Welcome to Senegal! You’ll fly into the capital, Dakar, a juxtaposition between old and modern, variety being a key word in this unique metropolis. The city is a mix of villages and gorgeous French colonial architecture, and you’ll fall in love with the people who make Dakar what it is, as they revel in the streets in their vibrant clothing. Take in the soul of the city by exploring its streets on foot.
Dakar airport is located about 5-7mi from the city center, depending on where you’re staying. You have a few options to get to your hotel/ Airbnb, however, after hours of traveling, the taxi service located within the airport is most convenient. It’ll be more expensive than the taxis you find in the street, but it’s always a matter of perspective, right? Expensive here means 5000CFA or $11.
THE TRUE ESSENCE OF DAKAR
This bustling little neighborhood that is the oldest in Dakar, was built by the French during colonial days. Take a stroll through Marché Tilène, which sprawls across several blocks, famous for its fabric and clothing stalls. The narrow streets of La Medina are home to decrepit buildings, open-aired kitchens with a wide array of smells, and some of the best people-watching you’ll find in Dakar! The Grande Mosquée sits in the heart of La Medina, but if you’re not Muslim, you’re not allowed to enter.
A BIT OF OOH LA LA
Head on over to the French Cultural Center (Institut Français du Sénégal), and enjoy a nice dinner under the giant kapok trees at Le Bideew. The fusion between French and Senegalese flavors will make your taste buds dance while you unwind in the relaxing garden atmosphere.
Morning and Afternoon
Once you’re well-rested its time to dive into the real culture of the city through its markets. Start at Kermel Market, where the fish wear lipstick and where the food is plentiful. If you’re not a big fan of crowds try go get there earlier in the morning where you’ll find the calm before the storm and don’t wear sandals. Stroll on through Place de l’Indépendence for lunch, which is just a few minutes walking distance. You’ll see of the city’s finest colonial architecture, such as the Chamber of Commerce and Government Palace, mixed in with modern buildings. After lunch, head on over to Sandaga Market, the never-ending street stalls that offer some loud clothing, paintings, wood carvings, and many other souvenirs. Ladies, be mindful of your purse as pickpocketing and theft do occur.
After a lively day at the markets, sip on a cocktail or a cup of tea on the terrace of the Hotel Sokhamon while enjoying the spectacular views of the Atlantic. Then, drive along the seaside highway, the Corniche, while passing through newer parts of the city.
This quaint and car-free island lies just 2 miles (about 3.5km) off the coast of Dakar and is a nice getaway from the hustle-and bustle of the city.
Head on over to the main port in Dakar to hop on a quick, 20-minute ferry ride to Goree Island. If you have a soft spot for sunrises, you’ll be happy to know that the first ferry goes out at 6:15am. You can get a full ferry schedule here. If you’d like to book a tour of the island, you can do so on the docks.
When you’ve finished with breakfast, head over to the House of Slaves (La Maison des Esclaves). This is a beautifully, vibrant red building that was turned into a museum in 1962. The house was where millions of slaves were held on their way to the Americas, spending their last moments on African soil before being condemned to a life without freedom. This is a history lesson that will make you want to bow your head in disgrace, but nonetheless, an important story to learn. Entrance fee 500 CHF and it’s best to go in the mornings.
Since you’ll be dropped off in Place de l’Indépendence from the ferry, head on over to the National Art Gallery and have a look around.
There are many places in the area to grab dinner, and if you’re feeling like letting loose, there’s fantastic nightlife in this downtown area. Life music fans, head on over to Just 4 U to hear some of Dakar´s best artists, where you can enjoy the tunes without having to dance. Those of you who are looking to cut a rug, check out Le Viking for everything from live music, to Mbalax, to Salsa!
Take a little getaway and go on a date with Mother Nature at Lac Rose (Pink Lake). You can jump on bus 61 from Terminus Mamelle. And if you’re traveling with at least one more person, it’s worth the expense of hiring a car for a day, which may cost you $50. You can book here. Bring cash.
ARRIVAL AT PINK LAKE
If you’re traveling here between November-June (dry season), you have a good chance at being one of the lucky ones who gets to see Pink Lake at its finest and pinkest! The lake has a salt content similar to that of the Dead Sea and the salt attracts microorganisms which gives the lake its mesmerizing color. Stay the night in a cute bungalow!
SWIM AND RIDE!
Ok adventure lovers! Rent a quad for 25,000 cfa to explore the dunes, or jump on a horse or camel.
Yes the water is safe to swim in, so go at it! You won’t want to miss the opportunity to bob on the surface of the lake. If you prefer to stay dry you can take a little boat ride as well.
This is a cultural experience as well, as you’ll see the African people working, collecting salt. The picturesque scene makes for quite the photo opportunity! We’re talking mounds of white salt, shades of pink, the golden dunes in the background. It will overstimulate your senses! But be respectful of those who are collecting the salt as they don’t always want their picture taken. It’s best to approach them with a smile and ask.
Have a spa-like lunch at Bonaba Cafe when you need to refuel with fresh foods and juices, taking in views of the lake from it’s outdoor patio. Hotel Palal is down the road and also has a fantastic restaurant serving simple, yet tasty, dishes.
RETURN TO DAKAR: MUSIC NIGHT!
Take the bus or drive back to Dakar, have a shower at your hotel and Airbnb, and head back out. When you’re in the city, you are sure to hear the sounds of the country’s famous local modern music known as Mbalax . The locals go nuts for this national dance music of Senegal. Mbalax is a fusion of jazz, soul, and Western rock music.
So leave your timidness at the hotel and experience Mbalax dancing. Don’t worry, its not so hard to learn. The dance is everywhere and you’ll be able to find it in just about every nightclub. If you want to play it safe, you’ll definitely find Mbalax in a club called Alexandra, located at Rue Wagane Diouf. Even if you dancing is not your thing, you’ll want to check out the locals getting down to these African grooves.
PLACE DU SOUVENIRS
After a night of dancing, hit the coastline in the morning to be rejuvenated by the salty air. Put on your walking shoes as Dakar has miles of sprawling coastline just waiting to be walked and explored. There is a beautiful fountain in Place du Souvenirs and it’ll soon have water. Along the way you'll find local artisans selling their goods, markets, and more and more beaches. Simply wander and take in the scenery.
AFRICAN RENAISSANCE MONUMENT
The monument is something you can't miss, as it stands taller than the Statue of Liberty! A bit ostentatious, you’ll see a statue of a super built man holding his son in one hand, and holding his wife by the waist in the other. The little child is pointing ahead to the hopeful future and his parents follow his gaze. There is a lot of controversy around the monument as it cost 20 million to build (money that could go to much better causes in Senegal), and the skirt on the woman is a bit short, far from what a traditional Muslim woman would wear.
Head up to these two hills overlooking the city and the Atlantic for the best views in Dakar! Check out the lighthouse that was built in 1864 and has been deemed as one of the world’s greatest lighthouses.
This is an excellent moment to take out your camera and get some amazing shots of the city. Afterwards, if you’re looking for more glamour, make your way up the coast and watch the sunset from Club Med. For you fit travelers, it will be an hour walk or 10-minute taxi ride.
Calling all surfers! Or, those of you who want to break out of your comfort zone and have a stab at one of the most difficult sports in the world (check out NGor Island Surf Camp). Just a 5-minute boat (pirogue) ride from Dakar, you can reach the tiny island from Plage de N’Gor in Dakar. Pirogues leave about every hour between 10am-7pm, but beware of pirate pirogues, as they will overcharge you. Wear sandals, put camera/ phone in plastic bag and roll up your pants, as it will be a wet ride.
There are two main beaches on the island, so surfing or not, have a look a both to see which you prefer, enjoying the narrow paths along the way.
You’ll come across some delicious-smelling kiosks and little restaurants selling grilled chicken and starting at around 1,500cfa. If you’re wanting a more secluded environment head on over to La Maison d’Italie. The 5,000-10,000cfa is worth it.
Whether you’ve been a daring surfer or shameless beach bum all day, chances are you’ll want a hot shower after a day on the island. So freshen up before you head back out for your last night in Dakar!
Marina Baby is the perfect place to chill out, even if the food will cost you a bit more than in other places. If you’re looking for more than a relaxing nightcap, head on to the clubs at Almadies Beach for your last hurrah in Dakar!
LAST DAY SAVOR THE LAST BITES
Make your last breakfast count with the delicious breads and pastries that will leave a lasting impression in you mouth.
Pack everything up and give yourself plenty of time to arrive to the airport, especially if you’re a daring traveler and are planning to take public transportation. Bring your patience and negotiating skills with you, as you can take a taxi but will need to negotiate the price beforehand. Uber lovers, brace yourself, as you can now find this service in Dakar!
There is also an express shuttle bus with AC that connects the city centre with the airport, from 6am to 10pm (tickets from XOF 3,000 to XOF 6,000). For further information, visit http://demdikk.com