From the chaotic streets of Dakar to the calm mangroves of the Saloum Delta, here are the best places to visit in Senegal!
“The society showed how disparate elements – French, Islamic, and African – can mingle to create a unique and distinctive culture.”Nelson Mandela, writing on Senegalese society in Long Walk to Freedom.
French words mix with Wolof, Latin alphabets with Arabic script, and the oniony aroma of Poisson Yassa drifts over the marketplace as multicoloured Senegalese Pirogues disgorge their fishy cargoes onto the sandy beach ahead. A minaret rises high above makeshift tarpaulins and market stalls, women in colourful African dresses barter for snappers and squids, and Atlantic waves ripple in the background.
My first experience of Senegal, on market day in Mbour, was a microcosm of the diversity, colour, smells, scents, flavours, and sights that would enthral me for the next two weeks as I travelled across this West African nation. Whether I was gorging on Jollof Rice on a beach in N’Gor Island, or cruising through mangroves on the Sine-Saloum Delta, I found that the best places to visit in Senegal were as diverse as the people that call this lively country home.
If you’re planning a trip to Senegal, then keep reading, as I countdown the destinations to visit.
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Places to visit in Senegal
Although I’ve travelled extensively through other parts of Africa, visiting countries as far-flung as Sudan and Gabon, Senegal was my first real introduction to West Africa. Stretching from the desert sands of the Sahara, south to the wetlands of Casamance, Senegal is the perfect start to the region.
Logistically, it’s also one of the best gateways to West Africa, too. Largely stable, with long-haul connections to Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and the USA, once you arrive in Senegal you can hop around in old ‘Sept Pluses‘ (a type of seven-seater car share which leaves when full, inevitably using battered old French cars) or comfier inter-city buses run by companies like Dem Dikk.
From a long Atlantic coastline dotted with luxury hotels like the newly opened Riu Baobab to homestays in Toubacouta, it’s easy to find accommodation suited to all budgets, while the Senegalese peoples’ enduring sense of Teranga (a concept of hospitality and respect that’s difficult to define without experiencing it) ensures that you’re always going to feel welcome.
To see the highlights of Senegal you’ll need at least two weeks. I flew into Dakar, then spent a few days lounging on the beach at Pointe Sarene, soaking up the luxury vibes at TUI’s new luxury hotel (full disclosure, I was their guest). From the Riu Baobab, I enjoyed day trips to Goree Island, went on safari in Bandia Reserve, and explored parts of the Sine-Saloum Delta by boat. After that, I experienced the local side of Senegal, visiting Dakar and Toubacouta, before finishing up with a safari in Fathala Wildlife Reserve.
Without further ado, here are the best places to visit in Senegal.
Visiting Dakar, the dusty but dynamic capital of Senegal, is an exhilarating blend of modern urban life and rich cultural heritage. Situated on the tip of the Cap-Vert Peninsula, the westernmost point in mainland Africa, Dakar is a city where African rhythms, French colonial heritage, and global influences converge. The streets buzz with vibrant markets like Marché Kermel, where a kaleidoscope of colours and scents from spices, textiles, and local crafts fills the air. Key historical sites, including the African Renaissance Monument, stand as proud, yet controversial symbols of African pride and progress.
Art enthusiasts find a treasure trove in Dakar’s thriving art scene, with numerous galleries showcasing contemporary African art. The IFAN Museum of African Arts offers a deep dive into West African culture and history. The beaches, notably Plage de N’Gor, provide an escape, while Dakar also serves as a gateway to Gorée Island, which is a poignant reminder of the Atlantic slave trade.
Read more: 14 Best Things to Do in Dakar, Senegal
2. Goree Island
Gorée Island is a short ferry ride from Dakar, the Senegalese capital, but it offers an experience steeped in history and emotion. This small island, with its cobbled streets and pastel-coloured colonial buildings, is a strange contrast to the urban sprawl of Dakar. Its seemingly tranquil appearance, however, hides a turbulent past as a significant site in the Atlantic slave trade.
The most haunting reminder of this is the House of Slaves, where visitors can learn about the inhumane conditions endured by slaves before their forced passage across the Atlantic. Despite its sombre history, Gorée Island is also a symbol of resilience and human rights. The island’s thriving artistic community, with numerous studios and galleries, showcases works that often reflect on the island’s history while also looking towards a hopeful future.
3. N’Gor Island
For a dangerously authentic beach experience, throw yourself into the public boat from Dakar to N’Gor Island. An old wooden Pirogue, crammed to the bulkheads with daytrippers, zips across the narrow strait from the mainland, where you’ll have to unceremoniously clamber over the sides and splash through the shallows to make landfall on N’Gor Island.
Once you’re there, N’Gor Island offers a somewhat charming contrast to the city’s hectic pace. Known for its beautiful beaches and clear, calm waters, you can pull up a chair and order skewers of prawns and plates of Jollof Rice from the beachside barbecue vendors.
The island is car-free, with its whitewashed houses and bougainvillea-draped walls, N’Gor invites leisurely strolls and views of the Atlantic Ocean. If you’re into surfing, the island is also home to one of the world’s most famous breaks.
Located on Senegal’s Petite Côte, Saly is the best place to visit in Senegal for a budget beach holiday. A popular seaside resort, Saly is just an hour’s drive from Dakar and has become a go-to destination for those seeking sun, sea, and relaxation.
The golden sandy beaches, lined with swaying palm trees, are perfect for sunbathing and water sports, including jet-skiing and fishing. Saly’s array of hotels and resorts cater to a range of tastes and budgets, offering luxurious amenities and authentic Senegalese hospitality. The town’s nightlife, with lively bars and restaurants, ensures you’re never going to be short of a beer or three.
Mbour was my first destination in Senegal. Straight from the airport to the beach, the city is the gateway to TUI’s flagship hotel, the Riu Baobab, which offers five-star luxury on the Atlantic coastline. This elegant resort, directly overlooking a white sand beach, provides sophisticated accommodation, a swim-up bar, and fusion restaurants serving Senegalese, Japanese, and Italian cuisine.
But Mbour itself is a far cry from the tourist resort. Known for its fishing industry, you can experience the energetic fish market where colourful pirogues bring in the daily catch straight to the marketplace. Take a tour of the market to learn more about local life in Senegal.
Fadiouth is an intriguing island to the south of Mbour. It stands out for being entirely made of seashells, which have accumulated over centuries after being discarded by the locals. Connected to the mainland by a wooden bridge, this tiny island near Joal is also a remarkable testament to the coexistence of Muslim and Christian communities in Senegal, as both live side by side.
Fadiouth’s narrow shell-covered streets, quaint granaries on stilts, and the mixed-faith cemetery symbolise the unity and tolerance of its inhabitants. The island’s distinct culture is also reflected in its cuisine, which incorporates seafood and millet, staples of the Serer diet.
7. Bandia Game Reserve
Bandia Game Reserve in Senegal is a remarkable wildlife sanctuary where you can explore the beauty of African fauna within a natural savannah landscape. Covering 3,500 hectares, this reserve is home to an array of African wildlife, including giraffes, rhinos, buffaloes, zebras, and a variety of antelope species.
Its well-maintained tracks make it easy for visitors to explore either by guided tours or in their own vehicles. I joined one of the daily tours from the Riu Baobab Hotel, which departs early morning and has you back around the pool by lunchtime.
Bandia is a popular tourist destination, but it also plays a vital role in wildlife conservation. Many of the species found within the reserve have been reintroduced from elsewhere in Africa, after becoming extinct in Senegal in the last few centuries. The reserve’s biggest success story though is the Giant Derby Eland, the world’s largest antelope, which has been brought back from the brink of extinction through conservation programmes.
Touba, located in central Senegal 3 hours drive east of Dakar, is a city founded on its religious significance. Renowned as the centre of the Mouride brotherhood, a large Sufi Islamic order that’s prevalent across Senegal, Touba is dominated by the magnificent Grand Mosque.
Home to one of the largest mosques in Africa, Touba is a place of pilgrimage, especially during the Grand Magal, an annual festival commemorating the return of Mouridism’s founder, Cheikh Amadou Bamba, from exile.
The city exudes a spiritual atmosphere, its streets lined with religious schools and libraries. Non-Muslim visitors to Touba need a local guide to show them around, making this one of Senegal’s lesser visited, but perhaps most fascinating destinations.
Saint-Louis, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was once the capital of French West Africa. Located 5 hours north of Dakar, the city is famed for its well-preserved 19th-century architecture, evident in its elegant buildings and the iconic Faidherbe Bridge.
The city is often alive with the rhythms of jazz, too, celebrated annually at the renowned Saint-Louis Jazz Festival, attracting artists and enthusiasts worldwide. The blend of French colonial heritage, Senegalese culture, and the natural beauty of the surrounding Senegal River delta makes Saint-Louis an exciting and historically significant destination, offering a window into a bygone West African era.
10. The Lompoul Desert
The Lompoul Desert in northern Senegal is a striking landscape of undulating, orange sand dunes, creating a stark yet stunning contrast to the country’s predominantly lush, weather-beaten, tropical terrain. This small desert, covering an area of about 18 square kilometres, provides a unique opportunity for a desert experience within West Africa.
Visitors can enjoy desert dune buggy rides and star-gazing under the clear night sky. The Lompoul Desert is also popular for overnight stays in traditional Mauritanian tents, offering a taste of nomadic life in Senegal. This unusual desert environment makes Lompoul an intriguing destination for those seeking adventure and a distinct change of scenery from the rest of Senegal.
11. Sine-Saloum Delta
The Sine-Saloum Delta was easily one of my favourite places to visit in Senegal. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this river region is home to a sprawling network of islands, mangrove forests, and meandering waterways. This expansive delta, formed by the confluence of the Sine and Saloum rivers, is a haven for biodiversity, and you can visit the northern sections on day trips from popular tourist destinations like Mbour and Saly.
I visited on a day trip from the Riu Baobab but loved it so much that I later went south to Toubacouta, where I spent a few days in a homestay exploring the river in much more depth. Travelling the delta by pirogue (traditional Senegalese canoe) offers a leisurely view of its intricate ecosystem, where you can witness a diverse array of bird species, making it a top destination for birdwatching.
The region is also rich in cultural heritage, and local communities, some residing on isolated islands, maintain a sustainable way of life, closely tied to the natural environment. Again, Toubacouta and its small museum is an excellent place to learn more about the local people and to partake in a spot of community-based tourism.
Toubacouta is your gateway to the Sine-Saloum Delta of Senegal. A small riverside village, Toubacouta offers a genuine insight into the natural beauty and cultural heritage of the region. This small community, set amidst a landscape of mangrove forests and saltwater creeks, is the best base from which to explore the diverse ecosystems of the delta.
Toubacouta’s proximity to the Fathala Wildlife Reserve also enhances its appeal for nature enthusiasts. You can engage in activities like bird watching, canoe trips through the mangroves, and community interactions, providing a deeper understanding of the local Mandinka and Serer cultures.
13. Fathala Wildlife Reserve
Located right on the border with The Gambia, Fathala Wildlife Reserve offers an up-close encounter with African wildlife. Spanning 6,000 hectares, Fathala is a thrilling wildlife haven where the roar of lions punctuates the silence of the African bush.
The reserve offers luxury tented accommodation, allowing visitors to immerse themselves fully in the African wilderness. It’s more like a traditional East African safari than a Senegalese adventure, but Fathala Wildlife Reserve presents a unique blend of conservation, adventure, and luxury, making it a standout destination for wildlife enthusiasts.
Here, you can embark on a safari to spot rare West African species like the giant Derby eland, rhinos, and giraffes, which all roam freely in the bush. Like Bandia Game Reserve further north, many of the animals here were reintroduced or (like the giant Derby eland) saved from the brink of extinction.
Casamance, in the lush southern region of Senegal, is a world apart from the arid landscapes of the north. Divided from the rest of the country by The Gambia, Casamance is home to dense mangrove forests, winding rivers, and palm-fringed beaches. Casamance’s distinct cultural identity, influenced by a variety of ethnic groups including the Diola, Mandinka, and Fula, speaks volumes of Senegal’s national diversity.
You can reach Casamance on the overnight ferry from Dakar, which traverses the Atlantic coast before steaming upriver to Ziguinchor. From here, you can venture deeper into the wetlands, exploring the Casamance region by Pirogue, as you embrace local community-based tourism initiatives.
15. Niokolo-Koba National Park
Niokolo-Koba National Park is an extraordinary destination of diverse ecosystems. Ranging from savannas to dense forests and rolling hills that are intersected by the Gambia River, this is one of the most remote, but one of the best places to visit in Senegal.
This UNESCO World Heritage site covers over 9,000 square kilometres, and it’s a sanctuary for an astonishing array of wildlife, including leopards, chimpanzees, and a variety of antelope species. The park is also one of the last refuges for the endangered West African lion and the giant Derby eland, the largest of the antelope species.
Visitors to Niokolo-Koba are treated to a true wilderness experience. The vast expanses of the park offer excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing, particularly near the water sources during the dry season. Birdwatchers will be delighted by the more than 330 avian species that inhabit the park. The park’s commitment to conservation and its rich biodiversity make it a crucial haven for wildlife and a fascinating destination for nature enthusiasts seeking an authentic safari experience.
Map of the best places to visit in Senegal
Here’s a map of the best places to visit in Senegal:
FAQ: The best places to visit in Senegal
Here’s an FAQ on the best places to visit in Senegal:
Q1. What is the best time to visit Senegal?
The optimal time to visit Senegal is during the dry season, from November to May when the weather is warm and dry, ideal for exploring and wildlife viewing.
Q2. What are the top attractions in Dakar?
In Dakar, must-visit attractions include the African Renaissance Monument, the bustling markets like Marché Kermel, IFAN Museum of African Arts, and the beautiful beaches such as Plage de N’Gor.
Q3. Why is Gorée Island significant?
Gorée Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is significant for its history in the Atlantic slave trade, evident in the House of Slaves museum, and its colourful colonial architecture.
Q4. What can I do in Saint-Louis?
Saint-Louis, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is famous for its 19th-century architecture, the annual jazz festival, and the nearby Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary.
Q5. What makes Sine-Saloum Delta special?
The Sine-Saloum Delta, also a UNESCO World Heritage site, is known for its unique landscape of mangrove forests, islands, and rich birdlife, offering a serene and natural environment.
Q6. Can I visit the desert in Senegal?
Yes, the Lompoul Desert in the northwest offers orange dunes for a unique desert experience, including camel rides and dune surfing.
Q7. What wildlife can I see in Niokolo-Koba National Park?
Niokolo-Koba National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is home to wildlife like lions, elephants, leopards, and various bird species.
Q8. Is there a cultural region in Senegal worth visiting?
The Casamance region in the south is culturally distinct and known for its landscapes, hospitality, and vibrant local festivals.
Q10. Are there any beach resorts in Senegal?
Yes, Saly on the Petite Côte is a popular beach resort area known for its beautiful beaches, water sports, and vibrant nightlife.
There they are, the best places to visit in Senegal! What destinations are you adding to your Senegal itinerary?
This article was made possible thanks to a 4-night complimentary stay at the Riu Baobab courtesy of TUI. All opinions remain the author’s. The author travelled independently for the remainder of the trip.