Known for its vibrant markets, diverse wildlife, relaxing beaches, and national parks, Senegal is a country in Africa that's a great option for gap years. The people of Senegal are warm and welcoming, and camaraderie is an important aspect of their society.
From cultural music festivals, stunning dive locations, and wonderful people, students will keep themselves busy if they choose to spend a unique gap year in Senegal.
Senegal is great for students interested in teaching English, medicine, community development, wildlife, and French language.Photo credit: wolfgang.weigelt.
There are so many ways to make use of a gap year (however long that may be) in Senegal. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Volunteer / Service Learning
If you'd like to make your gap year a little more meaningful, sign up for a volunteer project or service learning experience in Senegal. You can work in community development by interacting with locals, helping with repairs and construction, or assist with daily tasks.
Wildlife and nature conservation is a popular area to volunteer in as well. Senegal is home to over 300 different species of birds and 80 species of mammals, like lions, buffalo, hippos, and wild dogs. Volunteers often have the option to stay on-site or near a nature reserve. You'll get a closer look at the animals, lend a helping hand, and get a grittier educational perspective than a simple safari.
If you're a medical student, consider volunteering in healthcare. Students can work alongside local doctors and nurses in hospitals in major cities or in more rural areas while positively impacting local neighborhoods.
You might consider assisting local schools by teaching basic English or skills like computer literacy to the community. Inexperienced teachers may want to start off by looking for teaching assistant programs or more general projects.
French is the official language of Senegal, so taking language courses while in the country is the best and fastest way to learn this new language. Head to a language school or choose a program that offers language courses as part of the itinerary.
Dakar is the capital of Senegal and is a vibrant, lively, and fast-paced city with night markets, good food, and friendly people. It’s an important trade and commerce point in Senegal. Students can visit museums, mosques, and memorials while in Dakar.
Saint-Louis is another popular destination in Senegal and is located near the river Senegal. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has an important colonial past. Take a look at the beautifully historical architecture while you're there.
Tambacounda is another popular city in Senegal. It’s ethnically diverse and is famous for its dance culture and history. This is a great place for those who are interested in music.
Joal Fadiouth is a city a bit more off the beaten path. It’s full of friendly locals, has an island composed of only shells, and beautiful, relaxing scenery. There is a large Christian and Muslim community here.
Gappers can look into participating in a homestay or living in their own apartment while in Senegal. If traveling with a program, housing is typically included. Some volunteer programs house participants in shared housing or dorms.
Senegal is affordable, though eating out can add up quickly. Typically, travelers can budget their trip on $20-30 a day. A meal at a restaurant is around $7 and water can cost around $.50. Local transportation is very affordable.
US citizens are granted a free 90-day visa for Senegal. If students plan on staying longer during their gap year, they can find out more by visiting the official government website for Senegal.
November to February is Senegal’s dry season, where temperatures are ideal and there is minimal rain. June to September is filled with rainy and humid weather.
Packing loose fitting cotton clothing during the dry season is the best way to keep cool in the heat. Pack a rain jacket to prepare for any type of weather, sneakers, flip-flops, and clothing that can be layered. If staying for a year or between seasons, keep the changing weather conditions in mind when packing.
There are no required vaccinations for Senegal. However, travelers should still be up to date on any routine vaccinations and should talk to their health care provider to determine what’s best for them, especially if traveling to multiple countries. Those traveling to a country where yellow fever is present may have to show proof of yellow fever vaccination before arriving in Senegal.
Remember to always stay hydrated, wear sunscreen, and wear bug spray when in Senegal.
Senegal is generally considered safe. However, travelers should still be wary when walking around alone and should never walk around alone at night. Terrorism is common in Western Africa, so travelers should take necessary safety precautions. Be wary of street crime and petty theft.
Fraud is another common crime in Senegal, so avoid using your credit card and ATMs when possible.