You’d think the endpoint of the world’s toughest off-road race would be a dusty backwater but Dakar, Senegal is a wonderfully exotic place to visit which is full of exciting sights and friendly residents! Cradled by the Atlantic Ocean on three sides, Dakar juts out into the sea on the Cap-Vert peninsula in the western-most location in Africa. In fact, Dakar is almost as far west as Reykjavik. The warm weather, interesting culture and friendly residents make Dakar an inviting place to explore.
The history of human habitation in Dakar is fairly recent. Because it is surrounded by the forbidding Sahara Desert, it wasn’t until the grand era of exploration by the Portuguese that Dakar became settled because of its near-perfect port conditions.
You really Mosque visit Dakar!
Here’s a Pro-tip: Visit Dakar between the months of December to May, the dry season, for the best weather. It’s warm during the day but cool and breezy in the evenings. This is also the rally season.
Unless you drive into Dakar with the Rally, you’ll fly into Blaise Diagne International Airport which serves flights to and from Europe, North America, and other African cities. The airport is 50 km from the centre of Dakar and it takes around 60 minutes to transfer by taxi. Taxis are moderately priced with a one-way trip cost about 15,000 West African Francs (XOF) which is only about £20.
Dakar has so much to offer as a tourist destination, from golden beaches to history and culture. Here are my top things to do:
- The Africa Eco Race– In 2008, the Dakar Rally was renamed “The Dakar” and moved to South America due to security. In fact, there was a considerable concern by countries on the route that local residents were being burdened by the Rally without receiving economic benefit. So, in 2009, the Africa Eco Race was organised to replace the Dakar.
What’s for desert, Mum?!
The Africa Eco Race supports sustainability and is a platform for eco-friendly technologies to be tested under gruelling conditions. This is a new type of endurance race that embraces the spirit of the original rally while ensuring a beneficial impact on the route. The finish in Dakar includes a huge party!
- Medina Quarter– This is a traditional commercial centre packed with shops and street markets. Check out the fishing village of Soumbédioune Market where you can buy all kinds of handicrafts and fresh fish. This area is also the setting for the Dakar Central Mosque, which was built in the early 1960s by French and Moroccan architects and opened by Hassan II, King of Morocco, and the Senegalese President.
- Mosque of the Divinity – Dakar is brimming with beautiful mosques and churches and this one, although outside of town, is one of the best. Constructed right on the beach in the fishing village of Ouakam and completed in 1997, the two towering minarets dramatically overlook the Atlantic Ocean using a design that is reminiscent of the culture while still being innovative.
- IFAN Museum of African Arts– Founded in 1938, the museum houses artworks and artefacts from Mali, the Ivory Coast, Guinea Bissau, Burkina Faso, and Benin. This is one of the oldest African art institutions in the world and offers insight into the rich heritage of Western Africa.
- Ngor Island– Feel worlds away on this tranquil island located a short boat ride away from Dakar. Enjoy the perfect beaches and fresh seafood as you laze near the crystal clear waters.
- Beaches– On a peninsula and surrounded on three sides by water, Dakar has some fabulous beaches just waiting to be explored. Here are some great spots to catch the sun:
- – Plage de Yoff is an awesome city beach and a great spot to catch a wave. There’s a surf school for beginners.
- – Plage des Mamelles is a very pretty, albeit tiny, cove. It’s a perfect spot for swimming and you’ll find mostly local residents escaping the city bustle.
Lac Retba is Pretty in Pink!
- Lac Retba (Lake Rose)– this is Senegal’s very own Dead Sea where you can float without fear of sinking. The saline content in the lake can be as high as 40% which is more than the Jordan The high mineral content makes the waters a bright shade of pink.
- Dakar’s Mamelles– these two hills are near the Westernmost Point of Continental Africa. On one hill you’ll find a beautiful lighthouse that was built in 1864 and has since been converted into a restaurant and bar with 360° views over Dakar. On the other hill, you can see the tallest statue in Africa, the African Renaissance Monument. At a height of 49 metres, it’s taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York City and celebrates African culture.
- Ile Gorée– This island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site offering a sobering look at the history of slavery in the region. I recommend that you celebrate the lives of those who were enslaved by solemnly considering this site.
Exploring this unspoiled area will give you an appetite. With Dakar’s abundant Atlantic coastline, you can expect fish to feature on nearly all menus. A wide variety of delights from the sea are delicious, freshly caught, and very affordable. Here are my favourite dining spots:
- La Marée– The ideal sunset spot, this restaurant is for shellfish lovers! It’s famous for serving up the best, from oysters to mussels, giant clams, urchins and winkles. I say, “Shell Yes!”
Share your food, don’t be a shellfish beach!
- La Calebasse– Doubling as a cultural centre, the staircase to the rooftop restaurant is lined with photographs, paintings, and masks. Sometimes there are live music performances. Try the traditional mafé, a meat stew cooked in a thick peanut sauce and served with rice.
- Sunu Makane (Chez Seck)– Located on Ngor Island, this beachside spot has its own boat that can take you to and from the mainland. You can enjoy grilled seafood prepared simply and cleanly in big quantities at a great price.
You’d expect the end of the Rally to have some great bars where you can spend your warm evenings relaxing and celebrating. Here are my recommendations:
- Bayékou – Enjoy one of the most stylish rooftop bars in Dakar which excels at creative cocktails in a perfect setting. You can enjoy DJs and occasional jazz nights here.
- Phare Des Mamelles– Head back to the iconic lighthouse to dance the night away at this amazing open-air bar. It’s one of the most popular spots in Dakar and it’s not hard to see why. Enjoy live music and DJs with incredible views.
- Chez Max– Hidden in Plage de Mamelles, this little beach shack has the best energy. Chill out on their hammocks and swings as you listen to reggae and sip a beer on the beach. This is a great sunset spot where you can see the neighbourhood come to life as the sun goes down.
Here’s another Pro-tip: Make sure to try the local beer, Gazelle. There’s nothing quite like it when served ice-cold seaside. Enjoy a pint at one of my favourite pubs, Le Viking.
Everyone likes a bit of comfort at the end of an endurance race. Therefore, there are great accommodation options in Dakar that are both inviting and reasonably priced. Here’s where I always stay:
- Pullman Dakar Teranga – Feel like a celebrity as you lounge in the infinity pool overlooking the Atlantic. This hotel has a modern design with a beautiful artistic touch that pays tribute to African heritage with rooms so comfortable you may not want to leave.
You’ll have a monumental time in Dakar!
- Terrou-Bi Beach & Casino Resort – If you want a 5-star stay in this exotic land, then this hotel is the right choice. It sits on a private strip of beach and offers sea views from your balcony. Try your luck at the casino or stretch your legs at nearby golf courses.
- Radisson Blu Hotel, Dakar Sea Plaza – Spend the day relaxing at their tranquil spa then walk 20 metres from the pool and you’re in the sea.
Dakar is a comfortable and exotic location where you can explore the local culture while enjoying modern amenities. Dakar will rally your senses and cause your heart to race!