Senegal’s Best Kept Secrets
January 1, 1970
by Caroline Bellemare
When one thinks of vacations, rarely do they consider the Western part of the African continent. Simply put, it is not a place renowned for its luxurious hotels and resorts. Yet, you may be surprised to know that having your vacations in this unusual place may be extremely rewarding in terms of natural beauties, culture, and colorful experiences.
For decades, French tourists have been flocking to the country of Senegal, where they can enjoy its capital, a plethora of small islands, exotic beaches, and other tourist-friendly cities located a drive away. If you do decide to visit Senegal, you will meet an eclectic community of expatriates and nationals in this very secure and welcoming land. With no further due, here is my top best-kept secrets for Senegal.
Senegalese food is a universe on its own. Made of the expected rice and vegetables, the traditional flavors of smoked fish and seasoning cube will take you aback. Fish is as fresh as it gets, and the variety is impressive. As you enjoy the mouthwatering experience, why not do so in a particularly charming place? Below you will find restaurants where you can eat all kinds of cuisine in a tantalizing place!
- Le Ngor—it features a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean, colorful animals walking around such as turkeys, rabbits, and peacocks, and traditional food that tastes homemade. If you don’t feel like rice, no worries. Their menu is quite diverse.
- So Beach—When you’ve got beaches surrounding most of the city, you know food joints by the ocean will be many. Yet, not all were created equal. The small piece of land surrounding So Beach is dreamy. If you go in the evening, the sunset will blow you away. Waves come crashing so close to you that you will feel as if you’re eating on a tiny paradise island. Besides its enchanting decor, So Beach’s food is delicious. Its French cuisine paired with African influences will have you remember it for a long time. Another thing that matters to me, is how the management treats its staff. At So Beach, I’ve witnessed nothing but true dignity and respect. It’s not always a given in this part of the world.
- La Demeure—This is an amazing a bed and breakfast located in one of Dakar’s wealthiest areas, the Almadies. Every day, except Sundays, they serve a delicious continental breakfast, on their small inviting terrace surrounded by tropical plants. For beautiful designer made, decently priced (for the city) souvenirs, you might want to check their gift store.
- Ciao Italia— If you can’t travel as much as you want, yet, want to get the most out of it, why not have an authentic Italian experience in Africa? Ciao Italia not only serves scrumptious authentic Italian food, but when inside, you will feel like you’ve landed somewhere on the boot-shaped island. Furthermore, many of the clients are actually Italian, which testifies of its authenticity. Cheers!
When you visit Dakar, you will want to stop by Gorée Island—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—for a piece of heart-wrenching history on the Atlantic slave trade. The slave house is a pit stop that can’t be avoided.
Yet, Gorée is not the only interesting Island in the area. Two more islands are to be seen.
- Ngor Island—Similar to Gorée, Ngor Island has colonial architecture types of buildings, there are no cars on the island, you can walk around, meet with painters and artists, take a surf lesson, and enjoy the scenery. For a great meal, stop by the Italian restaurant.
- Madeleine Islands—Madeleine Island scenery is beyond gorgeous. It is actually such a quiet experience next to the bustling city. Many like to go there to have a picnic with friends or family.
View of the City
- A popular stop for a great view of the city is the African Renaissance Monument. You can go all the way up inside the statue, just like with the Statue of Liberty. A less popular place for tourists, only a walk from the monument, is the Mamelles Lighthouse (Phare des Mamelles). You can climb up, and have a panoramic view of Dakar like you wouldn’t know. Plus, the hike is quite fun!
Gifts and Souvenirs
Markets in Soumebioune and Sendaga might be the most popular ones, yet, they are very noisy, crowded, and difficult to navigate. You may want to go, for a full impression of the local culture. Yet, it is very busy and can be taxing. The negotiation of everything you desire to purchase can also be a trip. If you’re not that adventurous, don’t lose heart. There is more to see!
- La Demeure—yes, now you really need to go there! In their gift shops, price tags are on the items, so unlike most places, there is no need to negotiate. It can also give you an idea of prices before you head to the market. Here you will find stunning, designer made pieces.
- Cocktail du Senegal—Located in the heart of Dakar, you’ll find just about anything. From designer made pieces, to local honey, and traditional hand painted pieces. Again, you won’t need to negotiate prices there. They have an incredible variety!
- Layu—located in the Almadies, Layu is both a coffee shop and a souvenir shop for all kinds of goods. They are usually expensive, but well worth the visit, as what they sell is usually great quality.
Beauty Products & Skin Care
- Body: Baobab Oil and Shae Butter. Both are 100% natural and have been used locally for hundreds of years for gorgeous looking skin and hair. My sister who is allergic to just about every skin care products uses natural African Shae Butter on her skin and it works wonders for her. I’ve been using Baobab oil instead of my daily facial cream for a while, and I wouldn’t exchange it for anything. It’s a dry oil, that is quickly absorbed, leaving your skin soft and supple. Layu and Cocktail du Senegal have a great selection.
- Nutrition: Moringa Powder and Baobab powder. The mother land has so much to offer! Did you know that Baobab fruit powder is a super food? It contains more calcium than milk, and more vitamin C than an orange. It promotes good energy, immune functions, and healthy, glowing skin. What’s not to love about it? You can tell Moringa leaves and powder is healthy just by looking at its rich green color. It is nutrient packed, fights free-radicals, supports brain health and so much more. Found at Layu at a good price.
- Spa Royal Al Sultan—for a sweet massage with pure Argan oil in an oriental setting. After your massage, you’ll rest in a Moroccan decorated room, where you can enjoy a delicious mint tea and a traditional Middle Eastern pastry, on the house. Another way to see more of the world in just one trip!
Senegal is a beautiful place to discover. It has much to offer, and Senegalese people are warm and welcoming. It is the perfect example of religious cohabitation, and strong family and community values. No wonder some visit it and never want to leave. If hot and humid season is for you, visit between July to November. If you prefer cooler temperatures (20–30 degrees Celsius) plan your visit between November and June.