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Why you need to visit Senegal

Why you need to visit Senegal

Senegal is the perfect destination for anyone looking to experience more than a safari holiday in sub-Saharan Africa

In November 2022, TUI Airways began running direct flights and package holidays from London to Senegal, and judging by the numbers of passengers on our packed February flights, it has clearly proved a popular move—so popular that on the day of departure, our outbound 737 had to be switched up to a Dreamliner.

It’s not hard to see why. The plane is in the air for just six hours before landing in a country that has something for everyone, from more than 100km of tranquil unspoilt beaches and a fabulous array of wildlife to world-famous heritage sites, arresting arts and culture, first-class hotels and a diversity of landscapes that make it a unique West African destination.

Living it up in the city

Why you need to visit Senegal - Aerial view of the city of Dakar, Senegal, by the coast of the Atlantic cityCredit: derejeb

As home to almost a quarter of Senegal’s population of 17 million, the capital city Dakar is a fine introduction to the country. A day or two can very happily be spent souvenir-shopping at Sandaga market, marvelling at the sheer chutzpah of the gargantuan African Renaissance Monument, enjoying the craftsmanship of the masks and ceremonial items at the Théodore Monod African Art Museum, or taking a short excursion out of town to see the preposterously pink waters of the saline Lac Rose.

Nights offer live music and local Senegalese treats like thieboudienne or mafé at pretty outdoor spaces like the French Institute, and if the heat of the day leaves you in need of some R&R, the 40-metre waterfront infinity pool of the Radisson Blu Dakar Sea Plaza is a definite crowd-pleaser.

Let’s go to the beach

Just 40 minutes south of Blaise Diagne International Airport, the lively resort area of Saly has its fair share of large all-inclusive set across expansive grounds filled with all the pools, restaurants and amenities you’d expect, but a short ride north along the coast to the Lagune de La Somone is like travelling back in time to 1980s Caribbean, India or Thailand when laidback beach shacks serving fresh-out-of-the-water grilled fish with ice-cold beer were ten-a-penny.

At La Somone, you can actually watch fishermen land their catch and run along the beach with it to shack chefs who clean and cook the fresh fish before presenting it with equally fresh chips to diners sipping on ice-cold Gazelle or Flag beers.

"Lagune de La Somone is like the 1980s when laidback beach shacks serving grilled fish with ice-cold beer were ten-a-penny"

Windsurfers make the most of the Atlantic breezes, children paddle in the calm shallows of the delta, and swimmers bob in the warm water enclosed by the lagoon.

On the water, a trip in a brightly painted pirogue along the delta’s mangroves is a chance to experience some of the country’s 694 species of birds as they zip in and out of the undergrowth, the jewel-bright plumage of Abyssinian Rollers, blue starlings, Little Bee-Eaters and Beautiful Sunbirds making for an unforgettable excursion.

Wildlife to go wild about

As part of mainland Africa and with a tropical climate suited to the kind of big game common in countries to the east and south, Senegal offers wildlife experiences that just don’t exist on other short-haul winter holidays, including a walk with lions at southerly Fathala Wildlife Reserve (bookable to UK visitors through The Gambia Experience). Six orphan cubs have been raised here in a 7,000ha reserve that is split between lions in one extensive enclosure and giraffes, rhinos, zebras, Derby Elands, warthogs, monkeys and other herbivores across the rest of the reserve.

"Senegal offers wildlife experiences, including a walk with lions at southerly Fathala Wildlife Reserve"

A range of activities is offered, among them a lovely two-hour game drive, sundowner boat excursion, bush and birdwatching walks or a short walk with two of the lions, which is as thrilling as it is terrifying! Splurge on a night in one of the tented suites for a total treat.

Closer to Dakar and Saly, the 3,500ha Bandia Reserve makes for a fine alternative, as long as you’re happy to swap lions for the much less scary giant tortoises.

Astounding architecture all around

Senegal is home to seven World Heritage UNESCO sites, including two cultural ones that are as thought-provoking as they are visually arresting.

In the north, the country’s former capital of Saint-Louis still retains impressive architecture from the Portuguese, French and English colonialists who all played a part in shaping the gridded streets of the island city, and a horse-drawn caleche ride around it is delightful—as is crossing the bridge to explore the nearby fishing village busy with the daily life of 54,000 residents crammed into a space shared with a seemingly equal number of goats, chickens and donkeys.

A land of history and memories

Why you need to visit Senegal - Picturesque views from the island of Goree, SenegalCredit: Luca Vitiello

It’s a delightful place, but if the four-hour drive from Dakar or Saly to Saint-Louis is three hours of potholes too many, the island of Gorée, a 20-minute boat ride from Dakar, is much more accessible—and the most compelling site in the country. For almost 400 years, this region was the largest slave-trading centre on the African coast. Today, the sleepy island acts as a focal point for many visitors to Senegal, its dusty streets lined with crumbling colonial houses belying the horror that took place here.

"For almost 400 years, the island of Gorée was a focal point for the largest slave-trading centre on the African coast"

It is palpable though, and nowhere more so than at the understated House of Slaves, where a visit to honour and remember the twelve million people shipped across the Atlantic is something that will stay with you long after you’ve left this multi-faceted country.

Banner credit: Abdoulaye Sarr MBAYE

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