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Senegal - Calendar
A bevy of birds
With a population of more than 400,000 Palearctic migrants at this time of year, the fabulous birding at Parc National des Oiseaux du Djoudj reaches its apex in January when, among the dozens of other species, visitors travelling by pirogue can bear witness to the bedlam of 15,000 great white pelicans crammed onto a tiny islet tending to their young.
Keep the beat in Casamance
In Rasta-chic Kafountine, which is also Casamance’s biggest fishing port, February is the time to bust a move, sing a song, and let your hair (even further) down. The unpretentious Kafountine Festival is a take-all-comers affair, so while you’re unlikely to catch Senegal’s biggest names, you’re guaranteed a weekend or longer of music and dance on all sides.
Question your eyesight at the otherworldly Lac Rose
Just a short drive from Dakar, the hyper-saline Lac Rose is equally suited for floating and photo ops, and ranks as one of Senegal’s most unusual attractions. The water’s famous bacteria-induced pink hue is at its most flamboyant during the dry season, before the rains come along and dilute its mesmerisingly lurid tint.
Go mirage-hunting in Senegal’s slice of Sahara
Along the sparsely-populated fringes of the Grande Côte north of Dakar, the wholly unexpected clutch of sand dunes at Lompoul is the stuff of desert fantasies, and there’s no better time to hop on your camel than when the Festival du Sahel is in town with music and dance from around the globe.
Discover ancient rituals in the hills of Kédougou
Far from the coast in Senegal’s remote southeast, the UNESCO-recognised Bassari and Bedik peoples live in isolated traditional villages scattered along winding footpaths in the delightfully scenic Fouta Djallon foothills. These villages cling fast to their traditions, and there’s no better example than the Koré, a coming-of-age ceremony replete with masks, sacrifices, chant, wrestling and dance in the hills above Salemata.
Atmosphere to spare in swinging Saint-Louis
The colonial island-city of Saint-Louis is a gem at any time of year, but the pastel streets really come alive every June for the Saint-Louis Jazz Festival, when an eclectic assortment of musicians from all corners of the planet descend on the city for a week-long fête of music, arts and dance on Senegal’s most historic streets.
Get wet in the Sine-Saloum Delta
July is when the rains start to hit in much of Senegal, so tourist numbers drop off sharply right about now. Still, unless you’re made of sugar this can be a rewarding time to see the country, and if you’re going to be soaked already, you might as well head for the watery expanses of the Sine-Saloum Delta, where you can paddle, swim, fish and pirogue your way through the mangrove swamps or take it all in from a nice dry spot in a deckchair.
Stay dry in Dakar
This is the rainiest month of the year and tourists tend to steer well clear, but Dakar is très très chic all year long, and there are more than enough museums, galleries, theatres, restaurants, shops and other indoor activities to keep you happily occupied no matter how furious the tempest outside.
Feasting and fighting in the Casamance Delta
From his seat in steamy Oussouye, the traditional king of Casamance’s Diola people still reigns, and the whole community turns out every September to honour him during xulam, or La Fête du Roi. Oussouye is also a stronghold for practitioners of la lutte, Senegal’s dramatic traditional wrestling, and there’s no better place to see it in action than during xulam.
Set sail on the Senegal River
While it’s still raining down south, head up north to Saint-Louis and catch the beautifully restored Bou el Mogdad’s first run of the season up the Senegal River to Podor. Spend the nearly week-long journey soaking up the luxury of a bygone age, then head east to Matam and Bakel by road – you’ll have the place to yourself and the last of the rains will keep things enticingly green.
Indulge your inner hedonist on the Petite Côte
November represents the start of the bona fide tourist season in Senegal, and there’s no point in resisting the flow. The rains have stopped too, so put away your poncho, grab the sun cream, and pull up a chaise longue anywhere along the Petite Côte (or Cap Skirring). Book a massage, hit up some of Saly’s infamous nightspots, order an umbrella drink and do it all again.
Book your trip early or get off the beaten path
The coastal resorts and Dakar’s nicer addresses all do brisk business for the festive season, so unless you’re prepared to fork out serious cash for the privilege, now’s a great time to go and get lost somewhere in the interior. Head to Niokolo-Koba National Park for a vehicle safari or trek up to Baaba Maal’s Blues du Fleuve festival, held every December in Podor.