A super quick guide to Dakar

A super quick guide to Dakar

Sunny beaches, vibrant art and superb seafood await you in West Africa’s charming city in the sun


Goree Island, just 3.5km off the coast of Senegal / Image: Adobe Stock

Chika Oduah

Based between Enugu and Dakar, Chika is an award-winning journalist whose work has been in The New York Times, The Guardian, the BBC and more.

Lauded for its teranga (which means hospitality in Wolof) and laidback vibes, Dakar is the capital of the French-speaking country of Senegal. While the French influence looms large here – freshly baked baguettes and croissants are sold on just about every street corner and violet bougainvillea creep over the stucco walls of quaint villas and wrought iron gates – the pride in indigenous cultures is a sight to behold. Women and men strut majestically in flowing boubou gowns, while kids dance to the polyrhythms of mbalax (Senegalese pop music).

Dakar is the epitome of rustic charm, a quirky blend of old-meets-new. Horses hooked to carts trot down palm tree-lined boulevards alongside slick new hotels and luxury high-rises, while an estimated three million residents roam around this bustling metropolis. We’ve put together this short itinerary detailing the must-do things to do while there.

Feel like an erudite creative type by staying at Loman Art House / Image: Clement Tardif

Stay here: Loman Art House

A boutique art space where aficionados gather for exhibitions, the second floor offers several rooms for guests through Airbnb. Visitors can enjoy a serene stay. The rooms are furnished with a classic aesthetic: dark woods and billowy white curtains.

Mellow out with a brunch at Melo / Image: Mohamed Sy

A colourful spread at Melo / Image: Mohamed Sy

Brunch here: Melo

Head up to this popular uptown café for breakfast and brunch. Drink a chilled moringa fusion. Dine on hefty sausages, garlic toasts and delicious shakshouka.

Drink this: Jus de ditakh

A gorgeous mint-like green beverage made from the nutritious fruit of the detarium senegalense tree, jus de ditakh is a local treat that is not always easy to find but is well worth the wait. Restaurants usually have it from May to September after the harvest season.

Find out about Africa's roots at the Museum of Black Civilisations / Image: Alamy

Get smart at: the Museum of Black Civilization

An architectural pearl constructed in the style of homes in Senegal’s southern Casamance region, this museum is the city’s newest. Inside, you’ll find a treasure trove of artefacts tracing the evolution of civilisations in Africa and the global diaspora of people of African descent.

Deejay Sef mixing it up at Vogue Super Club / Image : Mahine Sef & Marc William

Party here: Vogue Super Club

Locals and tourists dance the night away to the pulsing sounds of afrobeats, hip hop, coupe decalé, amapiano, electronica, American pop and mbalax in this swanky discotheque.

Have dinner at: Restaurant Bazoff

Walking into Bazoff, you’re immediately greeted with a warm ambiance. A cross between a bar, a pub and restaurant, the dining hall is vibrant with seats close together family style. Enjoy African cuisine like ndolé or a classic Niçoise salad. If you’re lucky, you can catch a live band.

The Monument of the African Renaissance / Image: Adobe Stock

Instagram this: The Monument of the African Renaissance

An homage to Pan-Africanism and the emergence of innovation from Africa, this imposing soviet style sculpture is the largest monument built on the continent since the Egyptian pyramids. The $30 million monument features a bronze carving of a man, woman and child facing the Atlantic Ocean.

L’île de Ngor is one of Dakar's most relaxed places / Image : Adobe Stock

Make memories here: L’île de Ngor

Take a 5-minute pirogue (a type of small boat) ride to this island getaway for a stroll along Dakar’s most chilled-out spot. Rent a cabana and enjoy the view of stunning volcanic rocks on the beach.

Meet locals here: Yengoulene

A cheery hangout spot for young Senegalese, Yengoulene is a community space that puts on everything from music concerts to festive gatherings.

You can even rock a grand boubou at the beach / Image: Adobe Stock

Buy this: grand boubou

If you really want to fit in in Dakar, buy a grand boubou – a unisex attire that looks great on men and women. Whether dressed up in heels or toned down with sandals, the grand boubou is a bold fashion statement.

Buy almost anything you can imagine at Marche Sandaga / Image: Alamy

Experience this: Marche Sandaga

Don’t get lost in the maze of Marche Sandaga. Built in 1935, it’s the biggest street market in downtown Dakar. You’ll find everything from glass waist beads to Nigerien leather to Arabian incense.

Just opposite Dakar, off the coast of Senegal, is the picturesque Gorée Island / Image: Adobe Stock

Gorée Island is an UNESCO World Heritage Site / Image: Adobe Stock

Day trip here: Gorée Island

No trip is complete without a stop at Gorée Island, an UNESCO World Heritage Site set 3.5km off the coast of Senegal, just opposite Dakar. The island was once the largest slave-trade site on the African coast during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Visitors can learn about this sombre era in history and pay homage to those who were forced into a life of slavery.

Documentary Endless Summer showed off Dakar's surfing credentials / Image: Alamy

Try this: surfing

The mid-60s cult classic American documentary film, Endless Summer, put Dakar’s picturesque waves on the map for surf lovers all over the world. Recently, several surfing camps have popped up along the city’s coastline.