After spending a month exploring much of incredibly rich, diverse, and stupendously beautiful region of West Africa, I must admit: Senegal and The Gambia really stood out.
And the best way to really get a sense of the true beauty of Senegambia? Seeing both countries together on the same trip. 2 weeks is a great amount of time to visit both Senegal and The Gambia in one trip.
You’ll enjoy being able to compare, contrast, and highlight the differences and similarities between both. Likewise, by the end of the trip, you will have a sense of just how unique each country is – despite their geographical appearance.
How to spend 2 awesome weeks exploring Senegal and The Gambia: 6 Days of Rich West African History in northern Senegal & Dakar Crossing the border from Senegal to The Gambia (and everything in between) 4 Days of Epic Relaxation and Exploring of The Gambia Crossing back into Senegal from the Gambia An epic finale: 4 Days in Senegal's Incredible Casamance
Exploring The North of Senegal: 6 Days of Fascinating West African History
The First 6 Days:
How to get to Senegal
Current Senegal Travel Restrictions
The 7 Places You Can't Miss in Dakar
Where to stay in Dakar
4 Awesome Day Trips from Dakar
Everything you need to know about getting around Senegal
How to get to Senegal in 2022
It’s shockingly easy to get to Senegal, even during Covid-19. There are plenty of direct flights from Europe and even the United States;
- Delta flies to Dakar daily from New York’s JFK Airport using an Airbus A330 or Boeing 767-300ER
- Air Senegal flies to Dakar multiple times a week from New York and Baltimore using an Airbus A330
How to fly from Europe to Dakar, Senegal (DSS)
On top of chartered flights and flights included in travel packages, there are also plenty of regularly scheduled airline flight to Dakar from Europe. Some of these include:
- Air France from Paris (CDG)
- Brussel Airlines from Brussels (BRU)
- Iberia from Madrid (MAD)
- Turkish Airlines from Istanbul (IST)
- TAP Air Portugal from Lisbon (LIS)
From Dakar Airport (DSS) to Downtown Dakar
You have several options to get from DSS Airport to downtown Dakar;
- Private taxi: A taxi will cost around 20K CFA one way to Dakar. The return to the airport will cost you 25K from Dakar to DSS.
- DDD (Dem Dik) Bus: The bus costs around 6k CFA per person. You will be dropped off at the at the AIBD Dem Dik next to Stade Leopold Sedar Senghor Stadium. From there you can take a taxi into the city for around 2K if you negotiate. You can also do this in reverse to reach DSS Airport.
- Private Shuttle (arranged by your hotel or using this website) for about 40k CFA
Senegal Travel Restrictions
As of February 14, 2022, to enter Senegal, you’ll need either:
Masks are technically required everywhere, but my experience was that it was only half enforced.
Public services, like the ferry to Ile de Goree, did enforce the rule – even outside. And most restaurants follow the same game as the rest of the world, requiring a face mask for entry but allowing you to eat without it, thankfully.
Find the latest updates for Senegal here.
First stop in Senegal: Dakar and it’s surrounding rich history (3-4 Days)
As the westernmost peninsula of continental Africa, Dakar has historically served as a hub of imports and exports – and that (sadly) made it a massive center of slave trade in colonial times.
But that’s what makes Dakar so important for you to visit. There’s no better way to get a real sense of the atrocities and monstrosities committed by European colonizers not-so-long-ago, and no better way to learn from it while paying homage to the victims of history.
The 7 Places You Can’t Miss in Dakar, Senegal
To get a true taste of Dakar, and Senegal as a whole, make sure to visit these sights:
- Ile de Gorée, a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most beautiful islands in all of West Africa
- Ile de Ngor, which was very important during the slave trade era
- The Marché Soumbédienne, a market filled with characteristic and authentic local art
- The “Lac Rose”, or Lake Retba, a pink lake just north of the city
- Musée des Civilisations noires, an intricate museum exposing the incredible beauty of African artistry and culture
- The African Renaissance Monument, a North Korea donated statue depicting a couple and their child looking out to see
- The Westernmost Point of Continental Africa from Dakar!
Each of these takes half a day or less from Dakar.
And for théose who are inclined to surf, the coast of Senegal is known for its world-renowned surf – such as at Plage BCEAO. Surfing is a great way to meet locals and enjoy the wonderful scenery.
Ile de Gorée: Dakar’s true treasure
There’s a ferry that runs multiple times a day from the Port de Dakar to Ile de Gorée, starting at 7AM and returning as late as midnight.
It takes about 25 minutes and costs 5,200 XOF for a non resident adult, 2,700 XOF for Africans, and 1,500 XOF for locals.
The main attraction of this UNESCO World Hertiage Site (yes, the entire island!) is the House of Slaves (Maison des Esclaves), but you’ll also find seemingly endless local art, tons of boutique restaurants and hotels, a castle overlooking the island at the top of a hill, and bright colorful houses along rose-filled streets giving the island vibrancy.
Plan at least a half day (afternoon) to visit the magical island of Ile de Gorée: Senegal's true treasure.
Ile de Ngor: a more off-the-beaten-path, raw experience
This is another incredibly cute island filled with boutique hotels, airbnb’s, and small restaurants.
To reach the Ile de Ngor, take a local pirogue (long, wooden, gorgeous motorized canoe) for 1000 XOF or a faster motorboat for 2000 XOF, both roundtrip from the Embarcadére Île de Ngor.
It’s a pretty short ride, and once you reach Ngor, you’ll feel a sense of relaxation and serenity. You can see the island in about an hour walking around, or pay for a guide to explain the richness of its history for a bit longer. Or, you can just chill out here and enjoy.
The March Soumbédienne: a must see for tourists in Dakar
This little market, right next to the beach and surrounded by local pirogue canoes, is a fantastic place to pick up a souvenir.
Though it’s definitely a more touristy market, you can find high quality products for great prices (after some haggling). Just be ready to walk away to get that good price you deserve.
You can spend between 20 minutes and 2 hours here before you’ll get tired of haggling.
The Lac Rose, or “pink lake” of Dakar
Less than an hour’s drive from the heart of downtown is this interesting pink lake. It’s a great place to meet some of the 3,000 collectors, men and women from all over Western Africa, who work 6–7 hours a day picking salt. Over 30,000 tons of salt are harvested from the Lac Rose (locally known as Retba) each year.
Note that its level of pinkness varies based on the season; it's much less pink during the during the rainy season (July to October).
Musée des Civilisations noires: paying homage to African Art and History
A great place to spend an hour or two, this museum is dedicated to the valiant and brilliant artists, leaders, and revolutionaries of Africa.
Entrance is 3000 CFA.
The African Renaissance Monument: you literally can’t miss it
If you’re driving by, this North Korea donated monument sticks out like Dakar’s sore thumb. Though you can visit (and pay an entrance fee), visiting from the bottom is totally feasible. You won’t be missing out on much.
The westernmost point of continental Africa, Dakar, Senegal
Facing the gusty breeze, looking out into the depth of the Atlantic, I was exuberant; I had made it to the westernmost point of continental Africa.
There’s a surreal feeling here. One of being alone, at the mercy of nature and its ferocity. One of looking into the past and being horrified and appalled at its ugliness. And one of admiration for the valiance, defiance, and uprising that took place here.
How to get to the westernmost point of Africa from Dakar
It’s much easier to get here than you’d think.
Take a taxi to the Plage de la Pointe des Almadies, a cute neighborhood filled with restaurants and hotels. Ask your taxi to drive as far south as he can, then walk southbound through the market until you get to the beach. From here, just keep walking south until you reach the Westernmost point. You’ll know you made it when you see a signpost of directions and an old wooden abandoned boat.
There used to be a Club Med here, but it shut down and was abandoned. There are reports of a security guard denying access, but we did not have that issue in the middle of the day.
Where to stay in Dakar, Senegal
We recommend staying in the heart of town, Dakar Plateau, where you’ll find an ample number of great restaurants and hotels. Plus convenient transportation (taxi and ferry) options.
Our hotel of choice in Dakar was the Union Amicale des Corses, renowned for its epic poolside waterfront views of the Bay and excellent customer service.
We felt safe walking around the area, even at night. Outside of the plethora of fantastic restaurants, there are many embassies, government, and military buildings in the area guarded 24/7.
Four excellent day trips you can take from Dakar: Touba, Saint Louis, Loumpoul, Mboro Kandio
There are some incredible areas in northern Senegal accessible from Dakar you won’t want to miss. They’re reachable by Sept-Place, shared van, and private shuttle. You can reasonably visit any of them in a day trip, but you may be inclined to stay longer just out of stupefaction for their beauty.
- The Islamic Center of Touba (and its incredible Great Mosque)
- Saint Louis: the historical capital of colonial Senegal
- The best place to buy colorful fabrics in Senegal
- Senegal’s Loumpoul Desert
Touba: the Islamic center of Senegal (and a must see)
Those looking to explore a little more of Senegal’s rich history should endeavor to make a day trip (or longer) to the gorgeous Islamic city of Touba, with its elegant mosques and interesting city markets.
There’s an annual ‘magal’, or religious pilgrimage in Touba every year. Tens of thousands from the Senegalese Brotherhead flock here from all around the country.
Saint Louis: the treasure of the north
Saint Louis, another UNESCO World Heritage site, was a key city in the French colonization of West Africa. It’s actually where they built their first settlement in the region in 1659 and established the capital.
It’s a wonderful place to meet locals and hear about the fascinating, turbulent history of Senegal. Saint Louis is known for its colonial buildings and Faidherbe Bridge preserved from the late 1800s.
About 5 hours each way from Dakar, Saint Louis is probably a better place to spend the night – especially if you are taking public transportation.
The best place to buy colorful fabrics in Senegal: Mboro Kandio
Between Dakar and Saint Louis, you should visit the quaint fisherman town of Mboro Kandio, where you can buy incredibly beautiful clothing made of rich fabrics.
In fact, most fabrics you’ll find in markets around the country (especially in Dakar) originate here!
Senegal’s Desert of Loumpoul
Between Dakar and Saint Louis is a fascinatingly beautiful and unique desert, the Désert de Lompoul – 3 hours from Dakar.
It’s known for its orange sand dunes forming a landscape that is more akin to that of the Sahara and Mauritania than of the surrounding area of Senegal. You’ll be able to sand surf while surrounded by camels!
For a truly authentic ‘glamping’ experience, spend a night at the Ecolodge de Lompoul and be surprised by its amazing food, fun sand surfing, and overall great experience. Plus, they have toilets.
The best way to get around Senegal: “Sept-Place” Shared Vans
For those looking to experience the real authentic side of Senegal, head to the Gare Routiere de Dakar by taxi and take a Sept-Place.
The “Sept-Place” is Senegal’s answer to public transportation, private 7-seater old Peugeot station wagons turned into public taxis. You can go anywhere with these for cheap.
For those not willing to squeeze themselves in a small, old station wagon with 6 strangers, worry not.
Pro Tip: It’s possible to pay for more seats, an entire row, or even the entire Sept-Place! This is a great way to not have to wait for the van to fill up before leaving.
Every town has a “Gare Routiere” – or “road station”, like a bus station or train station but for Sept-Place and other shared vans.
The quicker way to get around Senegal: private transportation
It’s also possible and quite easy to book a private taxi or shuttle to get around the country.
You’ll pay much, much more than for a Sept-Place, but you won’t be encumbered by frequent stops, slow driving, no air conditioning (meaning open windows and tons of dust), and general discomfort.
Senegal Shuttle has a convenient website to order a private shuttle which we actually used several times. Alternately, most hotels can arrange or explain transportation options for you.
Everything you need to know about the journey from Senegal towards The Gambia (1-3 Days)
Best places to visit between Senegal and The Gambia
The Keur Ayip Crossing into The Gambia
Navigating the Karang Crossing into The Gambia
Getting from Dakar to the border of The Gambia by public transportation
Those looking to get to The Gambia quickly, but cheaply, make opt to head to the Gare Routière of Dakar and hop on a Sept-Place headed towards The Gambia. Here’s how to get directly to the border:
- Take a taxi in the morning (around or before 8am) to Gare des Baux Maraîchers (4-5k CFA). Tell your driver you are looking for a Sept Place to Gambia.
- Once you’ve arrived, ask around for a Sept Place towards Banjul or The Gambia. Friendly locals will guide you to the right spot.
- You’ll have to pay around 3000CFA per seat (you can buy additional seats as I mentioned earlier), and the Sept Place will wait to fill up before leaving – or you can buy all the empty seats and leave right away.
- The drive is about 4.5 hours long, and you will be dropped off at the border with the Gambia.
Alternately, you can be dropped off somewhere along the way, as we chose to do (see below). However, the rest of the journey becomes piecemeal/”a la carte”, so you have to arrange transportation locally via your hotel and drivers (with a adept whatsapp skills!) This was a nonissue – but more expensive.
Places you need to visit between Dakar and The Gambia
We’re headed towards The Gambia, but there’s a lot more to see on this side of Senegal before leaving, such as:
- The Réserve Naturelle de Popenguine, with its ecosystem of gorgeous cliffs and untouched beaches
- The Foret de Bandia, a safari park with giraffes, rhinoceroses, zebras & other wildlife
- Saly, a hotspot of local tourism catering to French sunbathers and fishing enthusiasts
And lastly, Delta du Saloum – which you won’t want to miss. It was our favorite spot in Senegal.
The Réserve Naturelle de Popenguine
This protected natural reserve, an hour and a half outside of Dakar, is a great place to find some of the nicest untouched beaches in all of Senegal. Entrance is 2000 CFA per tourist.
The Foret de Bandia
The Bandia forest park in Saly, about an hour from Dakar, is a safari park with giraffes, rhinoceroses, zebras, antelopes, monkeys, rhinos, crocodiles, birds, plus a restaurant and gift shop. Tourists will be set back 12000 CFA per person.
The Delta du Sine Saloum: Senegalese paradise
We had tons of fun making a pitstop and spending one night at the Delta du Saloum. Its the best place to enjoy an incredible array of rivers, marshlands, salt pools, vibrant villages, and jungle lodges – all in one placd.
The Hakuna Lodge was our accomodation of choice – and only accessible by boat (speedboat or local Senegalese pirogue). This was the ultimate place to relax, so estranged from society and intertwined with nature. Plus the service, food, and activities here are top notch.
On the way there from Dakar, make sure to stop at the Baobab Sacré, a really authentic little market off the road hidden under an amazing, ancient, sacred Baobab Tree.
How to cross the land border from Senegal into The Gambia (Keur Ayip crossing)
Though most people are inclined to cross the border from Senegal into The Gambia at Karang on their way to Serrekunda, we decided to go the “back route” through Keur Ayip for a truer experience of The Gambia’s wild side.
We ended up taking a private taxi to the border, walking across and completing all formalities, then taking a taxi on the other side.
The fee on The Gambian side for a visa on arrival is 3000 Dalasi, equivalent to about $60 USD. If you do not have Dalasi, expect to have to negotiate exchange rates with the customs agent. You will likely be asked for 40000 CFA - a poor rate.
There is a sort of exchange office before you reach the customs area that has decent exchange rates, slightly better than you can negotiate with the customs officers.
The customs and immigration process into The Gambia
Exiting Senegal is very easy and painless.
Entering The Gambia, while not arduous, is one of the more technical crossings. They will use a fancy laptop and machine to check all your fingerprints against a database. The process can take 20 minutes per person.
How we almost got detained crossing into The Gambia
Funny story, actually.
My partner wanted to document the process of crossing a land border in West Africa. This involved taking some footage. Naturally, she wanted everything to appear candid, so she did not ask before filming.
This was a very bad idea, as instead of cameras, there are unmarked officers all over watching you at all times.
We spent about an hour begging them not to confiscate her brand new iPhone, or format it. After all, she had about 15000 photos and videos of her travels around the world that were not saved anywhere else.
After she completely deleted all the footage, and after much, much pleading, they finally let us through.It was such an insane relief. And in the end, they even let us take selfies together!
So, definitely don’t take photos or videos when dealing with customs in West Africa!
Navigating the Karang Border Crossing from Senegal to The Gambia
If you’re headed to Banjul or Serrekunda, you’ll naturally lean towards this crossing. What’s so cool about it is it requires a ferry once you get to The Gambian side!
Once across the border, catch a shared taxi towards the ferry.
The taxi costs around 200 Gambian Dalasi per person from the border to the Baffa ferry port.
Alternately, you can use CFA to get all the way from the border to the ferry if you wish. Once you reach the ferry, on the North side of the river before you cross to Banjul, you will find an ATM where you can retrieve Gambian Dalasi. It’s a green building.
You can buy your ticket at the ferry for 25 Gambian Dalasi per person. Note that you may have to pay an extra 10 Dalasi per suitcase.
The Gambia: 4 days exploring this jewel of relaxation in the hustle and bustle of West Africa
The Ultimate Relaxation at the Bintang Bolong Lodge 3 Places You Can't Miss in Banjul, Bakau, and Serrekunda Top places to stay in Bakau Crossing the border into Senegal's Casamance
Though there are plenty of inexpensive bush taxis leaving from The Gambia side of the border, we decided to take a private taxi to our amazing river lodge 2 hours away for about 2000 Dalasi, split 3-way to about $20USD per person.
The Ultimate Gambian Getaway: Bintang Lodge
The amazing river lodge? Named the Bintang Bolong Lodge, after its truly offbeat location in the heart of the Delta Gambia, it was the most relaxing stay of the entire month.
Our bungalow was right on the river, where we watched some of the most amazing sunrises (and moonrises) with little puddle jumpers slinging themselves on the low tide mud below us.
For lunch, we took a river cruise on a local – but decked out wooden boat specially designed for the area.
And in the afternoons, we met locals from the tiny town and learned about their fascinating stories – like one who had an engineering exchange program all the way in Japan!
Three places you need to see in Serrekunda and Bakau
Inside the hustle and bustle of The Gambia’s biggest cities are some hidden treasures you won’t want to miss.
Some of these include:
- The Kachikally Crocodile Pool, where you can get up close and personal with these menacing creatures
- Albert Market, a vibrant and crowded market with everything from purses to fresh fish to colorful fabrics
- Brufut Beach, for some respite from the hustle and bustle of town
- Bijilo National Park, to see endangered red colobus monkeys and some awesome birds
Bakau’s Kachikally Crocodile Pool: Getting up close and personal
This crocodile pool in The Gambia is one of the few places in the world you can literally surround yourself with crocodiles without fear.
It’s one of three sacred crocodile pools used as sites for fertility rituals. There are about 100 crocodiles here. Worry not, they’re well-fed, and you can even go right up to them and touch them. Crikey!
Visiting a local market in Banjul, The Gambia
Noisy, crowded, busy, bustling, the “royal” Albert Market in Banjul is as typically African as it gets. And that’s precisely why you’ll love it.
Sure, most of the products are crap. You probably don’t want to haggle here, as you’ll just get ripped off. But that’s all part of the process – and the adventure. So why not? Nobody is forcing you.
Brufut Beach: a respite from Banjul
If you somehow missed the beaches in Senegal, or didn’t relax enough at Bintang Bolong, here’s your chance. This (mostly) unspoilt beach if so great, Turkey (who has really dipped their fingers into Africa) has their Embassy right across the road.
If it’s good enough for Turkey, it’s good enough for me.
Bijilo National Park: monkeys!!!
Endangered monkeys. Need I say more?
It takes about an hour and a half to tour the park, and you will have opportunities to buy peanuts (and be guided). It’s fun, but not necessary.
Entrance costs 150 Dalasi. Guides expect tips.
Where to stay in Serrekunda, The Gambia
The ultimate hotel in Serrekunda for those looking for some relaxation while maintaining the unique West African flair is the Ngala Lodge.
You’ll find an eclectic mix of luxury and local culture, with excellent cuisine and unique architecture and flora.
Those seeking to save some money will enjoy the more down to earth Luigi’s Lodge, with its charming hotel rooms and delicious Italian food.
Crossing the border from The Gambia into Senegal’s Casamance (Jiboro to Seleti)
We took a taxi for about an hour and a half down to the border for 1500 Dalasi or so.
Crossing the border luckily wasn’t as eventful as last time. Phew.
There’s no payment to be done, but our bags were inspected in detail on The Gambia side. They are looking for any pills without a prescription – and obviously a bribe if they find any.
On the Senegal side, they did check our COVID-19 vaccination status on entry.
2-3 Days Exploring one of West Africa’s Richest Historical Regions: Casamance, Senegal
Casamance, practically split from its sister half of northern Senegal, is actually completely different from its northern half. This is simply because the colonial powers drew the borders in Africa however they best suited themselves – with no regards for the separate religious and ethnic groups inhabiting them.
This is what makes Casamance so interesting to visit. As opposed to the majority Wolof population in the north, the principal inhabitants of Casamance are members of the Jola (Djiola, Diola) ethnic group.
Unlike the Muslim north, the majority of those in Casamance are Christian or even animist.
A great place to base yourself is Ziguinchor, Senegal. It’s a popping little Senegalese town with lots of action; hotels, restaurants, markets, and a beautiful river rushing through.
The top 3 places you should visit in Casamance, Senegal
- Cap Skirring, for pristine white sand beaches
- Ile Karabane, for more fascinating slave history and a slow, friendly pace of life
- Niokolo-Koba National Park, for excellent bird watching and fun boat trips down the river.
Why you should see Cap Skirring, Senegal
Cap Skirring is where you’ll find some of the finest beaches in all of West Africa. Seriously.
Once a renowned tourist destination, Cap Skirring lost much of its flair due to internal conflict (with the northern part of Senegal). There haven’t been any flare-ups since 2015, so it’s pretty calm these days.
There are some awesome, totally off the beaten path Ecolodges here for ultimate relaxation.
Ile de Karabane: a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Mostly a sleepy, small fishing village, Karabane was once a stop along the slave trade route and has much of its history rooted in it. It’s also filled with gorgeous baobab trees and a ton of mangroves.
You’ll find many ruins from the colonial times with locals happy to explain you the history and how it’s created this gem of an island.
It’s about a 30 minute ride by pirogue from Elinkine, the nearest continental town.
Niokolo-Koba National Park
Yet another UNESCO World Heritage site! Senegal, what’s up? You are a treasure indeed.
Anyways, the park is located in a well-watered area along the banks of the Gambia river. The forests and savannahs of Niokolo-Koba National Park have a very rich fauna, among them:
- Derby elands (largest of the antelopes)
- A large population of elephants(!!!)
- Many birds, reptiles and amphibians
Where to stay in Ziguinchor, Senegal
There aren’t many hotels in Ziguinchor, but there is one I highly recommend: Hôtel Kadiandoumagne.
We loved its riverfront location, amazing food (especially seafood), and colonial-style rooms.
Exploring Casamance by bike, pirogue, and kayak
Casamance VTT offers a spectacular package – exploring Casamance’s rural towns, markets, parks, and more by bike and kayak. It’s a real chance at being guided through, and fully immersing yourself in what it’s like to live in Casamance.
Flying home from Senegal
You ay be wondering how to get home from here. Fret not – Cap Skirring has a super convenient, albeit small airport. There are some charter flights from here, and Transavia sells seats to a couple destinations in Europe.
There’s also Aéroport de Ziguinchor, which has many more options than Cap Skirring. With several flights per day, it’s east to get to Dakar for a connecting flight back home.
We personally decided we hadn’t had enough, and pressed on south for another 2 weeks.
Have you had enough of West Africa?
If you’re like me, this taste of West Africa will have you wanting more.
So, why not continue onwards to Guinea-Bissau?
And if you’re feeling ambitious, Guinea 100% deserves a visit. It’s a brutally beautiful country filled with natural wonders.