When people think of touring Africa they normally think of Southern Africa (South Africa, Nambia, Botswana), East Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda), or North Africa (Morocco, Egypt). But the continent of Africa is truly vast and boasts some 56 countries - a quarter of the world's total.

While Central Africa is generally very troubled and travel to that region can be very difficult, the same is not true of West Africa. Most of West Africa is a travel-friendly part of Africa that is frequently overlooked. One of the best and safest West African states to visit is Senegal. West Africa has the reputation for happy and smiling people, and so it is called the "Smiling Coast of Africa".

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Senegal: The Facts

  • Official Language: French
  • Capital And Largest City: Dakar
  • Population: Around 16 Million
  • Independence: From France 1960
  • Currency: West African Franc

Senegal is one of the most developed and stable countries in Africa and when President Obama visited West Africa in 2013, he visited Senegal. Remember this is a very diverse country made up of many different tribes with their own cultures, traditions, and languages.

While Senegal is a majority Muslim country, it is a secular country (unlike its northern neighbor the Islamic Republic of Mauritania where among other things, alcohol is forbidden). Also, many people speak English here, if you can't speak French, don't worry.

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When To Go

Wet Season: May To November Very Humid

Dry Season: December To April Hot And Dry

Optimal: Transition Between The Wet And Dry Seasons (Less Humid But Still Green)

The main roads in Senegal are very good and they even have a new four-lane divided highway running past the capital Dakar. While it is possible to go on a safari tour in Senegal, West Africa doesn't really have all the large animals of Kenya or South Africa.

Visas: Three Month Visa Free For Most Western Passports (New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Switzerland Visa On Arrival)

Dakar

Dakar is the main city. Here you will find everything you need, shopping centers, clubs, bars, and restaurants. But really to enjoy Senegal you should get out and explore the countryside. One must-see in Dakar is the African Human Monument - a memorial to the historical slave trade from this port.

See: The African Human Monument (Memorial To The Slave Trade)

Baobab Trees

Just out of Dakar are the stunning baobab trees. These fat trees can be more than half a millennium old and are often surrounded by peanut farms. Fortunately, their wood is too brittle to be of much use and so they have not been logged. These magnificent trees can be found all over Senegal.

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Somone Lagoon Reserve

The Somone Lagoon Reserve is a stunning lagoon and wetland filled with mangroves and scores of nesting birds. On the seaward side of the lagoon is a stunning beach. The lagoon is only a short drive from Dakar and you can hire a driver to take you here. Just wave down a taxi and negotiate a price. You can make this as a day trip or stay at the Somone coastal city.

Things To Do On The Somone Lagoon Reserve

  • Tour: Hire A Boat To Take You Around The Lagoon And See The Many Nesting Birds
  • Eat: There A Great Sea Food Restaurants On The Lagoon
  • Swim: The Surf And The Beach Are Amazing
  • Do: Sun Bathe On The Beaches

Senegal is a tropical country and it boasts some of the best sandy beaches in the world. There are scores of coastal hotels and resorts to be found all along the coast. Bring your bathing suit, sunhat and relax on the beach with a cocktail. There are so plenty of locals offering beachfront massages too!

The Pink Lake

While in Dakar be sure to visit the stunning Pink Lake (called Lac Rose in French) just some 18 miles out of Senegal. The color is caused by the algae in the lake and the lake has super high salinity (up to 40% in some places). It is only a small lake (1 sq mi) and is very shallow, max depth of ten feet. But it is certainly an excursion worth having while in Senegal.

Visit The Gambia

The Gambia is a very oddly shaped country nearly completely surrounded by Senegal. This tiny country follows the banks of the Gambia River after which it is named. The Gambia was a British colony and so its official language is English. While you're in Senegal, visiting The Gambia is one the must things to do, plus it is the shortest way to access the other half of the country.

The Gambia: Essential Information

  • Population: 2 Million
  • Visa Requirements: Visa-Free For All Western Countries Except America (For Americans The Visa Is Very Easy To Get)
  • Visit: The Beach Resorts At Serrekunda
  • Do: Take The Ferry Across The Gambian River (Its A Real Experience)

In short, Senegal is both the gateway to the "Smiling Coast" of West Africa and a fantastic destination in its own right. If you are thinking of visiting West Africa be sure to visit Senegal!

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