The Mole Diaries: Senegal

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This article was written by Iain Davidson, published on 21st October 2013 and has been read 3427 times.

Iain is studying Applied Languages at Portsmouth University and is spending his year abroad working for the NGO 'Plan Sénégal' in Dakar, Senegal. Here is insider guide to living in Senegal, with tips from getting a visa and finding accommodation to the top things to do once you've arrived...

I’m working for an NGO called Plan Senegal. I hope to go to the university once a week however last year they didn’t start the semester until December. In January I’ll be going to Murcia in Spain to learn Spanish.

Before you leave

This is a list of things that should be sorted out before arriving. I’d also recommend organising yourself months in advance as it’s easy to leave things to the last minute. It’s even more important to sort these things out early when going to countries like Senegal as things can take longer than expected to get sorted.

Visa

The rules on the visa keep changing so this information is probably out of date already! The best thing to do is to contact the Senegalese embassy and ask them what to do. But what I had to do was apply for a tourist visa online before arriving. It cost €50. You get two pieces of paper which are both important and must be taken with you. (Check your spam folder for the second email as I waited a week for it to find in had been sat there for a week.). It’s also essential to purchase a return ticket however this is very rarely checked. This visa lasts 90 days which is enough time to get it extended.

Airlines

There are a number of companies that fly to Dakar however none fly direct from the UK. Most airlines are good with the exception of TAP, the Portuguese airline. Although I haven’t experienced it, they will lose your bags 99% of the time.


Money

Nowhere in the UK sells West African Francs (CFA). The first opportunity to get some is in the airport just before baggage collection. They accept pounds, euros and dollars. Check the exchange rate before you go.

Vaccinations

Getting injections before going is important. The most important is Yellow Fever. You will need to get the certificate to confirm you have had it as it’s sometimes check at the airport. It cost around £40 in the UK. Get Malaria tablets before arriving. When travelling it’s advisable to put some in each suitcase in case one gets lost. If you put a couple in your hand baggage at least you will have some for the first few days.


Accommodation

This is almost impossible to organise before arriving unless you have help from your university. I arrived having book a hostel for 10 days. I chose Auberge Keur Diame. It’s quite far from town but is cheap (£19 per night including breakfast.) Dinner is only another £6. Taxi’s into town cost between £1 and £5 depending on the taxi driver. It’s run by a Swiss lady. To find accommodation there are lists in newspapers as well as letting agents around town. It is very difficult to find places that are furnished unless you “know someone”. I’ve been told that it wouldn’t cost much to furnish an apartment however this is not ideal as you will only be there for a maximum of 1 year (unless you enjoy it so much and end up living there forever). Expect to pay anywhere between £200 and £300 per month, bills included, for furnished accommodation.


Insurance

Make sure you have insurance!

The airport

There are a lot of people there to help you both in the terminal and more so outside. They will be very persistent and after a long flight a bit of help seems nice. Be aware. They will want paying for their services. This can be difficult as you are not used to the exchange rate and are not sure what is a suitable amount to give them is. People outside the terminal offer taxis, Orange sim cards, help carrying your bags and any other service to encourage you to part from your money. It’s best to have someone meet you. Most hotels offer airport pickups however they will probably arrive late.

One you’ve arrived

Restaurants

Being a vegetarian in Senegal is not easy. It’s best to say you have allergies to get vegetarian meals. Some restaurants will have vegetarian options. In Senegal, fish is very popular. This blog is very helpful when it comes to finding places to eat and where to shop.

Les Ambassade in Point E is a nice for pizzas and not expensive. (about £5 for a pizza and a drink) New Africa is a restaurant/ salsa club. It’s run by a French couple and in the evenings dance lessons are put on. Charlies is the expat bar. It’s in N’Gor north of the airport.

Water

It’s advisable not to drink the tap water in Senegal. It is best to buy bottled water from supermarkets. 1.5l bottles can be bought from the Casino supermarkets from the little boutiques on the corner. They would be cheaper in the boutiques. They also offer 10l bottles in the boutiques for £1.20.


Shopping

There are lots of markets that sell just about anything. Marché Sandaga has just about everything but very busy. Marché Tilene is where you will get household items such as pots and pans and fans. There are some shopping malls. Sea Plaza on the west coast of Dakar is good however things are cheaper in the market

Language

The official language here is French but most of the locals speak Wolof as well. They use Wolof when talking with each other but will know you don’t understand it. The accent is also slightly different. Speaking a few words of Wolof would get you far.

Getting around town

There are a number of ways of getting around town. By far the easiest is the taxi. It’s also the most expensive. Depending on the taxi driver and the distance, a taxi should cost between £1 and £5. There is also the brightly coloured car rapide. This is a mini bus that you hop on and hop off which costs about £0.20. These are known to be more dangerous.

Nightlife

The place to go is N’Gor. This is where the tourists come, therefore there are numerous bars and clubs to try.

University

The University is very busy. Registering can be difficult. However there are many people who are willing to help.

The British Embassy

Registering at the embassy isn’t necessary anymore. You can pop in to let them know you are there but “liking” the UK in Senegal and Travel Advice pages on Facebook is enough.

Banks

There are a number of banks in Senegal. ATM are also numerous however become scarce when out of the capital. The banks that are safe are BICIS, CBAO and EcoBank.

Top 5 things to do

1. Ile de la Madeleine

The smallest national park in the world and a beautiful place to spend an afternoon.

2. Ile de Gorée

Here there is a museum dedicated to slavery.

3. Marché Sandaga

Practice haggling or just experience some real Senegalese life.

4. Lac Rose

A lake that is pink in colour. You can swim in it and it is similar to the dead sea in terms of having a high salt content

5. Find a Senegalese restaurant

There are lots of small Senegalese resturants around town however they are not named nor are they easy to find. If you do find one, they serve traditional Senegalese food for about £2.50 per meal.

Important things to pack

Yellow fever certificate Visa Multiply methods for withdrawing money. (Travellers cheques, bank cards, etc) Tourist Map (Indicating hotels, restaurants etc.) Mosquito net (This is less important as most places provide you with one but I would advise bring you own travel one just in case. It will also come in useful if travelling) Sterilizing tablets. First aid kit. (Think more substantial than a travel first aid kit. Include things to treat diarrhoea, dehydration, mosquito bites, sterilised syringes for emergencies – doctors will use syringes multiple times in hospitals so having your own means you know they are clean.) Torch (for when there is no power)


Read more about why I chose Senegal, and if you have any more questions, my twitter is @davidsoniain

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