Senegal's capital is full of colonial architecture, colorful streets, frenetic markets, and pulsating nightclubs. But it has another side too. If you want to chill out, you can relax on the city's northern beaches, or find peace and quiet on the city's offshore islands.
Dakar has the museums and galleries befitting a major world capital, from the Institut Français to the African art collections at the Musée Théodore Monod.
Check out the popular bar and dance club at the Phare des Mamelles lighthouse or enjoy some Senegalese reggae at Black & White.
Visitors should not miss the Île de Gorée, a UNESCO heritage site that was once a crucial hub in the transatlantic slave trade. If you want to get away from it all, the Îles des Madeleines are the ideal place to do so.
There's no better place to buy souvenirs than the HLM Market, while Sandaga Market is the place to head for wooden carvings.
Surf at Plage de Yoff or the Plage du Virage, or find a secluded spot on the beautiful Île de N'gor.
Located about 18 miles from Dakar's downtown, Lac Rose is a saltwater lake near the Atlantic Ocean. The water's high salt content attracts the Dunaliella salina algae that give it its rosy color, which is most prominent from November to June, during the drier season. The water's high salinity means that it is easy to float, with swimming and boating available by arrangement. Golden sand dunes on the ocean side of the lake add to the area's scenic beauty and make for great photo opportunities. There are also great souvenir shops and resorts with dining options in the area.
Île de Gorée is a small island in the Atlantic, and it is also a district, or arrondissement, in the city of Dakar. There are no cars on the island and it is accessible by boat or ferry. Île de Gorée was colonized by various European powers and was once a stop on the Atlantic slave trade. To reckon with this troubling past, the Maison des Esclaves, or Slave House, and other historical museums and monuments are open to the public today. The island is much calmer than the busy streets of mainland Dakar, with a downtown area of pastel colonial architecture that includes restaurants and shops. There are also many local markets with art, artisan work, and other souvenirs for sale.
Located on the second of the two hills just outside Dakar known as the Collines des Mamelles, the African Renaissance Monument is an impressive bronze statue that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. The statue is over 160 feet in height and was erected in 2010 to commemorate the country's 50th anniversary of independence. Taller than the Statue of Liberty, it was meant to portray the hopes of modern Senegal with a depiction of a man, woman, and child reaching upwards. The statue is lit up at night, creating a dramatic image.
Also known as the Théodore Monod African Art Museum, this museum contains an internationally recognized collection of ancient artifacts that come from all over former French colonies in West Africa. Ground floor collections include weaponry, clothing and other textiles, musical instruments, and more. Temporary exhibits of contemporary art are shown on the second floor. The institution also hosts the Dakar Biennale, which showcases contemporary African art.
The Grande Mosquée de Dakar is one of the city's most important religious institutions, and is an active place of worship. The building is notable for its intricate decorations both on the interior and exterior. The minaret rises about 220 feet in the air. The Mosque incorporates the the Institut Islamique, an institute of Islamic studies that is also open to the public. The Mosque is available to visit during specified hours that vary according to holidays and season.
Senegal's dry season is the time to go, between December and April. December also sees the World Festival of Black Arts swing into town, so it's a great time to visit.
Delta and South African Airways fly into Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport (DKR). From there, Bus Line 8 runs into town (XOF150) and taxis will cost about XOF5,000.
From the airport, follow the Route de l'Aeroport, then proceed onto the N1, which runs into the city center. If you are coming from Thies, take the N2 while the N1 runs from Kaolack.
Buses in Senegal tend to take the form of "Sept Places" (seven seater) minibuses, which run into Dakar's Gare Routiere Pompiers.
The best accommodation options in Dakar include the beautifully furnished Radisson Blu at Dakar Sea Plaza, the seafront King Fahd Palace Hotel, and the Terrou-Bi Hotel, which offers excellent French cuisine.
Downtown Dakar - the center of town offers great attractions like the Galerie Le Manège, the Place des Tirailleurs monument to African World War One soldiers, and some lively markets.
Point E - Point E has some of the city's best music venues, including Just 4 U - a legendary reggae spot.
Yoff - sprawling over northern Dakar, Yoff is home to the airport and some of the best beaches in the area.
Single fares on the Dakar Dem Dikk bus network cost XOF150 and the system is fairly dependable.
Travelers can take "car rapides" (minibuses) for around XOF150 per journey, or conventional taxis. Fares are negotiated before traveling and usually come to around XOF1,500 per mile.
You can rent a car from branches of Hertz or ADA, and rates are often around XOF4,000 per day.
Head to HLM Market for fabrics, Sandaga Market for pretty much anything, and Marché Kermel for locally produced craft products.
Grocery stores include Score and Citydia. Expect to pay around XOF1,000 for 12 eggs.
There's great seafood to be found at Le Lagon 1 and Le Bideew, while Le Djembé is the place to head for an authentic plate of thiéboudienne (rice, vegetable, and fish stew). Meals cost around XOF5,000-15,000.