If you’re searching for a new adventure, West Africa is it. Senegal, a French-speaking country bordered by Mauritania, Mali, Guinea Bissau with The Gambia sandwiched between has white sand beaches, an up-and-coming music scene and even a Pink Lake.
Follow this perfect seven-day Senegal itinerary for those wanting equal parts of culture, adventure, beach and exploring.
Travel Tips & Practicalities
Senegal can be easily tacked on to a European itinerary especially if you’d like to get some warm African sunshine during the winter (the dry season is November to May). You can fly from many European cities like Madrid, Lisbon, London or Istanbul. Delta also offers a nonstop flight from New York’s JFK to Dakar (DSS). Search for flight deals as they come up here.
Although a majority of Senegal’s population is Muslim, you’ll find locals are fairly relaxed and often don’t cover up as much as in more traditional countries. Female visitors shouldn’t worry about covering their hair, and you’ll spot some local women in shorts and tank tops. Some will be in traditional dress, but really, anything goes.
You won’t see much pork on restaurant menus but many restaurants will serve alcohol. Make sure to try palm wine, a locally produced drink that comes from fermented palms. Pair it with the traditional Senegalese dish thieboudienne — fish, rice, stewed tomatoes drenched in seasoning.
Most areas of the country are quite safe, but be prepared for chatty locals hawking goods, and it’s best to leave flashy items at home. Guard your personal items in crowded spaces such as Dakar’s markets as you would in any major city.
Although many locals speak Wolof, French is the official language, so consider learning a few phrases, or come prepared with a translation app.
Make sure to change your dollars for the local currency, the West African CFA Franc, and have cash in small bills for tipping and market purchases.
Stop 1: Dakar | 4 days
Some of Dakar’s best hotel options are the Radisson Blu Dakar or the Pullman Dakar. However, many affordable guesthouses and home rentals can be found throughout the city. The best (or most modern) area to stay in would be the city center, with attractions such as the IFAN museum nearby. For a quieter, beachy stay, consider the Yoff area.
We highly recommend booking a private guide and driver ahead of time with Senegal Odyssey Tours. Private guides are affordable, and it’s worth having a local by your side to show you the ropes.
Day 1: Enjoy Dakar’s Markets, Museums & Music
Dakar has an energetic and lively vibe. The hot, dusty streets filled with movement may seem hectic at first, but you’ll be happily ensconced in Dakar’s fervor in no time. Start with one of the bustling markets like Sandanga. Be ready for assertive hawkers and make sure to bargain. If you’re shopping for local goods, confirm they were made in Africa, not in China.
Next stop is the IFAN Museum of African Arts. It’s one of the oldest museums in West Africa. Later in the evening, catch the sunset and enjoy dinner at the trendy Bayékou, followed by some live Mbalax music (a mix of African drumming, soul, rock and jazz) at Le Thiossane.
Day 2: Île de Gorée
This picturesque, car-free island just a short ferry ride from Dakar has a sordid history. Now a UNESCO Heritage site, the island was once one of the largest slave-trading points on the African coast. The juxtaposition between the slave quarters and the traders’ estates is immense, but now, the island is a memorial, and definitely warrants a day trip.
Ferries run all day from Dakar’s main port, and you can hire a guide after disembarking from the boat in Gorée. You can also schedule a day trip in advance with Visit Senegal to be guided by a local.
Day 3: Lac Rose
One of Senegal’s most famous attractions is the Pink Lake, just over an hour from Dakar. You can hire a private driver for the day in a comfortable vehicle to bring you out. The water actually appears pink thanks to its high saline content and an excess of Dunaliella salina bacteria. Float in the lake Dead Sea-style or pay a fisherman to lap you around in a rowboat. Make sure to admire the locals cultivating the salt from the lake, and the wandering goats that watch them. You can also rent quads and drive over the beaches and banks of the lake.
Day 4: African Renaissance Monument and Beach Day
Start by visiting the African Renaissance Monument, a towering statue on a hill depicting a man, woman and child. The monument, which was created as a tribute to the African people has been controversial, so make sure to check it out and decide for yourself if you love it, hate it or perhaps both.
Spend the rest of the day relaxing at Chez Max, a popular boho beach bar on the sands of the Plage des Mamelles. Or, for a longer stretch of sand, visit the Plage de Yoff.
Stop 2: Saly | 3 days
Stay in a beach hotel with all the amenities if you’d prefer to relax. Or, consider a home rental, which can range from a cozy African bungalow to a luxury beachfront villa.
Day 5: Beaches of Saly and M’Bour
Today it’s time to relax on the empty sands of Saly, where you can swim in the warm sea and watch kids play beach soccer at sunset. When you’ve had enough, head to check out one of the craft markets or walk the beaches of the nearby fishing town M’Bour to admire the painted boats.
Day 6: Somone Lagoon Wildlife Reserve
A 30-minute drive from Saly, the Somone Lagoon is a wildlife reserve where you can spot many local birds including flamingos. Take a boat ride to explore the lagoon, and stroll around the sandy shores. Enjoy fresh seafood for lunch and a shady nap in one of the hammocks at Paradise Rasta when the heat of the day hits.
Day 7: Safari
The Foret de Bandia is a protected park in Senegal where you can see African wildlife. Visit first thing in the morning to spot the most animals (and to beat the heat). Although you won’t spot the big five in Senegal, you can still see giraffes, rhinos, zebra, crocodiles, hyenas, and monkeys. Don’t forget to admire the famous African Baobab trees too. Just hang on to your snacks, as the park’s mischievous monkeys are food-stealers.
After your safari, head back to Dakar to catch your flight home.
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Wow, what a fantastic-sounding week! So many layers to explore. I love the sounds of the pink lake, food and palm wine…
It’s such a special spot, I know you would love it! And the pink lake is truly epic 🙂