I spent three months in Senegal through the gap year program “Where There Be Dragons”, staying with families and learning Pulaar and Wolof (two of the main languages there).
AfricaSenegal43 days / September - October - November - December 2021
Highs & Lows
Definitely stay with a local family if you’re able, such an authentic experience
The food gets quite repetitive
I did this entire trip through a program geared towards other gap year students called “Where There Be Dragons”. It’s an incredible program that focuses on traveling authentically and not just as a tourist and truly experiencing the culture in a non-damaging way. The company does both gap programs during the year and summer, as well as programs for adults. I highly recommend the company if you are able.
We started our program in a village near the coast called Djakhanor and stayed there for one week. Then we headed to the capital, Dakar, which I didn’t love as much, but I also don’t tend to love the cities while traveling . We stayed there for two weeks. Next, we headed Southeast to Kedagou and did some trekking there. Lastly, we headed to San-Louis up North and ended our trip around there.
We started our program in a village near the coast called Djakhanor and stayed there for one week. The first few days were hard to adjust, especially with lack of language knowledge but then as the days past I truly began to feel at home. I would walk to church with my host sister and people would greet me by the name given to me by my host family. It felt like such a safe and homey community. I absolutely adored this little coastal village. I even went back to visit it at the very end of my trip and my host family welcomed me with open arms. However, I will say, there isn’t much to do in this area except to go to the beach and the one tailor in the village. There is such a strong feeling of community here, I highly recommend a visit.
I’m not a huge city gal and so I didn’t love this part of the trip as much as the others. However, this area is probably where we had the most incredible opportunities (museums, day trips, concerts, guest speakers, Goree Island, etc.) and so I’m super grateful we went there. We stayed in a smaller part of the city, called Yoff, specifically Yoff Lion and I assume that it was a bit less hectic than in the center of the city. I definitely recommend trying to avoid the center, we visited it and it’s a bit more dodgy and much less beautiful and community based. Although it wasn’t nearly as homey, for example nobody on the street knew my name after living there for two weeks, however it’s still a lovely place to visit. Yoff is also right on the water which makes it a great mix of both city life with a touch of nature as well. I also will add that although it is a big city, it’s fairly safe there.
I will preface this with saying that if you have a lot of hiking experience (especially in super beautiful places), maybe skip this part. I have had tons of experience doing beautiful hikes, specifically on this incredible island in the Caribbean called Dominica, and so I will say, many parts of this were underwhelming to me. However, there is something so incredible about physical work and receiving nature as the reward.
I could have walked the streets here for hours on end without getting bored. This is however, a more touristy area and so be aware of your belongings and not being overcharged. We were continuously warned by our instructors about Sigh-sighs, Wolof word for sketchy/creepy people. This was the most touristy place we went, even more touristy than the capital Dakar. Because it is a touristy area, it was nice to be able to find a good coffee and visit museums and do things we were otherwise not able to do in other areas of our travels. However, it also felt a bit inauthentic given our past experiences. Because of this, I would recommend starting here if you’re able, or at least visiting it more towards the beginning of your trip, it’s definitely a completely different Senegal than the rest.
Q & A
What would you have changed?
I would not have changed much honestly but I think maybe I would have liked to end the trip somewhere other than Saint Louis just because it was so touristy
Tips you would give a friend?
Try to stay with local families and definitely check out a concert or dance performance if you’re able
Pack conservative clothing, especially woman, they do not typically show their knees in public and sometimes not even their ankles. Definitely no mid drift snd try to avoid tank tops, shoulders are seen as provocative