Holidaymakers heading to Africa often flock to The Gambia or further south to Kenya, but they're overlooking a very special slice of the continent. , author of the Rough Guide to West Africa, sings Senegal's praises.
One of the most accessible countries in sub-Saharan Africa, with a six-hour flight and no jet lag from Europe - and for most nationalities no visa required - Senegal is an easy and fantastic country to visit. Occupying the westernmost tip of West Africa's bulge, it covers an area the size of England and Scotland combined, or about half the size of California, with a relatively small population of around 13 million. It has a robust and fairly open democracy, wonderful dance music, a fascinating history, a tolerant, expressive and colourful version of Islam, great beaches, good national dishes, and even a couple of decent safari parks with some of West Africa's best wildlife viewing.
And yet although it almost entirely surrounds The Gambia - the popular charter destination favoured by British package tourists - English-speaking visitors have largely ignored Senegal.
Why the country has been so overlooked is partly down to the quirks of colonialism; from the seventeenth century the French were firmly based at the port of Saint-Louis in the mouth of the Senegal River, and they later developed Dakar as the capital of their West African colonies and set about turning the country into an overseas French territory. The British, on the other hand, secured a fort in the mouth of the Gambia River only in the late-nineteenth century - and then did nothing with it.