I am a travel blogger and translator who also writes articles and blogs about more personal favorite things.
Places to See in Senegal's Casamance Region
I love traveling around western Africa and Senegal and often find myself orbiting the southern province of the country called Casamance.
It is naturally beautiful, culturally appealing and extremely easy to navigate, though with a bit limited with tourist infrastructure. Unfortunately, many people overlook this area because there is the entire country of The Gambia separating Casamance from the rest of Senegal. (If you zoom out on the map farther down in the article, you will see the squiggly border of The Gambia dividing northern and southern Senegal.)
You can have a great time in The Gambia while heading south, but if you don't have the time or desire to visit the medium-sized English-speaking country, you might consider skipping it and just spending time in Casamance.
Here are things I would recommend checking out if and when you have the opportunity to visit!
Things to Do in Casamance
Here are some of my favorite areas to explore in the Casamance region.
Oussouye, the Animated Kingdom
A short drive from Ziguinchor—the capital of Casamance—you'll find a cluster of villages that make up the department of Oussouye. This tiny municipality, straddling the Guinea-Bissau border and the Casamance River, is one of the most unique in the entire region. I recommend spending time exploring this area!
The scenic views are typical of Casamance. Rice fields pierce the lush forests, cows wander, and green monkeys bounce on the road. Palm trees and other giant trees form a natural horizon. But still, Oussouye's charm is deeper than natural beauty.
Culturally, it is perhaps the most fascinating place in Senegal. There is a king, chosen by a multi-ethnic council, who acts as a political leader as well as a mediator between the Jola God (or Diola) Ata Emit and mortal beings. While there are many Christians (and to a lesser extent Muslims) in Oussouye, nearly all of them still recognize and participate in animist initiations and passing ceremonies.
The social and organizational structure of the community is remarkable. You won't see any children begging with empty tins. You hardly can even find someone with a mental or physical disability wandering the streets. Families fend for themselves, and when they can't, they go to the king (only in the evening, because it's a shame to ask earlier), and he intervenes.
The king is a legitimate political figure despite not having an official title. His blessing is requested by politicians running for national office. The current king, Sibulumbai Diedhiou, played a pivotal role in restoring peace to Oussouye and the wider region during the Casamance uprising in the early 2000s. These days, he is tasked with mediating. He deals with local conflicts that go beyond the family or neighborhood level and is also responsible for crop distribution.
An Audience With the King
As a guest, you can request an audience with the king. I did this through Pierre, who runs a great trail on the way to Cap Skirring, a few meters from the "center" of Oussouye.
Pierre took us to the sacred grove, informed us of the ritual, and then introduced my traveling partner and me to the king. After greetings, we had the opportunity to ask him questions on any subject. He answered everything we asked, and then we took a few photos. It is truly fascinating and one of the most memorable cultural experiences I have had in the area as a tourist.
Meeting King Oussouye was not something to be taken lightly. It is definitely not a typical tourist attraction. It may not be possible to arrange a meeting with him while there, but if possible, it must be done through the appropriate local channels (such as Pierre), and one must follow the recommended protocol.
Read More from WanderWisdom
While I would encourage everyone to try and meet the King—it's so unique, and the king himself appreciates those coming to greet him—I do not want this experience to be abused and turned into something exploitative. Please be respectful of all cultural practices!
If you happen to be crossing the border with The Gambia into Casamance, the first important village you will pass through is Abné. I have been visiting Abné since early 2017, and it is one of our favorite places in all of West Africa.
A few kilometers south of Abené is the larger village of Kafountine, another town worth visiting as you head south to Ziguinchor, Carabane or Cap Skirring. Here are some tips if you find yourself in this corner of Casamance.
One of the first things you will notice about Abné is that there are quite a few expats around. Once you know the place, it's easy to see why. Abené has the air of a Rasta village by the sea. But Rastas aren't real Rastas—most of them are actually Baye Fall, a sect of the Mouride Sufi Brotherhood—and rather cheap tributes. If looking for the equivalent of Bob Marley, you'll find rich Diola culture and hospitality.
Where to Stay
Little Baobab—known to many in the village by the owner's names of Chez Simon and Khady—is our spot. Simon tragically died in a car crash in 2017, but his wife, Khady, continues to run the hotel.
Little Baobab is a pub carved out of a jungle. There are clean and comfortable traditional bungalows with composting and solar-powered toilets. The real highlight here is the familial vibe, home-cooked meals and laid-back vibe at Khady's jungle bar.
I usually stay in Abné and then take the boat to Kafountine for a meal. I also use Kafountine as a starting point for trips to the seeing mangroves further south. Here are some things you can do when spending time in Kafountine.
Fish Market and Beach
They have one of the most vibrant fish markets in the region. Boats cruise the beach with their nightly catch, and vendors glide through the market waters with crates of ice overhead. All the while, hundreds of seagulls hover overhead. It's a sight to behold.
Walk Around the Beach
At low tide, you can cover a lot of ground easily. South of the market, the crowds thin out, and the beach begins to return to its deserted state. Don't be surprised to see some cows wandering around!
One of the best ways to enjoy Kafountine and the surrounding area is by boat. You can take a trip to several islands (one of which is known for birds and the other for cannabis farming!), and you can also go through mangroves to rivers Casamance.
You will be really spoiled if you like fishing and/or bird watching. We recommend Aliou, a fisherman and guide with his own boat.
Eating and Drinking
There are some great local eateries, but our two favorites by far are Chez Kathy and Couleur Cafe. At Chez Kathy, guests can enjoy fresh seafood and local dishes. At Couleur Cafe, you can find the same, but with more European dishes and some of the best coffee you'll drink in Casamance. Both facilities are reasonably priced.
As with Abené, taxis and motorbikes are easy to find. You can easily arrange transportation to Casamance and the Gambian border.
Getting to Casamance from Dakar
There are four main ways to get to Casamance from Dakar.
The fastest is by plane. There are currently two airlines flying between Dakar and Ziguinchor: TransAir and Air Senegal. One-way tickets are a bit less than $100. At the time of writing, Air Senegal is having promotional fares prices; tickets are $85 one-way.
My partner and I have flown with both Air Senegal and TransAir and have had no problems other than an occasional delay. There are usually at least two flights per day from each company. My traveling partner and I have arranged our tickets through Coppery at Casamance Voyages.
I will soon be writing a detailed article on the night ferry service that connects Dakar and Ziguincho. I highly recommend this option, especially if you are not prone to seasickness. It's cheaper than the flight (although you can spend more by choosing the private cabin, which I recommend!) and is an experience in itself.
With the completion of the Farfenni Bridge, it has never been easier to reach Casamance from Dakar by road. Instead of relying on inconsistent ferry service in Bara or Farafenni, you can cross The Gambia on a brand new bridge (it opened in January 2019).
Give yourself a full day of travel, whether you're using public transport or private transportation. Getting to Farfenni has been as streamlined as possible while crossing the West African border. Although it is often difficult to obtain a transit visa at the Karang border gate, immigration officials in Farfenni still issue it regularly. The U.K. and most EU countries don't even need a visa to travel. If you're from this area—you're lucky!
The easiest way to travel between Dakar and Ziguinchor by public transport is via the Dem Dikk bus service, which costs 10000 cfa. Otherwise, you are looking at a combination of a small car and a dust taxi, which will be less comfortable and a lot more tiring.
By Road (the Long Way)
If you really don't want to go through The Gambia, you can drive to Tambacounda and, from there, head south to Ziguinchor. Give yourself two days to do this.
There are public transport options to Tambacounda from Dakar, including the Dem Dikk bus and many Malian bus companies that go in that direction on the way to Bamako. From Tambacounda, you can then take a taxi or small car to Ziguinchor.
Arriving from Outside Senegal
If you are going to spend time in Casamance, you may be coming in from one of the countries surrounding Senegal. Here are some tips for reaching the area.
Getting to Casamance by road from Mali is simple. You just need to get your bus ticket (or drive yourself) to Tambacounda.
Again, Tambacounda is the intersection where you will have to change traffic to go in the direction of Ziguinchor. To get to Tambacounda, I strongly recommend using a bus company that takes Kenieba Street instead of Kayes.
Considering that the Guinea-Bissau border is only 20 kilometers from Ziguinchor, you would think that there would be many bus companies connecting the two places. There's not. However, there are plenty of taxis and small cars.
The cost is around 4000 cfa by public transport, and the journey will take four hours or more (depending on how fast you cross the border). The asphalt road is perfect for the 20 km between Ziguinchor and the border. The Guinea-Bissau side is another story. There are many holes and tank traps and some alluvial plains in which the road is swept away in the previous rainy seasons. Keep this in mind while planning.
From The Gambia
The most popular route is obviously the Trans-Gambian highway, which passes through Farafenni. However, there are many other places to pass, including the smuggler's route (although I only recommend this route if you want to get deep into Abene and the nearby area, then have to turn around back to the Gambia) and a quiet little intersection leading into Senegal Village by Seleti. It goes without saying that no matter where you are in the Gambia, it won't take long to reach Casamance.
© 2022 Okeke Jeff Christian