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When Senegal defeated France in the soccer World Cup 2002, the president declared a public holiday. The victory was all the more potent when you consider that the French were once Senegal's colonial masters. Not only on the soccer field has the country been successful though. Local musicians have risen to fame throughout Africa and some, like Youssou N'Dour and Touré Kunda, have taken their music to the international audience. Senegalese textiles, too, have been granted widespread appreciation for their colourful beauty.
For a Bel-Air experience of a completely different variety, Senegal's Point de Bel-Air is just one of the numerous perfect beaches the country has to offer. The beaches afford great sailboarding and swimming, but if you want to see what Senegal has to offer, it's best not to get too absorbed with the lazy sands. Senegal is blessed with fertile land and a tremendous population of migrating birds, making it a nature lover's paradise.
Archaeological findings throughout the area indicate that Senegal was inhabited in prehistoric times. Eastern Senegal was once part of the Empire of Ghana. Islam, the dominant religion in Senegal, first came to the region in the 11th century. Various European powers - Portugal, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom - competed for trade in the area from the 15th century onward, until in 1677, France ended up in possession of what had become a minor slave trade departure point - the island of Gorée next to modern Dakar, used as a base to purchase slaves. It was only in the 1850s that the French began to expand onto the Senegalese mainland. Senegalese chiefs' resistance to the French expansion and curtailing of their lucrative slave trade was led in part by Lat-Dior, Damel (great chief) of Cayor.
In January 1959 Senegal and the French Sudan merged to form the Mali Federation, which became fully independent on 20 June 1960. Due to internal political difficulties, the Federation broke up on August 20 that same year. Senegal and French Sudan (renamed the Republic of Mali) proclaimed independence. Léopold Senghor was proclaimed Senegal's first president in September 1960. Later after the breakup of the Mali Federation, President Senghor and Prime Minister Mamadou Dia governed together under a parliamentary system. Senghor always feared his Prime Minister who was a very charismatic figure and a hard liner. In December 1962 he accused him of an attempted coup and Dia was wrongfully convicted of treason and briefly jailed. Senegal adopted a new constitution that consolidated the president's power. In 2006, the current president Abdoulaye Wade vacated the conviction and bestowed upon him a Medal of Honor. In 1980 President Senghor decided to retire from politics, and he handed power over in 1981 to his handpicked successor, Abdou Diouf. Mamadou Dia ran for reelection in 1983 against Aboud Diouf but lost.
Abdou Diouf was president between 1981 and 2000. He encouraged broader political participation, reduced government involvement in the economy, and widened Senegal's diplomatic engagements, particularly with other developing nations. Domestic politics on occasion spilled over into street violence, border tensions, and a violent separatist movement in the southern region of the Casamance. Nevertheless, Senegal's commitment to democracy and human rights strengthened. Diouf served four terms as president.
In the presidential election of 1999, opposition leader Abdoulaye Wade defeated Diouf in an election deemed free and fair by international observers. Senegal experienced its second peaceful transition of power, and its first from one political party to another. On 30 December 2004 President Abdoulaye Wade announced that he would sign a peace treaty with the separatist group in the Casamance region. This, however, has yet to be implemented. There was a round of talks in 2005, but the results did not yet yield a resolution.
Senegal is a coastal West African nation located 14 degrees north of the Equator and 14 degrees west of the Prime Meridian. The country's total area is 196 190 km² of which 192,000 km² is land and 4 190 km² is water, making the nation slightly smaller than Great Britain or the U.S. state of South Dakota. Senegal is bordered to the west by the North Atlantic Ocean. On land, the nation's longest border is with Mauritania to the north, an 813-kilometre border along the Senegal River. To the east is the 419-kilometre border with Mali. In the southeast is Guinea (330-kilometre border) and to the southsouthwest is Guinea-Bissau (338 kilometres), both borders running along the Casamance River. Senegal is one of only a handful of countries to have a near-enclave within its borders—the small nation of the Gambia in the interior, which has a 740-kilometre border with Senegal. The Gambia penetrates more than 320 km into Senegal, from the Atlantic coast to the center of Senegal along the Gambia River, which bisects Senegal's territory. In total, Senegal has 2 640 kilometres of land borders, and 531 kilometres of coastline and shoreline. The lowest point in Senegal is the Atlantic Ocean, at sea level. The highest point is an unnamed feature near Nepen Diakha in the Fouta Djallon foothills at 581 metres above sea level.
Goree Island (Ile de Gorée) the smallest district in the city of Dakar. This island has a very large fort on it that was important to trade, although not the slave trade. The island was originally settled in the 15th century because the Europeans needed a place they could defend. With the lack of a natural water source no natives lived on the island, therefore the island made a prefect place to build a fort. The island is home to the House of Slaves (Maison des esclaves), which is one of the oldest houses on the island and also a good museum that shows the horrors of the slave trade. It is placed on the Unesco World Heritage List.
The Grand Mosque of Dakar is one of the most important religious buildings in Dakar. Designed by French and Moroccan architects, this mosque has inspired many followers of Islam. It was originally opened in 1964 and its square minaret rises to 67 meters. Institut islamique de Dakar is located next door to the mosque and has been a major centre for Islamic research and teaching since 1974. A new library was opened in 2004.
Located at the center of the Mouride holy city, in Touba, is the Great Mosque. Many people think this is one of the largest mosques in all of Africa. Construction was finally completed in 1963 and it has been continuously enlarged and elaborated on ever since. There are five minarets, three large domes and is also the location for the tomb of Amadou Bamba, founder of the Mouride brotherhood of Islam. There is also a good Islamic library near to the Great Mosque.
Senegal has a hot and humid tropical climate with temperatures well over 30 °C during the day most of the year. Night temperatures are above 20 °C but can drop below more inland, although it rarely gets colder than 15 °C. The rainy season lasts from June to October with most rain falling from mid-July to September. The hottest months are February to April when temperatures can rise above 40 °C in the east and well above 35 °C still in the western part and the coastline. In general, rain increases from north to south, the north having semi-arid conditions, the south (border with Guinea Bissau) having more humid conditions year round. The best months are probably November to February with sunny and dry days and still not overly hot.
Air Senegal International is the national airline of the country and is based at Dakar-Yoff-Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport (DKR). International flights include Abidjan, Bamako, Banjul, Bissau, Casablanca, Conakry, Cotonou, Lomé, Lyon, Marseille, Niamey, Nouakchott, Ouagadougou, Paris and Praia in Cape Verde. About 20 other airlines have flights to and from Dakar as well, including South African Airways (Johannesburg), Brussels Airlines (Brussels), Air France to Paris and airlines like those from Kenya and Saudi Arabia. Others are mainly within the West African region.
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Theoretically, a weekly train travels between the capitals of Senegal and Mali. The train is supposed to leave Dakar on Saturdays around 10am, arriving in Bamako just under 48 hours later. In the opposite direction, the train leaves Bamako on Wednesdays at 9.15 am, taking about the same amount of time. Because of works on the railway, the train now (since 2008) leaves every 8 or 9 days and there is no fixed schedule at the moment, so ask around in both cities when the next train is supposed to leave.
Travelling to and from Senegal with your own vehicle usually is pretty straightforward, as long as you have proper documentation regarding car and insurance papers. Most routes mentioned below can be done by car as well. Senegal is the first country south of the Sahara to enter if you are travelling overland taking the western route through the desert via Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania.
To Gambia, there are minibuses and taxis from Dakar going south to Karang and on from there across the border to Barra where the ferry to Banjul is. There are also minibuses and taxis on the route between Ziguinchor in southern Senegal and Serekunda and between Kafountine and Brikama. In eastern Senegal taxis go from Tambacounda to Vélingara and then from Vélingara to Basse Santa Su.
To Guinea, taxis go from Tambacounda in eastern Senegal, to Labé taking around 24 hours. Most traffic passes via Diaoubé (Senegal) and Koundara (Guinea). Some goes via Kedougou (Senegal).
To Guinea Bissau, taxis leave every morning from Ziguinchor for Bissau via the main border post at São Domingos and Ingore taking around six hours. The road is good but with a few rivers, which can cause delays so start early.
To Mali, taxis leave from Tambacounda and to Kidira (three hours). From here you will have to cross the bridge at leading to Doboli, Mali, from where bush taxis to Kayes.
To Mauritania, taxis run regularly from Dakar to the main border point at Rosso, 2 hours from Saint Louis. There are four daily ferries for cars, but travellers without vehicles can also jump onto one of the many pirogues that do the crossing. At the other side, taxis run regularly to to Nouakchott.
As for now, there are no regular passenger services to and from Senegal.
Dakar, St. Louis, Tambacounda and Ziguinchor are served by Air Senegal International.
The only destinations served by a train that travels about every 10 days are the towns en route between Dakar and Bamako in Mali, including Thiés and Tambacounda.
You can rent cars in Dakar and several other main towns with international and local companies, but it requires some experience to drive in Senegal, which can be chaotic and some roads are pretty rough, especially after heavy rains. Main roads are tarred though and most are in a good shape. Traffic drives on the right and you need an international driving permit.
Cars are expensive and renting a taxi for a day is usually much cheaper.
There are both coach buses (grand cars, cars mourides) as well as minibuses (petit cars, Ndiaga Ndiaye) covering all the main routes between cities and towns. The latter usually are a bit more expensive, and also stop in more places. And then there are the shared taxis, called septplace (seven seat Peugeot 504 and 505) that are faster and a little more expensive. More than seven persons taking place in a car certainly is not an exception. Dakar, Kaolack, Ziguinchor all are served frequently during the day.
An excellent service, L'Express du Senegal, links Dakar and Ziguinchor, stoppin in Banjul, Gambia, en route. There are also ferries linking Dakar with Île de Gorée.
The following nationals do not need a visa for Senegal for stays up to 90 days:
Algeria (Official and diplomatic passports only), Austria, Belgium, Benin, Burkina Faso, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Denmark, Finland, France, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Togo, Tunisia, Sierra Leone, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Taiwan, United Kingdom and United States.
Nationals from other countries can obtain a visa from the nearest embassy or consulate of Senegal. Costs range from $10 (1-3 days) to $30 (30-90 days). One month visas are available for about $18.
See also Money matters
Senegal uses the CFA Franc as a currency. The CFA Franc is divided into 100 centimes. Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 500 francs while banknotes come in denominations of 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000 francs
The exchange range is fixed at approximately 656 CFA Francs for one Euro.
In Senegal the West African CFA Franc (XOF) is used which has the same vallue as the Central African CFA Franc (XAF), but it's not possible to use both currencies in the same country.
Fourteen countries in Africa use this currency, eight in West Africa and six in Central Africa. The West African CFA Franc can only be used in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo, while the Central African CFA Franc can only be used in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
There are many opportunities for people to make a difference in Senegal. Projects Abroad is a volunteer organisation based in St Louis with opportunities to help out teaching English, caring for underprivileged children, teaching sport or being a human rights advocate amongst other things. Volunteers get to stay with local host families, which is a huge honour.
Wolof is the native language of some Senegalese people, but you will find that almost everyone speaks it. Knowing the basic Wolof greetings and phrases will go a long way in getting you better service and prices.
The Senegalese people learn French in school and it is a very useful language for travellers to know. While some Senegalese merchants speak English, most business is conducted in French or Wolof. Other languages used in Senegal include Sereer, Soninke, Pulaar, Jola, and Mandinka are spoken.
Be careful with food prepared by the road, as it could be cooked in unsanitary conditions. Western-style meals are available and can be found at restaurants in various parts of Dakar, Thies, Saint Louis and other towns and near the big hotels in the Petite Côte and in some other touristic regions of the country, too.
If you really want to try genuine Senegalese food, you can buy it at restaurants serving Senegalese dishes; or alternatively, you can make it yourself with the food gathered fresh from the markets or supermarkets.
The official dish of Senegal is ceebu jen (or thebou diene) -- rice and fish. It comes in two varieties (red and white -- named for the different sauces). The Senegalese love ceebu jen and will often ask if you've ever tried it, and it is definitely part of the experience. Even better if you get the chance to eat with your hands around the bowl with a Senegalese family! Keep your eyes out for the delicious, but elusive ceebu jen "diagga", which is served with extra sauce and fish balls. Other common dishes are Maafe, which is a rich, oily peanut-based sauce with meat that is served over white rice. "Yassa" is a delicious onion sauce that is often served over rice and chicken, "Yassa poulet" or with deep fried fish "Yassa Jen."
If you intend to explore the arid area of Senegal (Saint-Louis & Ferlo), you need to drink several liters of water a day. Even in Dakar, dehydration is possible during warmer months if you do not drink enough water each day.
See also Travel Health
Proof that you had a yellow fever vaccination is only required upon entering Senegal when you have been to an infected country within 7 days of entering the country. Still, it is recommended that you take the yellow fever vaccination anyway. Also you have to have a cholera stamp (proof of the fact you don't have the disease) when entering Senegal overland.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Senegal. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A as well as typhoid would be recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. When staying longer than 6 months, vaccination against meningitis might be recommended, depending on your contact with other people and time of year.
Like most African countries south of the Sahara, Malaria is prevalent in the country. Don't underestimate this tropical disease and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Dengue is present as well, especially in urban areas, but there is no vaccination.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Although highly exaggerated, there is still fighting going on in the Casamance region of Senegal.
The "struggle" goes on between the government and the MFDC or Mouvement des forces démocratiques de la Casamance. It would be wise to avoid travel to this area. If this is not possible, at least first check with the embassy for the latest situation.
In Dakar, take care when walking the streets: petty theft and scams are abundant. You will be approached by aggressive street vendors who will follow you for several blocks. If refused, often accusations of 'racism" will be leveled at non-local, non-buyers. Also, pickpockets use the following two-person tactic: one (the distraction) will grab one of your leg while the other (the thief) goes into your pocket. If someone grabs your clothing, beware the person on the other side more. Wear pants/shorts with secure (buttons or snaps) pockets and leave your shirt untucked to cover your pockets.
Be cautious of people claiming to have met you before or offering to guide you. Often at times, you will be led to a remote location and robbed. Women need to be particularly alert as they are frequently targeted at beaches or markets.
Finally, there have been instances of street stall vendors grabbing cash out of non-local shoppers hands and quickly stuffing the money into their own pocket. After the money is in their pocket, they claim it is theirs and the victim is not in a position to prove otherwise or protest effectively. Be careful with your cash: do not hold it in your hand while bargaining.
Be sure to carry some sort of identification on you. Police pull over vehicles and check for proper papers occasionally. If caught without your passport (copy of a passport is recommended), the police may try to solicit a bribe from you; they may even go as far as to take you to the station. While most of the time, they are bluffing and one should not give into such corruption, some officials may be wicked enough to do so. Use this advice with caution. The simplest way to prevent this is just to carry identification.
Homosexuality is big taboo in Senegal and punishable with 1 to 5 years imprisonment. LGBT travellers should be extremely cautious. Do not tell anyone about your sexual orientation!
See also International Telephone Calls
Senegal's international telephone code is 221.
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