Senegal in a nutshell
- Capital city: Dakar
- Political regime: Presidential
- Langues : French (official language), Wolof (national language), Fulani, Serer, Dioula
- Monnaie : CFA Franc (1 = 0,047€)
From north to south, according to its regions, Senegal deploys all the quintessence of African landscapes: the Sahel dune desert in the north punctuated by bush and savannah, impressive baobab forests in the centre without forgetting the famous bolongs and their dense mangrove, which line the deltas and lagoons of the coast. Among these nuggets, the salt lakes with changing hues and the sublime volcanic landscapes of Cape Verde, constitute the must-sees here.
Being 1750 km long and 500 meters wide is the legendary Senegal River wherefrom the country derived its name. Being a river that borders with Mauritania, feeder and trade route, it structures the country from east to west.
In the centre of the country, on the coast, Dakar and the Cape Verde peninsula represent the westernmost part of the country and the entirety of Continental Africa. Being open to the world and cosmopolitan, the capital is emblematic of the African economic dynamism. The west of the country, which is bordered by the tumultuous waters of the Atlantic Ocean and picturesque fishing villages, is without doubts turned towards the sea.
To the South of Dakar, the sweetness of life is palpable on the fine sandy beaches. The fishermen’s huts, which are adorned in white and enhanced by the colourful bougainvillaea bouquets that give it a slightly southern flair. This looks so amazing that this part of the coast is sometimes referred to as the « African California« … simply amazing!
The Gambian enclave punctuates the country like an interlude, meanwhile, further south, it is a green region that unfolds: the Casamance. Traditionally known as « granary of Senegal », this rural region is full of orchards and rice fields.
- Letting yourself be enchanted by the old-fashioned charm of the Saint-Louis streets, the country’s former colonial capital and the jewel of West Africa. The villas with wrought iron balconies, the blue shutters carved into warmly coloured facades and other architectural remains will leave you with stars in your eyes. Authentic and surprising, Saint-Louis can easily be explored with your family.
- Enjoying the calm and the landscapes of the Lengua de Barbarie Marine Park. Being a meeting point between the Atlantic Ocean and the Senegal River, this long strip of sand abounds in lush vegetation. Amongst the fine needles of filao trees, egrets, Ox-keeping birds and other birds with exotic plumage nest and reproduce. In recent years, the site has also become a nesting site for sea turtles.
- Reliving the tragedy of slavery off the coast of Dakar, at Gorée, the slave island (Ile aux Esclaves). Its historical museum, as well as a visit to the former « house of slaves » are essential stops for both the young and old who visit Senegal. This « memory island » is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, its streets are adorned with colours and populated by painters and graphic artists who give it an arty twist.
- It is the emblem of Senegal; it can live up to 1000 years and can attain an incredible circumference (of up to 40 meters!)… Here, we’re talking about the Baobab! Under the majestic shade of these sacred trees, any walk becomes a source of amazement. Generous as it is, this impressive tree provides locals with something to eat or to treat themselves with. Its fruits have even described as superfoods!
- Letting yourself be carried away by the colourful energy of a picturesque market. Elegant with colourful boubous, mischievous children and delicious fragrances complete the decor. There are also wax fabrics of all kinds, loincloths embroidered with shells and all kinds of crafts, sometimes the most unusual ones, such as the repairers of basins and plastic buckets!
- Diving into the heart of the African art, at the Théodore Monod Museum in Dakar. In addition to the magnificent carved wooden masks and ritual statuettes, you will be able to discover everyday objects, musical instruments and a splendid collection of jewellery and boxes enhanced with gold, a reminder of the fact that the trade in this precious material was once flourishing in Senegal. Complete this visit by exploring the new Museum of Civilization, which was only inaugurated in 2018.
- Lazing endlessly on the golden beaches of Cap Skirring, Kafountine and of La Petite Côte, which are all places bursting with sunshine and joie de vivre. The Popenguine ochre cliffs are worth a nice walk, barefooted on the sand. The shellfish island of Fadiouth and its dunes are also worth visiting.
- Venturing by pirogue or canoe-kayak in the maze of Casamance bolongs, in the heart of the mangrove … The meanders of the Saloum Delta, green mangroves, have earned it the nickname of the Amazon of Senegal. This is an opportunity to savour oysters au gratin (bred locally at the foot of the mangrove) and to lose track of time, somewhere on one of the small lagoon islands.
- Getting enveloped by the shades of Lake Retba. Depending on the time of day and the intensity of the sun, its surface changes from pink to mauve in a series of gradients: it’s simply magical!
Our luxury addresses for families
Patrick’s Lodge *****
Do you desire to enjoy a privileged vacation in a postcard setting? At Patrick’s Lodge *****, you will hardly feel like being away from home! In the heart of the countryside, in the beautiful region of Fatidiouth and surrounded by 11 hectares of unspoilt nature, you will be in the right place, wherein you can reconnect with the essentials. Being intimist and family oriented, the lodge can also be fully privatized. It can accommodate up to 16 persons: a bargain for very large families or exotic cousins!
Decorated with modern, locally inspired furniture, the hotel facility’s houses and suites blend perfectly with the surrounding nature. Knowledgeably, the owner of the place knew how to blend the African spirit and contemporary design with great taste. You will love to use the magnificently sublimated raw materials, such as the gigantic wooden bathtub that looks like a work of art, directly cut from a tree trunk.
From the little one’s point of view, Patrick’s Lodge is paradisiacal! In addition to having a space that has been entirely reserved for them, children will also be allowed to join the superb outdoor kids club free of charge. When they are not playing in the incredible play area (built entirely from local materials) the toddlers can set off to discover the secrets of African culture and of the Senegalese nature, in the company of the Lodge’s certified facilitators. Can anyone ask for more?
Yokan Lodge *****
At 80 kilometres south of Dakar, in the heart of African California, is where you will find Yokan Lodge *****. On the ocean shore and drowned in palm trees, this upscale establishment highlights the comfort of its guests. Staying at Yokan Lodge is above all discovering the story of a family with a passion for travel and for whom hospitality is a treasure. It also means diving into the heart of a culture, that of Senegal and its white sandy beaches, its plains, its mangroves, its special light, its customs and its know-how. It also means immersing oneself in a particular state of mind, that of cultivating the pleasure of the senses within an eco-responsible lodge. Finally, it means subtly combining nature and luxury: raw wood and contemporary decoration, local stone and designer furniture, handcrafted fabrics and modern infrastructures… the objective is clear: to combine local authenticity with the requirements of a five-star hotel.
While the latter enjoy the delights of the lagoon pool or the nearby fine sand beach, toddlers can join the Kids-club. No way, anyone’s getting bored here: games on the beach, craft, drawing or cooking workshops occupy the little ones’ days. More unusual activities are also imagined for families, such as the regular visit of a storyteller who takes her audience to the heart of African myths… a must!
- In Senegal, meals are shared. As it is in many African countries, here the entire family (or even the entire village) eats from the same plate and… with their fingers! This is one of the Senegalese well-kept secrets for maintaining conviviality! Apart from Yassa chicken, a national dish enhanced with lime, Senegal is a destination that will delight the gourmets. Peanut paste Maffé, Thieboudienne and its candied garlic, seafood or freshwater fish fritters or the excellent Casamance rice should conquer your taste buds. For children and the fragile stomachs, cassava, an African potato, can be savoured fried or mashed. Little guest takes you on a gastronomic adventure to broaden your horizons!
- Not far from the pleasant Saly Beach, you will get to Chez L’Homme Tranquille Restaurant, a charming address that is popular among the locals and tourists alike. Its covered and colourful terrace extends into a tree-lined interior courtyard. The atmosphere therein is very warm, especially when the owner lights large fires on the nearby beach. Yassa chicken, the characterful lobster with a green pepper sauce or breaded coconut shrimp, occupy a special place on the menu. Sweet beaks can be savoured with rum-flavoured bananas and mangoes. The menu equally offers many options that meet up with the expectations of toddler’s stomachs: French fries, crispy monkfish fritters or shrimps in tomato sauce are a real treat! Route de Saly, Saly, Senegal.
- In the heart of Dakar, Le Costes welcomes gourmets in a modern Parisian brasserie-style setting. The Chef, trained at the Paul Bocuse Institute, offers high-quality fusion cuisine. Refined and creative, the menu showcases European-inspired dishes enhanced with local touches. For starters, the beet and avocado tartare blends perfectly with the local mango. What’s even more classic is the presence of calf sweetbread with morels or monkfish tail with lemon garlic cream, on the menu. The menu also offers excellent Senegalese options such as Thiebou Yapp, flavoured rice with lamb meat. 1 place de l’indépendance, 1175, Dakar, Senegal.
- Being at the same time a restaurant, an African antique shop and an art gallery, La Calebasse has all what’s required to amaze everyone! Its highly colourful decoration and its very friendly atmosphere does the rest. The general opinion has it that the staff are very attentive towards children who tend to feel like little kings in this unusual setting. When it comes to flavours, you will be able to reconnect here with African cuisine: grilled fish, mango shrimps and squids are in the spotlight. What’s the bonus that delights the entire family? Live music concerts, Mandingo songs or gospel music that will make any meal magical! At the foot of the Mamelles lighthouse, Route des Almadies, Dakar, Senegal.
- The baobab is a sacred tree in Senegal; however, its tortuous branches and its huge trunk are undoubtedly suitable for climbing. So why not try to climb the incredible canopy of this king of the jungle? In the heart of nature, Acrobaobab is the only park in the world to offer a course exclusively on baobabs… Climbing, adventure courses for children and adults, as well as zip lines flying over the savannah offer sensational memories to families of acrobats. An unusual experience in a magnificent landscape. Itinerary
- When we think of safari, Tanzania or Kenya usually come to mind. However, in Senegal, the savannah is also full of all kinds of animals! Antelopes and other gazelles with crooked horns, buffaloes, zebras, rhinoceros and smart monkeys happily inhabit the Bandia reserve, in the centre of the country. Here, you can equally spot giraffes. After the visit, children can let off steam on the few swings in the reserve’s playground, while their parents drink at the bar. Itinerary
- Different park, different spirit: the Djoudj National Park, located in the north of the country, is a paradise for birds. Indeed, it is well established as the world’s third best ornithological reserve, and it’s, in addition, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage! It is in a meander of the Senegal river that you will find countless numbers of birds (no less than 400 species have been counted). Gambian geese, summer teals, purple herons and other migratory birds stop there to rest or breed. A little tip for you and your toddlers is that you should get here early in the morning, in order to avoid suffering from too much heat, but also because this is the time when the animals are out! Itinerary
- Adventurous families will be completely overwhelmed with joy during an outing through the meanders of the Siné Saloum mangrove. Along the water, comfortably seated in a colourful dugout canoe, this is the perfect opportunity to explore the green landscapes, worthy of the Amazon and to set off for the discovery of the small deserted islands of the region. Among the lush vegetation and their sacred trees, you will sometimes find shell dunes or natural pools dug in the dunes… The numerous organized excursions will immerse your tribe into the heart of African culture, inviting you to eat at the inhabitant’s home or even to get acquainted with the tam-tam telephone network, through which the villages communicate with each other. Timeless days, during which your little deckhands will see themselves as freshwater sailors! Itinerary
Les plus belles plages
With over 700 kilometres of coastline, including 530 kilometres of beach space, Senegal offers a multitude of bathing spots, from north to south. Seaside resorts or wild beaches, fine sand or cliffs… the coast takes on a variety of faces. Great news for swimming enthusiasts, the sea temperature never drops below 20 degrees and can be pleasantly warm from June to December (between 25 and 29 degrees). In the North of Dakar, the Atlantic is more agitated and its waves are reserved for experienced swimmers. In the South of the capital, the coast is more suitable for family swimming. You will equally find more equipped and supervised beaches here.
- In the Southwest of the country, not far from the town of Ziguinchor, Cap Skirring is a well-equipped beach that is suitable for seaside sports. Here the change of scenery is complete under the shade of the coconut grove! In between the palm trees, charming little colourful straw huts serve delicious juices and tasty cocktails. In the evening, by the light of the fires, the beach becomes the setting for the best festivals in the region… always set out to the rhythm of the djembes!
- Off the coast of the Cape Verde peninsula, the Ngor Island is far away from the Dakar frenzy. There are no cars here, and to get there you need to board the famous Senegalese fishermen’s dugout canoe: fine and colourful they promise an authentic trip with those who constitute the pride of the country. In addition to the few waves that make swimming dynamic (it is also an ideal surfing spot; surf-lovers should take note!), It is the ideal place for exploring the seabed and to do some snorkelling. This very fishy location is full of multicoloured species, which you can discover. Around this small island, wrecks and remains are within snorkelling reach.
A little bit of Normandy air floats on Popenguine Beach and its sumptuous cliffs which flow into the sea. The only exception being that the sea is much warmer than in the Cotentin region! On this wildly beautiful beach, the golden ochre of the sand is enhanced by the deep black of the scattered volcanic rocks. After a stroll along the water or a day of swimming, expats could meet at l’Echo-Cotier, a trendy seaside restaurant with an unbeatable décor. The bonus? There are small dishes that are specially dedicated to children!
In Senegal, as it is all over West Africa, there are two seasons: the dry season (November to May) and the rainy season (June to October)! During the dry season, the temperatures are milder which makes the visit more pleasant. Another detail, but not the least: during the dry season the mosquitoes are less numerous and less raging! On the other hand, the rainy season is synonymous to flourishing vegetation and green landscapes. At this time of year, the markets are full of fruits and vegetables. It’s up to everyone to choose according to their capacity and their desires!
Good news for all-time travellers, with the Teranga country being found in an intertropical zone, it is always hot here. The sunshine is also constant, a rare and exceptional fact. Without a shred of a doubt, Senegal is a sunny destination!
- The African sun is sometimes deceptive, the UV rays are virulent and the sunscreen with the maximum protection index (50 SPF +) is essential for both the young and old. Under no circumstance should you forget your young children’s hats, sunglasses and UV protective clothing. Our articles on organic sun protection for babies, as well as our comparative of the best pairs of glasses for little ones will no doubt help you in making the best choice.
Have a good trip… and long live family holidays!
Mylène, 28 years old, art and travel lover, from Strasbourg, France