10 Things You Need To Know Before Going To Senegal

When you think of West Africa, what first comes to mind? Possibly the Ebola virus scare, safety issues, or the history of slave trade. On my recent visit to Senegal with G Adventures, I was pleasantly surprised by this African nation. Here are some things I discovered during my journey.

1. The people are friendly. Senegalese are possibly the most polite and hospitable people on the continent. They speak French, in a cute, subtle accent and will always greet you, make eye contact and ask about your day. Even in the villages, little kids would run up to me and say “Bonjour! Como sava?” without expecting a tip or gift in return. And they also love to pose for photographs ūüôā

Kid posing for photo at Kaya Fisherman village

I found the staff at hotels and restaurants to be very accommodating as well. When I went to a local restaurant in Dakar by myself, the waitress (who didn’t speak any English) helped me with my shawarma order and asked where I was from. At another occasion, I randomly walked into a shop and the lady behind the counter (a 5th generation Senegalese Indian), sat me down for a chat and brought out tea and croissants!

2. It is safer than you think. I spent about 10 days in Senegal, mostly with a group, but often walking around by myself, and never once felt unsafe. Vendors often approached me trying to sell souvenirs or tours but never pressed hard to make me feel uncomfortable. It was actually the women who tried the most, inviting me to “their shops” and wanting to bargain for their goods.

Woman selling souvenirs at the Pink Lake

That being said, like anywhere else in the world, you cannot be careless when traveling. Carry little cash, watch your bag in crowded places, and don’t draw attention.

3. There’s no ebola. It is imperative to know that there was only 1 case of ebola reported in Senegal (in 2014) and it is not a threat. You are more likely to suffer from malaria (carry deet), cholera (only drink bottled water), travelers diarrhea (select clean restaurants), or asthma (because of the dust and pollution). On our tour, we were taken to relatively clean restaurants and I ate fruits and salads, and was fine.

4. It’s a tolerant society. Senegal is a peace loving country with no history of wars or religious tension. Majority of the population is Muslim with Sufi influences, but they inter-marry with Christians and often attend each other’s places of worship. You should dress conservatively, covering your arms and legs when traveling through Senegal.

Mosque of the Divinity in Dakar

5. Being vegetarian is hard. Practically every Senegalese dish has some meat or fish in it. If you go to traditional restaurants, choices will be limited to chicken, lamb, beef or fish, often times used to season the rice or chere (millet couscous). There were a few vegan and vegetarians on my tour, and there weren’t many options for them aside for juice, rice, fruit and potatoes. Seasoning is often basic – made with lemon juice, tomatoes or onions and herbs.

In bigger cities like Dakar and St Louis, you can find few French, Arabic and American restaurants. I also discovered Cremina Gelato and Cafe in Dakar, which was really good.

Chicken yassa at Chez Salim

6. The beaches are nice. Many Europeans travel to Senegal for beach getaways. There are lots of beach resorts and rental properties at Somone beach in the Saly neighborhood near the airport catering to every budget. You can take a boat ride in the lagoon, eat at a beach shack, shop for souvenirs and visit the mangroves.

There are lots of fishing villages dotting the coastline as well, though these are not the best beaches for bathing. Often times, they are crowded with local boats and fishermen.

Atlantic Hotel Banjul

7. There’s wildlife in West Africa. Prior to visiting Senegal I did not know there was much wildlife in West Africa. Most of it was wiped out by drought, but recently reserves have been established to restore the populations. Animals are brought from other parts of Africa and you can see zebras, giraffes, rhinos, elands, buffalos, gazelles, monkeys and more at Bandia Park near Senegal. A drive by safari takes only couple of hours and because of the low shrub cover (in June), you can spot the animals easily.

Rhino at Bandia Park

If you like to bird watch, Senegal is an ideal destination. You can take a boat safari and see over 400 species of birds at Barbarie National Park and Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, near St Louis.

8. There’s a desert too. I was surprised to see how beautiful and clean the orange sand was in the small Lompoul Desert. There was hardly anyone around near our Desert Ecolodge, offering a quiet haven under the stars. The tented camp I stayed in had comfortable beds, running water and a flushing toilet.

Ecolodge de Lompoul

9. Traveling in Senegal is not cheap. Contrary to what most people think of prices in Africa, tourism related businesses in Senegal charge about the same as what you would pay in the US. The locals usually don’t go out to eat (unless its easily accessible street food), so restaurants cater to tourists and expats. A bottle of still water is $2-3, and sparking as much as $7-10. Most meals costed me $18-25 (not including alcohol). For hotels, there are options from 3-star (which has a different meaning in Africa) to 5-stars. Even the nicer hotels we stayed at were not updated due to lack of turnover. The newer hotels are quite luxurious and offer all the amenities (approx. $200-300/ night).

10. You’re on Africa time. Senegalese people, like most Africans, have a leisurely concept of time, so do not get frustrated when your tour departs half an hour later or the road trip takes two extra hours. Generally, people are in no rush. Immigration officers at the border will like to have small talk before stamping your passport, may you will repeat the process with a few different officials. You may have fixed an appointment with someone but that person may forget to show up. Remember, people value social relationships more than punctuality, so you will need to adjust your attitude based on the culture.

I was on G Adventure’s inaugural tour to Senegal and The Gambia in June 2019. Click here to learn more about their upcoming tours to the destination.

Unwind with Pumeli sustainable rituals from around the world

You may not be able to afford a trip abroad every month of the year. But what if the world was delivered to your door? Pumeli is a monthly subscription box filled with teas and
textures designed to help busy women slow down, unplug and give themselves
permission to relax.

Each month, Pumeli delivers a care package of time-slowing rituals that enable women to experience more calm, peace and joy in as little as 5-10 minutes. Every shipment includes artisanal tea to soothe your soul, beautiful paper for your thoughts, and handcrafted goods that evoke mindfulness while empowering artisans around the world.

Pumeli Founder, Traci Pichette
Pumeli Founder, Traci Pichette

Pumeli¬†works with small businesses and craft producers on different levels to¬†bring well-designed and high quality products. They purchase products at¬†a fair market price in order to deliver the highest value to the artisan¬†and support global community initiatives. Each product comes with a story too. A monthly subscription runs at $49.95 or $249.95 for 6 months (with 1 month free). It is a great gift to send to a special lady in your life and remind her each month that you care – moms, sisters, girlfriends, or even your office secretary.¬†See current package with stories behind the box and the products at Pumeli’s website.

The theme for November is “Be Like a Tree.” A tree is a great natural teacher of mindful living. Trees inspire us to stay grounded, adapt gracefully to the present moment, and continuously renew ourselves, and take time to rest. This month’s Pumeli box takes you on a journey through Africa to celebrate the life of trees with the following items.

Pumeli November BoxAduna Baobab Powder – Revitalizing facemark with baobab fruit sustainability harvested in Senegal and Ghana in partnership with several women‚Äôs co-ops.¬†The African baobab tree, known as ‚ÄėThe Tree of Life‚Äô, provides 100% organic fruit that dries naturally on its branches. Packed with vitamin C and antioxidants so you can feel good inside and out.

Mud Cloth Notebook РHand woven in Mali, the mud cloth is treated in baths of leaves and branches, and hand dyed using mud mixture. Traditionally used to share village stories and African proverbs.

Tea Accessories РHand carved Kenyan teaspoon from olive wood, adorned with colorful beads. JusTea has a direct-trade relationship with Central province village carvers in Kenya.

Jacaranda Wood Ornament РHand painted giraffe by artisans in Kenya, this exquisite ornament reminds you to be gentle on yourself, just as the giraffe gently chews on the topmost under leaves of trees. Acacia Creations donates 10% of each purchase to animal conservation.

JusTea African Chai РInside an East African fabric bag, is a 100% natural Masala Chai tea blend with Camellia saneness, cinnamon, allspice, rose petals and more. Each sip directly supports small-scale tea farming families.

Learn more about the artisans at Pumeli.

Atlanta Underground Market

On a crisp Sunday morning, Atlantans wait in line at the Atlantic Station so they can go inside the former Pier 1 showroom and taste creations by local food artisans. It’s $5 fee to get in and then you pay $2-5 per sample. Atlanta Underground Market¬†(AUM) is based upon the same concept of San Francisco’s -there are a lot of home cooks and food artisans who have awesome dishes to share, but who don’t have the platform to do so outside of their circle of friends.

Crowds at AUM

The Underground Market allows home cooks, caterers and wanna be food entrepreneurs to test the market and see if they can go into business. On the other hand, it is great fun for foodies looking for unique authentic flavors, to critique or just to enjoy a meal.

Sweet Potato French Toast Balls with Orange Mimosa Syrup

Nothing is just average at the Atlanta Underground Market. A lot of different cuisines and nationalities are represented. The most popular item today was Venezuelan Arrepas (sandwhich made with flat corn meal, stuffed with fried egg and your choice of black bean patty or pulled skirt steak). There was a 30 minute line to get to the table, which was perhaps the biggest downside of AUM.  The good news is that the overwhelmed with demand, Arepa Mia is going to open a location at Sweet Auburn Market.

Arepa with winter Vegetables, roasted Butternut squash, eggplant, collar greens, caramelized onions, black beans and topped with Nata a Venezuelan cream fresh

There are plenty of vegetarian and gluten free options available at AUM. Catering to a mostly urban locale, the vendors seem to be more experimental with their creations.

Spinach & cheese pie

The Senegalese roasted chicken sliders were delicious when washed down with fresh Hibiscus flower Juice (keep an open mind about it). There was also Senegalese french toast for the breakfast lovers.

Senegalese french toast

My favorite was the vindaloo hot dog, a spicy chicken homemade sausage (tasted almost like a kebab) with chilled sweet coleslaw on a soft warm bun. As unique as it comes!

Chicken vindaloo hot dog

AUM is a private club and the event is in a private venue for members, by invitation only. You HAVE to be signed up on their website in order to attend.