Modes of transportation in Senegal, including price and relative reliability.
In regard to private transportation, mopeds and motorcycles are popular in rural areas, and can be found in big cities as well. In Dakar, gas-guzzling 4WD SUVs are just as common as sedans since they are safer during the rainy season floods.
But even the average homeowner can’t afford private transportation unless it’s walking, an unpopular choice due to the harsh climate. Bicycling is even rarer thanks to reckless driving and lack of bike lanes. Personally, I’ve relied on walking and a mix of the following modes of public transportation:
Blue public buses (150CFA, [exchange rate roughly 500CFA = $1]) come every 30-60 minutes during the daytime. Smaller white public buses (200CFA) come more often but these buses don’t go many places. These buses get face-squashed-in-window packed.
…and that’s it! That’s the extent of public public transportation in Senegal. Thanks, government. The rest of the country’s intracity (and some intercity) public transportation is privately run by the economically powerful Mouride brotherhood.
The colorful blue and yellow car rapide is one of Senegal’s symbols. They are the opposite of rapide (nothing in Senegal is rapide except for Visa-digging marriage proposals) and instead frequently stop and drive at slow speeds. Each one is painted differently, but they all proclaim “ALHAMDOULILAH,” praise be to God, across their fronts.
Car rapides cost between 50 to 200CFA depending on where you’re going. To ride one, first go to one of the hubs where they all tend to stop. Sometimes these hubs are where the official public bus stop signs are, and sometimes they are marked only by the cluster of people waiting there. If you’re really skilled, you don’t even have to be at a hub to make them stop – just flag hard. Once a car rapide has slowed down near you, yell out your destination to the apprenti hanging out of the back of the car. If your destination is on the way, he’ll wave at you to get on and you’ll pay when he comes around to collect money. Tap hard on the metal frame with a coin or something else clangy when you want to get off.
White ndiaga ndiayes operate the same way but go slightly longer distances and wait until they fill up before they leave. My peers have referred to these two systems as mass paid hitchhiking, which is pretty accurate.
If you look like you need a ride (and toubabs always look like they need a ride), passing black and yellow taxis will honk at you to let you know that they’re empty. These decrepit cars can have shattered or missing windshields, windows that don’t roll up or down, and/or steering wheels that pop off. The occasional taxi will be in good enough condition that none of those conditions apply; however, never expect working seat belts, let alone a working meter. Standard practice is to bargain with the driver through the passenger window for a price (500-3000CFA, usually 1000-2000CFA). To get the best price, you’ll need to refuse the driver’s “final” offer and pretend to hail another taxi; by the time you make it to the back of his car to wave your arm, he’ll honk at you to get in at your final offer. Be ready to have exact change and to help direct your driver to your destination; often, they don’t know how to get there.
One last note: people don’t know how to drive here. I’ve already personally witnessed a handful of accidents when the streets have been empty.
INTERCITY (Bush Taxis)
Sept-places are my favorite option, striking midway between price and comfort. These Peugeot 504 station wagons officially seat seven, but are very comfortable for six. Sept-places charge a set price per seat, but you’ll bargain for how much your luggage costs – even if you don’t have much, you’ll need to pay as it’s how the drivers make money. Similar to taxi negotiation, you may have to feign walking off in order to get a non-toubab luggage price. If you have four to six people in your party, it’s easiest and most comfortable to buy out the extra seats since sept-places only leave once they’re filled up, and drivers sometimes decide to take more than seven passengers. You can buy out a sept-place, including luggage, from Dakar to Tambacounda for 70,000CFA (10,000CFA/seat), or all the way to Kédougou for 112,000CFA (16,000CFA/seat).
If you can’t afford a seat in a sept-place, minibuses are your uncomfortable alternative. Drivers squeeze four or five or seven (children are theoretically infinitely miscible) people onto a row meant for three or four. That doesn’t sound that bad but it’s not something you want to put up with for more than four humid baking hours, and remember that four-hour trips can easily turn into six-hour trips. You also have no control over a 20-person vehicle in terms of pit stops, or you may find that your driver has decided to take an extended unannounced lunch break. In addition, waiting for a 20-person vehicle to fill up, even from Dakar, takes hours. If you’re reading this, you probably have the resources to buy yourself a recommended and slightly more comfortable seat in a sept-place. A minibus from Dakar to Fimla or Ndangane in the Sine-Saloum costs 2000CFA plus a negotiable 200CFA for luggage.
Rural areas also make use of intercity minibuses that operate on a daily or when-filled basis.
Horse-drawn carts are a popular method of lugging cargo around Dakar, and were the only form of land transportation on Mar Lodj (500-1000CFA), an island in the Sine-Saloum. Horses easily maneuver unpaved roads and can lug heavy loads, though they are appreciably slower than motorized forms of transport. Rural areas tend to use cheaper donkeys or mules instead of horses for their smaller loads.
Ferries and motorized pirogues are used for going to Gorée (5000CFA, roundtrip) and the Île de Madeleine (4000-5000CFA negotiable, roundtrip), respectively. Crossing rivers is also done in pirogues, with prices (500-1500CFA) varying depending on distance.
There are a few airports around Senegal, but I’m not going to use them unless I’m flying internationally. Even Dakar’s airport is shockingly underdeveloped and disorganized. Delays are common. I also see people riding in boxes in the backs of trucks but I’m not sure how to book a truckseat yet; you’ll be able to get around fine with the above options.
Just keep in mind that delays are the rule rather than the exception and that negotiation is your right (hold firm if you think they’re overcharging you; you can always come back), and you’ll navigate the system easily. Please leave any questions or requests for advice in the comments section!