Charming, colourful, creative, cultured
Dakar is the westernmost city in mainland Africa and sits on Cap Vert Peninsula. Visitors are drawn in by Dakar’s extraordinary music scene, colourful nightlife, festivals and frenzied markets. Largely surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the beaches are a major attraction and one of Dakar’s best kept secrets are the superb waves ideal for surfing. When in need of a change of pace from the bustling city escape to the quieter northern beaches, tranquil islands just off the coast and world class museums and art galleries.
Dakar, and Senegal in general, is known for being safe, easy going and welcoming to visitors. Multicultural Senegal is about 95 percent and is hailed for its peace and political stability and being an extremely tolerant society – this holds true and is not just a cliché.
- Senegalese film Borom Sarret, which was filmed and set in Dakar is considered the first film made in Africa by a black African. Its director, Ousmane Sembène, is known as the father of African cinema.
- Some of the most popular beaches in and around Dakar include Plage de Mamelles, Ngor Beach and Plage de Virage. Keep in mind most locations do not have lifeguards on duty.
- The African Renaissance Monument situated in Dakar is the tallest statue in Africa at around 49 metres high.
- The sprawling Marché Sandaga is the largest of Dakar’s numerous markets, situated in the downtown area. You can find anything here from curios to fabrics to knock off designer goods. Other markets include Marché Kermel, Marché des HLM, Marché Tilène and the quieter Village Artisanal Soumbedioune
- Dakar not only has great waves for surfing but also has a handful of surf schools and camps to help you develop and hone your skills.
Over the hill
The Dakar landscape is mostly flat but the city has two prominent hills. On one hill you will find Les Mamelles Lighthouse. Built on the highest point in Dakar, the 16 metre high lighthouse offers views of the sea and is a great vantage point to take in the city and orient yourself. If you’re not brave enough to take on the climb to the top, relax at the base of the lighthouse with a meal and a drink. The location is great for a chilled day out or a fun night out.
On the second hill you will find the gigantic and somewhat controversial African Renaissance Monument. The bronze monument is larger than the Statue of Liberty and features an African family looking out over the sea. It symbolises the hopes of modern Senegal and was built to mark 50 years of Senegalese independence. Other noteable structures in Dakar include the Grand Mosque, Mosque of the Divinity, the Cathedral of Dakar and Layen Mausoleum.
In fact, Senegal has a small but growing community of surfers and a few surf schools.
The rhythm of Dakar
Music is an integral part of life for Dakarois people and you’ll find a live show on every night. Mbalax is the national music genre of Senegal and its best known artist is Grammy-winning superstar Youssou N’Dour. N’Dour owns the hottest club in town Thiossane, which plays a mix of local and international music. If you’re fortunate you may catch a late Saturday night performance by the man himself. Other prominent musicians include Ismael Lo, Baaba Maal, Chiekh Lo and Mor Thiam (who just so happens to be the father of Senegalese American singer Akon).
The local bar scene is thriving and you’ll be spoilt for choices of places to grab a drink and dance the night away, while enraptured by the unique sounds of Senegal. L’Institut Francais and Just 4 U are two of Dakar’s most popular hangout spots.
Forget the staged WWE matches, Senegalese wrestling is the real deal. Laamb, as it’s called in Wolof, is loved by locals and attracts large crowds. Champion wrestlers are popular figures, revered in society. Senegalese wrestling holds cultural and historical significance. The traditional sport began as a method of training for war among the Serer people.
The athletes are modern day warriors, clad in little more than loincloth, amulets and mouth guards. Battle grounds vary from beaches to specially designed arenas. The first warrior to lift up their opponent and throw them to the ground is the winner.
You may be familiar with the saga that is the jollof wars. A never ending war in which nations across West Africa “fight” over who makes the best jollof rice. But did you know that jollof originated in Senegal? The name is derived from the Wolof people of Senegal and the Jolof Empire or Wolof Empire that ruled parts of Senegal from the 14th to 16th century. In Senegal today the dish is called cebu jen or Thiéboudienne and is considered the national dish. The one pot dish is typically eaten with fish and a selection of vegetables. Other popular dishes include mafe (typically consists of rice and meat in a peanut sauce), accara or akkara (black-eyed pea fritters commonly sold as street food) and dibi (roasted meat also sold as street food). Being surrounded by the ocean, fish and seafood are abundant. Wash it all down with bissap (the local hibiscus drink often infused with ginger).
While the central Dakar offers endless delights, there is much to entice visitors on the outskirts and islands just off the coast. An hour away from Dakar is the striking natural phenomenon, Lac Rose or Lake Retba. The magical lake produces a range of pink hues when the sun hits the salty waters just right. The effect is most visible during the dry season.
Ile de N’gor (Ngor Island) is only a five-minute boat drive from the mainland. You may forget that technically, you’re still in Dakar due to the more relaxed pace of life. It is one of the preferred locations for surfers. You can relax on the beaches, choose from a number of restaurants and if you’d like to stay longer there are several accommodation options.
Ferries run between Dakar Ile de Goree (Goree Island), now a UNESCO Heritage Site, several times a day. The island is best known for the ‘House of Slaves,’ a former slave-trading centre. People go there not only for a historical experience but also to experience island life and the culture of Goree.