Dakar, the capital of Senegal, is a vibrant city full of energy, culture, and delicious food. It is located on the westernmost point of Africa, and is known for its stunning coastline, rich history, and unique attractions. Common languages spoken are Wolof and French. No visa required for tourist entry on United States of America passport holders.
In this blog post, we will explore the top things to do, see, and eat in Dakar, as well as provide important information about safety and security.
Top things to do
1. African Renaissance Monument
The African Renaissance Monument is one of Dakar’s most impressive landmarks, standing at 49 meters tall. It is a symbol of the strength and resilience of the African people, and depicts a man, woman, and child emerging from a volcano with their arms outstretched towards the sky. Visitors can climb to the top of the monument for a stunning view of the city.
2. Lion Walk at Fathala
If you’re looking for a unique and exciting experience, head to Fathala Wildlife Reserve to take a Lion Walk. This is an opportunity to walk alongside lions in their natural habitat, under the guidance of experienced handlers. The reserve is located about two hours from Dakar, but it’s well worth the trip.
3. Pink Lake and Salum Lake
Senegal is known for its pink lakes, which get their color from a type of algae that thrives in salty water. Two of the most popular pink lakes to visit are the Pink Lake and Salum Lake, both of which are located about an hour outside of Dakar. Visitors can take a swim in the salty water, which is said to have therapeutic properties. The lakes are not always pink. The Pink Lake was not pink when I visited in February 2023 due to heavy rain fall.
4. Les Pallateuvier
Les Pallateuvier is a beautiful beach in Dakar that is perfect for a relaxing day in the sun. The beach is surrounded by mangrove trees, which provide a natural shade and create a peaceful atmosphere. Visitors can rent a beach chair and umbrella, and enjoy fresh seafood from one of the many restaurants located along the shore.
5. Goree Island and Door of No Return
Goree Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located off the coast of Dakar. It was once a hub of the transatlantic slave trade, and visitors can take a tour of the House of Slaves and the Door of No Return, which is a small opening in the wall that was the last glimpse of Africa for millions of enslaved Africans. The island is also home to colorful colonial-style buildings and a vibrant art scene.
6. Sandaga Market
Sandaga Market is Dakar’s largest market, and is a great place to experience the hustle and bustle of everyday life in the city. Visitors can find everything from fresh produce and spices to handmade crafts and clothing. It’s important to keep an eye on your belongings and be aware of your surroundings, as the market can get crowded and chaotic.
7. Phare Des Mamelles
Phare Des Mamelles, also known as the Mamelles Lighthouse, is a historic lighthouse located on a hill overlooking the city of Dakar. The lighthouse was built in 1864 by the French, and it stands at a height of 66 meters (217 feet). It is the tallest lighthouse in West Africa and one of the tallest in the world. The lighthouse offers breathtaking views of the city and the Atlantic Ocean.
The lighthouse was built in 1864 and stands at 52 meters tall. Visitors can climb to the top of the lighthouse and enjoy panoramic views of the city and the ocean. The climb can be steep and tiring, so it’s recommended to wear comfortable shoes and bring water. The entrance fee is around 2,000 CFA, or about $4 USD.
Next to the lighthouse, there is a restaurant called Le Phare des Mamelles that offers delicious Senegalese and French cuisine. The restaurant has a large outdoor seating area that offers stunning views of the ocean and the city. It’s a great place to relax and enjoy a meal after visiting the lighthouse.
Some of the dishes that are recommended include the thieboudienne, a traditional Senegalese dish made with fish and rice, and the mafe, a peanut-based stew that is often served with chicken or beef. The restaurant also offers a variety of drinks, including local beers and cocktails. There is live music several nights per week. Reservations are recommended.
Visitors to the Lighthouse at Phare Des Mamelles can climb to the top of the lighthouse for stunning views of the city and the ocean. The climb to the top is a bit steep and can be challenging, but the views are well worth the effort. The lighthouse also has a small museum where visitors can learn about its history and the history of lighthouses in general. There is a van services that ferries visitors to the top if you do not wish to walk. When visiting Phare Des Mamelles, it’s important to keep in mind that the area can be quite windy, so it’s a good idea to bring a jacket or sweater. The climb to the top of the lighthouse is also not recommended for those with mobility issues, as there are many steps to climb. Overall, a visit to Phare Des Mamelles is a must for anyone visiting Dakar. With its stunning views and rich history, it is a true gem of West Africa.
I highly recommend planning your excursion using Viator. I found an amazing tour company, Senegal Tourist Guide (they are on IG) via Viator. Whatever the excursion, Viator has the perfect option.
What and Where to Eat
Dakar is a foodie’s paradise with a variety of delicious dishes to try.
- Thieboudienne: Senegal’s National Dish
When in Dakar, one cannot miss the opportunity to try Thieboudienne, which is the national dish of Senegal. This delicious meal consists of rice cooked in tomato sauce with fish and vegetables such as carrots, cabbage, and eggplant. It is usually served with a spicy sauce called “dakhar,” which adds an extra kick to the dish. Thieboudienne can be found in many restaurants throughout the city, but one of the best places to try it is Tabaski Mbourake Maam SY (@tabaskimbourakemaam1 on IG). The Thieboudienne was life changing. Truly.
Yassa is another popular Senegalese dish that originated in the Casamance region in southern Senegal. It is typically made with chicken or fish marinated in lemon juice, onions, and spices, then grilled or simmered in a sauce made with the same marinade. The dish is often served with rice or couscous. To taste Yassa, visit La Calebasse in the Ngor neighborhood, which is known for its delicious grilled chicken yassa.
Maafe, also known as groundnut stew, is a hearty dish that is commonly served in Dakar. It is made with a rich, creamy peanut sauce and can include chicken, beef, or lamb. The dish is typically served with rice or fufu, a starchy dough made from cassava or yams. To try Maafe, head to Keur Ndiaye in the neighborhood of Almadies, where it is served with a side of attiéké, a couscous-like side dish made from cassava.
Thiou is a delicious, tomato-based stew that is popular in Dakar. It can include a variety of ingredients, such as fish, chicken, lamb, or beef, and vegetables like okra, eggplant, and carrots. The dish is typically served with rice or couscous. To taste Thiou, visit Le Récéptif in the neighborhood of Point E, which is known for its flavorful beef Thiou.
Pastels are a popular street food in Dakar that are similar to empanadas or samosas. They are made with a savory dough filled with spicy fish, meat, or vegetables and then deep-fried until crispy. They are often served with a side of spicy tomato sauce. To try Pastels, head to the Sandaga Market in the city center, where you’ll find vendors selling them alongside other street food.
Getting around in Dakar can be an adventure in itself, but with a little preparation, it can also be a fun and convenient way to explore the city.
Taxis are one of the most popular forms of transportation in Dakar. They can be hailed on the street or booked through a reputable taxi company. It’s important to agree on a price before getting into the taxi, as some drivers may try to overcharge tourists. It’s also recommended to use a taxi with a meter when possible to avoid disputes over fares. Taxis are generally safe, but it’s important to keep your belongings close and avoid sharing a cab with strangers.
2. Ride Share
There is a ride share service called Heetch avaiable in Dakar. Download it to your phone upon arrival, it works similar to Uber.
3. Public Transportation
Dakar has a variety of public transportation options, including buses, mini-buses, and ferries. Buses and mini-buses are the most affordable way to get around, but they can be crowded and uncomfortable, especially during rush hour. Ferries are a great way to explore Dakar’s surrounding islands, such as Gorée Island and Ngor Island. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings and to keep your belongings close when using public transportation, as petty theft can occur.
4. Car Rental
Car rental is also an option in Dakar, but it’s important to note that driving in Dakar can be chaotic and unpredictable. If you do decide to rent a car, make sure to choose a reputable company and to get insurance. It’s also recommended to avoid driving at night, as visibility can be poor and there may be fewer street lights.
Walking is a great way to explore Dakar’s neighborhoods, especially in areas like Ngor and Almadies, where many restaurants and shops are within walking distance. However, it’s important to exercise caution when walking, especially at night. Stick to well-lit streets and avoid walking alone if possible.
Motorcycles, or “motos” as they are commonly called in Dakar, are a popular way to get around quickly and cheaply. However, they can also be dangerous, especially for inexperienced riders. Make sure to wear a helmet and avoid taking a moto with a driver who appears to be reckless or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
There are many options for getting around in Dakar, but it’s important to choose a mode of transportation that is safe and convenient for you. Whether you opt for a taxi, public transportation, or a motorcycle, be sure to exercise caution and keep your belongings close at all times. With a little preparation, you can explore all that Dakar has to offer and enjoy a memorable trip.
Mosquito Repellent and Sunblock is a Must
The weather was pleasant in January while I was in Dakar but during the rainy season of summer, the climate in Dakar along with is hot with high humidity and malaria is a concern. As a result, especially if you visit during rainy season, be prepared for mosquitos. Lots of mosquitos which transmit many diseases, as such you should avoid being bitten by using repellent especially in the evenings. You will not enjoy Dakar during rainy season without STRONG mosquito repellent. You will need a repellant with Deet, Citronella oil alone will not help.Even in January you will also need VERY strong sunscreen as Dakar is on the sea and in the West of Africa, it is quite hot.
Here are my top favorite repellent and sunscreen that keep me covered:
- Face: Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Non-Greasy Sunscreen Stick for Face & Body, Broad Spectrum SPF 70
- For my arms, back, and legs: Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen Lotion, Broad Spectrum SPF 55
- Insect repellent. I recommend a combination of wipes and a spray. My favorites are:
- OFF! FamilyCare Insect & Mosquito Repellent Spritz, Unscented Bug spray with Aloe-Vera, 7% Deet, 9 oz and Cutter All Family Mosquito Repellent Wipes, 15 Wipes.
Do NOT forget to bring water shoes! There are often sea urchins on the beaches in Senegal and you do NOT want to step on one of them. I wore water shoes every time I stepped out on the beach. I really like these Unisex VIFUUR Water Sports Shoes Barefoot Quick-Dry Aqua Yoga Socks Slip-ons. They were my go-to shoes on all my beach days!
Safety and security
Dakar, the capital of Senegal, is a bustling city with a rich culture and history. However, as with any city, it is important to be aware of safety and security concerns when visiting. I
- Petty Crime
Petty crime, such as pickpocketing and purse snatching, is the most common type of crime in Dakar. It is important to be aware of your surroundings and to keep your belongings close to you at all times. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash or wearing expensive jewelry, as this can make you a target for thieves. It’s also recommended to use a money belt or a secure bag to keep your valuables safe.
Scams are also a common concern in Dakar. Some of the most common scams involve taxi drivers who overcharge or take tourists on longer routes to increase the fare. It’s important to agree on a price before getting into a taxi, and to make sure the driver uses the meter if it’s available. It’s also a good idea to ask for recommendations from locals or your hotel to find reputable taxis.
Demonstrations and protests can occur in Dakar, particularly around political events. These events can sometimes turn violent, so it’s important to avoid large crowds and to stay informed about current events. It’s also recommended to avoid discussing politics with strangers, as this can sometimes lead to heated discussions.
Traffic in Dakar can be chaotic, with many drivers disregarding traffic laws and signals. It’s important to exercise caution when crossing the street, and to avoid walking along busy roads whenever possible. It’s also recommended to use a reputable taxi service or public transportation to avoid the stress of navigating traffic on your own.
Some neighborhoods in Dakar are considered less safe than others, particularly at night. It’s important to research the areas you plan to visit and to avoid walking alone after dark. Some of the safest neighborhoods for tourists include Ngor and Almadies, which are known for their upscale restaurants and hotels. I stayed in a boutique bed and breakfast hotel in the Ngor Almadies neighborhood called La Villa 126. I had a very positive experience there. You can find it on Booking.com.
As with anywhere you solo travel, it is important to exercise situational awareness and common sense as a female solo traveler. Grab the BaldGirlWillTravel: A Guide to Travel Safety and Security for Solo Female Travelers and ensure you follow the safety tips to ensure a safe solo travel experience.
In conclusion, Dakar can be a safe and enjoyable destination for tourists if proper precautions are taken. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings, to avoid carrying large amounts of cash or valuables, and to use reputable taxis or public transportation whenever possible. By taking these simple steps, you can enjoy all that Dakar has to offer without compromising your safety and security.
I very much enjoyed the time I spent in Dakar. I highly recommend it for solo travel, especially for us Fly 40+ women.
Thank You For Reading!
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