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Nestled on the west coast of Africa, Senegal and Gambia sit waiting for you discover their rich cultural history, tropical climate and friendly people.

In no time at all, you will feel a part of the local culture. The colourful markets in Dakar and Banjul offer vibrant African fabrics, traditional wood carvings and masks and amazing street food. From wild beaches to wildlife-rich forested parks, Senegal and Gambia offer all you need to enjoy a fabulous time in this African paradise.

Join us as we explore the West African coast in search of 10 of the best places to visit in Senegal and Gambia

1. Royal Albert Market – Banjul, The Gambia

If you want to hone your bargaining skills, then head to the vibrant street markets in Dakar and Banjul. In Banjul, the place to get the best variety of goods is the Royal Albert Market. Named after Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert in the mid-19th century, Albert market is full of haggling and activity as locals and visitors shop for houseware, electronics, fabrics, and fresh produce. If you’re looking for a local food experience, try some Akara and palm wine at the many street vendors and drink stalls.

Banjul
Photo by Eastpics (CC BY 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

2. Marché Sandanga and Soumbédioune – Dakar

Dakar has been a major trading post for centuries so they know how to run a market. There are many markets of all shapes and sizes dotted across this bustling city, selling everything under the sun. One of the favourite spots is Marché Sandanga, Dakar’s oldest and largest market. A favourite of visitors to Dakar is the fabric stalls and tailors who will custom make whatever your heart desires. If you want to pick up the traditional arts and crafts pieces that represent the culture of the West African people, then head to Soumbédioune. This is a dedicated craft market selling the best masks and jewellery in Senegal.

Colourful bead merchants at Dakar market, photo by BobbiLe Ndiaye
Photo by BobbiLe Ndiaye (CC BY-ND 2.0), via Flickr

3. Sanyang – The Gambia

Sanyang is a laid-back fishing village just an hour’s drive down the Coastal Road from Banjul. Sangyang Beach is actually made up of Paradise, Osprey, and Pelican beaches and boasts the best beachfront in the country. You’ll feel like you have the whole Atlantic shore to yourself as you stroll down long stretches of white sandy beach surrounded by mangroves. Check out the Rainbow Beach and Bar for a great seafood dinner with unending ocean views. If you are there on a Sunday, they put on an amazing cultural show.

Paradise Beach, Sanyang, The Gambia, photo by Tjeerd Wiersma
Photo by Tjeerd Wiersma (CC BY 2.0), via Flickr
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4. Plage de Ngor and Ile d’Ngor – Senegal

Many will argue that Senegal offers the best beaches on the coast of West Africa. After you visit Plage de Ngor and Ile d’Ngor, you will have to agree. Plage de N’gor is popular with fishermen and sunbathers alike. You can lie on the white sandy beach and listen to the fisherman sing traditional chants as they bring the boats in from the sea. Enjoy great seafood at any of the simple cafes that line the beach.

A short pirogue (fishing boat) ride from N’gor beach, will land you on Ile d’Ngor. Right away you will feel a world away from the hustle and bustle of the big city of Dakar. This tropical island has small private beaches and is home to some of the best seafood eateries in the area. If you want to try your hand at surfing, then check out the N’gor Island Surf Camp. This fun and hip beach hostel offers surf guides who will take you to the best spots on the island to catch a wave.

Plage de ngor
Photo by Prenlaye (CC BY-SA 4.0), via Wikimedia Commons

5. Goree Island – Senegal

It’s no wonder that a visit to Goree Island is the number one attraction in Dakar. The island was the largest slave-trading center in West Africa for 400 years and saw untold Africans make the heartbreaking one-way journey across the Atlantic. Today, the island has been transformed into a sanctuary of colourful houses and serene cobbled streets and the Maison des Esclaves (House of Slaves) is now a museum that serves as a sombre reminder of the cruelty of the transatlantic slave trade. You will leave Goree with a feeling of sadness but also with a better understanding that this bleak part of West Africa’s past must never be forgotten.

Goree Island, UNESCO World Heritage Site

6. Lac Rose – Senegal

As you watch salt collectors work along the shore of the Lac Rose or the “Pink Lake,” you will be amazed by beautiful contrasts of the pink water against the pure-white salt, golden sand dunes and the deep blue sky. This shallow lake is just 20 miles northeast of Dakar and is a great day-trip. Why is Lac Rose pink? The pink is caused by bacteria that is attracted to the lake’s high salt content. To absorb the sunlight, the bacteria produce a red pigment that turns the lake’s water a pinkish hue. The best time to see Lac Rose in all its colour is the dry season (November to June). There are many fun things to do at the Pink Lake. Take a dip (or float) in the lake, have lunch at the lakeside restaurant or go for a camel ride on the nearby beach.

Lac Rose, Senegal

7. IFAN Museum of African Arts – Dakar, Senegal

One of the best things about a trip to West Africa is learning about the fascinating history of African art. A trip to the IFAN Museum of African Arts in Dakar will offer a glimpse into the history of the region and the arts and crafts that make up the West African culture. The museum is full of displays from Senegal, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, and other regional countries. You will be amazed at the ritual masks, traditional musical instruments, textiles and weapons that defined the heritage of this ancient continent.

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8. Abuko Nature Reserve – Gambia

A short drive from Banjul will take you to the best nature preserve in the country. Here you’ll get some great wildlife encounters. You can easily walk the wildlife trails and really don’t need a car to see loads of bushbuck, Green Vervet monkey and an amazing array of birdlife. Just don’t wander too far off the beaten path; this reserve is famous for its Nile crocodiles and many species of snakes. If you head about 30 minutes north of Abuko, you will run into the Kachikally Crocodile Pool and Museum where you can spend some time with some freshwater crocs and learn how the pool is used in local fertility rituals. The museum also has an interesting display of local history and cool musical instruments.

Green vervet monkey

9. The Gambia River

The Gambia River is one of the longest navigable rivers in West Africa and runs some 700 miles from the mouth of the Atlantic all the way through The Gambia and Senegal to the Fouta Djallon highlands in Guinea. This mighty river divides The Gambia into two strips of land and dominates the landscape of this beautiful West African country. The best way to enjoy The Gambia and the river is by taking a boat excursion into the interior. You can cruise in style and enjoy all the luxury that a modern yacht has to offer as you take in the fascinating wildlife, historic slave trade stations, and amazing views of Gambian village life along the way.

Gambia River

10. Bintang, The Gambia

To really get the full effect of life on the Gambia River, a stay in the floating huts of the Bintang Bolong Lodge is a must. A holiday here will be like a spiritual retreat, letting you escape from all the trappings of the modern world. This eco-tourist lodge is located right in the middle of a mangrove forest and you will have a chance to fish with a local guide, go bird watching, experience traditional Gambian fare and even visit James Island, the former slave camp that was the inspiration for Alex Haley’s novel Roots.

James Stewart

James Stewart

Professional Writer
Jim is a travel writer and retired lecturer of African Studies. He is a self-described life-long trekker and his career as a U.S. Air Force officer gave him the chance to experience amazing and exotic destinations in Europe, Asia and Africa. He is at home with a good Wilbur Smith book or anywhere there is a story to tell... [Read full bio]
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