Skip to main content
8 min.

A trip to Senegal with Giampaolo

Giampaolo’s main passion is sailing, we’re both partner of the same sailing club, Vento in Poppa, and he’s a great traveler too. He spent the last few years traveling back and forward from Senegal and since the country is on my bucket list, I thought it would be nice to chat a bit with him asking for infos and tips to prepare my own trip to Senegal.

If you are planning a trip to Senegal yourself, I think this interview could be useful or even inspire you in case you never considered Senegal as an option.

Enjoy the reading.

Tell me a bit about you: what do you do?

I’ve been working in the world of renewable energy for about ten years, I deal with consulting for large manufacturers and investors in research and management of projects of PV systems around the world. In the last few years I’ve been working and living for medium-long periods in Senegal where I have an ongoing series of projects.

How long have you stayed in Senegal exactly?

Since April 2013. I arrived as a project leader for an Italian NGO that was to end a three-year course of computer training activities and the construction of a laboratory for students of a high school in the town of Guediawaye, a suburb of Dakar.

Last year the project involved the construction of a photovoltaic system to make the college energetically independent, giving it the opportunity to efficiently use technical instruments (it’s a technical high school) and make them available to students for their education and the professional integration. The photovoltaic system is also a good experience for the students to learn  renewable energy sources and give them a new knowledge applicable in their future working environment.

In 2014 I finished this first project and I continued my professional career as a consultant for large companies interested in investing in the construction of large photovoltaic systems. I’m still engaged in this field.

I no longer live in Dakar, but I stay there two-three weeks at least every two months.

What was your very first impression on Senegal?

I immediately thought that Senegal is a friendly country whose added value is represented by the people and their predisposition to socializing and sharing many different aspects of everyday life.

Dakar is a bustling city, polluted, very much alive and quite safe, with a strong presence of foreign people (expats as we call ourselves, or toubab, a vaguely derogatory term used by the Senegalese to indicate white people).

How is your relationship with Senegal and its people?

Overall good.

Let me explain: the Senegalese have a natural inclination to socialization, to dialogue, they are accustomed to cohabitation and tolerance, they have always coexisted peacefully with everybody, they make the joy of living and tranquility their own way of being. Never aggressive, always with a good confidence in tomorrow and a tendency not to worry too much nor to program. The other side is a widespread unreliability and a lack of initiative. It is the last people on earth who would make a revolution, but this also makes them a bit lazy and prone to “laissez-faire”. If I were a simple tourist or someone who wants to stay in Senegal to spend a bit of time, this would be a paradise, but having to work here and entertain professional relationships sometimes this behavioral characteristic creates me some problems.

What are the aspects of Senegal that you like the best?

I love the joy of the people of Senegal, their social skills, their kindness and inclination to share. Dakar is a city where you get everything, where you can have fun and have many opportunities as well as a lively artistic and musical life. The clean beaches are few but potentially you can go to the beach 12 months a year, not surprisingly, I chose a house at 50 meters from the sea. With a few hours you can visit beautiful places one thousand miles away from the busy city, with typically African landscapes, streams and relaxed village life.

What do you like the least?

Disorganization in Senegal, the inability to have logic and order in almost all aspects of daily life, carelessness in working order, bureaucracy and inefficiency in the management of public affairs. Both pollution and total anarchy in waste management.

Even some aspects of the character of the people who quite often see you as a white man who should give them money.

What do you think should be the right approach in deciding to go to Senegal for the first time?

The one you should have in any trip, meaning tabula rasa: no idea, no expectation, no image. One should be impressed like a photographic paper from all that comes with the least possible filter, not naively but with the positive spirit of curiosity, then taking the proper time to process, evaluate, reflect on what has been lived.

What towns, activities and / or attractions do you recommend for a first trip to Senegal?

For a short trip of two weeks, Dakar deserves not more than three-four days and you should visit: Plateau, the active center of the city with the Kermel Market, the Sandaga area, Ifann Museum. the island of Gore, the island of Ngor, a tour to the monument of the Renaissance Africaine (horrible to me, but it became the symbol of the city), the mosque of the deity, the lighthouse from which to enjoy an almost complete view of the city and point des Almadies, the westernmost point of the African continent. The beaches of Yoff and Mamelles, the Sumbedioune fish market.

Then you should leave the city and make a detour to Lake Rose, and then drive south, to Sine Saloum, a nice area of ​​saltwater canals in the middle of the islands and mangroves. You can reach the village of Ndangane and take the canoe to Mar Lodj. On the way it might be worth stopping at the natural reserve of Bandia which preserves fauna and flora that are not visible in the rest of the country because of the presence of humans.

Certainly the most interesting stop is the region of Casamance, in the extreme south, after Gambia and on the border with Guinea Bissau. Here you can stop at Cap Skirring and explore the canals formed by the delta of the river Casamance, the island of Carabane, before returning to the regional capital, Ziguinchor. With a little more time and patience you can reach Tambacounda and visit the Niokolo Koba park, near the border with Guinea.

To the north you have to visit Saint Louis, a colonial town with a picturesque bridge and a narrow strip of land vaguely connected to the coast to form the Langue de Barbarie. On the road you’ll pass the desert dunes of Lompoul where there’s an interesting music festival every November.

If you want to see something typical for the Mourid religion (the local Islam current) it might be worth visiting the holy city of Touba, very much alive in November during the Magal pilgrimage.

Is there anything else you want to share about your experience in Senegal?

Yes, their food: the typical dish is the tiep ou Djien (ie rice and fish), a rich main dish with boiled rice, a small piece of toasted rice, smoked fish (usually the thiof, the European grouper), vegetables and a sauce cooked with palm oil or peanut. Variants are the tiep ou jap (rice and meat) or tiep ou Ghina (rice and chicken).

More typical the yassa poulet (chicken with onion sauce), the African cous-cous, the Mafé (stew with vegetables), the supukandjia (a kind of soup with fish and seafood, with a very strong flavor).

In general fish and rice are the basis of every meals: the rice is partially grown in Senegal and for the most part imported from Southeast Asia while fishing is actually one of the most common economic activities. The meat instead is for the rich people only.

Let’s put Senegal on the side for a few seconds. Which past trips you enjoyed the most and why?

Yemen, a place still in the past: the mud cities of Shibam and Seyun are magical, crossing the Hadramawt desert is a wonderful experience, the Sanaa market is a must.

Peru: the Andes, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, a wonderful trip.

Jerusalem: you have to go there to feels things that are impossible to describe.

Very last question: your next trip?

Lately I had to much to work and no time for traveling, but I have a series of trips in mind … let’s say that if I had no budget , nor time, nor work problems I would go to India (north), Tibet and Bhutan.

Another destination on my bucket list is the south of Argentina: Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, Torres del Paine, Cape Horn.

More likely, however, the next trip will be to Cape Vert… I bought a sailboat with a partner and I still have to board and sail on it!

Practical information for your trip to Senegal

To enter Senegal you need a passport valid for at least six months after the return trip, but no visa.

You get weekly connections with Dakar with the following European companies: Air France, Brussels Airlines, Iberia, Corsair, Air Europa, TAP and Meridiana directly from Milan.

The European Foreign Ministries recommend the following vaccinations: meningitis, hepatitis A and B, tetanus and typhoid, diphtheria, polio, meningococcco, measles, and malaria prophylaxis (I recommend Lariam after a very bad experience with Maalarone, but check with your own doctor).

For more details I recommend you always consult your own Foreign Ministry website.

Bon voyage 🙂

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Silvia's Trips

Hi there! My name is Silvia and after 15 years between the Paris Opera and the Palau de les Arts in Valencia I now run a boutique hotel in Cinque Terre, deal with tourism management and blogging, sail, horse-ride, play guitar and write about my solo trips around the world. For more info about me and my travel blog check my full bio.