West Africa is certainly not famous for its cities, and the truth is there aren’t a whole lot of cities in the region that conjure up ideas of romance, culture, or adventure. I’d like to tell you that Dakar is different, but I’m not so sure it is. Although Dakar is certainly distinct from the other West African capital cities, it doesn’t blow me away as a tourist. That being said, there are few cities in the world, let alone West Africa, that are as diverse as Dakar. This city caters to such a wide range of economic classes both from a tourism and a living perspective. I didn’t fall in love with Dakar, but I don’t exactly hate it either; although I know people who do either love or hate it. So, as is the case with anywhere I go, I implore you to judge it for yourself.
Time Needed: 3-4 Days
Backpacker’s Budget: 50USD a day
Things to do in Dakar
- The Plateau: The downtown area of Dakar is know as the plateau. You can create a bit of a walking tour for yourself downtown and check out the Presidential Palace, the Chamber of Commerce, Hotel de Ville, the Market and the train station.
- Museums: I got shut out on my museum search in Dakar as one museum the Musee Theodore Monod was under construction while I was there and the Galerie Nationale was closed for some holiday. I did, however, get into the Institut Francais Leopold Sedar Senghor which was quite nice.
- Les Almadies: This part of town is for the wealthy and embassy types. There are some nice beaches, some of which are private, a couple expensive hotels and some great places to get grub. If you’re staying downtown, it makes for a nice escape from the chaos of downtown
- N’Gor: This is an island just off of the peninsula which is famous for it’s surfing. If you’re into surf, you might want to book yourself in here for a couple days.
- Ile de Goree: Easily my favourite place in the area, it’s possible to do a day trip (and most people do just a day trip) to Ile de Goree, however I recommend spending a couple days out here if you can.
Where to Eat in Dakar
You’ll likely be surprise by the cuisine of Dakar. For me, it has the best food in the region. They do a lot of peanut sauces (mafe) and there is always fresh fish. Another great thing here is the availability of international cuisine as well.
- Chez Loutcha: If your hungry, this is the best place to get Senegalese food. The portions are massive and a set lunch will only cost you between $4-6.
- Le Ngor: Down on the waterfront in Les Almedies this is the location of perhaps the best fish lunch I have had in my life. The thiof was incredible although it did set me back $15.
- Ali Baba’s: This is the staple of the fast food cuisine of Dakar. It serves everything from burgers to chwarma and is always busy.
Where to Stay in Dakar
There is a wide range of accommodation in Dakar. You can find yourself at the all-inclusive Club Med in Les Almedies (which has the nicest beach in the city) or downtown at one of the pay-by-the-hour type establishments. There really is something for everyone. As for location? The truth is that you’re going to find yourself spread out. Downtown is rough around the edges and more expensive, les Almedies is a decent option, or the suburb of Parcelles Assinies is a good choice if you don’t want to be too far away. If you’re like me and you’re on a budget, here are some suggestions:
- Keur Diame: Although well out of town, the Swiss owner will make you feel a part of the family. The rooms are nice and there is working wifi as well. You’ll likely pay about $20 a night here.
- Chez Nizar: If you’re dying to stay downtown this is likely the only cheap option. It’s right above Ali Baba’s and basically serves as the backpackers center in Dakar.
- Hotel Cap Ouest: This is a decent place in Les Almedies with a waterfront location. At about $35 a night it might be in your budget, it was out of mine.
Getting out of Town
In Senegal, the best way to get around is via the sept-place (seven-seat) taxis. They leave from the main Gare and shoot off into a number of directions each day. The best time to catch a ride without waiting too long is between 6-8am. There are no schedules, they simply leave when they are full.
- Saint-Louis: Likely the easiest ride to catch, cars seem to leave every 15 minutes to Saint-Louis and many carry on to the Mauritanian border as well.
- Banjul: You’ll only get a car as far as the border and you’ll have to switch to another (and then on to the ferry) to get to Banjul. The border getting into the Gambia is very stress free.
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