Senegal is teeming with UNESCO World Heritage sites, having a grand total of seven, the fifth highest of any country in Africa. These include five spots that made it onto the UNESCO list because of their cultural significance, plus two natural wonders. Some of the sites, like the island of Gorée, have a dark history due to their role in the slave trade, while others like the stone circles of Senegambia are yet to be fully explained. Here are the seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Senegal, and why you should visit them.
Island of Saint-Louis
This popular destination was founded as a French settlement in the 17th century, served as capital of Senegal from 1872 to 1957, and remains an important city in west Africa. The island is located between the mouth of the Senegal River and features architecturally marvelous buildings from the French colonial era. It’s also a bastion of culture, and the city’s rich history is reflected in the customs and faces of the people.
Why you should go: Visitors should wander the streets, immerse themselves in the local culture, and appreciate the beautiful but often crumbling architecture. Saint Louis is also a great destination to head to for its numerous festivals, including the internationally renowned Saint Louis Jazz Festival.
Stone Circles of Senegambia
These stone circles are found over a 100 km wide by 350 km long area that encompasses both Senegal and Gambia, and were built between the 3rd and 16th centuries. There are four main groupings, including the Kerbatch, Sine Ngayène, Wanar, and Wassu, which compromise 93 stone circles and numerous burial mounds. Archaeologists aren’t quite sure why so many were built, but they do know the area reflects the remains of a highly organized society that lasted for centuries.
Why you should go: Skip Stonehenge and go somewhere few have gone. The stone circles in the area are still being studied and you can see them in person before all the mysteries about them are revealed. It’s also a lesser-known part of Africa, which means you won’t have to fight crowds, and you’ll have bragging rights with your friends and family.
Bassari Country: Bassari, Fula and Bedik Cultural Landscapes
This UNESCO site is the most recent addition to the list in Senegal. It includes three areas where the Bassari, Fula and Bedik peoples settled from the 11th to 19th centuries. In the area, you can find archaeological sites, ancient villages, and local people going about their daily lives in the same manner they have for hundreds of years.
Why you should go: It’s worth a visit to see the incredible landscape, which encompasses waterfalls and sacred forests, along with the traditional communities that still live there.
Island of Gorée
This island off the coast of Dakar was the center of the west African slave trade between the 15th and 19th centuries. While beautiful, it is also the site of one of the biggest tragedies in human history. There are winding streets, squares, old buildings and fortresses to explore, along with several monuments and museums such as the House of Slaves. The island is a pilgrimage spot for the people of the African diaspora.
Why you should go: You should visit to understand the deprivation and degradation slaves had to endure during this dark period of human history. The island is a stark reminder of how cruel humans can be, and can help us understand how to have more compassion towards our fellow man in our daily lives.
Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary
This UNESCO site’s claim to fame is that it’s the largest ornithological park in the world. It comprises 16,000 hectares of land surrounded by streams, marshes and ponds, so there’s plenty to explore. The sanctuary is home to over 1.5 million birds, including over 350 different species that migrate there during the winter.
Why you should go: There’s nothing quite like seeing thousands of pelicans flying overhead as you sit in a boat in the middle of nowhere. If birding isn’t your thing, there’s wildlife like rhinos and warthogs in the park as well. Click here to see a great video of the sanctuary.
Niokolo-Koba National Park
With the Gambia River flowing right through it, this park is one of the most scenic in the country. It’s also one of the hardest to get to. The park is home to plenty of birdlife, along with 70 species of mammal such as antelopes, chimpanzees, and hippos. There have even been lion sightings within the park.
Why you should go: Birders love this park because they can see species like tree ducks, eagles, turacos, bateleurs and hornbills. You can also take a canoe down the river to get closer to the wildlife.
Located a few hours south of Dakar, the Saloum Delta covers 180,000 hectares, making it one of the largest parks in the country. There are hundreds of islands, tributaries and mangrove forests, along with dozens of bird species and other animals. Humans have lived in the area for hundreds of years as well, and over 30 burial grounds have been excavated here.
Why you should go: You should go to get lost (not literally) in the beautiful wildlife and see the thousands of birds that live there. Like Niokolo-Koba National Park, you can also take boat trips through the delta — here’s a video of what to expect.
This article was originally published on February 9, 2016.
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