How to: Senegal Travel Tips


Ok, maybe the title is a bit presumptuous. Certainly I couldn’t tell you how to do everything in Senegal. But, below is a brief report for current and future travelers looking for tips on how to travel around Senegal and do some of the things we’ve done on our trip; plus some cultural tips. Taxis: Yellow and orange taxis are a great way to get around Dakar. Negotiate your fare before you enter the taxi. Always greet a taxi driver with the customary, “Asalaam Malekum,” it’s just nice and will win you negotiating points. We stayed in the neighborhood of Nord Foire, near Yoff, and the fare for going all the way to downtown Dakar (Place de l’Independence) was 2500cfa. Going from SICAP Baobab to downtown costs 1500cfa, just to give you an idea of the distances and associated fares.

Car Rapide: These are a fun way of getting around Dakar if you have more time. They go slower as they make stops and have set routes. Nord Foire to the University costs 150cfa. You can ask the driver hanging off the back “Fo dem?” (where are you going?) or just say the place you want to go with enough inflection to justify the question. Sometimes you may have to take a couple of car rapides to get where you want to go. Best to ask a Senegalese for help.

Waxale (waa-hall-ey): Bargaining in wolof – your greatest tool in doing business in Senegal. A very loose rule of thumb is that you’re going to pay 1/3 – ½ the price the vendor gives you, depending on what you’re buying of course. And, naturally, everything does have a set price, so often times it’s good to know in general what things cost. For example, if you’re buying wax cotton fabric, you’ll buy 6 meters at a time. Qualities vary, but say the vendor quotes you 10,000cfa for the package. Your starting price should be around 2000, knowing that in the end you’re going to pay 4000-6000 for the entire 6 meters. That’s $8-12 at the time of writing.


Lac Rose: Lac Rose is a naturally occurring pink salt lake about 40km outside of Dakar. Apparently it’s saltier than the Dead Sea, and like in the Dead Sea you can float. There’s a small salt village on the south side, and from the north side you can walk across the dunes to the beach. There are a couple of ways to get to Lac Rose: taxi/hired car or a combination of bus/sept places (bush taxi). The bus/bush taxi option requires a couple of changes, one in Rufisque and another in Keur Massa, then you have to walk up to 5km unless you can get a taxi that is reasonably priced. But know that you’re probably going to have to pay the driver to drive back to Keur Massa (with or without you).

We hired a taxi for the day for 20,000cfa ($40). We may have been able to get a better price, but the taxi was arguably the nicest taxi in Dakar, and the driver, Lamine, was quite friendly. He picked us up at the house, drove us to Lac Rose, and waited the entire day while we walked around the lake, swam and had a meal. Yeah, it was an expensive day, but it was nice to get out of Dakar.

When you arrive, there will certainly be people on hand to sell you anything and everything you want/need/don’t need – including piroque tours, dune buggies, and touristy gifts. They’re persistent so be firm if you don’t want anything. People in the salt village are very friendly if you’re open and interested in chatting with them.

There are campements and a hotel around the lake where you can stay if you want to spend the night. Otherwise the hotel is nice for taking a meal or snack and then swimming/floating in the lake.


Aside from the far eastern corner of Senegal, the Casamance was the one area I didn’t get to see when here as a student in 2003, so I was excited to be able to go. Beginning with the Sine Saloum river just north of the Gambia, Senegal becomes a lush, green expanse of river-meets-ocean mangrove forests. This landscape extends all the way down through Guinea-Bissau, Guinea and into Cote d’Ivoire. Our trip took us from Zinguinchor on arrival, to a beachy place between Cap Skiring and Diembereng and then back to Cap Skiring.

It is possible to take buses/bush taxis down from Dakar, crossing the Sine-Saloum region, the Gambia and the River Casamance. Crossing the Gambian border aside, I’ve heard this trip can take almost 24 hours, given the number of river crossings, and just the snail-like pace it would take to drive that far south in Senegal.

We opted for the ferry. Purchase tickets at the same place where you purchase tickets for Goree Island in downtown Dakar. You’ll need your passport and cash. You can buy return tickets at the same time. Ferries leave Tuesdays and Fridays at 20h (8pm) and arrive around 10am. Return ferries leave from Ziguinchor Sundays and Thursdays at 15h (3pm) and arrive in the early morning in Dakar. It takes 14 hours one-way. You should buy tickets in advance. The base price for a stripped-down airplane-like chair is 15,000cfa/pp one-way. However, for 18,9000cfa/pp you can get a bunk bed in an 8-person cabin. You will need to reserve at least a week in advance to get a bed. There are also cabins for 4 and 2 people, but they were quite expensive. Given the fact that Jon was sick on the way down and I on the way back, getting a bed is the best option. In the seated area, people tend to arrive early, lie down across 2-3 seats and stay there all night. We were pretty much without our seats on the way down, which was a real drag.

We also recommend bringing sandwiches, beverages and snacks. If you need to eat on the boat, buy a sandwich (1200cfa) when you get on, as they’ll sell out, forcing you to eat in the (very expensive and not tasty) restaurant on board.

Ziguinchor – Cap Skiring/Diembereng: on arrival at the Port, you’ll be descended upon by taxi drivers. We paid 1000cfa to get from the ferry to the Gare Routiere (bus station). From there, we bought seats in a sept place/taxi brusse (bush taxi) for 1700cfa/pp to go to Cap Skiring. Given the fact that it’s a 2 hour drive, I thought that was a good deal, You don’t bargain for these prices, they are pre-set and the drivers won’t try to oversell them. Be sure to ask for seats “devant” or “au milieu” so that you don’t have to sit in the way back, it’s crowded back there. We also paid 500cfa/pp for our luggage. You’ll have to wait for the taxi to fill up, but if you don’t want to wait you can buy the other seats. There are also minibuses and Ndiaye Ndiaye (25 seaters that pack in about 40 people), I don’t know what the cost is and they go a lot slower ‘cause they make stops.

We got picked up in Cap Skiring by our hotelier, Augustine. Hotel Oudja is situated between Cap Skiring and Diembereng, and was about at 20 minute drive. The hotel was nice, a bit overpriced I think, but we did have the whole place to ourselves the first night, which meant having a private beach. Not bad. We spent an afternoon in Diembereng, which is a big village right on the edge of where the southern bank of the River Casamance meets the ocean. It was an expensive taxi – 6000cfa round trip. Diembereng is a sweet town and the locals rival Malians in terms of kindness and how open and welcoming they are. We ended up hanging with our taxi driver a bit, and I think he was so excited about us being Americans that he offered to take us to his village of Bouycotte, which was on the way back to the Hotel. It was the best spontaneous adventure as we got to meet his father, and take a walk into the palm forest to try palm wine. Cool. We ended up hiring the same driver to take us to Cap Skiring, where we spent 2 nights at the Hotel Balafon. Balafon is situated right in town off the main drag – great for getting a taste of the village, plus you’ll get to meet some locals. There’s a fantastic restaurant on the road between the hotel just before you get to the main drag. Can’t remember the name, but it’s chef is a Senegalese who must have studied in France. Their house-made pasta is some of the best we’ve had – period – be sure to try the crab ravioli. For 4500cfa a plate, or 11000cfa for two people with drinks ($22) – that meal was a steal. We ate there both nights.

On Sunday we woke up early to take a sept place back to Ziguinchor. It took about an hour for the car to fill, but that’s why we built in enough time so as to not miss the ferry. You have to board the ferries about 3 hours in advance – a Senegalese inefficiency, but at minimum they close the gates 1.5 hours before departure. Don’t be late!!

Overall, Casamance was a beautiful change of scenery and pace, but it was a very expensive excursion. 4 days including transportation cost us more than our entire time in Mali and Dakar combined. Ouch.

How-to Tips for Senegal

St. Louis

As with all trips, you can choose your transportation method depending on how long you want to spend on the road. The large buses cost about 3000cfa for the supposed 4 hour journey (I would imagine it takes much longer though). Minibuses are around 4000 and the sept place/taxi brusse is 5000cfa/pp plus 1500cfa/pp for luggage. It took us about 3.5 hours from Gare Pompiere, Dakar to the Gare Routiere in St. Louis, which isn’t quite in the center of town.

We stayed at Zebrabar, 15km south of Dakar on the river Senegal. It’s a nice place that has a variety of accommodations. Food is expensive which makes up for the money we saved in staying here. It seems like the real deal here is to camp and bring your own food. We’re moving into town for a couple of days before taking overland transport to the Rosso border crossing and into Mauritania.

Hope this has been helpful to anyone taking these trips in Senegal!


Note: more photos coming soon. A practicality of Mali - the internet is soooo sloooowww. ------

It’s an interesting time to be in Mali. Ok, it’s always an interesting time to be in Mali, just because Mali is always interesting. But especially now, at this time, the situation up north, which has quickly become a war, makes things unusual. I had planned to write solely about the daily flow of life in Bamako, but I think that some explanation of our current situation is due.

For those of you who aren’t aware, Mali is engaged in driving an Al-Qaeda cell, Ansare Dine, out of the northern region of the country. The North represents a vast Saharan desert, a lawless land, which has allowed for religious fundamentalists to traffic drugs and arms in order to fund jihad. Beginning in April 2012, these islamists began taking over this expansive land, imposing sharia law. Cities including Gao, Konna, Douentza and the fabled Timbuktu have all been overrun by these people. However, the clear line of divide between islamist-controlled north and government-controlled south remains just north of the town of Mopti, over 400miles from the capital city of Bamako (my geography was not correct in the last post).

Just Wednesday, the islamists made a bold move to the south, pushing closer to Mopti. The French government quickly responded by sending troupes to aid the Malian army and have been conducting air raids since Wednesday evening. This kind of action is good, and has been needed for a long time. There are also pan-African troops that will begin arriving. France has also sent an envoy of soldiers to Bamako to help with security and to supposedly protect the 6,000 French expats living here.

So what does that mean for us? We’re watching the situation, and keeping a close eye on how the islamists retaliate. We will visit the US Embassy tomorrow and see if we should leave. We aren’t venturing too much outside of Bamako, although we will make a visit to nearby Soni Tieni, which is about 1 hour south of Bamako. This small village is home to the schools that Ko-Falen built, and has a strong relationship with our hosts. If we need to leave we will. For now, I actually feel safer than in the States, where apparently there have been more shootings?

But we don’t want to leave. Today we spent the day experiencing a regular dimanche a Bamako (Sunday in Bamako). If you don’t go to a wedding, which are typically on Sundays, you spend the day with friends, relaxing and listening to music. And that’s what we did. If you didn’t know that war was happening in the North, you would never guess that anything was different. The people are as jovial and kind as ever, the music plays, tea is made, a large bowl of food is shared eating by hand, the cows meander by eating trash, lizards chase each other, and people enjoy one anothers company before the start of another work week. It was perfect.

Practically speaking, we can’t understand 90% of the conversation. You’d think this gets boring (well sometimes it does I guess), but simply observing the animated conversations is entertaining enough. It sounds like people are yelling at each other, or engaged in a completely deep conversation – hands flying in the air, voices raised, but that’s just Mali, and how people converse. Animated is the perfect word for it, and it’s really enjoyable. Do people mind us just sitting there? Nope, it means a lot to people that we are here, especially in a difficult situation, and just by us joining in on the scene, we are showing our respect. Nothing seems to be an imposition on these people, everything is based on respect.

Other practicalities of Mali. Tea or attaaya. Tea is taken several times a day and is really just the activity one does while passing time with friends. We make tea mid-morning, after lunch and then again at night. Attaaya is just green gunpowder tea, brewed super strong over a coal stove, sweetened with sugar and with mint. I love it. I love everything about it. The process, the exurbanite amount of time it takes, the conversation, and the tea itself. Up to three rounds are brewed at a time. The first (le premier) is bitter, like life they say. The second (le deuxieme) is refreshing like the rain. The third (le troisieme) is sweet like love. My Senegalese friends used to say I was a bitter woman because I always brew my premier to strong. Oh well.

Practicality: our names. Names are a very important part of life. There are 4 original Bambara names in Mali: Diakite, Sangare, Diallo and Coulibaly. When you greet people the 2nd or 3rd question they ask is “Ne togo?” (what’s your name?). By the way, my African name is Safiatou, or Safi for short. Jon’s is Adama. We’re Diakite thank you very much. This is great actually because instead of getting “Toubab!!” (white person!) around the neighborhood, everyone knows our Malian names now, especially the kids. A common refrain when walking about is, “Safi! Safi!! Saffiiiaaatouu!!!!” Until I say, “Bonjour! Ini chey (hello).” The response is nothing but giggles and smiles. Ahhh Mali.

What else. Kids & Elders. Probably my favorite aspect of Malian culture, the relationship between generations. Anyone older than you is your elder and therefore has your respect – period. Anyone younger than you is your responsibility to help raise and take care of. Therefore, all children are everyone’s children, and all elders are everyone’s to take care of. This also means that one can ask anyone younger than you to go do something and out of respect, they must – aha! Benefits of age. It also means that I get to play with totally adorable African babies, because I’m part of the community that helps raise them.

Practicality. Communications. Internet is extremely expensive here. The Center had wireless, but apparently unlimited wireless costs $300…per month. No complaints about your cell phone bill now! I purchased a USB wireless key for convenience. $100 (50,000cfa wow!) buys me the hardware and about 4GB of data. For perspective, $150 is what we’re paying for all our water and electricity for the entire month we’re in Mali. To also put this in perspective, we’re spending 10,000cfa ($20) to have someone come 4 days a week and cook lunch (which often yields leftovers for dinner). These daily meals feed Jon, Wague and me, plus about 4-8 people who are always around, working, socializing or doing whatever. Wague is trading weeks with Jon and me, so really in a month I’m only spending the $20. $20 for 8 days of meals vs $100 for 4GB of internet. You can understand why people mostly just send text messages here.

Finally, dirt. Orange dirt. We've been washing the floor almost every day (that NEVER happened at home). You would too if everything was covered in a fine layer of orange dust. I don't mind. It's Africa, and it means more coldish showers to cool off.

I hope this has painted somewhat of a picture of Malian life. There are so many more details to share! I guess you’ll just have to visit (but not during wartime)!