With blended influences from France and the Middle East alongside its own West African quirks, Senegal is a land of lively, exotic music split right down the middle between difficult to deal with deserts and lush, welcoming (if extremely humid) forestry.
In capital Dakar you’ll find a manic nightlife and relentless street-side hustle amongst an amiable colonial backdrop. Learn to deal with the pestering, and you can delve into one of Africa’s most phenomenal arts and entertainment scenes, pick up souvenirs like intricate carved masks, and snack on baffe saloum, a local peanut and tomato beef dish. Then, of course, there’s always the beach…
Beaches, in fact, are perhaps Senegal’s biggest draw: they’re rugged and natural, and home - depending on your choice of beach - to fisherman and local tribes, or bars with bands banging on leather drums and singers who might just be the next Youssou N’Dour. The tiny island of Saint-Louis is another idyllic spot to go for live music, with its annual jazz festival. You access the island via a 500 meter long arched bridge, ‘Pont Faidherbe’, which local legend has it once lay over the River Danube instead.
When it comes to natural sites, you can stroll amongst the flamingoes in Parc National de la Langue de Barbarie, or slurp spicy ginger juice on the scorching beaches of Cap Skiring. The Sine Saloum Delta, meanwhile, is home to some staggering luxury cottages alongside the usual backpacker fare, from which you can eye literally millions of birds soaring above the river, drift amongst the mangroves, ride through the backcountry on a horse and cart, and snack on oysters plucked directly from the river bed.
Then there are the tropical forests of the Casamance Delta, home to the quirky cultures of the Diola, and the slave houses and French architecture of the tiny, alluring island of Ile de Goree. If you’re really hooked on the island hopping, Ile de Morhill’s sandy mosques, charismatic native villages and French forts are pretty special, too.
All in all, the cultural variety, colonial influences and natural marvels of Senegal are strikingly stirring, and surpass many an expectation, making Senegal an African gem not to be missed.