Located in western Africa, Senegal's name comes from the river that borders the country to the north and east. With one-third of the region's population enslaved between 1300 and 1900, Senegal has had a tumultuous history. Today, it attracts visitors the world over for its rich culture and its dazzling range of scenic sights—a golden arid desert in the north, and in the south, lush green tropical forests. The capital city of Dakar—located at the tip of a sandy beach peninsula—contains the best of the entire country: bustling streets, elegance, sophistication, sizzling nightlife, vibrant marketplaces, music everywhere. When you've had enough of the city, escape to historical Île de Gorée, or the architecturally striking Saint Louis—West Africa's first French settlement. Others head to Yoff and N'Gor or the many beaches of Senegal. Both to the north and south of the capital you'll find beaches of all varieties—resort beaches complete with high rises, cafes and cocktail bars, or tranquil fishing villages whose beaches are filled with colorful wooden pirogues (small flat-bottomed boats). Many visitors, especially wildlife and bird watchers, take a trip on a pirogue through the thick mangroves in the deltas of the Saloum and Casamance Rivers, deltas interspersed with lagoons, glistening plains and tiny creeks.
Île de Gorée was an island which played a part in the Atlantic slave trade. Today, visitors can tour the island on their own. It's quiet here—no paved roads, no cars, only little alleyways lined with colonial buildings, buildings which played a part in the island's tragic past. Although the island is well known as a destination for those interested in the Atlantic slave trade, actually not a tremendous number of slaves were transported from here. Many more were loaded on the ships from further north at Saint Louis, or else from further south in Gambia.
Saint Louis is also interesting with its horse drawn carriages and colonial architecture. The old French settlement is located on a Senegal River island, although the city has long since sprawled onto the mainland. It's possible to take tours of the old settlement or simply wander around on your own.
Dakar is a highly energetic city, bustling, hustling and never sleeping. It's said to have West Africa's best music, arts scene, nightclubs, films, restaurants and beaches. Sure, there are a few hustlers here trying to trick money out of unsuspecting tourists, but you get used to it and learn as you go.
Senegal Pink Lake (world's rarest natural phenomenon) is popular with visitors and locals for its pink salty waters.
Read on Madagascar travel guide.