Spectacular Dakar Vacation
Senegal is a delightful place. If you ever decide to go there, you will have a pleasant time. The people are amazing and hospitable and there is a lot to see. For me, it was love at first sight. I fell in love with the dazzling array of sights, sounds and flavors. I fell in love with the vibrant urban culture and the composed elegance of the capital city, Dakar. I fell in love with the beaches.
You may feel some anxiety before traveling down there perhaps based on something you may have heard. It is, after all, a developing nation with its attendant problems. It is nothing that common sense will not shield you from. For example, you will have to exercise care at night: stay away from dark alleys. Refrain from flashing expensive jewelry. In fact, when in the taxis, you will need to be discreet when interacting with your devices. However you will soon find that the emotion is gradually transformed to one of hope and eager longing to take in all the pleasantness of the city; and that there is really no cause for alarm.
It is easy to settle in.
People and Culture
The population was estimated in 2002 at about 9,8 millions , of which a quarter live in the agglomeration of Dakar, it is composed of many ethnics.
The Wolofs, are the most represented (35%), they make up the majority in all the regions, especially in the centre, the north and the coast of Dakar and Saint Louis. The farmers and the merchants, of Muslim faith for the majority, there importance is certain in the nation’s economy. The Lebous, established in fishing communities in the peninsula of Cap-Vert and in Saint Louis are related.
The Pulaar (20%) is composed of the Foulbes, Peuls and Toucouleurs, in the northern Senegal, the Fouta Toro, historical source for the propagation of Islam in Senegal, make up the cultural birthplace, they are very active in the commercial domain, as well as breeding and irrigated farming. they populate the Senegalese river valley and the Ferlo region.
The Sereres (17%) are less scattered out than the other ethnic groups. They can be found in the Sine-Saloum, along the Small Coast, in the centre of countries and north-west of the Gambia. The majority are Muslim, except for those along the Small Coast. The Diolas (10%) can be found in the Casamance, but also in Gambia and the Guinea-Bissau. Oriented rather to the culture of rice, they are for the majority animist and/or Christians in the basse Casamance region (Ziguinchor, Oussouye, Cap Skiring), and musulmans in the north and east.
Other than the main ethnic groups, we find the Mandingues of Eastern Senegal, the Soninkes very present in the east of the country and in the zones adjacent to the Mali and the Mauritania, the Bassari which live mainly by the culture of the millet and corn, of the picking and hunting, between the Guinea border and the limit of the Niokolo-Koba national park.
French is the official language. Wolof, Pulaar, Diola and Mandingo are also spoken.
Senegal is a predominantly Muslim nation with about 92% of the population practicing the faith. 6% are of the indigenous beliefs while 2% are Christians.
Best Time to Visit
Senegal’s main tourist season is from November to February, mostly during the dry, ‘cool’ season, when Dakar’s average daytime maximums are around 24°C (75°F). Most music festivals take place in December and between March and June.
During the wet months from July to late September some national parks are inaccessible or even closed, but it’s also the time everything is green and beautiful, and many hotels reduce their prices by up to 50%.
Flying to Senegal
Dakar is easily accessible to other African capitals. The national carrier, Senegal Airlines, has good, regular connections to Praia in Cape Verde, Banjul, Bissau, Abidjan, Accra and Bamako. If you are travelling from Lagos, Fly Mid Africa Airline serves you best.
Things to Do
Maison des Esclaves
When you come to Senegal, almost everyone will urge you to visit the House of Slaves. You really cannot be in Dakar and not take the 20 minute ferry to Goree Island and the House of Slaves. It will be a somber experience seeing the door of no return out of which many slave men, women and children met their end. You can see the rooms where the slaves were kept. If you go upstairs, you can even see
Village des Arts
It is a place where art is expressed without too many means and with great heart. It is a series of small sheds, divided into parts and each features a painter or a photographer or an artist name, but without creator. Some are now known, others not, but all the contacts made there are incredibly rich.
The president’s palace is the official residence of the sitting president. While you it is not open to the public, it is a great place for taking pictures. Make sure not to miss the guards in colonial-style uniforms.
African Renaissance Monument
An impressive statue, which has the reputation of being the tallest in Africa, Le Monument de la Renaissance Africaine dominates the skyline of Dakar. It is located in Almadies and can be reached quite easily from any part of town. You can catch a panoramic view of the city from the top of the imposing monument and also take pictures of the surrounding areas.
Medina is a popular neighborhood built by the French during the colonial days. It is an area that is always busily astir with tiny tailor’s shops and streets brimming with life. Visit and see if you can have something made for you.
This large, round traditional house is the most amazing architectural work in Ziguinchor, the chief town of the Casamance area of Senegal. It is beautified with dazzling South African Ndebele and Casamance patterns. Exhibitions, and shows which take place once a week, hold inside the house. There is also a restaurant and bar for your refreshment.
North of downtown Dakar and immediately north of Dakar airport is Yoff Village. When here, take a look at the Layen Mausoleum, a shrine to the founder of the Layen Muslim brotherhood. If you do visit, bear in mind that there is strong Islamic culture in Yoff. Smoking and drinking are prohibited and visitors should dress appropriately. The mausoleum is right on the beach and its floors are made out of sand.
Also spelled Cap Skirring is a town on the coast of Casamance region of Senegal. It is a favorite seaside resort for Europeans with its own airport and a golf course. Nowhere in West Africa will you find better beaches than those in Cap Skiring. The amazing thing about this wonderful attraction is that for all its glory, it remains little known. So you can imagine that it is peaceful all year round. A short drive will lead you to small villages where the beaches are even calmer.
IFAN Historical Museum
The museum contains an excellent collection of ceremonial and traditional folk art and items from important West African civilizations. Also available is art related to virtually every part of life: fertility, circumcision, marriage, crops, banishment and death. Upstairs, you are met by fabulous views of Dakar.
Place de l’independence
This is the unofficial tourist central of Dakar. All the tourists seem to congregate here. It is a big rectangular square that commemorates Senegal’s independence from France. It is the beating heart of the city where you are most likely to find the most upscale Senegalese. The square also contains majestic colonial buildings including the Gourvenance.
Where to Eat
This upscale and modern restaurant with its heavy wooden doors is one block off the lower end of Independence Square. The food is excellent and the service topnotch. The Thioff and Capitaine, two fish fillets on the menu are a favorite. They also have English menus. As a dose of extra, the chef stops by each table to make sure everything has been prepared to satisfaction.
Chez is a simple, little tree-lined restaurant that offers generous portions of Senegalese rice and sauce. The waitresses are nice. The price/quality ratio is very good.
You feel the warm and friendly welcome right from the door. The atmosphere at Le Toukouleur is very nice with soft music playing in the background. The service is great. The food is prepared in an open-plan kitchen, letting you see how the food is being prepared.The menu has a large variety of fresh food, especially fish. The restaurant is close to many clubs if that is your thing.
Cabane des Pecheurs
Cabanes des Pecheurs is located right on the waterfront and has the reputation of being the best fish restaurant in Dakar and it is not hard to see why. The fish is fresh, sometimes caught just a few hours before it reaches your plate. Service is efficient, prices reasonable and portions generous. It is usually cold at the restaurant so you may want to dress warm. If you are lucky, the live jazz band may be playing.
La Pointe Nord restaurant is an authentic Senegalese restaurant located in a quiet neighborhood north of Dakar. The dishes are representative of the country although you will also find international cuisine such as pasta on the menu. After eating, you may wash your meal down with Senegalese tea. The price is good and you will most certainly have a friendly waiter who understands English or even Spanish.
Where to Shop
Marche des HLM
Travelers find the fabulous Marche des HLM attractive and it is the best place to buy fabric in Dakar. There are rows of open-air stalls selling brightly-colored patterned cotton, the strange tableclothy or tafetta-like cotton, “brocade” that is more like a thick lace, bejeweled/sequined sari-like fabric, and chiffon that line the popular neighborhood.
Marche Sandaga is a typical market in the center of Dakar where everything imaginable is for sale. The market is packed with stalls so much that you often have to push your way through. There is a lot to buy, usually at the low end of the scale, if you don’t have your money stolen.
This market is popular with both locals and tourists. Here you can get a mixture of foodstuffs and souvenirs. The remarkable thing about the market is really the beautiful building that houses its busy stalls.
Saint Louis Jazz Festival
Every year, the colorful town of St Louis brings together Jazz legends from all over the world that come to play in what is the most internationally renowned festival in West Africa. Herbie Hancock, Randy Weston and Joe Zainful are some of the past musicians who have taken part in the festival which includes playing at various venues throughout the town. The festival also provides tremendous platform for new jazz groups to perform in front of an international audience.
The carnival which coincides with Christmas is a historic lantern procession that originates with the signares’ lantern-lit marches to midnight mass. It is celebrated today to recall Saint-Louisian history and emphasizes the town’s unique identity.
By far the quickest and safest way of getting around the country is by sept-place taxi – battered Peugeots that negotiate even the most ragged routes of the country. Slightly cheaper, but infinitely less reliable are the minibuses (Ndiaga Ndiaye or grand car), carrying around 30 to 40 people. Vehicles leave from the gare routière when they’re full, and they fill up quickest in the morning, before 8am.
Taxi prices are theoretically fixed, though they’re steadily increasing as petrol prices rise, and there’s usually an extra, negotiable charge for luggage (about 10% of the bill).
The car mouride bus service (financed by the Mouride brotherhood) offers a fairly reliable, though slow, uncomfortable connection between major towns in Senegal.
Where to Stay
King Fahd Palace Hotel 5*
The hotel is located at a great place in Les Almadies just across from the US embassy and right on the beach. The exterior of the hotel is gorgeous along with the lobby and poolside area. The rooms are large, well kept and has all the needed amenities. The hotel offers an excellent selection of food between the restaurants and poolside dining including traditional Senegalese dishes.
Radisson Blu 5*
Located in the affluent Fann Corniche area of Dakar, Radisson Blu plays host to airline crews, foreign diplomats and celebrities. The large infinity pool and poolside bar a beautiful view of the Atlantic is one of the highlights of this 5 star hotel. The Radisson is shares neighborhoods with western friendly stores like Benetton and a nicely appointed sushi restaurant. You really will have no idea that you are in Africa at this hotel.
Terrou Bi 5*
The Terrou Bi is a clean, modern and very well maintained hotel that is nicely located near the heart of town. Service is personalized and the staff are very helpful. You feel welcome right from the door and you settle in to a fantastic view on a private beach. Breakfast is excellent, with a lot of choices and quality. The restaurants are very nice and service there is excellent. WIFI is complimentary in all areas of the hotel. In all, a great solution for where to stay in Dakar.
La Maison Rose 4*
This beautiful historic hotel is charming in every respect and located in the center of the ‘old village’. The rooms are large and nicely decorated. The roof terrace is good for lunch and dinner. The balcony overlooking the river is one of the favorite spots for guests.
Hotel Jardin Savana Dakar 4*
For those who have to come to the downtown during the daytime, Hotel Jardin Savana is a great location as most of Dakar is accessible by a short (5-10 mins) taxi ride. It is situated on the promontory facing the Goree Island. The hotel is blessed with wonderful views including a nicely maintained Garden and an Olympic size swimming pool. The rooms are spacious and comfortable and if you have the right one, you will wake up to a wonderful view of the sea. WIFI is complimentary.
Pullman Dakar Terranga 4*
Pullman is a beautiful hotel that comes at half the price of others in the area. The rooms are well appointed with fridge, WIFI and TV with four English channels. There is an ATM conveniently located on site. The pool area overlooks the ocean. There are many restaurants and cafes within easy walking distance.
Hotel Faidherbe 3*
The hotel is centrally located, every taxi driver knows it. Faidherbe offers very reasonable room rates. It’s a 5 to 10 minute walk to get to the port and within walking distance to the markets. They have a nice swimming pool and a restaurant that serves African/Continental fare. The staff is extremely helpful and multilingual. The hotel has a really nice terrace which is a great place to read a book, enjoy a drink or simply get some views of the harbor. TV comes with CNN.
Hotel Hibiscus 3*
Hibiscus is a real oasis of calm. However, if you are looking to step things up a notch you can go to the club in the sister hotel. The food is good quality and the inclusive system well run, no hassle, with soft drinks and wine all easily available. The rooms were cut and spotless, lovely wet floor showers with good pressure, and plenty of places to idle in the sunshine, either by the poolside of the beach.
Hotel Monaco Plage 2
Monaco Plage is a beautiful hotel located on one of the best beaches in Dakar with a great view of the Goree Island and the Port of Dakar. Hotels grounds and rooms are kept spotlessly clean. The staff are friendly and eager to please. Monaco Plage is popular with the Senegalese. The only drawback could be that it is located in an industrial zone, but if you can get over that, the hotel itself is quite lovely and peaceful. You will love it there.