This Is Why You Should Visit Dakar, Senegal!
Do you love to travel? If you do, are you like other so-called wanderlusts who limit their trips to holiday destinations they perceive as culturally rich and progressive? In the process, they “avoid” places like Africa based on misconceptions that, in reality, have been proven wrong repeatedly. Bonafide travel junkies know that love for travel knows no bounds. When you have set out to travel, you try to travel to every place imaginable as long as you have time and your budget permits it. Besides, there are cities in the continent we know as Africa, which are worthy of a visit. One of those is Dakar.
Getting to Know Dakar
Dakar is the capital and largest city of Senegal. It is where the Palace of the President of Senegal is and is considered the country’s administrative center. It sprawls across the Cap-Vert peninsula, right at its very tip. Not many people are familiar with the city. One reason for this is it took a while for the city to develop into what it is now. Nevertheless, the city has undergone major developments in tourism over the last few years, which have paid off tremendously.
Now, concurrent with the government’s efforts to boost tourism in the city (and the entire country of Senegal, at that), the number of incoming flights to Dakar is continuously on the rise. This means that many have chosen it as their preferred destination when they want to enjoy a much-deserved vacation in a cool, relaxed, and peaceful city.
You would be surprised with the European atmosphere that permeates Dakar, and this is not merely because of the
city’s architecture or its jumble of villages and former French colonial towns. It’s actually the people who live there, as well as the ambiance they create, that lend a European feel to the city. Of course, it helps, too, that French is the official language of the city.
It has many attractions that cater to the needs of everyone whether they’re looking for striking entertainment options, a dose of African urban adventure, or somewhere in between. It is not lacking in culturally rich tourist spots, plush hotels, resorts, beaches, shopping centers, an active nightlife, restaurants that serve delectable fares, and more. As this article continues, you will get to learn more about the places that make the city a booming tourist destination.
Aside from those previously mentioned, the people of Dakar are also worth mentioning. This city is probably one of the most visitor friendly cities in Senegal, so you can rest assured that, should you encounter any problem while gallivanting around, a willing local will be ready to lend a hand.
Out and About in Dakar
Some of the interesting places worth visiting in Dakar include the Senegal Zoo, National Gallery, IFAN Museum of West African Culture, President’s Palace, Hann Park, and Dakar Grand Mosque. The said tourist attractions are family friendly, so if you’re traveling with your children, don’t forget to take them to these places.
For the more outdoorsy traveler, there are beaches in Dakar where you can bask under the sun or enjoy a round of water sports. Some of these beaches include Yoff, N’Gor, Toubab Dialao, Plage Bel-Air, and Yenn. If communing with nature is on your list of itineraries, then you’ll be happy to know that there are national parks where you can experience the flora and fauna of the city at their best.
Incidentally, Dakar is also home to Ile de Gorée or Gorée Island, which has been affirmed as a UNESCO world heritage site. This quiet island is 30 minutes offshore from the city, and while it has been developed as an acclaimed tourist spot, you can still walk about its lovely streets littered with colonial buildings in seclusion. It once served as a slave port back when slave trade was rampant in the city. In fact, one of the big attractions on the island is a gigantic cell dubbed as “door of no return”. Recorded in the depths of the House of Slaves is the painful history surrounding the infamous slave trade. There are other historic buildings on the island, as well as restaurants overlooking the beach.
Getting to this island from Dakar is a breeze, as there are ferries that depart every one or two hours from the Embarcadère. You may also opt to stay in one of the guesthouses on the island.
Bouncy Rhythms, Move Your Feet
One thing you’ll notice about the streets of Dakar is these are mostly derelict, dusty, and hot. Still, the streets come alive energetic music. Anywhere you go, you’ll hear the grating tune of jazzed-up Senegalese pop floating through the air. It seems music in all forms come with the territory, be it live music from street bands to car stereos that blare out music day in and day out.
Music is non-negotiable in Dakar, and if you are a music lover, the best place for you to visit is Just 4 U, a bar where legends like Orchestre Baobab and Omar Pene play Senegalese classics with a tinge of Cuban sound. What sells the place is the ambiance – it has an outdoor patio with tables under canvas awnings where you can cozy up with your significant other or just enjoy a laid-back vibe.
If you would rather move than listen, Thiossane (pronounced as Cho-sann) is the place to visit. Youssou N’Dour owns this nightclub, and he performs here regularly. Clubs at Dakar usually open around 1 a.m. and according to those who have tried the nightlife in the city, the night scene can rival (and even best!) that of London.
Shop ‘til You Drop
Heavy traffic is not unusual in Dakar, but the experience is one for the books especially once you see locals parading in an outburst of vibrant fabrics that contrast with the sharp tailored suits of businessmen. These people weave in and out of perky street markets reminiscent of France – Marché Kermel and Marché des HLM.
Marché Kermel is one of the oldest markets in Dakar, having been built in the late 19th century. It is near the port,
and it wasn’t until 1997 when it undergone restoration. Dakarois (or simply, the people of Dakar) shop for food in this market. Crates and tables overflow with fresh fruit and vegetables. Shrimps and langoustines are practically jumping in excitement in their boxes, and cows are butchered right in front of customers. Nothing could be fresher than that. Authentic, handmade woodcarving are also sold in stalls outside the market.
Marché des HLM, on the other hand, is where you’ll go to if you’re looking for fabrics. The market is in Grand Dakar, a couple of kilometers away from Marché Kermel. Dakarois are known for their love for vibrant, extravagantly colorful fabrics that come from the finest Malian cloth imported from Bamako.
Dakar’s Going to Make You Sweat
Next to music, football is probably the second most important thing in Dakar. The city has its own football team, ASC Jeanne D’Arc, which gears up for the football season that commences every year in February. The team usually plays at the Léopold Sédar Senghor national stadium, which is about 6km north of the city’s center.
When football vibe is high, you can expect a packed stadium, with almost all 60,000 seats occupied. Moreover, in keeping with the Dakar tradition, noise is much encouraged during a football game – horns being blown, live bands playing while decked in team colors, beating of drums, and the merry cheering of African-style cheerers wearing nothing else but full body paint. Surely, even if you’re not a big fan of football, all the excitement surrounding you could pull you in.
The Art of Food and Drinks
Who would have thought that Dakar would be one in great support of the arts, too? Right smack in the center of town, you’ll find L’Institut Français, which is renowned for its gardens. Lush and exotic, this garden offers a breathtaking retreat from the heat and excitement of the city’s busy streets. If you want to indulge your eyes with various exhibits without spending a dime, you could hie off to Galerie le Manège, which is within the institute’s grounds.
While there, join the throngs of people who pass the time sipping their favorite coffee in the café. Watch films in one of the many viewing rooms. Moreover, feed your mind with words from your favorite book in the library. It’s also a wonderful way to meet new friends while enjoying your vacation in Dakar.
If you’re feeling hungry, don’t fret. Dakar is probably one of the “foodiest” cities you could ever visit. Every street corner is laden with good food served from morning until night. Walking along avenue Pompidou, the rich aroma of grilled fish and mafé rice will reach your senses, making you want to stop and eat. Imagine indulging in a filling meal for less than £3!
Dakar’s restaurants are comparable to those in European cities in terms of prices, but what sets them apart is their rich servings, large portions, and a spattering of local fares here and there. If you’re missing your country’s local dishes, you might want to head over to La Fourchette, which is near Marché Kermel. There, you can feast on international food and enjoy a three-course meal without spending too much.
Don’t forget to try Dakar’s national dish thiéboudiene, which is rice with fish, or the famous chicken yassa, chicken in an onion sauce. If a trendier spot is what you’re after, you can always go to the hip Ngor district. There, you’ll find Le Patio, a chic nightclub with a secluded garden where you can enjoy cocktails. This place would make you feel as if you have been transported to St. Tropez.
There’s Rest for the Weary
There’s no denying it; Dakar is an exhausting place to explore. Surely, you would want a comfortable way to end the day and recharge for more fun and adventure the next day. Pricey hotels are aplenty in this sprawling city. Finding one won’t be a burden if you’re in d’Independence. The only problem, aside from the price, is the level of noise that can be heard within the confines of the hotels. In this particular area, sleep is a luxury that others can’t, or perhaps wouldn’t afford. The area is alive in the truest sense of the word, so if rest is what you need, this wouldn’t be the best option.
There is, however, Hotel du Phare, which you can easily reach by bus or taxi. The hotel stands in a quiet, sandy side street in the district of Les Mamelles. You wouldn’t feel too far from home if you book a stay here, what with its homey interiors, comfortable couches, excellent food, and affordable rates. Incidentally, it is in this district where you can get the best view of Dakar.
In Les Mamelles, you’ll find twin hills overlooking what looks like a flat Cap-Vert peninsula. You’ll get a grand view of the Atlantic, the whole expanse of the city, and an eyeful of the infamous statue Le Renaissance Afriquaine or the African Renaissance Monument. This bronze statue stands 49 meters tall and is perched on top of Collines des Mamelles. The statue features a man, a woman, and a pointing child with their faces turned towards the horizon. Construction of the statue began in 2009, and this must-see landmark in Dakar is meant to symbolize renewed hope for the people of Africa.
Obviously, Dakar is a place to feed all your five senses. There’s definitely more than enough reasons why you should visit this awesome city. It deserves a rightful place in your bucket list.
Visit the African destinations category to learn more about other tourism opportunities available in Africa!