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|Introduction to Senegal
Tropical Senegal is lauded for beauties both natural and urbane. With its suave capital, Dakar - many travellers' favourite amongst the larger African cities - and its entourage of internationally known musicians, Senegal brings in more visitors than any other country in the region.
Much of its lands are lush and vital, especially when compared to the deserts that surround it. Many of its visitors are package tourists soaking up the sunshine in upscale hotels, but the best of Senegal - a good wander through its streets and plains - is free.
The most happening hang in West Africa, tropical Senegal is lauded for its beauties both natural and ephemeral. From its urbane capital, Dakar - many travellers' favourite amongst the larger African cities - to its fertile southern region of forest and farmland, the Casamance, much of its lands are lush and vital, especially when compared to the expansive deserts that surround it. Senegal's arts are just as lively, with a thriving textile market and an entourage of internationally known musicians, such as Youssou N'Dour and Touré Kunda. Altogether, Senegal brings in more visitors than any other country in the region. True, many are package tourists soaking up the sunshine in the upscale hotels that line its Atlantic shore, but there's something in Senegal for every budget and the best of it - a good wander through its streets and plains - is free.
Isolated violence from separatist rebel groups and bandits still occur in the northern Casamance region, though land mines planted during the recent government/rebel dispute are now seen as the biggest threat to safety in the area.
Travel in Senegal should be uneventful, but travellers are advised to stay as informed of the latest events as possible. Petty theft is a common irritant in central Dakar.
Full country name: Republic of Senegal
Area: 196,190 sq km
Population: 10.3 million
Capital City: Dakar (pop 2 million)
People: Wolof (36%), Fula (17%), Sérèr (17%), Toucouleur (9%), Diola (9%), Mandinka (9%), European and Lebanese(1%)
Language: French, Wolof, Mandingo
Religion: 92% Islam, 6% indigenous beliefs, 2% Christian
Government: republic under multi-party democratic rule
Head of State: President Aboulaye Wade
Head of Government: Prime Minister Macky Sall
GDP: US$15.6 billion
GDP per capita: US$1,700
Annual Growth: 5%
Major Industries: agricultural and fish processing, phosphate mining, petroleum refining, construction materials
Major Trading Partners: France, EU, Nigeria, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, Algeria, China, Japan
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Visas: Visas are required for all foreigners, except nationals of Canada, the EU, Israel, Japan, Norway, South Africa and the US, who may visit for up to 90 days without a visa.
Health risks: malaria (If you are travelling in endemic areas it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhoea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal. If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment. You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you. If you do contract malaria, be sure to be re-tested for malaria once you return home as you can harbour malaria parasites in your body even if you are symptom free. Travellers are advised to prevent mosquito bites at all times. The main messages are: wear light-coloured clothing; wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas (prolonged overuse of DEET may be harmful, especially to children, but its use is considered preferable to being bitten by disease-transmitting mosquitoes); avoid perfumes and aftershave; use a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (permethrin) – it may be worth taking your own, and impregnating clothes with permethrin effectively deters mosquitoes and other insects), schistosomiasis (bilharzia) (Also known as bilharzia, this disease is carried in freshwater by tiny worms that enter through the skin and attach themselves to the intestines or bladder. The first symptom may be tingling and sometimes a light rash around the area where the worm entered. Weeks later, a high fever may develop. A general unwell feeling may be the first symptom, or there may be no symptoms. Once the disease is established, abdominal pain and blood in the urine are other signs. The infection often causes no symptoms until the disease is well established (several months to years after exposure), and damage to internal organs is irreversible. Avoid swimming or bathing in freshwater where bilharzia is present. Even deep water can be infected. If you do get wet, dry off quickly and dry your clothes as well. A blood test is the most reliable test, but it will not show positive until a number of weeks after exposure.), cholera (This diarrhoeal disease can cause rapid dehydration and death. Cholera is caused by a bacteria, Vibrio cholerae. It’s transmitted from person to person by direct contact (often via healthy carriers of the disease) or via contaminated food and water. It can be spread by seafood, including crustaceans and shellfish, which get infected via sewage. Cholera exists where standards of environmental and personal hygiene are low. Every so often there are massive epidemics, usually due to contaminated water in conditions where there is a breakdown of the normal infrastructure. The time between becoming infected and symptoms appearing is usually short, between one and five days. The diarrhoea starts suddenly, and pours out of you. It’s characteristically described as ‘ricewater’ diarrhoea because it is watery and flecked with white mucus. Vomiting and muscle cramps are usual, but fever is rare. In its most serious form, it causes a massive outpouring of fluid (up to 20L a day). This is the worst case scenario – only about one in 10 sufferers get this severe form. It’s a self-limiting illness, meaning that if you don’t succumb to dehydration, it will end in about a week without any treatment. You should seek medical help urgently; in the meantime, start re-hydration therapy with oral re-hydration salts. You may need antibiotic treatment with tetracycline, but fluid replacement is the single most important treatment strategy in cholera. Prevention is by taking basic food and water precautions, avoiding seafood and having scrupulous personal hygiene. The currently available vaccine is not thought worthwhile as it provides only limited protection for a short time)
Time Zone: GMT/UTC 0
Dialling Code: 221
Electricity: 230V ,50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
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The Islamic (or Hejira) calendar is a full 11 days shorter than the Gregorian (Western) calendar, so public holidays and festivals fall 11 days earlier each year. In March for the next few years, Ras as-Sana is the Islamic celebration of the new year. Moulid an-Nabi celebrates the prophet Mohammed's birthday around May. Ramadan is celebrated during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar (presently towards the end of the Gregorian calendar year), commemorating the month when the Qur'an was revealed to Mohammed. Out of deference, Muslims take neither food nor water until after sunset each day. At the end of Ramadan (Eid al-Fitr), the fasting breaks amidst much celebration.
Other festivals include the Grand Magal pilgrimage and celebration, held in Touba 48 days after Ras as-Sana, and the Paris-Dakar Rally, a 10,000km (6200mi) motor race that ends in Dakar around the second week of January.
1 January - New Year's Day
1 February - Confederation Day
February - Tabaski
March or April - Good Friday, Easter Monday
4 April - Independence Day
May or June - Ascension Day, Pentecost and Whit Monday
1 May - May Day
15 August - Assumption Day
1 November - All Saints' Day
November or December - 'Eid al-Fitr
25 December - Christmas
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|Best time to Visit
The best time to travel in Senegal is between November and February, when it's cool and dry. However, around this same time of year the dry, dusty harmattan winds blow off the Sahara. If you're going there to scuba dive, the waters are at their clearest from February to April. Bird-watchers will want to be around for the November-to-April migratory season.
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|Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending
Currency: CFA franc
Hotels in Dakar are expensive by the standards of other African capitals, though they're still relatively cheap for Westerners. There are a few bargain places as well as plenty of places to splurge, if you're in a regal mood. Budget travellers should figure on spending US$15-20 a day, mid-rangers about double that. Even hard-core spenders will be hard pressed to part with more than USD100 a day. Outside the capital, prices are significantly lower at all but the most touristed sites.
Cashing travellers' cheques is easy in Dakar but difficult elsewhere if they're not in euros. Some banks give cash advances with Visa cards, but sometimes only for French cards (eg Carte Bleue), as they are easier to verify. The process can take 24 hours. There are banks in all the main towns and one at the airport. Bargaining is common in the markets.
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Some people say Dakar doesn't represent the 'real' Africa, but they're wrong. This city is the big, crowded, dirty, raw, chaotic, ambitious, in-your-face and utterly exciting face of the 'dark' continent, and if you're after a glimpse of African urban future, this is as real as it gets.
Dakar's IFAN Museum houses a superb collection of masks, statues, musical instruments, stools and agricultural implements from all over West Africa. The handsome Palais Présidentiel, five short blocks south of the Place de l'Indépendence, dates from 1906 and is surrounded by sumptuous gardens.
The beaches in the Cap Skiring area are some of the finest in all Africa. Here, you'll find most of Senegal's tourist hotels and the highest concentration of foreigners in West Africa, except for in Gambia. If you want a few days' sun and sand, this is the place.
If however you're trying to see the 'real' Africa, there are places nearby where the living is a little easier. To escape the bustle of Cap Skiring, head for Diembéring (JEM-bay-ring), 9km (5mi) to the north, where the beach is quiet and hassle-free.
Kaolack (pronounced KOH-lack) is a regional capital with over 200,000 inhabitants and is the centre of Senegal's groundnut industry. Midway between Dakar, Tambacounda and Gambia, it's often regarded as little more than a junction, but it's a lively city and is worth visiting for a day or two.
More active than sleepy St-Louis or Ziguinchor, Kaolack's main attractions are its beautiful large mosque, decorated in the Moroccan style, and covered market - the second largest in Africa after Marrakesh - with Sudanese-style arches and arcades.
For a glimpse of what Senegal looked like in the colonial period, head for St-Louis, the first French settlement in Africa, which dates from 1659. Today, the city straddles the mainland, an island and part of the Langue de Barbarie peninsula at the mouth of the Senegal River.
You reach the island on the 500m (1640ft) Pont Faidherbe, originally built to cross the Danube but shipped here in 1897. Two smaller bridges link the island to the peninsula. St-Louis was the capital of Senegal-Mauritania until 1958, when the two countries split up.
Just 70km (40mi) east of Dakar, this is officially Senegal's second-largest city, although it feels quite small and is not at all unpleasant. You can come here to relax under its shade trees, eat in its cafes and cheap restaurants or simply to wander its central area and watch the world go by.
Thiès' main attraction is its world-famous tapestry factory, the Manufactures Sénégalaises des Arts Décoratifs. The tapestries are all based on the paintings of Senegalese artists and can range into the thousands of US dollars; they're worth a peek even if you have no intention of buying.
At first glance, Ziguinchor may not seem like anything special, but those who stay here grow to love it despite the influx of tourists during the winter months. Being one of Senegal's cheapest cities and only having about 100,000 inhabitants, makes it easy on your feet and your wallet.
The Marché St-Maur is worth a visit if you're looking for food or knickknacks. A block south is the Centre Artisanal, where numerous venders sell a variety of area crafts. Many of the area's hotels can organise a pirogue (canoe) ride to the villages of Affiniam and Djilapao or the Île des Oiseaux.
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