Hit the Road…In Senegal!
My love for Senegal is an acquired love, much like wine. At first I wrinkled my nose at it, and now I just can’t stop drinking it all in. I love the mixture of people, the big bowls of peanut sauce on rice, the open friendliness, and the opportunity to see everything from the uninhabited white beach coastline of the Atlantic to the forested mountains and chimpanzee havens of Kedougou.
As much as I love exploring Senegal, transportation here can be frustrating, especially if you’re accustomed to the roomy, air-conditioned interior of your own personal car or the customer service culture in the United States. You will find none of these comforts here and, unfortunately, it is every man or woman for him or herself when you enter the notorious “garages.”
On the other hand, the garages are always an adventure and home to some of the most spirited personalities in the country! The ride between crossroads will give you a great view of the country (whether you look inside your window or out) as you rattle along potholed roads peppered with donkeys and monkeys. Even if a hundred goats are strapped to the top of your vehicle or a woman decides to throw one of her babies on your lap, transportation is one of the most authentic ways to understand Senegal.
As long as you’re tough, aware of your surroundings, and willing to have a sense of humor, stick to these tips and get ready to hit the road!
Whitney’s Tips on Getting Around Senegal
Tip 1: Getting around the garage can be easier than it seems if you know three things: Where you are going, what kind of transportation you want to take, and the price of your ticket beforehand.
Tip 2: There are four main types of transportation:
Taxi: You are usually going to take taxis within the city. In Dakar, taxis are the most expensive, but you should be paying about 2 mil to 2.5 mil to get anywhere in the city. (They’ll try and get you for more coming out of the airport). In every other major city, it costs 500 cfa to go anywhere within city limits.
Mini-bus: These are the giant vans with the brightly painted exteriors and the party vibe on the inside. Best to take at distances of 70 km or less.
Pros: Cheaper, more character, blasts Senegalese music
Cons: Slower, squished, more likely to break down
Fun Fact: Volunteers call them Alhums because of the Alhamdoulilahi painted on the front of every van.
Sept Place: A station wagon that seats seven people.
Pros: safest, most common, moderate comfort
Cons: First come, first serve seating. If you are the 5th, 6th, or 7th person you get the cramped backseat!
PRICE ALERT (sept places only):
Dakar to St. Louis- 4,500 cfa
Dakar to Tamba- 9,000 cfa
Dakar to Kaolack- 3,500 cfa
Tamba to Kaolack- 6,500 cfa
Tamba to Kedougou- 6,000 cfa
Tamba to Kolda- 5,500 cfa
Bus (pronounce beez): A cross-country traveling option.
Pros: Cheaper than a sept place, roomier, leaves at night and gets to destination by morning.
Cons: Hot, smelly, more dangerous
**A good night bus option going from Tamba to Dakar is the Nikolo for 6,000 cfa. Go to the Stadium in Dakar and ask for Beez Nikolo. The ticket office is set up in a green metal stand.
Tip 3: Small baggage shouldn’t cost you anything. Large baggage might cost you, but always haggle because prices are not set. Bikes always cost. If you take a bike you will pay anywhere between 100-1,000 cfa.
Tip 4: In an Alhum, try to get a window seat. It has the most air flow and believe me you’re going to want it.
Tip 5: Make friends with the people around you. Even if you can’t speak the language, you never know when you’re going to need a friend, whether it’s watching your bag or making sure the car doesn’t leave without you when you’re peeing in the woods.
Tip 6:Don’t get overwhelmed when tons of men rush at you and scream all at once upon entering the garage. This is the system here. Stay calm, make eye contact with one of them, and repeat where you want to go and what kind of transport you want.
Tip 7: Transportation is unpredictable. Factor in a day of travel for everywhere you go because waiting four hours for a car to leave or a flat tire along the road are common occurrences.
Now you’re ready for a West African road trip! Walk into the garage with your swag on and your smile intact and you’ll have a great time. Bon Voyage!
Whitney Jenkins, raised a country girl on her family’s cattle ranch in Nebraska, has always had a taste for adventure. After graduating from Creighton University with a degree in creative writing, she joined the Peace Corps. Now she lives in Senegal and works with local farmers propagating fruit tree orchards as a way to make her local community more sustainable. Whitney’s talents include singing with her mouth closed, disturbingly accurate impersonations of Jay Leno, and finding the magic in every place she goes, including Guinea.