Senegal is one of West Africa’s most popular destinations, famous for its vibrant music scene, colorful architecture, and diverse culture. It’s also the safest country in the region with political stability, religious harmony, and no major health risks. The people are polite, welcoming, and proud of their teranga (which means hospitality in Wolof).

Most travelers combine a tour of Senegal and its neighbor The Gambia to learn about the history of the slave trade in West Africa and enjoy it’s diverse wildlife. Here are the most interesting things to do in Senegal and the Gambia for those seeking a trip full of history and adventure.

Trace African Slave Trade Roots

Jufureh - village birthplace of Kunta Kinte

Jufureh – village birthplace of Kunta Kinte

If you’ve read the book Roots or watched the TV series, you may be curious to find out the place where the story first begins. The novel narrates the life of Kunta Kinteh, a Gambian teenager sold into slavery and transported to North America. Since the book and the movie were released, visitors have been flocking to the village of Jufureh in the Gambia to visit the character’s birthplace; feel the atmosphere of the rural village; and ride a fishing boat to James Island, where the Dutch traded gold, ivory, and slaves.

The area of Jufureh is not easy to get to, but tour company G Adventures offers guided multi-day road trips that can take you to some of the most historic sites in West Africa.

Indulge in the Cultural Capital of Dakar

Senegal - Goree Island

Image by Sucheta Rawal

A good way to start your adventure in Senegal is to book the lowest airfare to Dakar. Senegal’s capital has much to offer in terms of recently opened museums, French bakeries, and handicraft markets. Spend a couple of days exploring Dakar, but plan to venture out of the city as well. A visit to Goree Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a must, as you can see Dutch slave trader houses against the backdrop of white sand beaches and cobblestone streets.

Near the airport is the popular beach town of Saly, where the locals head to for weekend getaways. Here you will find beach shacks with fresh seafood, fisherman offering boat rides across the lagoon, and all kinds of accommodations (from apartment rentals to luxurious spa resorts).

Stay at a UNESCO Heritage City

Senegal - St Louis

Image by Sucheta Rawal

The former capital of Senegal, Saint Louis, will make you think of the colorful French colonial streets of New Orleans. This UNESCO City has preserved its history with original buildings, boutique restaurants, and lots of live music venues. If you are a jazz afficianado, make advance reservations for the Saint Louis Jazz Festival, one of the most popular musical events on the African continent.

Swim in the Pink Salt Lake

Senegal - Pink Lake

Image by Sucheta Rawal

If you have been to the Dead Sea, get ready to float at Lac Rose (Lake Retba), which has up to 40% salt content in some areas, and a photogenic pink hue caused by algae and sunlight. The colors are brighter during the dry season (November to June).

The lake was a finishing point for the Dakar Rally until 2009. Nearby, you can test off your off-road endurance on an ATV or on camel back on the white sand dunes along the Atlantic Ocean.

Camp in the Desert

Senegal - Lompoul desert

Image by Sucheta Rawal

Although the desert zone of Senegal is quite small in comparison to the Sahara, the dunes at Lompoul desert have an orange glow and are easily accessible through the neighboring village of Lompoul. It’s a good place to relax in nature and learn about the local culture. At Eco Lodge Lompoul, the community offers traditional Senegalese meals, storytelling, as well as drumming performances.

Go on a Cheap Safari

Senegal - Bandia park

Image by Sucheta Rawal

If you think you need to save for a lifetime to go on an African safari, think again! The wildlife in West Africa is being restored (after years of drought) and a few reserves offer a chance to see wildlife up close. Watch zebras, giraffes, rhinos, elands, buffaloes, gazelles, monkeys, and more at Bandia Park near Dakar, for as little as $30 for a day tour including vehicle, guide and entrance fees.

The protected nature reserve at Bijilo Forest Park offers a chance to hike through the many trails among primates, reptiles, and birds. Over 113 species of birdlife make it an ideal spot for bird-watching in a small area. You can also see friendly green vervet monkeys, Senegal bushbabies, and other species up close, who just might snatch snacks right off your hands if you’re not too careful!

Pray to the Crocodiles

Gambia - Crocodile park

Image by Sucheta Rawal

Before you depart West Africa, be blessed by the sacred crocodiles at the Kachikally Crocodile Pool in the Gambia, where people come to treat long-term ailments, bestow good luck, or get pregnant. Learn about the history of the country at the small museum near the entrance, before finding yourself walking among 80 or so live crocodiles!

Have you been to Senegal or the Gambia? Share your experiences with us in the comments!

Editor’s note: The author of this post may either have a relationship with or received other compensation from the product or service providers that are featured in this writing.

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About The Author

Sucheta is an award winning food and travel writer who has traveled to 70+ countries and is on a mission to see the entire world. She is also the founder of the nonprofit organization, Go Eat Give, which promotes cultural awareness through food, travel and volunteering. Sucheta is the author of a series of children's books on travel, "Beato Goes To" that teach kids about different countries and cultures.