As you head into the heart of Dakar, the colors, noises, sights of tropical natural beauty and the aromas of open-air cooking will tell you that you have arrived in the heart of a truly African city – yet with distinct echoes of Europe, thanks to the lingering French influence on the city’s architecture, language, cuisine and culture.
As one of Africa’s busiest ports, Dakar has played an important role in the development of most of north-west Africa and has grown substantially since its founding in the early 15th Century. Dakar remains a melting pot of trade, music, art and cuisine, with influences constantly being brought in from across the ocean and into the daily life of the city.
Today open air markets flourish and everything from traditional arts and crafts to local seafood await. Just remember to haggle as bartering is part of the local culture.
Sightseeing in Dakar
The newly constructed African Renaissance Monument is a good starting point, and a great subject for photography. This 48-meter bronze statue depicts a man, woman and child emerging from a volcano. The monument dominates Dakar’s skyline as it celebrates the golden jubilee of Senegal’s independence.
Those looking to enjoy the sun can head to the pristine white beaches on N’Gor island, which is only a short boat trip away from the mainland, where swimming, diving, fishing and surfing are all on offer.
Dining and nightlife
For at least one meal, check out Les Almadies: a spectacular local waterfront on the western-most tip of Africa, home to hundreds of local restaurants offering a potent fusion of African and French cuisine with fresh seafood. The local seafood stew with salted coconut and banana is a good choice for adventurous diners.
Renowned for its nightlife, Dakar’s local music style – Mbalax – is a mix of Caribbean, Latin music and African drumming, which sets the tone for not just its nightclubs, but the city as a whole.
The shallow lagoon of Lac Rose is a popular day trip for locals and tourists alike. Ringed by sand dunes and with a salt content 10 times that of the ocean, it has become an important source of salt for Senegal. Lac Rose has earned its name and status courtesy of a rare bacteria living in the water, which turns the entire lagoon pink (hence the name, which literally translates to “Pink Lake”) whenever the sun is high up in the sky.
The best time to see this magnificent place is in the dry season from November to February. You can also take advantage of the waters high salt content by relaxing with a little floating on the water’s surface (much like the Dead Sea in Jordan), however if you are feeling a little adventurous, you can always explore the shores on horseback.
Founded in 1659, Saint-Louis was the site of the first French settlement in Africa and grew to become the capital of French colonial rule. The historical center of the city has been classified as a World Heritage Site and is still heavily influenced by all things French, from architecture and art to music and cuisine.
Beyond its history, Saint-Louis also offers more up-to-date culture, in the shape of the Saint-Louis Jazz festival. Held every May, the festival is considered to be one of the most important of its kind in the world, with big-name local and international jazz players converging on the town, along with thousands of jazz fans.