Quick Guide to Senegal: Visa-free travel for South Africans

2018-06-25 15:04
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colorful african pirogue canoes on the beach in da

With visa free available to Saffas, why not plan your next African escape in Senegal. Here's the key info you need to know about. (Photo: iStock)

The original home of the iconic Dakar Rally, Senegal has a lot to offer visitors - from nature to culture to a rich and dark history of the Atlantic slave trade.

Although a heavy subject, Senegal doesn't shy away from its past. Museums and monuments dedicated to the struggle offer a detailed tapestry of the lives the victims of slavery lived, especially on Gorée Island.

You can also explore modern life among French colonial architecture in Saint-Louis, or look for chimpanzees in the country's World Heritage Site-approved national parks.

While travellers should be aware of some health and safety risks accompanying a visit to Senegal, it shouldn't put you off a once-in-a-lifetime adventure off the beaten track in West Africa.

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Here we take a look at one of the top African destinations for South Africans and what you need to know should you want to visit:

Visa requirements: No. Visa-free for South Africans with a valid passport for stays up to 90 days. Passports must be valid for at least 6 months and have at least 2 blank pages.

Continent: Africa

Capital: Dakar

Medical requirement: As Senegal has a yellow fever risk, it is advised to get the vaccination against it as well as a certificate. The country also has a high malaria risk, so it is advised to take precautionary medication. There have also been indications of a risk of Zika virus transmission.

Currency / Exchange Rate: West African CFA franc (Weaker than the rand)

National Carriers: Air Senegal

Main airports: Blaise Diagne International Airport (Dakar), Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport (Dakar), Ziguinchor Airport, Cape Skirring Airport

Time Zone: 2 hours behind SA

Plugs: European round pin plug

Public transport: Within the cities, you can get around by taxis, mini-taxis and buslines, while between towns the most common way is by 'sept places' - similar to a minibus taxi with seven seats that are quite cramped.

It is advised that only experienced drivers that can handle chaotic traffic should hire their own car.

Climate: In Senegal has a tropical climate that's hot and humid in summer with an African monsoon from June to October, followed by a hot and dry season dominated by dusty winds.

Best time to visit: November to May in their dry winter season has mild temperatures and low humidity.

Food specialities: Senegal loves its fish and rice, and the most iconic local dish is ceebu jen - a rice and fish dish that comes with different types of sauces, and diagga comes with extra fish balls.

Another common dish is maafe, meat smothered in a peanut sauce, and yassa is an onion sauce served with chicken or deep-fried fish. Besides rice, other popular side dishes include couscous and sombi, a sweet milk-rice soup.

To drink, freshly made fruit juices are very common, with some made from the fruit of baobab trees.

Please note though that you won't be able to find pork or easily obtain alcohol because the country is predominantly Muslim.

Language: French (Official), Wolof

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Useful phrases

Hello

Bonjour / Salaam Alaikum

Goodbye

Au revoir / Ba beneen

My name is ….

Mon nom est … / Maa ngi tudd...

Thank you.

Je vous remercie. / Jërëjëf.

Yes

Oui / Waaw

No

Non / Déedéet

Do you speak English?

Parlez vous anglais? / Ndax degg nga Angale?

Water

Eau / Ndox

Where is [hotel/toilet/beach etc.]?

Où est le… ? / Ana... ? 

SEE: Why you should put aside translate apps (for now) and learn a new language

Travel tips

  • Be mindful that Senegal is a Muslim country and that it is best to not wear anything above the knee and avoid tank tops. Also always check the rules before entering the mosque and other religious places.
  • Food prepared on the road can be cooked in unhygienic conditions, so it is best to stick to restaurants or make your own food. Also avoid tap water and be aware that the risk of dehydration is quite high and to carry some Rehidrate on you just in case.
  • LGBT travellers need to avoid Senegal, as discrimination is rife and homosexuality can lead to imprisonment of up to 5 years.
  • Be aware of internal fighting between the government and a separatist movement in the Casamance region, which has been ongoing since the 80s but is restricted to only this region. If you do travel through this area, stick to main roads as there is a risk of landmines.
  • In Dakar, pickpocketing and street crime are prevalent, in taxis and around Place de l’Independence, the central area of the Plateau and the Western Corniche. There's also a notable increase in crime in the run-up to religious festivals.

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Top attractions in Senegal

  • Lake Retba

Check out how weird nature can be at Senegal's rose pink lake. Close to the Atlantic Sea, Lake Retba, or Lac Rose, has a very high salt content, and in the dry season, when it is at its pinkest, its salt content can be higher than the Dead Sea!

It's quite safe to swim in the lake, and you can watch locals harvest the salt from its bottom. It's about an hour away from the capital of Dakar.

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  • Saloum Delta National Park

Serving as an important birding area, the Saloum Delta is a sinewy maze of mangroves and saltwater rivers, the area where the Saloum River meets the Atlantic Sea. Besides the birds, spotted hyenas, warthogs and the red colobus monkey also make their home here.

Similar to the Okavango Delta, the best way to see the park is by boat, which can be organised through the various lodges that dot the banks of the river, like the Fathala Wildlife Reserve which has a large population of giant eland.

  • Niokolo-Koba National Park

This is Senegal's main national park, a World Heritage Site abundant with wildlife including buffaloes, eland, elephants, lions and chimpanzees along the Gambia River. 

Although there is no entry fee for the park, it's advised to hire a guide due to the sheer size of the park. You can stay at Wassadou, where they offer traditional village accommodation, and they can organise all transport arrangements for you to and within in the park.

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  • Saint-Louis Jazz Festival

Music-lovers can partake in one of the biggest jazz festivals in the world that is spread throughout the Senegalese coastal city in an open-air forum. It takes place around April and May every year and welcomes the world's best to this cultural extravaganza.

The city itself is an architectural marvel of colonial design, and is spread from the mainland to the island of N'Dar in the river, where the Old Town of Saint-Louis is found, to the Langue de Barbarie - a thin sandy peninsula.

  • Gorée Island

Just off the coast from Dakar lies Île de Gorée, a small car-less island known for its museums and once being an important centre for the Atlantic slave trade that's only a 20-minute ferry away from the capital.

On the island is the Maison des Esclaves - or House of Slaves - a museum dedicated to the African slaves who saw their homeland here for the last time before being shipped off to other parts in the world. It was built in 1776 and was used to separate, torment and house slaves.

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