Dakar, Senegal – a complete traveler’s guide to discover this fascinating city

Dakar, Senegal in a few days – what to see, what to skip, and what to watch out for!

On the tip of the western horn of Africa sits Dakar, a massive bustling city with a unique culture encapsulating centuries of history into a melting pot of Portuguese, French, West African, Saharan and Islamic influences. Some of those influences more positive than others, the port of Dakar stands today as one of the most important seaports in semi-tropical Africa where ships transport millions of tons of cargo annually.This would be my fore into Western Africa travels, something I will admit to inadvertently putting off after having extensively explored all of Eastern and Southern Africa. African culture has stark cultural differences from one region to another: Saharan, Central, West, East & South are all similar yet very different at the same time. Landing in Dakar the architecture is similar to many Saharan cities. My first pleasant surprise was trying Senegalese cuisine. Their food is amazing, and I would later discover its people are equally amazing. Warm and welcoming, family focused, hardworking, friendly and diverse. Once I was able to explore central Dakar I discovered a diversity of sights: the sobering history and crumbling colonial architecture of fascinating Goree island, and the beaches to the north of the city deserve all deserve at least a few days of exploration.

More if you want to spend a day or two just relaxing on the beach enjoying a cold Flag beer, or digging further into the local food, history and culture.

To / From Airport

I don’t normally provide a breakdown for airport transportation unless its particularly fascinating, and when is airport transport fascinating? However Dakar is FAR from the city. That said, arriving in Dakar airport is honestly a pleasant, easy and surprisingly efficient experience which rivals the efficiency of some of the best international airports. Its modern and new, immigration is painless and I was outside with my driver in less than 20 minutes plane to car. As you fly in, looking out the window you may notice the airport is VERY FAR from central Dakar – over an hour by car on a paved highway! The current airport code is DSS. The former airport, DKR was located in the middle of the city which made expansion impossible and as such it has since been converted into a military airport. During this trip I arrived twice and departed once from DSS. I used 3 different transportation options arriving and departing to & from the airport . This now makes me an expert? Probably not, but I can speak to the pro’s and cons of each.Driver – you can arrange (most likely with your hotel or tour group) for a driver to be waiting on you. This is efficient, but expensive and will most likely cost 30K +Taxi – Exiting the airport there are clearly posted taxi rates detailing how much to pay from DSS to downtown Dakar. That being said you will have to negotiate anyways, because….Africa. A taxi should cost around 15k – 20K CAF to your hotel in Dakar. The return to the airport will cost you more, around 25K, from Dakar to DSSBus – DDD busses (Dem Dik, Forgot what the 3rd D stands for) can be found on the curb to the right as you exit the arrivals area of the airport, and pass the taxi touts. They are decent quality buses, leave relatively on-time, and will cost you around 6k CFA per person. They take an hour but will drop you at the AIBD Dem Dik station next to Stade Leopold Sedar Senghor Stadium. From there you need to take a taxi into the city for around 2K if you negotiate. You will need to negotiate, alot, but you can do it! You can also do this in reverse to reach DSS Airport, but we didn’t because its a pain, and we took a taxi.

Lodging in Dakar

I started my trip working and ended combining it with some days off – therefore we stayed at a mix of normal and bougey places: which included The Terroubi Hotel, Radisson Blu, Ibis and Novotel. Would rank them in that order from best to not so much. Secret insider tip – if you book at the Ibis you will be given a room at the Novotel for the same price because the Ibis is currently closed. 50% $$ saved. Dakar has a VERY wide range of accommodation from $20 at the low end to $400 at the high end.

Dakar Sights We had a nice walk around Dakar center which is fun for a day but I really didn’t need more. Maybe you find it fascinating, but I found it hot and a bit dilapidated and busy. I definitely suggest visiting the enourmous Africa monument built by North Korea. Its massive, and provides great views. The official entrance fee is posted as 20K (US $40) however the discounted rates is only $6500 for whatever reason. The monument sits upon a giant hill which we felt was a good enough view of hazy Dakar, and we didn’t choose to go to the top for a view. I have heard the view is “nice.” On the way back we asked our taxi driver to take a quick stop at the Mosque of the Divinity.

The Central Mosque is large but pretty standard as far as large Mosques go, and in retrospect would suggest giving it a miss if you have seen big mosques before.

Nearby you will find the Dakar fish market (aka Marche Soubedioune) which I would suggest visiting. Its a busy, throbbing market where fisherman sell their daily catch and nearby there is a beach with plastic tables and restaurants which is popular on weekends with locals.

The Cathedral of Dakar is interesting – mostly because of its location and it has some bizarre art on the dome inside which I think depicts Christ ascending into heaven, but seems a bit off. Have a look.

Other sights include a big baobab tree and place de independence.

I felt the list of Dakar sights goes quickly downhill from here. You cant walk in front of the Presidential palace so don’t bother unless you like being yelled at in French by men with machine guns in for walking along what otherwise appears to be a completely normal sidewalk with no signs indicating you cant continue your stroll. I have heard the Mosquee Massalikoul Djinane is beautiful but I didn’t get a chance to visit.

Goree Island This is a sight in Dakar, but its so wonderful it gets it own section. Definitely a must do, its beautiful and we spent a half day here. The Beach isn’t super nice in my opinion, but the history, views and crumbling architecture are really amazing. Google Maps “Ferries for Ile de Goree” will bring up the ferry point you need to go, or just tell any taxi driver. Its in the center of downtown Dakar

SCAM WARNING. For Goree Island, be sure to bring your passport to show at the port before entering. Showing them a version on your phone wont work, we tried. The guards at the gate before you enter and buy tickets will demand to see your passport. A lot of people forget to bring theirs, because, why would you bring your passport to take a domestic ferry? This is a scam to try and force you to pay for a guide, aka a bribe. The Goree “guides” are aggressive and hang out near this entrance with lanyards proudly holding their “ID card”. If you don’t have your passport they will offer to take you on a very expensive “tour” of the island for 8K – 15K CAF which of course you will be able to do without a passport, because “they are a tour guide”. Its completely nonsensical logic which was humorous to see how proud they were to enforce it. I honestly felt really bad for the military guard because it seemed he was enforcing the “passport rule” at the behest of the guides. There was no other indication you needed ID for the ferry ride. Once the guard and the ”guides” realized we didn’t have our passport, or enough money for a guide, they became bored with us and let us pass at the last minute. We literally had to run to buy tickets to catch the ferry. The decision to let us pass was up to the guides who then had a conversation with the military guard to let us pass.

Once on the ferry, we enjoyed the chance to hang out with locals heading to the beach for a Sunday away from the bustle of the city. Goree Island itself is a fascinating place which serves as a chilling reminder of one of the most horrible in history, the slave trade.

Wandering the crumbling ruins where people now live you can only imagine how different life was here less than 200 years ago.

Ferry timing can be found @ http://www.portdakar.sn/en/nos-services/trafic-passager/dakar-goree

Senegal Transportation

Taxis around Dakar are simple, and plentiful. Make sure you agree on the price before you leave. For intercity travel, and long distance transportation, most big cities have a “gare routiere” which is the usually chaotic transport hub or market. “Sept places” are your friend, and are popular in Senegal. They are similar to “collectivos”, but instead are operated using old french station wagons or small vans which seat 7 people. You can reach almost anywhere using this system if you connect to major towns, and they run frequently.

Covid Testing Senegal

Easy. Covid testing in Senegal is 25,000 CFA. In Dakar, the locations are:

  • L’Institut Pasteur de Dakar, 36 Avenue Pasteur à Dakar, centre ville, and sur la VDN, à côté de la Gendarmerie de la Foire (+221 78 103 3937, +221 33 839 9233, +221 33 839 9232)
  • L’Institut de Recherche en Santé, de Surveillance Epidémiologique et de Formation L’IRESSEF, cov-travel@iressef.org, Pôle urbain de Diamniadio and Ngor en face du stade de Ngor, +221 70 954 1871, +221 77 7016590, +221 33 872 2588. Walk-in testing is available at this location.
  • Le Laboratoire de Bactériologie-Virologie, Hôpital Aristide le Dantec, 30 avenue Pasteur, Dakar, +221 33 889 3800, +221 77 633 3017
  • Le Laboratoire de l’Hôpital Militaire de Ouakam, km 8, route de Ouakam, Dakar, +221 76 223 0485, +221 77 357 1731
  • Le Laboratoire national de Santé publique (LNSP), Ex. RIAOM, Quartier 10eme, En face Croix Rouge, Thies, +221 775191373, +221 763596212
  • Le Laboratoire de l’Hôpital Principal de Dakar (HPD), 1, Avenue Nelson Mandela, Dakar, +221 775295614
  • Le Laboratoire de Bactériologie-Virologie de l’Hôpital de Fann (LBV Fann), Avenue Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar, +221 338691818

2 Comment

  1. Amar Diop says: Reply

    The third D is Dakar (DDD Dakar Dem Dik, Dakar, go (or leave) and come back 😀. Thanks for the report

    1. of course 😀 haha, thanks!

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