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Located on the north-western bulge of Africa, the small Republic of Senegal sits on the Atlantic Ocean between Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania. The Senegalese enjoy sunshine for most of the year, its rays warming hundreds of miles of beautiful beaches, estuaries, mangrove swamps and savannah, as well as a semi-desert in the north.
Casamance, a strip of land stretching from east to west across the country below The Gambia, boasts some of the best beaches in West Africa, and is one of the most popular regions of Senegal. Here, tourists can experience a vision of tropical splendour with lush forests, coconut palm groves, brilliant flame trees and beautiful bougainvillea, as well as warm waters lapping on the endless stretches of sandy beaches. A multitude of hotels on the fringes of its beaches makes Casamance a coastal paradise.
In contrast, the modern capital city of Dakar, situated on the tip of the Cape Verde Peninsula, is a vibrant hive of local and international activity, where businessmen rub shoulders with tourists and traditionally-dressed Senegalese. The city boasts a smorgasbord of gleaming hotels, cafes, colourful open-air markets and the intriguing medina (old quarter). Just two miles (3km) offshore lies Gorée, an island notorious for being the most important slave depot in West Africa between the 16th and 19th centuries.
Not only does Senegal offer seaside resorts, a fascinating history and a modern business infrastructure, but also national parks rich in flora and fauna, excellent scuba-diving and fishing opportunities.
With its diversity of cultures and customs, and a warm and welcoming attitude towards foreigners, Senegal is a great destination for those intrepid adventurers seeking a new and memorable experience.
Dakar is in a tropical climate situation, but the characteristic heat and humidity are moderated in the city by cool breezes. The rainy season, between July and October, brings heavy downpours along with strong south-easterly winds. The dry season, from December to May, is exacerbated by the hot, dry harmattan winds.
The weather is generally hot and humid all year. There are two seasons: the rainy season from June to October and the dry season between November and May. Humidity is highest during the rainy season and sea temperatures are warmer during this period. Rainfall varies from 12 inches (300mm) in the extreme north to 59 inches (1,500mm) in the far south, and although showers don't last very long they can cause disruption to transport. Dry season temperatures average between 72°F and 86°F (22°C and 30°C). Dakar temperatures average 75° F (24°C) from January to March, 77° F to 81° F (25°C to 27°C) in April, May and December, and 86° F (30°C) between June and October.
The official currency is the West African CFA Franc (XOF), which is divided into 100 centimes. Only currency issued by the Bank of West African States (Banque des Etats de l'Afrique de l'Ouest) is considered valid. There are ATMs in Dakar, but banking facilities are limited in the rest of the country. Credit cards are only accepted by major establishments catering to the tourist trade, with American Express being the most widely accepted; commission is charged. Travellers cheques can be cashed in Dakar.
The official language is French, but there are six other national languages spoken, including Wolof, which is the most widely used, as well as numerous other dialects.
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Round two-pin attachment plugs are in use.
US nationals: US nationals must have a passport valid for a minimum of three months beyond the period of intended stay. No visa required for a maximum stay of up to 90 days.
UK nationals: UK nationals must have a passport valid for a minimum of three months from the date of arrival. No visa required for a maximum stay of up to 90 days.
CA nationals: Canadian nationals must have a passport valid for a minimum of three months from the date of arrival. No visa required for a maximum stay of up to 90 days.
AU nationals: Australian nationals must have a passport valid for a minimum of three months from the date of arrival. A visa is required.
ZA nationals: South African nationals must have a passport valid for a minimum of three months from the date of arrival. A visa is required.
IR nationals: Irish nationals must have a passport valid for a minimum of three months from the date of arrival. No visa required for a maximum stay of up to 90 days.
NZ nationals: New Zealand nationals must have a passport valid for a minimum of three months from the date of arrival. A visa is required.
All visitors must either hold a return or onward ticket and all documents for the next destination. Passports must be valid for at least three months on entry; however, it is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after the intended date of departure from Senegal. Immigration officials sometimes apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Stomach troubles are the most common health concerns for travellers in Senegal. Visitors should watch what they eat and drink: do not drink untreated tap water. Protection against mosquito bites is essential as malaria, dengue fever, and chikungunya fever occur; malaria is prevalent throughout the country and prophylaxis is recommended for all travellers. A yellow fever vaccination is a requirement for entry to Senegal if coming from an infected area, but all travellers should be vaccinated against yellow fever as a precaution. Other recommended vaccinations include hepatitis A, polio, tetanus, and typhoid. Outbreaks of meningococcal infections occur and vaccination is recommended for travel during the dry season (November to May). Outbreaks of cholera also occur. There is a risk of bilharzia, and visitors should avoid contact with stagnant, fresh water.
Medical facilities are good in Dakar, but are limited in the rest of the country. Travellers should ensure they have comprehensive health insurance.
Larger hotels and restaurants usually include a service charge of 10 to 15 percent. Taxi drivers are not usually tipped.
Most visits to Senegal are trouble-free, but street crime and pick-pocketing, especially in Dakar, are common. Visitors are advised to conceal valuables from the public eye. Travel by road in the Casamance region west of Kolda is unsafe due to the activities of separatist rebel groups and bandits, and should be avoided.
The majority of the population is Muslim and it is generally a conservative society where dress and behaviour should be modest, especially outside the main tourist areas. Public displays of affection between men and women should be avoided, and acts of homosexuality are illegal. Drunkenness is offensive. Religious customs should be respected, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan when eating, drinking, and smoking are prohibited by the Muslim faith; visitors should avoid eating and drinking in public during this time.
In Senegal, it is expected of the visitor to dress formally. Greetings are very important in Senegal and the visitor must ensure that every member at the meeting is greeted and acknowledged at least once. The shaking of hands is the standard greeting for men and women in business. It is a good idea to be punctual even if the host is not. Meetings can often take longer than anticipated and patience may prove a virtue. Business is usually conducted in French and a translator may be needed, although many Senegalese businessmen will know some English. It is important to find out beforehand how the contacts are to be addressed. Business hours are generally 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday with an hour taken over lunch.
The international dialling code for Senegal is +221. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0027 for South Africa). No city/area codes are required. Senegal's telephone system is one of the most developed in Africa, and there are numerous telephone centres for making both local and international calls. Mobile phone operators provide GSM 900 cell phone coverage. Cybercafes offer Internet connections in the main cities.
Travellers to Senegal over 18 years do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250g tobacco or tobacco products; 1 bottle of perfume for personal use; gifts to the value of CFA 5,000; and one bottle of spirits.
Ministry of Tourism, Dakar: Tel.: +221 (0)33 860 45 15 / 77 552 52 44 or www.au-senegal.com
Embassy of Senegal, Washington DC: +1 202 234 0540.
Embassy of Senegal, London (also responsible for Ireland): Tel: +(44) 20 7937 7237.
Embassy of Senegal, Ottawa: +1 613 238 6392.
Consulate-General of Senegal, Melbourne: +61 (0)3 9348 0466.
Embassy of Senegal, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 460 5263.
United States Embassy, Dakar: +221 (0)33 879 4000.
British Embassy, Dakar: +221 (0)33 823 7392.
Canadian Embassy, Dakar (also responsible for Australia): +221 (0)33 889 4700.
Embassy of Australia, Dakar, +221 823 9290
South African Embassy, Dakar: +221 (0)33 865 1959.
Buses and minibuses operate on the main routes linking Dakar to other principal cities and towns in Senegal. The most common form of transportation is the - colourfully painted vehicles that are often very crowded and sometimes unsafe. The bus system is fairly reliable, however there are no system maps so travellers are left to figure the routes out on their own. Taxis are also available and it is best to negotiate the fare before leaving; foreigners are often charged exorbitant rates, so it is best to consult a local for an estimated fare. Car rental agencies operate from Dakar, but rates are often very high.
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