The port city of Dakar, with a population of slightly over 1 million people, is the capital and largest city of Senegal. Located on the Cap-Vert Peninsula on the Atlantic coast of West Africa it is the westernmost city on the Africa continent.
FROM THE AIRPORT
Dakar’s Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport (Airport code – DKR) is 15km from the centre of town. A taxi should cost around CFA 7,000 (€10.70), including luggage – and some hard bargaining. Our advice is to arrange with you hotel beforehand to have you picked up at the airport.
Try the prestigious King Fahd Palace (338696969, kingfahdpalacehotels.com) for five-star comfort.
Other splendid stays include La Madrague (338200223, hotel-madrague.com) only five minutes from the airport and Hotel Faidherbe (338891750, hotel-faidherbe.com).
For authentic Japanese cuisine, consider Fuji (19 Rue Victor Hugo, 338216000, facebook.com/fujidakar). It’s advisable to book in advance.
For great fresh seafood next to the beach, there’s La Cabane du Pecheur (Plage de Ngor, 338207675, facebook.com/cabanedupecheurngor) while La piazzola (Mermoz route, 338603614, de Ouakam) serves Italian food.
For more informal eating, do what the locals to and try streat food. It’s also easy on the wallet. Restaurant Ali Baba (tel. 33 822 5297) in Avenue G. Pompidou in the Plateau district is popular for its kebabs, shawarmas and deep fries. Around the corner down Rue Mousse Diop at Sam’s Place you can buy a cold beer at half the price of beer in more formal restaurants.
EARLY MORNING TREAT
Downtown Dakar is legendary for the best in traditional Belgian and French patisserie. Two of these compete in close proximity in Avenue du Président Lamine Gueye. Patissier Glacier at number 160 and Laetitia at number 180 both open their doors as early as 6.30 in the morning. At Glacier executive chef Leopold Ndou is well-known as an artisan chocolatier and at Laetitia manager Sylvie Mal always awaits clients with the finest confectionery.
Visit a market in Dakar and you will feel the heartbeat of the city. Like so many African cities, Dakar has an abundance of lively markets. Some are organised and well arranged while others sprung up in some form of systemised chaos on a pavement.
The market that has become the most popular for fresh produce is Kermel Market in Rue de Essart in the Plateau district a short stroll from the main harbour. Here you will find flowers, locally grown vegetables, fruit and seafood so fresh that the crabs and lobster will try to snap off your fingers should you get too close. The building itself is splendid too. The original 1860 Victorian style building burnt down in the early 1990s, but the newly constructed market has been closely modelled on the original octagonal structure.
Haggling is the name of the game in Dakar’s craft markets. If it’s authentic African crafts like woodcraft, jewellery, leather goods, paintings and even toys you are after, search no further than Village Art next to the fishing beach and fishing market of Soumbédioune in the Médina district.
Should you want to buy African fabric, like the famous west African mud cloth and batik, head to the market Marché HLM next to the Marché Mosque in district Grand Dakar.
In Dakar “late nights” means just that. For local music, don’t bother to hit the night spots before midnight. At Just 4U (Avenue Cheikh Anta Diop, Fann Point E district) food is available until midnight, but catch the local beat from around 1am until daybreak.
The crowded Club Thiossane, owned by the Senegalese musician Youssou N’Dour, is extremely popular and known for the development of a style of music known in the Serer language as mbalax: a fusion of popular Western music with dance rhythms such as jazz, soul, Latin, and rock.
ESCAPE THE CITY
Goree Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site about 20 minutes by ferry from the main harbour of Dakar. World leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Pope John Paul II and George W Bush all have a visit to Goree Island in common. While theirs were primarily to visit the Slave Museum and ‘House of Slaves’ – a memorial to recall the horrors of the Atlantic slave trade – there are many more reasons to make a stopover on this tiny island with it’s colourful colonial houses, cobbled alleys, baobab and palm trees.
Once you have sailed the 2km by regular ferry from the main harbour, step into a serene environment with no cars, no crime, one bank and only a couple of hotels and guesthouses. Goree, however, does have a lively artists’ village where you can bargain for beadwork, locally made jewellery, leather goods, African cloth and clothes, as well as fine art. Cafés near the ferry quay sell affordable food and frosty drinks. Take off your shoes and sit with your bare feet in the sand.
At the IFAN Museum of African Arts (Plateau district) you’ll find collections from Francophone Africa.
The French Institute at 89 Rue Joseph Gomis in the city’s central Plateau district offers an all-year programme of comedy and dance shows, theatre, exhibitions, cinema, conferences and French language tuition. Download the programme of events from institutfrancais-senegal.com or pick up a free bi-monthly brochure while having tea or snacks at the institute cafeteria.
The African Renaissance Monument stands taller than the Statue of Liberty on one of two hills known as Collines des Mamelles. It’s hard to ignore this monument that symbolises freedom and development in West Africa. At 49 metres it’s the tallest statue in all of Africa. It was rather controversially built at a cost of no less than €20 million.