I woke up early for a change at 7:30am and headed for the Bandung Garage (long distance minivan station) around 8:00am. I took a personal taxi from the main street and it cost me 100D and around 15 minutes to get to the garage. Most taxi drivers will know where it is. Just tell them that you are going to Casamance in Senegal and they will direct you to the right place. The cheaper option will cost you around 24D (3 separate 8D shared taxi rides), but will most likely take you around 45 minutes to get to the garage from Senegambia or Kotu area.
Once I got to the garage, there was a minivan ready to leave. This ended up being a very comfortable minivan with seven seats only. This was far more comfortable than the Peugeout sept place cars that I took before. It almost felt like business class. The trip from the garage to the border crossing point in Gambia called Jiboro was only 65D and another 20D for my backpack. They gave me a proper receipt for the minivan ride, but the porter was trying to charge me 50D for my backpack and I told him to fu*k off (you are probably wondering if I really said that to the guy, but I really did. I’m sure he did not understand me though). I handed him 20D, which was about the right price, since the lady in front was paying 20D for her bag.
I fell asleep in the back row right seat and in about 45 minutes, we were at the Gambian border control. The officer stamped my passport and we were on our way to Senegal. The minivan was very convenient since it waited for the entire immigration process and dropped me off at the other “sept place” station on the Senegalese side. After the Gambian border, the Senegalese border control was pretty quick as well. They did not ask for money, gifts, coffee, wives or anything. It was a quick stamp and we were off towards the sept place station. All this took roughly 15 minutes and the border was not busy at 9:30-9:45 am that morning.
In case you need to change money, there were plenty of money changers there. The exchange rate seemed decent and they were not taking huge cuts. I do recommend to check the exchange rates in advance so that you have an idea of the rate.
We got to the sept place station and there were plenty of people waiting in the car. I somehow got lucky and got the first row window seat, despite being the last one to arrive. I told the guy I will take the next sept place since I did not want to get stuck in the back row. Believe me, you do not want to get stuck in the back row (it was less spacious than the first row) and after the horrible rides earlier, I was not going to take any risk. It cost me 2500F and another 500F for my backpack. Keep in mind that these guys always try to charge you more for the backpack. The porter was asking for 1000F and I got it down to 500F.
The ride was very smooth once we got back into Senegal. The roads were nicely paved, but there were lots of police checkpoints. I believe we went through around ten or so, but only got stopped once. On one instance, I had to show my passport to the officer and we were off immediately. The reason why they had a big police presence in Casamance was because the region was unstable in the past and they wanted their independence from the rest of Senegal. The region never won independence, but if you want to get more detailed information on what happened, just Google it.
The entire ride took roughly one and a half hours to get to Ziguinchor.
I got off at the sept place station and headed directly to the consulate of Guinea Bissau. Since all the internet sites did not seem to mention the location of the consulate, I got on a scooter taxi (250 Franc) to take me there, instead of a taxi. FYI, a taxi anywhere within Ziguinchor was 500 Franc. The prices were far lower than Dakar and if the taxi driver quotes you some outrageous price, just flip out the 500F bill. My scooter driver did not know the embassy location, but after asking five people, we got there. It was off of one of the small streets and I would have never guessed that was the consulate. From all my previous experiences, consulates are located in a nice neighborhood and not on some random dirty street.
I went into the main entrance, but the guy sitting at the desk pointed me to the side door around the corner. I opened the side door and there was a small room (like the size of a shoebox) and the gentleman was sitting in there looking at his phone. I sat down on the seat and it felt great, since the air-conditioning was on full blast.
I decided to get my Guinea-Bissau visa in Ziguinchor, since I read online about how hassle free it was and sure it was, it took roughly 3 minutes. I had the option of getting my visa in Gambia, but the price was more expensive. Just to give you an idea, the price was 2025D for an immediate visa and 1550D that took around one week. I did the math and it was around 10 Euros cheaper in Ziguinchor, so I decided to save the 10 Euros and buy myself a couple glasses of whiskey.
Getting the visa in Ziguinchor was one of the easiest visa processing ever in my life, yet it was in Africa. It was close to the service of visa-on-arrival at the airports. I gave the officer a passport photo copy and he started filling out the sticker. I paid him 20,000F for the one-month visa and I got my visa in less than three minutes. A three-month visa was 30,000F. I did not have to submit any passport pictures (some sites stated two photos), but for those of you that are planning to go there, it might be a good idea to have one or two just in case.
I tried to stay there longer than three minutes by asking the officer a bunch of questions regarding Guinea-Bissau. I wanted to enjoy the air-conditioning as much as possible, since the temperature was hovering around 35 degrees outside.
In case you plan on going to Cap Skirring and crossing over to Guinea-Bissau, make sure you have plenty of days in advance. The officer told me that there is a border crossing via boat, but the land route option from there to Bissau is not convenient.
Upon getting my visa, I checked into the Le Flamboyant Hotel across the French consulate. It was a 3-star hotel with a small swimming pool and a restaurant across the street. I got the summer special price of 21,000F for an air-conditioned room with private bathroom and a television. This felt like 5-star in Africa, since the wifi worked (able to stream Netflix), there was a refrigerator, hot water, cable tv, and an aircon that worked well. It was nice to have aircon all day long, since it was scorching hot outside (remember, 35 degrees!).
I based myself here for two nights, since I heard there was not much to do in Bissau and it was nice to have a bit of luxury. I did not do much in Ziguinchor and just relaxed. It was raining quite frequently and I walked around two hours a day and the rest of the time was spent eating, writing my blog, watching Netflix, and hanging out by the pool.
In case you do visit Ziguinchor, here are some of the things that you could do.
· Alliance Francais – It was a gallery/restaurant right across the main hospital. The gallery was closed when I visited and the security guard tried to charge me 1000F to get in. It was strange since he told me that the place was closed and he was still trying to charge me 1000F. I asked him if he had a receipt and he said no. I figured he was trying to make extra money. I went around the corner to the restaurant area and I was able to enter the building for free. I did buy a local coconut liquor for 1000F, which was very tasty.
· The market – If you have never been to a Senegalese market, then it would make sense to see this place. All markets in Senegal are gross. This means that the food that they are selling have millions of flies on it and just the hygiene is terrible. I advise not to purchase anything that is raw and only stick with vegetables or fruits that have skin. They do sell all kinds of other household goods to clothes, but most probably all made in China.
· Art market – There was a sizeable art market close to the main market. I went in there and there were little shops selling African carpentry. The guys that work there were a bit pushy to come into their shops, but I just ignored them since I had no interest.
· Waterfront – The river was dirty, but there were a few hotel restaurants along it. It may be wise to go there around sunset or at night to avoid seeing the dirty river during the day.
To sum it up, you can avoid Ziguinchor unless you want to stay there for one night to relax at the hotel. The Casamance region of Senegal is supposedly very beautiful. I recommend getting out of Ziguinchor and going east or west to see the landscape. The best beaches are around the Cap Skirring area. It may be worthwhile to head that way.
The next stop will be Bissau, Guinea-Bissau.
I visited in July 2017.