Senegal Travel Articles

Adventure Life
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Senegal: Africa's Cultural Center

The West African country of Senegal is considered a cultural center for all of Africa. Senegalese music is on the cutting edge of modern mixed with traditional drums, and the countryís people love to dance. It is well known in the cinema and literature worlds for its production of quality work. An African cruise to Senegal will reveal a country defined by rivers, and by the arid desert in the north and tropical rainforest to the south. A menagerie of wildlife calls this country home, from elephants and monkeys, to leopards and hyenas, and manatees and whales in the coastal waters. An African cruise should begin with a visit to the beautiful country of Senegal.

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A Series of Empires

There is evidence that Senegal has been inhabited since the beginning of human history. It was once part of the great Empire of Ghana, founded by the Tukulor people. They were a patriarchal society with strict hierarchy system with castes and classes. Islam came to the region in the 11th century, and the Tukulor converted to become largely Muslim, although they retained strong beliefs in animism.

The Mandingo empires to the east exerted their influence in the region in the 13th and 14th centuries, as the Jolof Empire (another regional ethnic group) also rose to power. The Jolof reached its peak in the 16th century and participated in profitable trading with the Portuguese. As various provinces declared their independence from the Empire, Jolof declined to simply a neighboring kingdom to its once-subjects. An African cruise may reveal the lingering cultural influences of these important peoples.

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Africa's Cultural Inspiration

Take an African culture cruise to what many consider to be the inspiration of African culture. Senegal has a cultural tradition made beautiful by its people; French is the official language, although the native languages of Wolof, Pullar, Diola, and Mandigo are spoken as well. Most of the Senegalese population practices Islam, and about 6% still practice indigenous religions.

Senegal has long been considered a cultural mecca of the African continent. Senegalese artisans are famous for their gold, silver, and bronze jewelry, as well as use of antique and amber beads. Women traditionally wear beautiful swatches of bright cloth, and men wear equally brilliant colors and skullcaps.

Senegalese music has been made popular by a Wolof percussive instrument called the mbalax. Drums characterize the music of the country, which tends to be lively and upbeat. It is rare that there is a night when dancing can be found. Hip-hop and soul have added their own flavors, making Senegalís music scene one of the most exciting in Africa.

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Protecting Senegal

Senegal is fortunate to have several conservation groups working inside its borders to protect its diverse environment. The West African Association for Marine Environment works with communities to protect disappearing mangrove ecosystems, while the African Mangrove Network works on an international level toward the same goal.

Wildlife-specific groups include the International Crane Foundation, The Turtlesí Village, and the Peregrine Fund, all working to recover debilitated populations of those particular species.

Senegal houses six national parks. The Niokolo Koba National Park is the most important reserve in West Africa, as it covers varied ecosystem and has representation from almost every species in the African savannah. An African cruise should not miss this Park, especially since it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In addition to the Niokolo Koba, Senegal also has several ecological and natural reserves working to protect Senegalís flora and fauna.

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Senegal Cuisine: Sweet Potatoes and Tropical Fruit

Senegalese cuisine is a mixture of traditional foods from the main indigenous groups of the country with French influences. An African cruise to Senegal will reveal several dishes based in seafood and rice or couscous. Tropical fruits and vegetables are plentiful in the markets. Sweet potatoes and lentils also make frequent appearances.

A Senegalese meal might start with fried plantains or black-eyed pea fritters. The main dish may be ceebu jen, the national dish, which is marinated fish cooked in tomato paste with vegetables; grilled fish flavored with lemon, garlic, and pepper; chicken or fish simmered in an onion, garlic, lemon and mustard sauce; or thiou, a bouillabaisse with vegetables. Dessert may come in the form of cinq centimes, a popular peanut butter cookie; dege, a couscous pudding; or banana glace.

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Geography of Senegal

Senegal sits on the westernmost tip of the African continent. It falls off into the Atlantic Ocean on its west flank, and shares its eastern border with Mali. Guinea and Guinea-Bassau lie to the south of Senegal, and Mauritania hovers over its northern end.

Senegal is defined by rivers. The Senegal River meanders across the northern border, a behemoth of running water that is dammed in two places along its course. The Cassamance River runs along the south, and is only navigable for 80 miles of its impressive 200-mile length. The Faleme River defines the eastern border.

Senegal is unique in that it encloses another nation within its borders; The Gambia is embraced by Senegal on three sides. It is a small country that follows the length of the Gambia River. Travelers then have the option to visit this enclave during a cruise to Senegal.

Senegalís terrain is mostly low and rolling plains, that climb to low foothills in the southeastern portion of the country. It also has small pockets of tropical rainforest and mangrove stands nestled in the savannah that dominates most of the landscape.

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Modern Senegal

Great Britain, Portugal, and France competed for trade influences in the region. France finally assumed control of the region in 1667, and used it as a prominent slave trade departure from which millions of West Africans were shipped. In 1895, the Senegalese was officially made a part of French West Africa, and became an overseas territory of France in 1946.

Senegal declared itself an independent republic in 1960, and merged with French Sudan to create the Mali Federation. The Federation lasted a mere four months before collapsing. Sudan became the Republic of Mali, and Senegal elected its first president in 1960. President Senghor and Prime Minister Dia governed the fledgling country together until their rivalry led to an attempted coup by the Prime Minister. It failed, and the President instituted a new constitution that consolidated his power. Senghor chose his own successor when he left the office in 1981.

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Senegal Politics

Senegal is currently a republic, with a centralized and strong presidency leftover from Senghorís days in office. The president holds office for five years by popular vote. Senegal has a staggering 65 political parties, who vie for the 120 seats in the National Assembly.

Senegalese Muslims also hold a strong political influence in the country. Islam is practiced by nearly 95% of the countryís population.

Senegal has experienced some domestic violence since 1982, when the Casamance province began to fight for its separatist sentiment. The current President, Abdoulaye Wade has offered to sign a peace treaty that has yet to be implemented.

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Senegal's Strong Presidency

Senegal is currently a republic, with a centralized and strong presidency leftover from Senghorís days in office. The president holds office for five years by popular vote. Senegal has a staggering 65 political parties, who vie for the 120 seats in the National Assembly.

Senegalese Muslims also hold a strong political influence in the country. Islam is practiced by nearly 95% of the countryís population.

Senegal has experienced some domestic violence since 1982, when the Casamance province began to fight for its separatist sentiment. The current President, Abdoulaye Wade has offered to sign a peace treaty that has yet to be implemented.

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Senegalese Weather

Senegal is located well within the tropics, which means that it enjoys high temperatures year-around. Minimum temperatures only dip to about 62 degrees at the least during the winter months of December to February.

The rainy season occurs from about May to October, and the thermometer hovers at a balmy 80 degrees. Travelers planning their cruise to Senegal should be aware that temperatures are always higher inland than on the coast, and, if visiting during the rainy season, that rainfall increases the farther south one travels in the country.

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Safari in Senegal

Senegal is particularly endowed in terms of its bird population. The country is home to over 600 species of bird. Travelers should expect to see such familiar types as geese, swans, swallows, and kingfishers, as well as most exotic species. Travelers on a cruise to Senegal should expect to see such seabirds as gannets, brown boobies, frigatebirds, and herons. On land, look for the ostrich, the largest living bird on the planet. Eagles and flamingos co-inhabit this West African country, along with herons, egrets, and tropicbirds. These are just some examples on the long list of Senegalese birds.

Senegalís largest land mammal is the African bush elephant, and also has the honor of being the largest species of elephant on the planet. Several species of monkeys add to the exotic feel of the country, which is topped off by panthers, cheetahs, lions, leopards, and hyenas. A Senegalese adventure cruise may offer the opportunity to catch a glimpse of these African animals.

In the sea, travelers should keep a lookout for manatees and several species of whales and dolphins.

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