The coastlines of West Africa boast miles of fabulous sandy beaches, thriving townships, and colourful local markets that serve as authentic centres to learn about the food and culture of the people. With a consistent dry, warm climate, West Africa is an ideal destination to absorb the sights and culture of the continents’ rich and vibrant society. For nature lovers, a wealth of fauna can be found in the national parks, many are accessible and it is possible to arrange accommodation in some.
Ghana, Gambia and Senegal also hold important historical backgrounds, colonial fortresses are still evident today. Spend some time exploring these haunting monuments to the regions’ horrific past and the museums will give visitors a deeper insight into the tragedies that happened.
With the exception of the southern Casamance region, which is subject to separatist fighting against the military, this is a fantastic destination to experience the lively Senegalese music culture. This is one of the more frequently visited countries in West Africa, and has the tourist facilities to match, but step off the beaten trail and you’ll find Senegal offers more, from the bustling capital city of Dakar, the wild animals in Parc National de Niokolo-Koba and the historic Ile de Goree. The French took control of Senegal by the end of the nineteenth century, and the country gained its independence in 1960. The disturbances in the Casamance region erupted in the late eighties after clashes at the Mauritania border, and continued into 1993 when a ceasefire was agreed. However flare-ups still occur throughout parts of the country and you should check with current guidelines on the safe areas to visit. The country itself consists mainly of flat plains with three major rivers. The Senegal River in the north forms the border with Mauritania, the Gambia River in the centre, surrounded by The Gambia, and the Casamance River in the southern-forested region.
Generally this area of Africa experiences a dry, warm climate, however, you will find a slight variation further south in Ghana, which experiences two rainy seasons, the first from March to June, and the second from September to October. Expect high temperatures of 88F (31C) in the south, 100F (37C) in the north in February/March, and lows of around 70F (22C). Gambia and Senegal experience little variation in climate, their dry season running from November to April, the former being the best time to visit. The rains fall between July and October. The Gambia, however, experiences droughts and combined with extensive deforestation, has caused serious problems for the countries landscape. Desertification is a problem in Senegal, especially in the North of the country, and The Gambia has an on-going battle with land erosion caused by the encroaching sea.
As a general rule for this area, it is best to observe local customs and practices when it comes to dress and behaviour. It is considered inappropriate to have bare legs on show; therefore you should always wear long skirts and trousers, especially when visiting the more remote regions. Bring plenty of light clothes and sun block, the heat will take you aback.
People and language
With around 9.1 million people, Senegal’s population consists of many tribal groups including the Wolof, Mandinka, Fulani, Diola, Soninke and Serer. As well as the traditional religions, Islam and Christianity are also practiced. With about 80% of the population practicing Senegal’s own version of Islam, mixing it with ritual and the worship of saints. The official language here is French, although African dialects are spoken throughout the country.
The transport infrastructure has improved greatly since the eighties, and you’ll find good roads and public transportation networks.
If renting a car, take extra care on the roads and stick to the major routes and avoid driving at night altogether, since accidents and breakdowns are common.
You can fly between Dakar and other West African capitals. You can travel over ground from The Gambia, however you will have to change vehicles to cross the border. You can take a taxi-brousse from Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania, and it is possible to catch a train from Mali.
The limited sources of clean water in some of the more remote regions means cholera outbreaks do occur, so avoid stagnant waters. You will however find the tap water in the larger towns is drinkable. Elsewhere always boil, filter or add purifying tablets to your water when extracting from wells and rain reserves. If the unfortunate happens, you will find equipped hospitals in the larger towns, and smaller clinics throughout the country. Be aware too of the prolific problem in many African nations of AIDS, and malaria. Make sure you have valid insurance to cover medical costs.
Along with the other Francophone countries in West Africa, Senegal employs the CFA franc. You are unlikely to encounter difficulties in changing currency or travellers cheques in the larger towns, especially Dakar, however French franc denominations will get you the best exchange rate.
For up to date currency information, check the Currency Converter.
You’ll have a choice when it comes to accommodation in Senegal, from budget hostels to luxury rooms in hotels, in rural areas you can find board in campements (guesthouses). There is a tourist tax of 600CFA per person, check if it is included in the price of the room.
Street food is cheap and easily available, and a good way to make like locals and sample authentic foods. Chop bars are food houses, where you will find the best local cuisine served in the authentic manner. Meals cost between US $1 – 3 for budget grub, and US $3-10 for a substantial meal in a mid-range restaurant.
National dishes in Senegal include tieboudienne (pronounced chey-bou-jen) consisting of rice baked in a sauce with fish and vegetables, served with a pimento and tomato sauce, poulet orpoisson yassa, grilled and marinated chicken or fish. Mafe is a peanut-based stew and bassi-salete is millet covered with vegetables and meat. Try the local beers, Gazelle and Flag, orbissap for a non-alcoholic alternative.
Non-commonwealth citizens will require a visa, whereas those residing within the commonwealth are authorised to enter with a permit, available from the airport or border. Also be prepared for interrogation at the entry points, with officials asking how long you intend to stay, the address of your accommodation, and remember to have your yellow fever vaccination certificate to hand. All visitors are required to produce a passport valid six months beyond your stay.
The departure tax is US$15, you should check if it is included in the ticket price. For some reason, New Zealanders will find it difficult to obtain visas for Senegal, sometimes taking up to six months for a decision.
Ghana Tourist Board
‘Promoting Ghana Throughout the World’
Detailed website listing background information and up-to-date news for Ghanaian nationals abroad and visitors to the country.
By Jenna Colbourne
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