Teranga, meaning ‘hospitality’ in Wolof, perfectly describes the attractiveness of Dakar, the capital of Senegal. As the former capital of French West Africa, Dakar is a world renowned destination in Africa, known for its vibrancy, hospitality and social community. Built on a magnificent site, the Cape Verde peninsula, Dakar is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and sidelined by two capes: to the north, the point of Almadies; and the beaches of Ngor, Yoff and Cambérène to the east. Dakar’s location at the western end of Africa, favoured first by the 1626 settlers and second by the forthcoming general trade with the New World, provides it with the privileged intersectional position between African and European cultures. Hamaji Magazine has listed ten top reasons to encourage your travel bug to focus on this dynamic and vibrant capital.
The land of Teranga
Senegal is the oldest of the French colonies, with the first contacts dating back to the 17th century. Whether you are looking for historical discovery or a natural change of scenery, Senegal is the most popular tourist destination in West Africa, which has contributing greatly to the country’s development.
Dakar, one of the most visited cities in French-speaking West Africa, is famous first, but not exclusively, for its colonial heritage. It is also famous for its historical, artistic and cultural attractions. Each year, tourists are drawn to the magic of Senegal, for in 2012, the so-called armageddon year, 980 000 tourists crossed the Senegalese borders.
Are you looking for socio-cultural, economic and natural beauty that few countries rival, just 6 hours by plane from Europe or an even shorter journey from another African country? Then let yourself be tempted by Senegal, and more particularly the city of Dakar. Although for some, the city of Dakar is synonymous with noise, traffic jams, and even dirt – not unlike most African capitals – the city is fascinating, lively, animated, warm, and washed by ocean spray.
1 – ITS NATURAL SITES
Senegal is a real kaleidoscope of lush landscapes and vast stretches of land dotted with hundred-year-old baobabs.
As far as nature is concerned, it is mainly the islands and pieces of land abandoned in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that will arouse the curiosity of travelers, even if the shores of Dakar are just as magnificent. The island of Gorée, for example, is a perfect destination just a short distance from Dakar and is an integral part of the capital.
Lake Retba, often called the Pink Lake for its peculiar colour, is one of the most visited sites on the Cape Verde peninsula in Senegal. Located a few hundred meters from the Atlantic Ocean, 35 km northeast of Dakar, it is the second saltiest lake in the world after the Dead Sea. The Pink Lake attracts tourists for its unique landscape but also because bathing there is an experience: you float thanks to the concentration of salt. The salt is harvested daily and 80 to 300 grams of salt can be extracted per liter of water, meaning it is particularly dense! For the river warriors, you can also head to the lake for a river trip in a dugout canoe !
The islands off Dakar: N’Gor, La Madeleine, Gorée
The islands of N’Gor and Goree are ideal for a day trip. Crystal clear waters, fine sandy beaches, surf spots and restaurants on the beach. A change of scenery guaranteed. What more do you want?
Madeleine Island is a nature reserve off the west coast of Dakar and home to numerous birds and wildlife species.
The island of Goree is, from our point of view, unavoidable because of its reputation as a world heritage site. From this piece of land in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, thousands of men and women were torn away from their homes to work as slaves. Being of volcanic origin, this rocky island is composed of cooled lava. In the cove of Goree near the port, a small sandy beach enjoys clear water and moderate waves. It is characterised by a vegetation consisting of palm trees, baobabs, bougainvilleas and hibiscus, all contributing to the creation of extraordinarily pleasant natural setting.
Les Mamelles are located on the west coast of Dakar. The two highest peaks of the Cape Verde peninsula are the result of a volcanic system dating from the quaternary period. This explosive type of volcanism is based on limestone bedrock. With there being two Mamelles: the western Mamelle or big Mamelle, and the eastern Mamelle, you will have a panoramic view of almost all the peninsula of Cape Verde and the Atlantic Ocean with its islands.
2 – ITS SPECTACULAR BEACHES
The Dakar coast
The ideal spot for lovers of idleness and sun. There are many intimate beaches, long strips of fine blond sand facing the waves of the ocean. All of them allow you to taste the joys of swimming, lazing around or water sports. Other pleasures include seafood tasting and a guaranteed nightlife experience.
The beach of Yoff
The immense 3km long beach of Yoff, is appreciated by surfers and locals especially. The beach is one of the most popular seaside spots between May and November.
South of Dakar, La Somone is more than a fishing village and a seaside resort; t is a protected nature reserve with lagoons, mangroves and home to numerous species of birds, such as the grey heron and the kingfisher family. The beach of the lagoon, however, is where you will find yourself awestruck by the beauty of the location. Here, the waves of the ocean offer you the opportunity to practise your surfing, bodyboarding and even stand-up paddle boarding.
3 – A HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL HERITAGE
The house of the slaves
Visiting the island of Gorée is like taking a trip back in time. With its Unesco heritage status, it is a highly unique location, carrying a lot of emotion. Here, the houses with ochre and pink facades and blue shutters take you back into the painful history of slavery. The visit to the Maison des Esclaves, accompanied by the lyrical narrative, is a brutal reminder of Dakar’s past. It is an incredible contrast between the beauty of Gorée, an endearing mixture of quietude and refinement, and the horror of its history. The vibration of the past is felt in every room, especially in front of the “door of no return”. The museums, the fascinating work of the local painters and the reminder of humanities dark past, justify Gorée as an extraordinary cultural experience.
The Museum of African Art
One of the oldest museums on the African continent preserves an important collection of nearly 10,000 African works of art, including masks, statues, paintings, jewellery and traditional musical instruments. Handicrafts are also exhibited: pottery, ceramics, basketry, textiles. Here, you will discover exquisite reconstructions of initiation ceremonies and scenes of traditional daily life that present the rich cultural heritage of West Africa.
The bubble houses
In Dakar, balloon-shaped houses built before independence and designed by the Californian architect, Wallace Neff, remain in tact. Neff designed these houses in anticipation of the post-war housing shortage to follow World War 2. They are located in the districts of Ouakam, Hann, and Zone B. Of the 1,200 bubble houses built in Dakar in 1953, no more than 200 remain. Although many of them have been abandoned or severely dilapidated, those that remain have watched history unfold.
The monument of the African renaissance
Classified as one of the highest monuments in the world, the work of Romanian sculptor Virgil Magherusan, is an imposing 52m bronze and copper statue of a couple with a child. The project of the monument was entrusted to the Senegalese architect Pierre Goudiaby Atepa, author of “notably” the Door of the Third Millennium which overhangs the road of the Corniche. From the top, a 360 degree perspective of the city can be admired. Sporting a sunset as a backdrop, the show is grandiose.
4 – SUNNY DESTINATION
Are you in need of a cure cast by sunlight? With more than 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, Senegal is one of the sunniest countries on the planet. With sunshine guaranteed all year round, it is the ideal destination to relax and enjoy a sun-soaked vacation.
5 – FARNIENTE AND SPORT
Dakar is a paradise for sports. Every day, after work, Senegalese invade the streets and beaches – whether it’s for jogging, training, sparring or using one of the large open-air gyms along the western Corniche road.
Dakar is particularly known for its water sports. Surfing in the north of the peninsula is world famous with spots and waves for all types of surfers. In addition, you can go diving, fishing, swimming, bodyboarding and even try your hand at stand-up paddling, not to mention golf.
6 – ITS LIVELY MARKETS
Going to the markets is probably the best way to soak up the atmosphere of a city. Don’t hesitate to meander through the narrow streets and slink between the stalls.
In Dakar, you will discover several markets, each with its own specialties and atmosphere.
– The most typical is the Malian market at the train station, where you will find multiple type of incense (the most famous being “tiouraye”), beads and necklaces, and terracotta.
– The most fishy is the Soumbédioune market, located in a bay a few kilometers from downtown, between the Medina and Gueule Tapée. Catch of the day for a fish barbecue is found here!
– The most fanciful is the HLM market (pronounced “assélem”), on the street that connects Colobane to Avenue Bourguiba. It is the main fabric market (wax, bazin, veil, legos, embroideries, batik, etc.), and is admired in stores lit with blue, green, red neon. Be careful, it makes up a maze of alleys from which it is difficult to escape…
– The most exotic is the “Casamance” market, located on the boarding platform for Ziguinchor. You can find all the products from the south of the country here, which are often difficult to find elsewhere: palm oil, dried shrimps, honey, fruits and vegetables.
– The market of Tilène: with its special grigris area, a wide choice of medicinal herbs, powders, seeds, dried animals and other powders of perlimpinpin await you. You’ll quickly realise how closely the Senegalese are still attached to animist values.
7 – SENEGALESE CUISINE
It is the most varied cuisine in West Africa. In Dakar, you will be able to taste great specialties and discover the variety of Senegals diverse flavours. Rice is a staple of the Senegalese diet, and is sometimes replaced by millet, a variation much less expensive. Cassava, in leaf form to flavour sauces, is also a must. Dishes are sometimes accompanied by monkey bread; the fruit of the baobab tree with a tangy taste. The very rich peanut is also found in all preparations, either salted or sweetened. As a major crop of the country, it replaces butter and gives off a pleasant scent. It is found in most pastes and oils.
The fishing ports in Dakar are numerous, and with this, the diversity of fish and seafood is immense. Make an effort to enjoy the most popular fish of the country, the thiof – or bronzed grouper – in the Thiep bou diem, the Senegalese national dish.
Meat is also widely used. You can enjoy delicious meat dishes in the ‘dibiteries’; small shops that prepare skewers of marinated meat, grilled over a wood fire. Typical dishes are Yassa with chicken, Thiep bou yapp or Mafé.
8 – CULTURE AND TRADITIONS
Between the thousand-year-old traditions and the colonial influences, Senegal is a fertile ground for creation. The rhythms of the djembe and the notes of the cora, a stringed instrument, rub shoulders with rap artists, poets and other Western-influenced sounds. Don’t miss a traditional Serer wrestling match, where the rituals are as captivating as the choreography performed by the athletes. For a glimpse into the world of the healers, the Malango Center in Fatick is the place to be.
9 – DAK’ART THE BIENNALE OF CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN ART
Dak’Art is the very first biennial of contemporary art on the African continent. It is dedicated to African artists and artists from the diaspora. It remains today as the main African event dedicated to contemporary creation.
10 – IDEAL FOR A FIRST TRIP TO AFRICA
Estimated at 17 million inhabitants in 2021, of which nearly a quarter live in the Dakar area, the Senegalese population is composed of about twenty ethnic groups, each with its own language. Senegal is a peaceful country where Christians, Muslims and animists live in symbiosis, and is characterised by a community understanding.
Its open-mindedness, tolerance, hospitality and French as the national language make Senegal a perfect destination for a first trip to Africa. You will need to negotiate prices, take the famous bush cabs, confront a culture completely different to yours, try new food and listen to new music. Like we said; a change of scenery. And isn’t that why we travel? To get out of our “comfort zone”, to go towards the other, to discover new horizons? The country is full of beautiful beaches, some of them preserved from mass tourism, like in Casamance, ideal for mixing cultural visits and relaxation, especially if you travel to Senegal with children. In short, a destination that we recommend first if it’s your first time in Africa. You can find everything: luxurious hotels as well as accommodation with local people without electricity or hot water, traditional meals eaten in a big common dish as well as international dishes or dibi, a very popular barbecue in Senegal.
1. Spoken languages
The official language is French. Wolof is the second most spoken language. There are also different dialects according to the ethnic groups (Serer, Pulaar, Diola, Soninke…)
2. Staying at
You will have the choice to select from a long list of receptive accommodation types considering all rates and budgets.
3. When to go
The climate is favourable all year round in Dakar. The best time to visit Senegal is in winter, from December to January inland and a little later on the coast, especially in Dakar, which you can enjoy until spring.
4. Getting around
If you have a car at your disposal, you must first learn the “code of the road” , as is the Senegalese way. If you don’t have a car or a driver, you can use a cab, but be careful, you must know how to negotiate your fare before getting in.
You can also take the fast bus, those colourful Renault mini buses that are everywhere in the capital, for an “authentic” but sporty experience. The comfort will not always be there but the expense will be minimal.
There are also different bus lines that you can use for daily trips. For the islands, you can travel by boat or rowboat.
Visas are not required for citizens of the European Union, ECOWAS and most African countries. A visa is required for Sudan and South Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Angola and Equatorial Guinea.
No vaccinations are mandatory but some are recommended: make sure you are up to date with your usual vaccinations as well as those related to all the geographical areas you will be visiting. However, it is strongly recommended to be up to date with the yellow fever vaccination. Beware of malaria, dengue, chikungunya virus, yellow fever.
Covid situation: refer to official recommendations. More info: https://sn.ambafrance.org/FAQ-COVID-19
7. Currency and exchange rate
The currency of Senegal is the CFA franc. The CFA franc is guaranteed in euros by the French Treasury, but is not convertible outside the territory of the African countries that are members of the franc zone. You will therefore have to change your euros on the spot. There are many exchange offices in Senegal outside the banks. Even at gas stations, gas station attendants can change your euros or any other international currency. It is possible to withdraw money from banks and ATMs with a checkbook or a credit card. The exchange commissions are between 3 and 5% depending on the establishment. Some merchants accept credit cards and euro checks.