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Dakar, Senegal

Dakar is the capital and largest city of Senegal and is often regarded as the cultural and commercial center of French-speaking West Africa. The metropolitan area lies on the end of the Cap Verte peninsula, which marks the westernmost point on the African mainland.
Dakar is often the first stop in exploring French-speaking West Africa because it has good flight connections with Western Europe, whereas the other main French-speaking West African city, Abidjan, does not.

The Senegalese are very proud of their reputation for "teranga" — hospitality. Locals are extremely friendly and helpful, but as anywhere else, watch out for scams and pickpockets. Petty crime here is relatively high, be cautious.


The peninsula was settled by the Lebou people, closely related to the Wolof people, when the Portuguese... Read more

Dakar, Senegal


Dakar is the capital and largest city of Senegal and is often regarded as the cultural and commercial center of French-speaking West Africa. The metropolitan area lies on the end of the Cap Verte peninsula, which marks the westernmost point on the African mainland.
Dakar is often the first stop in exploring French-speaking West Africa because it has good flight connections with Western Europe, whereas the other main French-speaking West African city, Abidjan, does not.

The Senegalese are very proud of their reputation for "teranga" — hospitality. Locals are extremely friendly and helpful, but as anywhere else, watch out for scams and pickpockets. Petty crime here is relatively high, be cautious.


The peninsula was settled by the Lebou people, closely related to the Wolof people, when the Portuguese first reached it in 1444. The original villages: Ouakam, Ngor, Yoff and Hann, still constitute distinctively Lebou neighborhoods of the city today. The Portuguese were repulsed by the locals initially (the first Portuguese ships were slave-raiders), but peaceful contact was made in 1456. The bay would serve as an important stop for the Portuguese India armadas of the early 15th century and Portuguese armadas en route to Brazil. It is believed that during a stop here in 1501, when an armada returning from India and one heading to Brazil met, an explorer with the latter—Amerigo Vespucci—compared notes with explorers returning from East Asia and realized that Asia & the New World couldn't be the same continent (it was a letter published upon his return that is heralded as the first postulation of America as a separate continent).
The Portuguese established a settlement on the island of Gorée in the early 16th century and, on the mainland, the Lebou established the town of Ndakaaru to service the needs of the Portuguese. It would be captured by the Dutch in 1588 and switch hands several times between them until the British captured the island in 1664 and the French gained control in 1677. The settlement would mostly support the slave trade. The infamous House of Slaves was completed in 1796.
In 1795, the Lebou revolted against Cayor rule and established the Lebou Republic with Ndakaaru as its capital. In 1857, the French established a military post on the peninsula and annexed the Lebou Republic. With slavery outlawed, the French supported peanut cultivation. Gorée island proved ineffective as a port, and so with the booming peanut trade, the French supported the growth of Dakar and its port. Dakar replaced Saint-Louis as the capital of French West Africa in 1902. During this heyday, the city was one of the most important cities in the French empire (comparable to Beirut or Hanoi).
Between 1959-1960, Dakar served as the capital of the Mali Federation and, upon its breakup, became the capital of Senegal in 1960. The city still maintains strong ties to France and boasts a large French expatriate population and hosts offices for many French businesses involved in West Africa.


Dakar is warm and humid year-round with a rainy season that lasts from July–October. Temperatures are warm, but moderated by cool sea-breezes and not as hot as inland cities in the region (like Bamako or Ouagadougou). The warmest months are Jul–Oct with highs of 30 to 31°C (86 to 87°F) and lows of 24.5°C (76°F). Jan–Mar are the coolest months, with highs around 25°C (77°F) and lows around 17 to 18°C (63°F).
Average yearly rainfall is 495 mm (19.5 in), of which just 19 mm (0.75 in)) falls outside the rainy season! During the rainy season, roads around the city can turn into rushing rivers and without proper sewers in some parts of the city, standing water is contaminated and not safe to walk through.

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Dakar, Senegal: Port Information

Cruise ships dock at the port. The city center is close (about a mile away). You can take a taxi, but be very careful with taxi drivers. 

Get around Dakar, Senegal

By bus

The Dakar bus system, known as Dakar Demm Dikk (Dakar coming and going), is fairly dependable. There are no free transfers permissible with each ticket. Unfortunately, for newcomers, there's not much in the way of a map of the bus system, so you'll have to figure it out on your own. The number 10 bus runs along the Corniche de l'Ouest and turns into the suburbs at Rue Aime Cesaire. The number 1 bus runs along the VDN.

Cars Rapides. These are the usually blue, yellow or white mini-buses that careen through Dakar and some of Senegal's other cities. There are somewhat fixed rates for certain distances, but you need to check with a Senegalese beforehand. To find out where one is going, flag it down and shout out your destination at the apprenti, the boy in charge of collecting fares who hangs out the back. If she shouts back at you the destination you want, signal it to stop and hop aboard. To stop, bang loudly on the side of the bus, on the roof or signal to the apprenti you want off. Apprenti's don't always speak French, so be prepared to communicate otherwise if you do not speak Wolof. Be careful about asking for your destination, as the apprenti will often tell you it is going there just to get you on the bus, no matter its actual destination. If possible, ask where it is going rather than if it is going to your destination.

By taxi

Cheap and safe and everywhere. Just don't mind the broken windshields. All taxi fares are negotiated beforehand and will require bargaining. If you're not from Senegal, you will probably have an outrageous price proposed, so check with locals before to get an idea of what they pay, in order to know what you will be able to get. Even if you have negotiated a price, once you arrive your taxi driver will pretend he has no change on him, even if he previously assured you he had.

Rental Cars

Besides the large rental companies, small companies offer cars at reasonable prices.

What to see in Dakar, Senegal

  • African Renaissance Monument

    . This colossal monument opened in 2010 and is dedicated to Africa's emergence from the oppressive European regimes that once ruled the continent and the end of slavery. It is also meant as a display of African pride to counter foreign perceptions of Africans as inferior people. The monument is rather controversial, with some Africans feeling the sense of pride it is meant to evoke while others criticizing it as a foreign (it was made by North Korea), completely un-African Stalinist statue. From base to the top, it reaches taller than the Statue of Liberty.
  • IFAN Museum of African Arts

    (Musée Théodore Monod d’Art Africain), Rue Emile Zola.
  • Ile de Goree. Goree Island in English, it was named by the Dutch after taking over the island from the Portuguese in the late 1600s. Today it's listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Goree was a minor location used for the transport of slaves headed to the Americas, though its prominence is often overplayed. The island has interesting colonial architecture, mostly in ruins, including the landmark "House of Slaves" museum. Ferries can be taken from the terminal north of Place de l'Independence. The trip takes 10-20 minutes. There are many small restaurants and a handful of places offering lodging. This is a place with a great atmosphere because it gives you kind of a pirate-island (with friendly folks all-over kind of feeling). Just walk around and explore. It's a small island, so you can easily stroll around it in an hour. You can buy cheap beer and lounge on the beach when you're done, or stroll some more and buy art-work from the locals.
  • Les Almadies (Les pointes des Almadies). The Western tip of the African continent where plenty of seafood restaurants are located.
  • Dakar Grand Mosque

    , Av. Pape Gueye Fall. Built in 1964 by French and Moroccan architects. Due to the Moroccan influence, there are strong similarities with the Grand Mosque in Casablanca.
  • Dakar Cathedral.
  • Hann Park and Zoo, ☎ +221 33 832 38 75. Tues-Sun 10:00-12:30 and 15:00-18:30. The public gardens were built in 1903 and the arboretum was built in 1947. The gardens feature a wide variety of Senegalese plant life and the zoo contains over 130 animals.
  • Léopold Sédar Senghor national stadium, Route de Yoff. Football is as important as music! When the biggest team ASC Jeanne D'Arc plays, the stadium is packed with more than 60,000 fans. Expect passion, insane noise and African football at its best.

What to do in Dakar, Senegal

  • Dakar has a vibrant music scene and is very popular with young people. Check out the incredibly rich and variant styles. Places like Club Thiossane, Just 4 U are a must for World Music fans.
  • Lake Retba (Lac Rose). Also called the "Pink Lake", the high concentration of cyanobacteria indeed gives the lake a pink tone. During the dry season and when the sun is brightest the color is said to be especially vivid. The lake has a high concentration of salt, so while you admire the beauty of the lake, you can also observe the salt harvesters who still gather salt in the traditional way.
  • Birdwatching. Senegal is a great country for birdwatching, and Dakar is no exception. Les Almadies is a good place to see seabirds, and the Iles de la Madeleine is the only African nesting site of the red-billed tropicbird.

What to eat and drink in Dakar, Senegal


  • Peanuts: The roasted peanuts you can buy on the street or get with your order of beer in any bar are delicious. These nuts are not greasy at all and have just the right amount of salt - and sometimes they are still slightly warm from being roasted.
  • Ali Baba: Greasy Spoon where you can get cheap Lebanese food. Good falafel sandwiches with French fries and lots of tahina sauce, shwarma, kebab and all sorts of other delicious (also western) snacks. Find it halfway up Ave. Pompidou.
  • Centre Culturel Française. Ask for the local food they serve for lunch (not on the menu) during the week. On weekends you must ask nicely to convince them to let you try what they prepare for the staff.
  • Café de Rome (City centre). authentic French food (as a matter of fact, you ARE in France), from oysters to steak tartar, and the famous Sole Meuniere. It is pricey by Dakar standards, but the food is great
  • Chez Ndeye / Ker Ndeye (On a street parallel to Ponty). Mediocre Senegalese food. Besides the lovely Thiebou Dien, the place features home-made Tamarind juice. Try to catch the excellent Kora player. For that price, there are much better options in Dakar.
  • Hotel de l'Indépendance Eat here for the magnificent views from the restaurant on 16th floor.
  • Hotel Farid/ Lebanese Restaurant Drink a gigantic Arrak (made from anis) as an aperitif and then order the 20 Mezze.
  • La Fourchette Stylish place serving international cuisine (Mexican, Japanese, Moroccan, etc.) at moderate prices. Next to Marche Kermel.
  • Lalibela Little Ethiopian restaurant with a fantastic rooftop dining area. The ambiance alone would be worth coming here, but luckily the food is great too. A little difficult to find—between the VDN and Avenue Cheikh Anta Diop at the intersection with the Mobil-On-The-Run and la Poste Fann.
  • Le Jardin Thailandais (Avenue Cheikh Anta Diop), ☎ +221 33 825 58 33. Huge menu of delicious Thai food, great atmosphere. A little pricey, but worth it. Across the street from UCAD (Université Cheikh Anta Diop) off of Avenue Cheikh Anta Diop/Rue de Ouakam. There is a jazz club across the street.
  • L'OzioItalian cuisine. 33 823 87 87
  • Patisserie Laetitia Located along the street of Cafe du Rome towards La Corniche (the sea) - away from the center - two blocks up on your right-hand side. Serves fresh, warm croissants, pain au chocolate and pain ain au raisins. The coffee is good and the fruit juices freshly squeezed. You will be surrounded by locals in beautiful Muslim outfits, reading the paper and discussing the latest news.
  • Chez Loutcha, 101 rue Moussé Diop, ☎ +221 33 8210302. Chez Lutcha is a Cape Verdian restaurant that serves huge portions of excellent food. Cape Verdian (Portuguese inspired) dishes, Senegalese food, and international cuisine. Cozy courtyard or AC dining room. Excellent service.
  • Zaika Nicely located on Cornish road serve good India food. Reasonable price. Sea View from the terrace is excellent
  • Indiana Located near Place de Independence offers Indian food. Food not very good but good for a change.
  • Le N'Gor. A brightly painted open-air restaurant overlooking the sea. Several terraced patios give it a good feel. Portions are small, but the food is delicious. It is located in Les Almadies past the Hotel de Almadies from the new US embassy, set back from the road behind an often empty parking lot. Look for poorly lit painted signs for "Ile de Le N'Gor".


Gazelle is the local favorite beer - it comes in serious bottles, or Flag, which is stronger and more expensive.

  • Le Hanoi You can't go wrong with a bar that has palm trees painted on one wall, a French military guy (opinions differ if he was secret service or just a regular drunk) behind the bar who insists the black waitress is his "little sister".
  • Zaika Nicely located on Cornish road serve good India food. Reasonable price. Sea View from the terrace is excellent
  • Le Seoul II (Le Seoul), Rue Amadou Assane Ndoye (between Rue J.Gomis and Ave du President Lamine) (City Center), ☎ +221 33 822 90 00. Open-air sports bar. Wood-fired barbecue food. Packed during popular international games (football!) and relatively relaxed in the inner city madness
  • Le Viking (Ave G. Pompidou). On the Ponty, in the midst of Sandaga madness, it is a popular spot for expats and tourists. Pricey drinks, but great atmosphere. Live music on weekend nights!

Shopping in Dakar, Senegal

  • Islam Couture/ Embroidery. Dakar has some amazing (and amazingly expensive) stores specialized in haute-couture, embroidered traditional west African Muslim clothes.
  • Marche Sandaga, cnr Rue Sandinieri and Ave du President Lamine Gueye (City Center). Madness. A decrepit concrete structure that has - despite appearance - three levels of activity: meat and vegetable stalls on the main floor, fish in the basement dungeon and - surprise - restaurant stalls on the roof. You will need to brave the crumpled stairs and step around guys cleaning dead chicken to make it up. Around the market building a sprawling network of stalls offer everything from copied music CDs, Manchester United shirts, electronic gadgets, and Islamic books - but be aware the hawkers can be very aggressive. The place is also famous for pickpockets, so take only the amount of money you need and keep it in a safe place.
  • Marche HLM. A smaller market geared primarily towards fabric vendors, Marche HLM is slightly less crazy than Sandaga. Hundreds of options for fabric that you can buy and then get tailored into perfectly fitting traditional Senegalese wear (if you will be in Dakar for awhile, ask a Senegalese person who his or her tailor is, and go there. A little less convenient for travelers who will only be staying a week). Most vendors won't sell less than 3 to 6 meters of fabric.
  • Marche Kermel, near the city center.
  • Soumbedioune, a popular evening fish market. There is also a "Village Artisanal" nearby where especially tourists can buy hand-made African jewelry, wooden decoration elements and much more. Be prepared to bargain.

Safety in Dakar, Senegal

Petty crime in Dakar is relatively high; crime against tourists is common, even around Place de l'Independance. Use common sense: women should not walk around alone after dark. Watch your pockets in crowded places, such as Sandaga, and keep a close eye on your belongings. There are many different scams to get money from tourists, so be wary. The African favorite 'I work at your hotel and have run out of fuel, please can I borrow €10' etc are common, so don't be fooled.

Avoid the beaches at night. Try not to wear any outwardly expensive items of clothing or jewelry. Generally, the Senegalese are not violent. Some people turn to stealing so that they can drink and eat. Overall, though, the Senegalese are incredibly friendly and hospitable people and you will meet many people who are interested in talking to you.

Senegal is one of the most politically stable countries in Africa. The police force is useless for your safety, although they all speak French hence are good to ask directions.

You should particularly avoid walking in the evenings (or nights) along the Corniche, particularly the stretch between the International School of Dakar and the Club Olympique.

Language spoken in Dakar, Senegal

French is the official language. English may be understood in tourist places, however, French is predominant.


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