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Senegal - Travel and visas
Visas are issued on arrival at Dakar airport and all official land borders free of charge for stays of up to three months to holders of more than 100 different passports, including all EU/EEA states, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Biometric visas in advance were required of all nationalities except ECOWAS (CEDEAO) citizens over 2013–15, but this requirement was scrapped entirely in May 2015. Today’s refreshingly simple policy is intended to encourage tourism after the combination of visa confusion and the Ebola crisis saw a sharp decline in tourist numbers for 2014–15. Under the current procedure, visitors must still have six months' remaining validity on their passports, and may need to provide proof of yellow fever vaccination if arriving from a country where it’s endemic.
Longer-stay visas of six months or one year are also issued, but require proof of approved employment, training or study in Senegal. Visa extensions are also possible once in Senegal, but you will have to satisfy some of the same conditions. Inquiries should be directed to the Territorial Surveillance Directorate (Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire, DST) in Dakar, located at ‘Cité police’ on Avenue Malick Sy and Corniche Ouest.
It’s been a challenging decade for the Senegalese air sector. After the collapse of Air Senegal International in 2009, its replacement Senegal Airlines only lasted until 2016 before throwing in the towel themselves. The latest reincarnation, Air Senegal had their first flight in May 2018 and though there are expansion plans on the table, they were only flying between Dakar and Ziguinchor at the time of writing. Groupe Transair has proven more stable, and today runs domestic flights between Dakar and Ziguinchor, Cap Skirring, Kolda, and Tambacounda, plus international routes to Bissau (Guinea-Bissau), Conakry (Guinea), and Praia (Cabo Verde).
Five countries border Senegal: Mauritania to the north, Mali to the east, Guinea to the southwest, Guinea-Bissau to the southeast, and The Gambia smack dab in the centre. (Senegal is also the closest point on the African mainland to the islands of Cape Verde, just under 600km to the west.)
There are airports in most major centres, but only a handful of them have scheduled flights as of mid 2018. Groupe Transair serves Ziguinchor, Cap Skirring and Kolda, with more occasional flights to Matam and Tambacounda. The new Air Senegal was only flying between Dakar and Ziguinchor at the time of writing, though more routes are planned. If you’ve got the cash, Arc en Ciel Aviation does domestic and international air charters from Dakar.
The best places to arrange car hire for either saloon cars or 4x4s are in Dakar, the Petite Côte and Saint-Louis. Rates vary, but 4x4 hire can range from €95 to €160 per day depending on the vehicle, while a saloon car will be somewhat cheaper. You may or may not ever be asked for it, but an international driver’s licence is technically required. Depending on the firm, it’s also common practice for a driver to be included with the car hire, which adds somewhat to the cost but may represent savings on insurance fees. If fuel isn’t included in the price, remember that you’re looking at an average cost of over €1.20/litre. Driving is on the right in Senegal. Be sure to check out your rental car thoroughly before heading off, including for two safety triangles, a fire extinguisher (check the bottom to ensure it’s not expired) and a first aid kit. Police may ask you for any of these at checkpoints and being able to produce them eliminates an easy pretext for bribe seeking, though it should be stated that most road checkpoints are reasonably low-hassle, assuming that your papers are in order. It’s possible to cross The Gambia with a hired car, but this raises a number of issues vis-à-vis insurance, import permits and other paperwork. If you plan to cross from northern Senegal to Casamance via The Gambia, be sure to ask the car hire firm for specifics on what paperwork you might need, as well as if it would be allowed under your rental agreement in the first place.
Many self-drivers cross Senegal via Tambacounda to avoid these hassles altogether. Most main roads in Senegal are surfaced and in reasonable condition, with a few notable exceptions. The RN1 begins as a traffic-choked nightmare running parallel to the (reliably empty) new toll road leaving Dakar, and continues as a simple tarmac road all the way to Kidira on the Mali border. It’s surfaced the whole way, but some stretches, notably from Fatick to Kaolack, are terribly potholed. The RN2 picks up at the village of Diamniadio outside Dakar, heads north to Saint-Louis, then follows the northern border eastwards all the way down to Kidira, where it meets the RN1 again. It’s in fair to excellent shape until Ndioum, from where you’re back in pothole country all the way to Kidira. The RN3 begins in Thiès and connects to Touba, Linguère, and eventually Ourossogui. It’s in good shape to Touba, rougher to Linguère, and fantastic for the last stretch to Ourossogui. The RN4, otherwise known as the Trans-Gambia Highway, picks up at Kaolack and is fair to good tarmac all the way through The Gambia to Ziguinchor, with the notable exception of a deplorable 25km from Nioro du Rip to the Gambian border. The RN5 also originates in Kaolack, but starts its journey towards Toubacouta and The Gambia in rather rough shape. It’s good, newish tarmac from The Gambia’s southern border to the terminus at Bignona, though. The RN6 is beautiful new tarmac from Tambacounda to Manda, terrible potholes to Vélingara, and a mixed bag of roadworks until you reach Kolda. Westwards from Kolda, the RN6 is in such deplorable shape that nearly all traffic to Ziguinchor goes via Bounkilling and Bignona (though comprehensive road works on this stretch began in 2014). Finally, the RN7 is in good shape, some of it brand new, from Tambacounda to Kédougou.
By public transport
The sept place (seven place) is the bedrock of all road transportation in Senegal, and generally takes the form of a battered Peugeot 505 wagon with three rows of seats: room for two in front, three in the middle, and three in back. The seats are sold on a first-come, first-served basis, and those in the very rear are the least comfortable by far. Ticket prices are set by the transport union, and as such are very rarely inflated or otherwise tampered with. You should receive a ticket with the price (usually illegibly) scrawled on it, and all passengers will pay the same amount. If in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask a fellow passenger. Since the ticket prices are fixed, baggage fees are usually levied, and this is where conductors will try and squeeze you for some extra money. It’s something of a free-for-all in terms of what you’re expected to pay, though unsurprisingly, the larger the bag and the longer the ride, the higher the price. As a rough indicator, a journey of six hours or less with a medium travel backpack will run you about 500F if you’re firm on the price, but for trips longer than this, heartfelt pleas are sure to be made about the length of the journey or state of the roads, and you can expect to pay about 1000F.
Besides the sept place, other intercity transport options include the ndiaga ndiaye, which are hulking old Mercedes 508D trucks with ‘Alhamdoulilah’ painted on the front, and somewhere between 30 and 40 people squeezed into the back. They’re cheaper than sept places, but take considerably longer because passengers (and all their baggage) are constantly mounting and alighting. Buses (many operated by the Mouride brotherhood and known as cars mourides) also cover intercity transport, and these range from reasonably comfortable private services (like the recommended new parastatal Senegal Dem Dikk) to clapped-out and overloaded jalopies. On both ndiaga ndiayes and buses your baggage will typically ride for free, though a small fee isn’t unheard of.
Each town in Senegal has a central gare routière where you can pick up buses, sept places, and ndiaga ndiayes to destinations near and far. There are a small number of private bus companies that run regular cross-country services on fixed timetables, and these arrive and depart from their own offices rather than the gare routière.
Plying the waters between northern Senegal and Casamance, the MV Aline Sitoe Diatta, Diambogne and Anguène ferry a plethora of people, cars, and goods between Dakar and Ziguinchor (sometimes via Carabane) four times weekly. Up north, the fabulously restored Bou el Mogdad runs six-night luxury river cruises between Saint-Louis and Podor. Aside from these two vessels, any other aquatic excursions you’re likely to take will be in a motorised pirogue or fishing boat. This is the best way to get around in the Sine-Saloum Delta; boat connections through the labyrinthine mangrove swamps between centres like Toubacouta, Palmarin, Mar Lodj and others are all easily arranged.