An exotic West African travel destination, Senegal is also one of the region's most stable nations and is awash with eye-opening, breathtaking natural sights and buckets-full of cultural attractions. Positioned on the Atlantic Ocean, between Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania and Gambia, Senegal is known for its wild coastline, wildlife-rich national parks and engrossing history.
Dakar, the vibrant capital, is famed for its lively markets, city-beaches and intense music scene whilst the former capital of Saint Louis offers visitors on a tour of Senegal the opportunity to gain an insight into the country’s colonial past in its UNESCO World Heritage protected old town and busy fishing port. Known as the ‘County of Teranga’, meaning ‘hospitality’ in the local tongue, you can expect a warm welcome on Senegal holidays. Islam is an integral part of the national identity and the holy city of Touba is another must-see, an important pilgrimage site for African Muslims.
Senegal is a popular adventure-travel destination, thanks to its year-round surf, wildlife-rich national parks and rainforested highlands, with more than enough opportunities to get close to the native wildlife and untouched beauty of the great outdoors. A holiday to Senegal is sure to charm you; a country filled with gorgeous beaches, friendly locals, oodles of cultural value and a touch of French style. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to discover this West African treasure.
History of Senegal
In the early years of Senegal’s history, different kingdoms emerged from the territory such as the Takur, Namandini and, famously, the Jolof Empire, which gained momentum during the 13th and 14th-century. Around this time, Islam, still a pillar of Senegalese culture today, was introduced to the kingdom through contact with the dynasties of the Maghreb.
The Jolof Empire united many different ethnic groups, until 1549 when it was divided into independent states, transforming the empire into a kingdom. In the mid-14th-century, Europeans landed in Senegal, notably the Portuguese, French, Dutch and British, who competed amongst themselves for trade opportunities. Gorée Island, a tiny island off the coast of Dakar and an essential stop on a tour of Senegal, exchanged hands between the European powers over the following centuries when it was used as a slave-trading post.
Today, if you visit Gorée Island, you can still see the remnants of its tragic and dark history. French colonialists were successful at expanding their control across Senegal, gradually establishing inland settlements throughout the native kingdoms. The French also promoted the abolition of slavery in the 19th-century. Senegal gained independence in 1960, after a peaceful agreement with France. Senegal has had a relatively stable history ever since, interrupted only by sporadic conflicts between government forces and separatist groups in the tropical Casamance region.
The first president of Senegal, Léopold Sédar Senghor is a prominent figure in the country’s 20th-century history and was one of Africa’s most important intellectuals at the time. Today you can visit his family home and trace his legacy in the city of Joal on a tour of Senegal.
Nature in Senegal
Many choose to travel to Senegal to explore its plentiful natural wonders. From the pink waters of Lake Retba to the mangroves of the Saloum Delta, Senegal is bursting with one-of-a-kind natural sights. Much of the country’s interior consists of either rolling sandy plains or verdant foothills and the climate is always cheerfully warm with defined dry and humid seasons. With so many things to see in Senegal, a tour is a perfect way to fit in all the must-see natural attractions.
The Lompoul Desert is one such wonder; bright-orange, sand dunes, isolated nomadic camps and unforgettable sunsets make this an unmissable highlight of any holiday to Senegal. If you’re eager to discover the local wildlife, head to one of the handful of national parks, such as Bandia, Langue de Barberie or Djoudj National Park, each with their own appeal.
Djoudj is famed for its huge population of birds, with more than 400 species present during the migratory season, such as pelicans and flamingos. Langue de Barberie National Park offers a different experience. This island-park, located on a thin, sandy peninsula, is known for its sea turtle population. The Casamance region, separated from the bulk of Senegal by the Gambia, is a tropical region home to rich wildlife, mangrove lagoons and rainforests. If you truly want to realise the diversity of Senegal, you can’t miss out on its verdant landscapes.
Of course, no trip to Senegal is complete without exploring the nation’s beaches. Over 500 kilometres of coastline ensure plenty of idyllic enclaves to find your own slice of bliss, but perhaps the favourite stretch is the Petit-Côte, a rugged, sandy stretch of coastline, just outside of Dakar. Home to pristine, wild beaches, it's a holiday hot-spot, and popular with surfers too.
Culture in Senegal
Senegal has preserved many of its age-old cultural traditions, making it a fascinating place to explore. Of course, at the centre of Senegalese culture is teranga, the concept which dictates the way Senegalese approach their relationships with others and life itself. Loosely translated as ‘hospitality’, teranga is so much more than this. If you visit Senegal you’ll be struck by how willingly helpful, kind and welcoming the locals are. Overwhelmingly, people in Senegal want to share the good things they have with those around them. Teranga is unity, respect, harmony and understanding. This special concept helps us to understand how followers of countless different religions, ethnicities and backgrounds are able to live in Senegal together in harmony.
Plus, it makes Senegal a beautiful place to visit! Music is another important part of the culture in Senegal. The musical genre of Mbalax is the country’s favourite, and in the streets and music-halls of Saint Louis or Dakar, you’re sure to hear the unmistakable rhythms of this national genre. Saint Louis also hosts an annual, internationally acclaimed, jazz festival. French is the official language, although Wolof is the most widely spoken tongue. To understand Senegalese culture, you must keep in mind the importance of religion to daily life there. More than 90% of the population identify as followers of Islam, whilst small populations continue to follow varied tribal beliefs, especially the Serer people.
Almost half of the total population live outside of the cities, with agriculture, fishing and mining considered the most important elements of the national economy, therefore it’s essential to get out of the city and discover life in the rural communities to get a truly complete picture of Senegalese life during a tour of Senegal.
Travel to Senegal, the ‘land of Teranga’, and let yourself be welcomed with open arms to a country filled with smiling locals, soul-stirring history and startling natural beauty. From beach-bliss to tropical adventures, Senegal deserves a place on the travel itineraries or all who long to uncover the treasures of West Africa.