Senegal – the ultimate road trip itinerary

So you have your trip to Senegal planned, and now you wonder what to put on your Senegal trip itinerary? Here is some inspiration on places to visit in Senegal, things to do and experiences to have. Here we go!

Travel to Senegal - Pink lake (Lac Rose), rally Dakar finish, off-road, Goree island, Dakar at night

The beginning of an adventure in Senegal

The hackathon for improving the tax administration in Senegal is over. We leave “the prison” of our five-star hotel in Dakar. Time to see real life on the streets of the capital.

The first difference is the intense sweating – on our way to the b&b we sweat more times than for the three days of exposure to five-star air conditioners. Narrow, but paved streets in the embassy neighborhood (seems so) gave us hope that we will be far away from the main road and its poisonous emissions. The latter did not fit into our notions of 5 stars but was present anyway.

The sudden power outages, too. We read in some blogs from 2014 that it was normal for Dakar the electricity to go down suddenly. During our first three days’ stay, we definitely enjoyed the sudden outages with a subsequent switch to backup generators, sometimes without a subsequent switch to backups – very sad for all the 80 people in the conference room. And we did not know that at the luxury hotel will be our last power outage in Senegal, surprisingly and despite all expectations.

travel to Senegal, Dakar, Casa Mara, Gazelle beer
travel to Senegal, Dakar, Casa Mara

The reality of Dakar

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The good thing about our new hotel (Casa Mara Dakar) is it’s located in an ordinary residential neighborhood. So we enjoy the music from a nearby mosque and the not-so-hectic and heavy traffic. We are given a spacious room with air conditioning and instantly sit in the courtyard to eat and celebrate – we have a birthday boy today – Nace.

A new finding for us is the local beer Gazelle. It is so pleasant that we manage to finish several 630ml bottles of Gazelle with the speed of running from predators gazelle. We start to prepare physically and mentally for half a day of independently exploring Dakar. Tonight, independently again, we will pick up Marti from the airport, because we feel that bargaining with taxis goes very well. And we still don’t know how many Gazelles we will drink until the end of our stay in Senegal.

travel to Senegal, Dakar, Almedies, beach, ocean, fishing

Transportation in Dakar

We negotiated a yellow-black traditional (looks like it suffered a lot) taxi and headed to the area Les Almedies. It supposedly has a magnificent coastline, which is nice for walking. The taxi left us at an almost indoor oceanfront bazaar.

Going down to a narrow beach with lots of stones – the weather is pleasantly warm. The tents are made of several knotted scarves, not used because it is a cloudy day. We are listening to a cassette, which is older than me, providing some dance rhythms. A group of boys happily goes past us, showing us their catch – water eels for everyone.

travel to Senegal, Dakar, beach, tent, umbrella, sun bed
travel to Senegal, Dakar, Almedies, beach, ocean, fishing
Improvised beach tent in Dakar

The westernmost point of mainland Africa

On the map, we had seen that we are very near the westernmost point of mainland Africa – and could not help but try to go there. The bazaar quickly gave up on us, especially when they heard that it was our first day and we are only looking around.

A man, ingratiating himself with us, offered his tour guide services. We refused and asked if he knew how to get to the westernmost point of Africa. “Come with me, I know a shortcut.”

It turned out that the westernmost point of Africa is in a private hotel, which means there are not many options to enter legally. But we thought it would hardly be some different view other than the many beaches around…

But it is somehow slightly unfair that there is no free access to the westernmost point of Africa, don’t you think?

travel to Senegal, Dakar, beach, ocean, coastline, football
The neighborhood cup in its full swing

What’s up on Dakar beaches?

We went through many embassies and cute newly fresh buildings, bypassing walking left and right guards and sullen glances every time Nace reached for the camera.

We find salvation and peace in the ocean-side promenade with many restaurants. This proves to be the Mecca of surfing and surfers in Senegal. We sit on wooden chairs and tables in the first row with faces to the waves and surfers. You may notice from very beginner kids enjoying the shallow waters to skilled artists who turn pirouettes on the waves together with their boards.

Do you like surfing? Would you choose Senegal as your next surf destination?

Senegal, Dakar, beach
Senegal, Dakar, beach, surf, running, travel
It takes a lot of motivation to run on a track so small, while the waves are calling for you.

The fancy neighborhoods in Dakar

On the streets of the neighborhood of embassies, we notice many non-local people running, jogging or walking in sportswear. We choose to remain hydrated with water and another beer from Africa – Flag and walk around nightfall dusty streets in search of a place to eat something. In the neighborhood of embassies with nice buildings with security and foreigners doing sports. You can notice also dusty sidewalks, kiosks, offering soft drinks and other necessities, and smiling families with children for a walk at dusk.

travel to Senegal, Dakar, dinner, restaurant

There is no taxi that passes us by without inviting us to get in with a whistle. Right now we don’t need transport, we have already managed to find a place to eat salad, drink a glass of wine and immerse ourselves in the sweet smell of avid hookahs.

Meeting the last member of our Senegal road trip

After some relaxing and another celebration of the birthday, we are ready to head to another challenge of the day: pick up Marti from the airport.

It took us 0.3 seconds to catch a taxi from the road. We bargained and agreed on 1,000 CFA francs – we are close though.

Then the long waiting began, first we tried to wait in front of the airport and nearby, but we were kicked out by the guards (who must have missed us when we entered). So we stood together with all the mortals behind the lattice fence. People are dressed formally – in bubu, with those sexy shoes – slippers. We stick to just bringing plenty of mineral water.

On our departure from the airport, bargaining lasts longer – finally we achieve consensus. Therefore the local taxi distributing boss goes to wake up the appropriate driver. Whether the driver remained sleepy or was simply stupid, we don’t know. We had to ask children from the neighborhood to navigate us and eventually we (the strangers) navigate him ourselves.

tr avel to Senegal, Dakar
We closed the celebrations of Nace’s birthday in our full ‘discover Senegal’ team accompanied by some aromatic red wine from Bulgaria and freshly washed glasses from Senegal.

Keur Moussa, Kayar fishing village, Lompoul desert

Our first official day of the road trip started with a visit to the religious place Keur Moussa – hundreds of people get together for the Sunday liturgy. Later we headed back to the coastline and stopped at Kayar fishing village to observe the hard work and effort of fishing for a living by the local people. The most amazing part of the day was getting with an off-road jeep to the Lompoul desert where we enjoyed our time in this little sandy paradise!

All the way to the border with Mauritania – Saint Louis

We are heading north to St. Louis (Saint Louis). We are now a step away from the border with Mauritania – but will not go there. St. Louis has something to entertain us – a town full of history, with three different sections, a river, and an ocean, with endless activities and never-stopping trade.

In one part of the city live fishermen, the second is for the administration and for the rich ones, the third is where trade is done and together with salesmen, the madness of life is happening. We pass along the aroma of fish and carrion. I remember Mombasa – the oceanfront craziness and trade.

Senegal, Saint Louis, fishermen, bridge, river, boats, kids, streets, garbage, dirty, beaches, sunset

Our city tour begins with a horse carriage. We are moving through narrow and wide streets, we pass shops, homes, schools, and military buildings. At one point you see boys loading boats, up to their waist in the river, surrounded by junk. At another moment a group of students giggles in the shade. In another moment carts and horses take advantage of you.

Senegal, Saint Louis, fishermen, bridge, river, boats, kids, streets, garbage, dirty, beaches, sunset, carriage
Our carriage awaits us

Saint Louis carriage tour

In the homes of merchants doors remained wider like in the old days, the whole family is out on the sidewalk because they do not fit in the home. Generally, the sidewalk has space for everything – chickens, children, sellers of anything, mothers, fathers, priests, pigs. Voices and noise from all the above fill the air, and we do not know where to look. How can we listen to the guide? And he has interesting stories – about the former president of France, Jacques Chirac, having a childhood friend here so he built a bridge for him, about the boat race, about education, and how after going to school girls did stop being fine with polygamy. After the dynamic images and stories we pass by, it’s hard to listen to the guide.

We go into a quiet neighborhood with a few schools. In the shadows of the empty streets, we see a white boy bullying a black boy with smaller dimensions and another black boy larger than both just watching for fun… Someday races will exist together in perfect understanding and unity, as currently in Senegal different religions live together in peace and love. There are 90% Muslims and 10% Christians in the country, there are villages with the opposite ratio, but in any case, they show respect and understanding. It’s a common sight of a mosque standing next to a cathedral.

Sunset over the ocean at the Saint Louis beach

After the strong and contrasting emotions of Saint Louis in the afternoon, we spend the evening in a nice hotel with a large garden and swimming pool, by the ocean. The waves help us give up the idea of swimming, but the beach is wide enough (30 meters at least) for everyone, deserted though. Unfortunately, we notice more junk than we can bear.

I guess they’ll have to learn about the bins and how to use them, we will share our observations with our guides Ali and Tafa. Now it may not be easy to find a trash bin, but things will change and people will be educated where to throw out their litter. We believe it.

Senegal, Saint Louis, fishermen, bridge, river, boats, kids, streets, garbage, dirty, beaches, sunset, carriage
Senegal, Saint Louis, fishermen, bridge, river, boats, kids, streets, garbage, dirty, beaches, sunset, carriage

A deserted beach near Saint Louis on the Atlantic coast sends us back to a romantic sunset by the water, the bright orange sun, and two-three boats bobbing on the horizon.

It’s time for another dinner with seafood and fish, but let’s not forget the traditional appetizer of delicious Senegalese peanuts and Gazelle.

Mosquitoes don’t forget to greet us welcome, again. And this is just the dry season…

Sunrise over the Saint Louis river

The magic of being geographically located by the ocean and by the river. Sunset – over the ocean. Sunrise – over the river.

The orange sun greets us and rises quickly. We race through the fishermen’s sector with a whiff of carrion and head outside St. Louis. We leave the three-faced city life (rich, fishermen, and traders) to take dirt roads (in this case red-colored) to a kingdom of birds named Djoudj Sanctuary. After shaking on the red roads and several encounters with smiling wild boars, we arrive at an improvised port.

Senegal, Saint Louis, fishermen, bridge, river, boats, kids, streets, dirt, junk, beaches, sunset, carraige, sunrise

Peacefulness and busyness of Djoudj bird sanctuary

We take dirt roads (in this case red-colored) to a kingdom of birds named Djoudj Sanctuary. Djoudj National Park is probably the most popular of the African National Parks in Senegal. After shaking on the red roads and several encounters with smiling wild boars, we arrive at an improvised port. Get onboard a boat along with other toubabs (tou bab – a white man, more on that later). We point the cameras to the little islands on the lake, where a variety of bird species are strolling.

Only the trained eye of an ornithologist would realize the impressive variety of flying fauna. We notice the larger species – cormorants and pelicans. And countless water lilies floating on the surface of the lake.

The view that leaves us without words is a colony of dozens of pelicans, caught up in daily activities and sitting closely next to each other. Some rise in formations in the air, others just stand and are beautiful. There is something charming about so many creations of nature, all being in one small space at the same time.

Senegal, Djoudj, reserve, sanctuary, birds, pelicans, lilies, lake, island
Senegal, Djoudj, reserve, sanctuary, birds, pelicans, lilies, lake, island
Senegal, Djoudj, reserve, sanctuary, birds, pelicans, lilies, lake, island

Looking for non-fish lunch in Senegal

It’s getting hotter and we decide to head south. The day brings us a long journey from the north of Senegal and down south after Dakar. In many villages, with or without shade, life does not stop.

Beautiful Senegalese women with elongated necks and graceful presence carry large baskets, bowls, and other goods on their heads. The markets are full of seasonal melons (which are monochrome green), and other gifts of the Earth.

The air conditioning in the car helps us almost not feel how hot it is outside – 38 degrees Celsius. We try to stop at a village for lunch – only Senegalese cuisine. Today, we have restless stomachs (read – light diarrhea) and decide to abstain from fish cuisine. Do not get us wrong – it’s very delicious and fresh, but we are not used to eating fish twice a day. So with every village we pass, we get more and more hope to get to the city where we will eventually have some choice for food.

Eventually, we reach a town and get directions to the first “western” place for food. We order basil pasta and we’re happy with this simple but delicious choice.

Nace is even able to talk with the workers in the toilet in pure Bulgarian ( “can I go wash my hands?” and they moved so he can get to the sink). It’s time to proceed to the town of Mbor (Mbour). There the cute ecological Casa Verde is waiting for us – a two-floor African hut with a spiral staircase inside.

Senegal, lunch, pasta, heat, stomach, belly
Simplicity is delicious – basil spaghetti
Senegal, Mbour, sport, running, sunbed, sand, smile, drums, palmtrees

Going south – destination Mbour

From the local language, Wolof tou bab means white man. Although you can never know whether it’s used in a positive or negative sense – we are starting to get used to being called this. Children are the most expressive and often run after us and shout “tubab, tubab” sometimes it evolves to “tubib, tubib.” And yet we don’t know that soon we would start to call each other so. We use it, of course, in a positive sense, playfully. We do not want to discriminate on race, so we avoid lines like “to eat as tubabs finally”. It’s easy to spot the everyday language and racist stereotypes in places where you are a minority.

We’re back to the beach, only this time a lot happens on the Mbour beach. Mbor men do many sports, so every three seconds you can see someone running, exercising, or working out in front of your eyes. Any type of strength and endurance training is done on the beach.

Still, you can spot some pieces of litter on the sand, but the sports spirit kind of compensates a little. At sunset, we hear percussion instruments playing on the beach in groups.

Another typical activity is wrestling, as the Senegalese love this sport. While we are monitoring the Senegal beach sports life, we are monitored by several saleswomen with bracelets and scarfs of every shape and color. Luckily they receive some attention from a group of elderly French men, apparently, the language of love is French indeed.

Bandia Reserve and Shell Island

Who said you can’t go on safari in Senegal? Reserve de Bandia got you covered. Amazing African animals (most of them imported, but since they live well, we think that’s fine) wander around. We did a jeep safari and a short walk in some parts of the reserve.

Later we continued to the famous Shell Island, which is (you guessed it!) made of shells. What is remarkable is how people of different religions live on the same island together, how they even share the graveyard, and how the slow rhythm of life makes you want to stay there even after the mesmerizing sunset.

Popenguine

Today we’re allowed to sleep late, because we have only one stop in the program, Popenguine. The village ashore attracts religious pilgrims (once a year – a million worshipers), lovers of peace and clean beaches and beautiful scenery, and of course, the President, who has a small mansion there. For the first time, we enjoy the wide beach with a negligible amount of garbage. Construction has not yet uglified the shore, working on this issue so far seems promising though. The Popenguine beach still feels deserted, in the distance, there is a cliff that offers some great bird sightings.

Toubab Diallao

Driving on dirt roads to the nearby village of Toubab Diallao, we talk about the origin of the name of this village. It means something like ‘a mountain of white people’, or rather the white rounded tops of the traditional houses. We pass dozens of students going home for lunch. What a variety of uniforms! Suddenly we find ourselves in an open-air museum of local architecture and art. And we will spend the night at this museum! Stones and embedded tiles remind us of the style of famous artists of the last century. The village is an outspoken center of musicians, painters, sculptors, and artists from Senegal and abroad who come to gather with like-minded people and create art. The night is preceded by pounding drums, it is like that every night here.

The art of fishing in Senegal

We are sitting on a high terrace over the ocean and on small beaches. Below us children fish with all sorts of techniques – diving from rocks, placing bait attached to the cord of their pants, sailing a small dinghy into the sea. All methods work. Right next to us a little boy uses a cord attached to his pants to fish alone. He throws and pulls unsuccessfully, then he finally manages to score a catch. Great fun! He puts the catch in the shade under a rock and returns to fishing. A few hours later, a clever cat robs forgotten fresh fish on the beach.

Travel to Senegal - Popenguine beach, Toubab Diallao arts village
Travel to Senegal - Popenguine beach, Toubab Diallao arts village
Travel to Senegal - Popenguine beach, Toubab Diallao arts village

The art of shopping in Senegal

It is getting dark, and we follow the drum music to a small market. Bargaining with interpreters becomes very important. Not that we really need them, but the first rule of bargaining reads: “Have fun”. The more people are having fun, the better. Eventually, we got a beautiful African batik. And we gave a lecture on how we do not pick the money from the trees so we require proper respect. It’s a fact: money does not grow on trees either in Europe or in Africa. Does anyone object?

Finishing our rally in Senegal

Among all the things to do near Dakar, Senegal, there are two that usually stand out. Those are the Pink Lake and Gorée Island. They may sound touristy, but in reality, Pink Lake was almost deserted when we visited it (only a few salt workers in their daily duties), and Gorée Island welcomed a half-full ferry of visitors, which was far from our perception for a “touristy place”. The bottom line: go visit Dakar and its markets, the Pink Lake and its salty hills, the Gorée Island, and its painful memories from slavery.

Travel to Senegal - Pink lake (Lac Rose), rally Dakar finish, off-road, Goree island, Dakar at night

Pink Lake

We set off to Pink Lake (Lac Rose). It turns pink because of the combination of bacteria in it, some wind, and sun. It’s one of the most colorful places on Earth to visit.

We’re lucky. Boats with flags of Senegal sail in the pink waters to extract salt. This is the only place in the country where you can do this without paying a fee. So here you can see guests from other countries. There is salt for everybody so far. The bottom has 1 meter of water and a meter and a half of salt. Men with shovels dig firmly in the middle of the lake. On the coast, there are literally piles of salt.

This beauty used to be the finish of the Paris-Dakar rally before the race moved to South America (now ending in Salar de Uyuni).

This happened because the harsh desert in northern Africa caused some deaths. We get on an old-school jeep and start rushing through the sand. First, we go around the lake, then we hop on and off sand dunes, pass through a small village, then through a forest, and finally, we go out on a huge beach next to large ocean waves. The beach is long as far as the eye could see, there is a single old man with luggage on the enormous beach. The longest of all Senegal beaches. Such a thing we were lucky to see in New Zealand, the 90 Mile beach. Wow!

Dusty and happy we end the adventure with lunch in a huge and empty hotel complex with its typical houses.

Gorée Island

There are plenty of horror stories of how slaves were “handled” and “treated” on the island before they sent them to North and South America. You can visit the Museum of Slavery to become speechless and breathless and empathize with the unfortunate past. There is an exit door called “the point of no return” – some people preferred to drown or get eaten by sharks rather than be slaves in an unknown place without their families for life.

Nowadays we can still notice how we, people, are slaves not to other people, but to money. That’s why, ironically, on the island of Gorée, you can see a “black” child diving into the sea to get a penny, thrown by an old “white” man.

On the positive side, we chatted with a nice lady merchant – we exchanged stories of our backgrounds, and business ideas, and eventually, we got a souvenir or two from her. Of course, we bargained a little to keep the good mood on.

Dakar city tour

We continue to Dakar, where we tour the administrative center, then two of the most popular markets, and end after dark with the huge statue of the Renaissance.

Last days in a place are always associated with much energy given away in markets in search of the best gift at the best price. But hardly the art of bargaining will be ever going to get us tired …

We conclude with dinner in a pizzeria with our guides Ali and Tafa. We have become family for the past six days. It’s time to let them go to go to their real families. See you soon!

Travel to Senegal - Pink lake (Lac Rose), rally Dakar finish, off-road, Goree island, Dakar at night

Do it yourself

This post contains information on how to plan a trip to Senegal, details of visas, security, etc.

Independent travel around the area can be done if you speak fluent French and if you can speak Wolof or other local dialects. Otherwise, it would be quite adventurous. Allow yourself more time if you still decide to go for that adventure. We choose the Andaando tours to take us around the country and share their local stories with us.

What’s left for our next visit to Senegal? The south of the country, which is located south of Gambia – the area is called Casamance. It is supposed to be very beautiful and quite different. You can also combine exploring the Gambia – they have amazing eco-resorts like Mandina Lodge. Here are some tips on how to stay safe in The Gambia. Do you think borders can drastically change people and cultures?

Travel to Senegal - Pink lake (Lac Rose), rally Dakar finish, off-road, Goree island, Dakar at night
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10 Responses

  1. I’d very much like to try Gazelle! 🙂

  2. Yes, it seems most unfair that visitors can not reach the southern-most point of Africa. You have a nice descriptive writing style.

    • Thank you Susan! And by the way it is the western-most point of Africa 😉

  3. Wow! What a unique place to visit! Thanks for the tip.

  4. I love exploring lesser known countries. Sounds like you had a great time exploring.

    • Yes there is some special magic in doing such kind of exploring. It was great indeed.

  5. We love hanging out with the locals and exploring the local culture.

    • Yes, that is probably the most precious experience during our trips as well.

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