One of West Africa’s largest countries, Senegal draws visitors to its bustling cities like Dakar and protected nature reserves where wildlife like crocodiles, African manatees and antelopes can be spotted. But before you check into your hotel and start to explore the country, it’s important to arm yourself with basic knowledge of this beloved place. Here are some helpful tips you should know before traveling to Senegal.
People speak French here
When stepping off the plane into an airport, you’ll instantly notice people are speaking French around you. Very few locals speak English, so it’s better to learn basic French greetings and questions beforehand to navigate your way through the cities and meet friendly residents. And it doesn’t hurt to carry around that mini French dictionary from college in your backpack in case you need it (or just use an app on your phone if so inclined). Locals here speak a mixture of French, Wolof, and over 30 other languages.
It has a tropical climate
While Senegal is sunny almost year-round, you won’t necessarily feel beaten down by the heat. The country has a tropical climate where the air changes from dry to humid throughout the seasons. Senegal is so versatile in its climate that it has a rainforest in the southern region and dry desert in the north. Find out where you’re traveling to so you know exactly what to expect in terms of weather and landscape.
Always ask to take photos first
Being in a new country is an exciting adventure for those who have a photographer’s eye, but keep in mind to respect the local customs and religions. Most Senegalese women do not like having their photos taken, so it’s wise to ask for permission beforehand. It’s also advised to ask for photos of vendors, markets and stores. The last thing you want to do is appear as a rude tourist to the locals.
Prepare to eat with your hand
Similar to customs in several other countries, Senegalese people eat with their right hand. Left hand is off-limits and considered unsanitary so don’t pick up that sandwich with both of your hands or you’ll get strange looks. Also, be mindful that when walking through food markets, not to touch anything with your left hand. Of course, when dining out in touristy restaurants, you’ll be given utensils if you prefer.
No ladies, you don’t have to wear a hijab
Most people traveling to Muslim-dominated countries are always wondering what the appropriate dress code is. Senegal is quite flexible with not having to cover up. It’s not uncommon to spot women with their hair uncovered and shoulders exposed. However, it’s wise for women to carry around a long scarf or shawl in their backpacks in case they may need to cover up (especially when visiting certain locations that may be considered sacred).
Bring loads and loads of bug repellent
Suddenly Florida doesn’t look so mosquito infested to you. Senegal is notorious for its mosquitoes, but it shouldn’t be a nuisance to you at all if you come prepared. Pack bug repellent and keep spraying it on yourself religiously to keep the pests at bay. Don’t forget the malaria pills either.
Actually, it’s really safe here
When telling your friends and family that you’re planning a trip to Senegal, chances are, they’ll clamor for your safety. You should be able to reassure them with the surprising statistics that there is very little crime committed here. Neighboring countries like Mali are generally not advised for tourists, but Senegal is in the clear as one of the safest places to explore in Africa. Of course, like anywhere you travel to, you must keep your wits about you.
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