Your Ultimate Guide to Saint Louis, Senegal

Aerial panorama of Sant Louis Senegal a unesco heritage city in northern Senegal

Saint Louis, Senegal is a city that captivates visitors with its historical depth, cultural vibrancy, and unique geographical setting.

Located at the mouth of the Senegal River, Saint Louis was once the French colonial capital of West Africa, and its rich heritage is still evident in its architecture, urban layout, and cultural offerings.

In this article, we’ll explore the best things to do in Saint Louis, from its iconic landmarks and local experiences to its arts and music scene, shopping, accommodations, culinary delights, and more.

Exploring Saint Louis

Aerial panorama of Sant Louis
Your Ultimate Guide to Saint Louis, Senegal 9

The French colonial architecture in Saint Louis is characterized by ornate balconies, pastel colors, and grid-like streets lined with houses that exhibit the French colonial style. It’s a legacy of the city’s colonial past and has earned Saint Louis the designation of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Recommended duration of stay

To fully experience all that Saint Louis has to offer, a stay of at least three to four days is advisable. That’s enough for a deep dive into the local culture, including exploring the city’s iconic landmarks, sampling its culinary delights, and enjoying its arts and music scene.

Grid of streets and pastel-colored houses

One of the joys of exploring Saint Louis is simply wandering its grid of streets, lined with pastel-colored houses that exhibit the French colonial style. The city’s layout is conducive to exploration, with each turn revealing a new treasure.

Iconic landmarks

Saint Louis is home to several iconic landmarks that are must-visits for any traveler. These include:

Crossing the Iconic Faidherbe Bridge

Faidherbe Bridge at Saint-Louis Senegal
Your Ultimate Guide to Saint Louis, Senegal 10

The Faidherbe Bridge is a metallic bridge that spans across the Senegal River, linking the city’s island to the mainland of Africa. It measures 507.35 meters in length and 10.5 meters in width, with a weight of 1,500 tons.

This bridge serves as a remarkable connection between the two sections of Saint-Louis, particularly when illuminated at night. It’s an imposing piece of architecture offering a beautiful panorama of the river.

Palais de Justice

The Palais de Justice is another notable landmark in Saint Louis, providing insights into the Senegalese legal system and offering panoramic city views from its rooftop terrace.

Galleries and Museums Galore

Art enthusiasts will find themselves spoilt for choice in Saint Louis, with a plethora of galleries and museums to explore. The Galerie Arte and the Musée de la Photographie de Saint-Louis are must-visits, offering a glimpse into the world of contemporary African art and photography.

Mupho Saint Louis Museum

The Mupho Saint Louis Museum (Musée de la Photographie) is dedicated to preserving and promoting the cultural heritage of Saint Louis and the surrounding region.

The museum features the work of local photographers and offers excellent art and history exhibitions. It’s also a great place for children to visit.

Galerie Arte

Galerie Arte is a top art gallery known as one of the best in Africa. It plays a big role in developing modern Senegalese art by working with new and established artists from Africa.

It offers a diverse collection of contemporary African art, traditional furniture, home decor, jewelry, and handcrafted items. You’ll find unique pieces created by highly skilled African artists and craftspersons, with everything being 100% made in Africa.

L’agneau Carnivore Bookstore

L’agneau Carnivore Bookstore is a unique bookstore that offers a wide selection of African literature and photography, making it an excellent destination for book lovers and those interested in learning more about the region’s history and culture.

Local Experiences

Pirogue trip to Langue de Barberie

The colorful wooden boats in Saint Louis in Senegal
Your Ultimate Guide to Saint Louis, Senegal 11

Langue de Barbarie is a long, narrow piece of land in western Senegal that divides the Atlantic Ocean from the Senegal River. It’s one of Senegal’s six national parks. The peninsula stretches for 30 kilometers and has shielded the port city of Saint-Louis.

It serves as a safe haven for migratory birds and is a crucial nesting ground for sea turtles. The nature reserve provides excellent amenities, such as accommodations and excursions. The area is also suitable for walking and doesn’t necessitate purchasing tickets in advance.

Beach walks and relaxation

Beach walks and relaxation are popular activities on the Langue de Barbarie Peninsula, offering a peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Observing local wildlife

In addition to its beaches, the Langue de Barbarie Peninsula is home to diverse bird species, marine turtles, and other wildlife, making it an ideal destination for nature enthusiasts.

Guet N’Dar fishing village

Guet N’Dar is recognized for its vibrant boats and energetic community. The village is positioned on Langue de Barbarie, which protects it from the ocean.

This dynamic village offers a fascinating glimpse into the city’s economic life and is home to a vibrant fish market and old town.

Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary

Great White Pelican in the Djoudj National park
Your Ultimate Guide to Saint Louis, Senegal 12

Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary is a large wetland area, covering about 62 square miles. It’s situated in the delta of the Senegal River, to the northeast of St-Louis.

This sanctuary is a UNESCO World Heritage site and serves as a home to over 1.5 million birds that migrate there. Some of the bird species you can find include the white pelican, purple heron, African spoonbill, great egret, and cormorant.

The sanctuary is open daily from 8 AM to 6 PM. It offers hiking and walking trails, and there’s a public restroom available.

The entry fee includes a guide fee of 6,000 CFA for each group, a boat trip fee of 4,000 CFA for each group, and an entrance fee of 5,000 CFA for each person. If you’re bringing a car, there’s an additional entrance fee of 10,000 CFA.

Fisherman cemetery and fish market

Visiting the fisherman cemetery and fish market in Saint Louis offers a unique insight into the city’s relationship with the sea and its importance to the local economy.

While the strong odors and waste at the fish market can be challenging, it provides a fascinating glimpse into the city’s economic life.

A Flourishing Arts Scene

Saint Louis Jazz Festival

The Saint Louis Jazz Festival is a yearly event held in May, honoring jazz, African beats, and world music. It’s famous for being a hub for music lovers, artists, and tourists.

The festival is held in an area with colonial-style buildings and horse-drawn carts and draws artists and audiences from around the world and reflects the city’s artistic soul.

Local galleries and workshops

In addition to its music scene, Saint Louis is home to numerous local galleries and workshops that offer a glimpse into the creativity of Senegalese artisans. These spaces showcase a wide range of mediums, from painting and sculpture to textiles and handicrafts.

Live jazz music at local bars

For those looking to experience the city’s jazz scene beyond the annual festival, several local bars offer live jazz music, creating a lively atmosphere and an opportunity to enjoy this quintessentially Senegalese art form.

Shopping

Wolof basketry-hampers in the market. Saint- Louis Senegal or Ndar
Your Ultimate Guide to Saint Louis, Senegal 13

Markets and boutiques

Shopping in Saint Louis is an adventure in itself, with markets and boutiques offering a variety of handicrafts, textiles, and art pieces. These items not only serve as souvenirs but also as tangible connections to the city’s cultural heritage.

Keur Dabakk Malick Beudeu

Keur Dabakk Malick Beudeu is a popular shopping destination in Saint Louis, offering a wide range of handicrafts, textiles, and art pieces.

Ateliers TËSSS

Tesss is another must-visit shopping destination, with a focus on supporting local artisans and offering unique, handmade items.

Where to Stay: Accommodations for Every Traveler

Saint Louis offers a diverse range of accommodations to cater to the needs and preferences of every type of traveler, from budget-conscious backpackers to luxury seekers.

Historic Hotels and Charming Guesthouses

For those seeking an authentic experience, staying in one of the city’s beautifully restored colonial-era buildings is a must.

The Hotel de la Poste and the Hotel Mermoz are prime examples of such properties, offering a glimpse into Saint Louis’ rich past while providing modern amenities and personalized service.

The Hotel de la Poste is a well-maintained colonial building that stands out among the city’s architectural gems. It offers tours to local attractions and serves as a hub for visitors to the region.

Intimate Luxury: Boutique Hotels

Travelers in search of a more intimate and luxurious experience will find their perfect haven in Saint Louis’ boutique hotels. Properties such as Le Siki Hotel and Hotel Sindoné are renowned for their unique decor, lush gardens, and attentive staff.

Culinary Delights

No visit to Saint Louis would be complete without embarking on a culinary journey through the delectable world of Senegalese cuisine. Known for its bold flavors, fresh ingredients, and generous use of aromatic spices, the local food scene is a true reflection of the country’s rich cultural heritage.

Must-Try Dishes

Thieboudienne or Joloff Rice
Your Ultimate Guide to Saint Louis, Senegal 14

Thieboudienne, a hearty and flavorful rice and fish dish that is often considered the national dish of Senegal, was invented here. For those with a penchant for rich and creamy stews, Mafe, a delightful peanut-based dish, is a must-try.

Visitors to Saint Louis should make it a point to sample some of the city’s most iconic dishes. Yassa Poisson, a tantalizing grilled fish dish infused with the zesty flavors of lemon and onion sauce, is a local favorite.

Beachside Dining

For a more laid-back dining experience, head to the city’s beaches, where you’ll find an array of open-air restaurants serving up fresh seafood and local specialties.

As you savor the catch of the day, take in the stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and enjoy the lively atmosphere of the beachside dining scene.

Nightlife and Drinks

Bars with live music and outdoor patios

Saint Louis offers a vibrant nightlife scene, with bars featuring live music and outdoor patios where you can enjoy a drink and soak up the atmosphere.

Cheaper drinks on the mainland compared to the island

Note that drinks on the mainland tend to be cheaper than those on the island, making it an affordable option for those looking to enjoy the city’s nightlife.

Practical Information and Travel Tips

Getting to Saint Louis

Travelers can reach Saint Louis from Dakar using various transport options, including private cars and shared taxis (sept places taxis). These options offer varying levels of comfort, directness, and cost, making it easy to choose the best option for your needs and budget.

Private cars

Private cars offer the most comfortable and direct transportation option, allowing you to travel at your own pace and on your schedule. They are typically more expensive than shared taxis.

Shared taxis (Sept places taxis)

Shared taxis, also known as sept places taxis, are a popular and affordable transportation option in Senegal. These taxis can accommodate up to seven passengers, making them a cost-effective choice for solo travelers or small groups.

Travel times and costs

Travel times and costs for transportation between Dakar and Saint Louis can vary depending on the mode of transportation and the time of day. Private cars typically take around 3-4 hours, while shared taxis may take longer due to stops along the way.

Money exchange services are available in the city, and it’s a good idea to have some local currency on hand for transactions like bargaining with taxi drivers and shopping at markets.

Things to Do in the Surrounding Region

Sand dunes at Lompoul desert, near Saint Louis, SENEGAL at sunset
Your Ultimate Guide to Saint Louis, Senegal 15

Senegal River Route

The Senegal River Route is a journey along West Africa’s second-largest river, featuring historical sites and traditional cultures. Notable sites include the Chateau du Baron Roger in Richard Toll, the fortress in Bakel, and the traditional adobe architecture on Ile a Morfil.

Richard Toll and Chateau du Baron Roger

Richard Toll is a town situated on the southern bank of the Senegal River, to the east of Rosso. It falls within the Saint-Louis Region.

The town was initially established as a colonial settlement and was named after the park of the Château de Baron Roger, which was created by botanist Jean Michel Claude Richard. Richard Toll boasts several popular attractions, such as La Folie du Baron Roger and Mosquée de Khouma sathie.

Podor Fort

Fort de Podor, located in Podor, Senegal, is an old French colonial fort that was constructed in 1854 for gold trading purposes. It functions as a museum and a tourist spot that is considered child-friendly by some.

The person in charge is well-informed and lets visitors handle old rifles that were used to defend Podor from Mauritanian attackers. Additionally, the fort features a display that showcases the history of the region.

Fouta Toro

Fouta Toro, often simply referred to as Futa, is a semi-desert area situated along the Senegal River, acting as a border between Senegal and Mauritania.

This region holds historical importance as it was the heart of various Fulani states and the origin of jihad armies and migrants who moved to Fouta Djallon.

Lompoul Desert

Lompoul Desert is a little desert in Senegal that has orange sand dunes, making it look like the Sahara and Mauritania. It’s situated 145 kilometers to the south of Saint-Louis and is a well-liked spot for tourists. It’s part of the Louga region.

Here are some activities you can do at Lompoul Desert:

  • Stay overnight in tents
  • Roll down the sand dunes
  • Ride on dromedaries (single-humped camels)
  • Go on a camel trek
  • Drive sand dune buggies
  • Stargaze at night

Wrap-Up

Saint Louis, Senegal offers a wide range of activities and experiences for travelers. The city’s history, culture, local experiences, arts, music, shopping, accommodations, culinary delights, beaches, nightlife, and surrounding region provide numerous opportunities for exploration.

Saint Louis is a city that combines its historical identity with modernity, creating a unique atmosphere. From its iconic landmarks and local experiences to shopping, accommodations, and more, there’s no shortage of things to do and see in this remarkable city.

Scroll to Top

Share this article