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!

Comme ci, Comme ca


When I first started taking French in the 4th grade, this is one of the first phrases we learned. It’s a greeting, like when you say, “bonjour, comment allez-vous” (hello, how are you?). You can answer, “Tres bien, merci” (very well thank you) or “comme ci, comme ca” (so, so), or casually, and what everyone really says is “ca va” (it’s going). But, honestly, when do you ever say, oh it’s going just so so. I mean, even if things aren’t going well, you always say, oh yes things are fine, thank you. It’s a double standard. I’ve come to realize that we hardly share our full presence, but rather manufacture what we think might be socially acceptable. And so, since for most of you my only presence these days is of an online nature, I refuse to give you just a perfect, rosy picture; rather I choose the honest one. And really, things are comme ci, comme ca, a little this, a little that. So so. Not bad, not great. Mangi fi (That’s wolof for I’m here).


Jess in a Fromager forest, Diembereng, Casamance

It’s a double-standard that mirrors perfectly to the Senegalese experience. One that, after such a long time, I forgot about. I mean, when you get back from a 4 month study abroad experience people want to know, “so? How was it?!” and really, what are you supposed to say? “It was fine, it was great!” And after saying that for 10 years you forget all the ups and downs.

I keep saying you, but really I mean me, and really, I mean to say that as per my last post, Senegal really hasn’t changed at all, I just forgot a lot of what it was like here. I’m so truly thankful that we have been invited into the home of friends – friends who have made us family, who have shown us the true meaning of Senegalese taranga (hospitality). Friends who want nothing more than to share our company and be together. There are many Senegalese who exude this cultural quality – who truly just want to be open and talk with us, and chat a bit. But they are too often mixed in with those who abuse the notion of taranga and slyly invite you to a seemingly jovial conversation only to really want something from you – primarily something monetary. It makes us skeptical, more closed off, and so well, it’s just so so.

During our last few hours in the Casamance, Jon and I sat and had a cup of coffee (Nescafe thank you) in a little local restaurant. The owner was so kind and welcoming. We had a lovely little chat and were getting ready to leave when a very kind woman came up to us and like so many Senegalese wanted to know about us, know our names and chat. But she quickly devolved into desperately trying to sell us something, which after much persistence simply became her asking us for money so she could buy rice, and she then became angry when we wouldn’t dole it out. Ugh.

Our new friend Penda at Lac Rose

It’s a similar picture as today when we journeyed to Lac Rose (see Jon’s post), and were essentially followed by a guy who wanted to sell us a tour (any kind of tour!!) juxtaposed with two women, who originally came out on the road to sell us something but instantly changed their minds when I started speaking wolof with them. They kept saying (in French), “wow, you are so open, the tourists never speak to us, they just ignore us, wow.” I have thoughts about that, but what could have been another frustrating please-just-stop-looking-at-me-like-a-dollar-sign moment turned into a spontaneous natural science lesson on the lake, and the economics involved in harvesting salt. Penda and Fatou were so kind, and as we got to talking, were not at all interested in selling me anything, just happy to be connecting. Comme ci, comme ca – like this, like that.

Senegal is a mixed bag, I guess is the point. It will always be a special place for me, one that was a true place of learning and growth during some pretty formative years of my life. One where I will always have friends, incha’allah, and incredible stories to recount. But life is hard here. When we arrived I thought I was just used to being in West Africa, but no, really, things are tough. People live leanly, and I know I have it good. I don’t know if it’s a product of globalization, of the Senegalese being too easily influenced by French and American pop culture (they know more about Kim Kardashian than I ever care to), or being stuck somewhere between a developed country and a very underdeveloped country that brings out these stark contrasts in people’s cultural behaviors. Maybe it’s all three.

Fishing pirogues in from a day of fishing

When it comes down to it, I’m happy that we came here. If anything for me it was an incredible opportunity to share this place with Jon, and to relive some great memories. I won’t lie, I’m looking forward to being a tourist in St. Louis for a couple days and then getting on the road for our epic overland journey across Mauritania and Western Sahara. The good with the so so right?

Farmers working the fields in the Casamance

I’m going to follow up with some travel reporting – some how-to’s of where we’ve been, as a future resource. We’ve noticed that in the process of trying to find travel information on other people’s travel blogs there is often a lot of rambling (ho ho just like mine!!), but little in the way of practical information – as in go fetch the bush taxi here to save you 3 hours kinda thing. Until then, I hope each of you is well, and allowing yourself the full spectrum of your experiences and presence, the good and the not so good. I think it’s good to take time to feel what we feel and not shy from it when it’s not perfect.

What do you think?

Ciao ciao.

Images from La Casamance

Jon and I have been vacationing from our mini-retirement (I know, life is real hard) in the beautiful, tropical south of Senegal, the Casamance. Between having what seemed like our very own pristine beach, to the small but vibrant coast village of Cap Skiring, relaxing in the Senegalese tropics has been a fabulous get-a-way from the hustle and bustle of Bamako and Dakar. People are unbelievably friendly here, despite the large amount of French tourists, and we've been loving meeting people and chatting in the streets, shaking hands with kids and generally being around the liveliness of small-town Senegal.

We were even lucky enough to have a taxi driver of ours be so excited that we were from America that he brought us to his village, introduced us to his father (who is also the village 'chef' and gave us a special insight as to how to collect and produce palm wine. It was great (the little surprise excursion, not the palm wine).

We took a tour through the new Ecoparc de la Casamance, a new nature reserve designed to protect the forest and educate young people. We were stunned by the other-wordly 'Fromager' trees, twisting vines, huge termite mounds and lanky coconut palms. We're back to Dakar tomorrow, taking the overnight ferry up the coast. One more week in Senegal and then we're off for our ridiculously long overland bus ride from Dakar to Marrakesh. Enjoy a sampling of photos! Click on the images to enlarge them.


10 years later...

Almost to the date, I landed in Dakar once again. I was sad to leave Mali, and was actually a bit nervous to come to Senegal – would I remember how to get around, would it be very different? But as we flew over the peninsula, and got to see the entire city and surrounding water, I was so excited. Now that I’m here, it doesn’t feel strange, or unfamiliar. It feels like it did 10 years ago, except I don’t have to relearn everything. Plus, being in Senegal is so much easier than Mali. I didn’t even realize the apparent not-so-subtle differences. I didn’t realize how underdeveloped Bamako is, and just how developed Dakar has become. More services, more construction, infrastructure, it’s all around more modern. Bamako, while a major city, has a provincial feel, like a never-ending village. It’s not a bad thing, just my observation. I suppose that coming to this part of Africa feels normal at this point. There are certainly things that make me say, “WOW,” but I understand the daily rhythms and so it just feels like a regular place to me.

We have been kindly welcomed into the home of a friend of mine I met while studying here in 2003. He and his wife have embodied the Senegalese notion of Taranga or Senegalese hospitality. They have opened their home, fed us, and toured us around the city in the last week. It has been such an amazing gift, we are often left wondering how we could ever properly say thank you.

Grand Baobab

In the last week, it’s also been wonderful to do so many things I never did during my entire four months the last time. Believe or not, I never went to the beach, not even to walk, while I was here last time. Taking strolls along the ocean, visiting the fish market and enjoying the proximity of the sea has been a lovely shift from the stark dry desert of Mali (although I really did enjoy that it only took a few minutes for my hair – and everything else – to dry in Mali).

We visited my old neighborhood, SICAP Baobab, and walked the still-familiar path from the Baobab Center (where I took classes), past the boulangerie and the cabine telephone – which is now a boutique because everyone either has a cell phone or home landline, why would they ever need to go to a telephone center – past the 500 year old Grand Baobab, the namesake tree of the neighborhood, around another corner, past more familiar homes and shops and to the little soccer (sand) field, just opposite the home where I used to live. It was wonderful to walk down memory lane, and I cannot wait until Monday night when we have dinner with my host family.

It's huge! That's me at the veerrry bottom

We’ve marveled at Dakar’s new features as well – the world’s now largest statue, made entirely out of bronze, costing the country more money than it would have taken to lift the shanty town at its base out of poverty. We strolled the sparkly new shopping mall filled with European shops – all boasting huge sales, and then played a game of cosmic bowling in the most beautiful bowling alley I’ve ever seen. Everything so shiny and new – presumably because they are too expensive for the majority of Senegalese to enjoy. Just like the huge sculpture that costs 3000cfa – more than many people’s daily wage ($6 USD) to ascend to the top, former president Abdoulaye Wade’s blatant waste of money almost mocks the Senegalese people, giving them something that links them to the western world they seem to long to be a part of, yet keeping it out of reach in a resentful way.


Honestly, I feel the same way about Senegal as I did 10 years ago, and I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. I recalled the email I wrote to friends and family on May 21, 2003, just a couple of days before I was leaving from my semester abroad here in 2003, and want to share it, as it continues to sum up feelings I have about being here, and what it might be like to leave again.

“But what a country. I'm not sure what I'll do when greeting people doesn't include an inquisition about the family, friends, uncles, brothers and sisters. And what to do when there's no ferno at every corner with a pot of attaaya brewing. What to do when visiting friends isn't a short two minute walk down the street past the telecenter and to the right. and What to do when I can't bargain for the price I want (things are too expensive in the states anyway).

I will always think of all the little children that are everywhere, who look scared, then curious, and then so excited with their big dark eyes when they see me coming. It's images of mothers with babies on the back and a bucket on the head that will always remain. It's traffic jams with 10 yellow and black taxis coming from every direction trying to go everyother direction, and no one is moving. It's carts and wheelbarrows full of mangos and oranges, next to little stands that sell peanuts and cookies for 25Fcfa. And it's the constant sound of buzzing and humming coming from the small, dimly lit 'coutures'-the tailor shops-always busy making boubous and dresses, and something for an american or two wanting to bring home a bit of Africa.

In this whirlwind of rough political and economic times all over the world, Senegal keeps moving. As always things change and Youssou N'Dour comes out with another album, but Senegal is always still Senegal. It's just amazing, and I am so grateful to have lived here.”

I suppose the only difference there is that Youssou is now the Prime Minister and I can’t go hear him sing at his Club Thiossane for $4. The oranges now cost 75cfa (500cfa to the dollar). Oh well.

Jon and I are planning to head to the Casamance on Tuesday, an overnight ferry ride (we’re still being cautious about inland travel). The Casamance is the region of Senegal below the sliver of a country, The Gambia, and is lush, green, and inhabited by the Diola people. It’s also home to tropical beaches, more fresh seafood, and a slightly different culture. I’m looking forward to seeing a new part of this fascinating little South Dakota-sized country.

Until the next time, ba beneen jerejef waay (until next time, thanks!). Bisoux ciao.