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When’s the Best Time of Year to Visit Senegal?

Ile Carabane, Casamance
Ile Carabane, Casamance | Beetle Holloway / © Culture Trip
Hot all year round with day temperatures rarely dipping below 20°C, it’s better to think of Senegal in terms of wet and dry rather than hot and cold. But when exactly is the best time to go? This article will fill you in on all you need to know about Senegal’s climate, attractions and activities, so you can head to West Africa with confidence.

January

Although revered for its ‘winter sun’, there is a marked shift between December and January. The daytime temperature at the turn of the year will remain a pleasant 22°C (72°F), but coastal winds, rooftop bars and al fresco restaurants combine to force a jacket onto your shoulders in the evening. That said, the balmier climate makes January a lovely time of year to come and strap on some walking boots without the fear of melting (which it can feel like later in the calendar).

As for New Year’s Eve, you can expect celebrations in all the major cities, but don’t expect fireworks: in 2017, the Interior Minister banned them between December 28 and January 15.

Rainfall: 0 days

Temperature: 22°C (72°F)

Sea temperature: 23°C (74°F)

Yoff Beach, Dakar Beetle Holloway / © Culture Trip

February

Senegal’s weather moves in blankets: one week all 22°C, the next all 23°C; there’s little of the invariable variation of Europe’s skies. However, the occasional dust smog can filter across from the Sahara to the Atlantic coast. On these days, it remains warm, but with a fuzzy orange hue: not the time to climb the African Renaissance Monument in Dakar or wear white clothes (unless you’re partial to rust-coloured smudges).

Yet, for the most part, February is fresh and calm: the perfect conditions to explore Senegal’s interior, which can be quite microwave-esque without the coastal breeze. In particular, head to the Niokolo-Koba National Park in south-east Senegal (officially open between December 15 and April 30), which is the best place to see African wildlife in the country, with hippos, crocodiles, antelopes, elephants, and warthogs all calling the park home.

Rainfall: 0 days

Temperature: 23°C (74°F)

Sea temperature: 21°C (70°F)

Warthogs in Niokola-Koba National Park © Niels Broekzitter / Flickr

March

March is a paradox in Senegal: the month where outside temperatures begin to rise exponentially and the water temperature drops to its lowest. For most of Senegal, full-length wetsuits are a must for any lengthy stay in the Atlantic.

However, the southern region of Casamance is not like most of Senegal, and March is a great month to check out Senegal’s answer to the Caribbean. Almost unrecognisable from the other parts of the country, inner Casamance is flush with greenery and wildlife, while the coastal hotspots, such as Cap-Skirring, offer up endless white sandy beaches.

Depending on time and budget, either whizz down on a 45-minute flight from Dakar, or take a bed on the overnight ferry and wake up as the sun rises over the Casamance river (just check in advance with your foreign office or travel agent about travelling to the area).

Senegal, like many countries around the world, honours International Women’s Day (March 8) with a national holiday.

Rainfall: 0 days

Temperature: 24°C (75°F)

Sea temperature: 20°C (68°F)

Cows on Cap-Skirring beach Beetle Holloway / © Culture Trip

April

April can be a busy month in Senegal, with Easter often falling in the same breath as Senegal’s Independence Day (April 4), which celebrates the transfer of power from France in 1960. As you can imagine, it’s a big celebration in all the major towns, with military parades not an uncommon sight.

Meanwhile, towards the end of the month (sometimes the beginning of May), an international jazz festival takes place in the former French colonial capital of Saint-Louis in the north. Founded in 1993, the festival welcomes artists and visitors from around the world, so it’s important to book accommodation in advance. The roads back can also take longer after the weekend, as many head back to Dakar, so if time is not an issue, stay a bit longer, avoid the rush, and explore the northern river region that gave Senegal its name.

Rainfall: 0 days

Temperature: 26°C (79°F)

Sea temperature: 21°C (70°F)

Saint-Louis, Senegal © Qiv / Flickr

May

May is the bellwether month: indicating whether it will be a hot year or a really hot year. This is the month the surfing community usually strip their wetsuit down to a short-sleeved version and there’s a real hustle and bustle feel in the air, with May kicking off with a national holiday, Labour Day, while the Christian festivals of the Ascension and Pentecost often take place during the month.

Every two years, Dakar is awash with colour for the month of May, as it plays host to the Biennale: the largest contemporary arts show in Africa with thousands of artists showcasing in hundreds of locations across the city.

Rainfall: 1 day

Temperature: 28°C (82°F)

Sea temperature: 23°C (74°F)

2018 Dakar Biennale exhibition, Former Palace of Justice, Dakar © Beetle Holloway / Culture Trip

June

June, and Senegal’s temperatures again reach the 30s. The air-con is on and the humidity is starting to gear up. In Senegal’s inlands the temperature rises even faster, so this is a month to settle into some of the coastal delights that Senegal has to offer. Head down to the Petite Côte and hop between the villages and towns that are dotted along the coastline. Saly is the largest and most developed, with hotels, restaurants and activities galore, while the lagoon at Somone, the quaint village of Popenguine, or the surf spot of Toubab Dialao also provide an excellent beachside escape.

Rainfall: 2 days

Temperature: 30°C (86°F)

Sea temperature: 26°C (79°F)

Path down to Toubab Dialao beach © Beetle Holloway / Culture Trip

July

July is the start of the rainy season for most of Senegal, which increases the humidity to sauna levels. Many of the inland attractions, such as the Niokolo-Koba National Park are closed, with roads becoming slower and more liable to flooding. The rains also mean an increase in stagnant water: the watering hole of choice for the mosquito. Usually the coastal cities have a very low chance of malaria (locals and expats never take medication), but travellers should take extra precaution in these rainy months, especially if heading away from the coast.

However, don’t be completely perturbed. Rainy season equals low season. Low season equals fewer tourists. Fewer tourists equals bargains on flights and accommodation, as well as more space. If you don’t mind getting a tad sweaty, it’s a great month to visit Dakar – and its rich tapestry of cultural delights – on the cheap.

Rainfall: 10 days

Temperature: 30°C (86°F)

Sea temperature: 27°C (81°F)

Ile Gorée, Dakar Beetle Holloway / © Culture Trip

August

The rainiest month in Senegal, with the pitter-patter on pavements expected to be heard on over half the days of the month. Or maybe not. Much of the rainfall comes in short, hard, overnight bursts of two to three hours, unlike the drudgery of all-day drizzle.

As such, the days, although incredibly hot and humid, can be lovely. Especially, if you’re into your flora as the rains brush the landscape with colour: even the resolute baobab tree gets in on the act with its bobbly foliage. Tourist prices plummet, too – although many hotels close, so be wary when looking.

August also plays host to a number of national holidays: the Christian festival of Assumption on August 15, the Muslim festival of Tabaski towards the end of the month and le Fête du Tirailleur Sénégalais – a celebration of the Senegalese squadron of the French Colonial Army, which fought in both World Wars – on August 23.

Rainfall: 18 days

Temperature: 32°C (90°F)

Sea temperature: 28°C (82°F)

Senegal's national tree, the Baobab, in full bloom © Leocadio Sebastian / Flickr

September

September remains very hot and humid, so be prepared to be changing t-shirts on a regular basis. However, the wet season also corresponds with some of the best sport fishing in the Atlantic. Big game fish, such as tuna and blue marlin, migrate along coastal currents and September is a great month to try and land a trophy.

With the ocean temperatures peaking to that of a lukewarm bath, don’t let the fish hog all the fun: think surfing, scuba diving, kitesurfing, jet skiing and even flyboarding (water jet packs) – all in your bathing suit.

Rainfall: 12 days

Temperature: 33°C (91°F)

Sea temperature: 29°C (84°F)

Ngor Bay, Dakar © Jeff Attaway / Flickr

October

October is the hottest month of the year in most of Senegal, with temperatures rarely dipping below 34°C (93°F). Given it is the back end of the rainy season, it is also near peak humidity and therefore travellers should think carefully about over-exuberant activities and instead set up base on one of Dakar’s golden beaches. With beach bars and restaurants lining the coast – especially along Almadies’ Petite Corniche – you won’t need to move all day.

The heat continues well into the evenings, but covering legs at night is advised to avoid the mosquitos. More baggy pants than skinny jeans though.

Rainfall: 3 days

Temperature: 34°C (93°F)

Sea temperature: 29°C (84°F)

Almadies' Petite Corniche © Beetle Holloway / Culture Trip

November

November battles with December for the crown of best month to go. Perennial sunshine blended with a warm, yet refreshing ocean. Remember what we said about blanket weather? Well, one day in November the humidity just stops – gone, vanished. It’s bliss.

The Petite Côte welcomes back its winter flocks of European homeowners and up to three national holidays can take place: All Saint’s Day on November 1, the Grand Magal of Touba and the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday. Meanwhile, in November 2017, the inaugural Dakar music festival, hosting international electronic DJs, took place across the city for 10 days. The plan was for a yearly event.

You don’t need long trousers or a jumper at this point, so best to pack light, avoid hold baggage fees and have more cash to burn in the sun.

Rainfall: 0 days

Temperature: 33°C (91°F)

Sea temperature: 28°C (82°F)

Mosquée de la Divinité, Ouakam, Dakar © Beetle Holloway / Culture Trip

December

Christmas is celebrated in Dakar, but not in the all-encompassing way it happens elsewhere. Expect the expat-dominated areas to decorate palm trees, and roadside vendors to peddle tinsel. The occasional carol service can also be found, while between Christmas and New Year, Dakar plays host to African Culture and Fashion week.

With sunny days, dry roads, and slightly cooler evenings, December is the perfect time to get away from the Dakar-Petite Côte spectrum for a few days. The Sine-Saloum delta, three hours’ drive away, is resplendent with its wide-open waterways, spectacular array of bird-life and abundant fishing. A cocktail in an eco-lodge always seems that much more enjoyable in December, too.

Rainfall: 0 days

Temperature: 30°C (86°F)

Sea temperature: 25°C (77°F)

Simal, Sine-Saloum Delta © Beetle Holloway / Culture Trip

When not to go

Senegal is a treasure all year round, but many people try and avoid the humid, rainy season between July and September. Meanwhile, Senegal is a majority Muslim country, and travellers should be conscious that if visiting during Ramadan they should not only be respectful of those fasting, but also be wary that a number of bars and restaurants will not be operating a regular service.

As a side note, Senegal observes six Christian and six Muslim holidays throughout the year, with many of them moving date from year to year. For most travellers, a national holiday only means less-frequent running of public transport, although taxis are still easy to flag.