is heaviest in the tropical-feeling Casamance and this is where the humidity is highest too.
Clothing and Dress Recommendations
Senegal's tropical and humid climate mean casual lightweight cottons are recommended for most of the year. Mosquitos may be another thing to factor in when packing; the likelihood of bites is high, so you may want to stick to long sleeves and pack some high strength mosquito repellent. If you'll be in the Casamance region during the wet season, waterproofs are essential. Sturdy shoes are necessary for any trekking and hiking activities, otherwise, normal sandals should suffice.
There are internet cafes in Dakar, Saint-Louis and other major towns. However, out in rural villages, don't expect to be able to get online; and if you do find a connections, it is more likely to be a slow dial up than a super-fast broadband.
Electricity and Plug Standards
For the most part, electrical sockets in Senegal are one of two types: the "Type D" Indian 5 amp BS-546 or the European CEE 7/16 Europlug. The Indian socket is actually an old British standard. The "Type D" Indian plug and socket is not to be confused with the "Type M" South African plug and socket. In pictures, they look very similar, but the South African type is much larger than the Indian type, and they are physically incompatible.
If your appliance's plug doesn't match the shape of these sockets, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in.
Electrical sockets in Senegal usually supply electricity at between 220 and 240 volts AC. If you're plugging in an appliance that was built for 220-240 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need. If your appliance isn’t compatible with 220-240 volts, a voltage converter will be necessary.