I recently visited Dakar, Senegal and it was a great trip. Lots of people recommended it so I tried to keep my expectations low just in case it didn’t live up to the hype. However it didn’t disappoint. Dakar was a top choice for me because it is a short direct flight from Abidjan, there is no required Visa even for Americans, the weather is warm and there are beaches. Dakar is busy city with horrible traffic, lots of construction but it is easy to navigate because the roads are good, well maintained and there is a highway that takes you out to outer areas. It is sub saharan Africa so it is the desert which means sand, heat and dryness. Some of the neighborhood streets are actually sand roads yet the beaches are pretty close. Highlights for me include friendly people, beautiful, chocolate brothas and great food. Because it is close to the ocean you can get fresh fish almost everywhere so I ate a lot of good fish.
Iinitially I stayed at a local B&B which was cool but did not live up to my bougie expectations because it was more of a homestay where I was given breakfast and dinner and it was a shared bathroom with strangers. SenegalStyle organized the tours which went off well and allowed for some flexibility in terms of time and provided a private driver. Because there was another solo traveler at the house, we did some of the tours together. My next stay was at the Hotel Mamelles, a small boutique hotel near the Almadies area. The rooms were big, well decorated and decent but there were two problems. There are no phones in the rooms so you have to go downstairs whenever you need something and I was on the third floor. There was no real restaurant on site so the food choices are limited. Since it was at the end of my trip I wanted a place where I could just relax and do nothing. They tried to accommodate my food requests and even brought it up to my room but it was often cold and not quite what I wanted. Therefore my food experience in Senegal was alright.
During the city tour we drove around to a variety of different spots in the city. I got to explore the city with it’s beautiful architecture and bustling construction which added to the traffic. I visited an artisans village where they created lots of different mediums of art, and got to talk with local artists. The last stop on the tour is the amazing, huge, African Renaissance Monument where I had to walk up over 200 steps to see it up close. There was also an option to go to the top of the inside of the monument but I chose not to do this part. Of course I chose to partake in cheesy, touristy, posed photos at the monument because I enjoy this activity 😏. To finish the evening I ate at a lovely restaurant on the beach in Ngor, it was beautifully decorated with seashells and African art and the fish was great.
On my visit to the infamous Goree Island I got to stand in the dungeons of the slave house where they were enslaved before they were sold and look out the symbolic doorway of no return. It was an intense experience to stand where they were enslaved and abused before being shipped away 😭. On the island where people currently live, there are lots of local artists who paint and use fabrics in their work and create paintings from sand. There’s also clothing and jewelry for sale like any traditional market. Our guide was knowledgeable and patient with my requests for pictures despite his determination to teach us the history of the island. The island is small and has beautiful scenery, pretty houses, long walkways with lots of old doorways, flowers and Baobab trees. The ferry to the island costs about 5200 ($9) cfc and then you pay another 10, 000 ($18) to 15,000 ($25) cfc for the guide which is encouraged.
I traveled 2 and a half hours from Dakar to Fadiout Island to tour the island, a small island where the streets are made of seashells. There are two bridges – one from/to the cemetery and the other one across the lake since there are no cars on the island. The tour consists of a boat ride to see the mangroves where they fish for oysters and then plant them to be farmed. I got to see the clam cleaning and cooking process. It is a unique opportunity to see this small community of farmers (grains and nuts) and fishers (clams and oysters). The church on the island has been there since the 1800’s, has a black Jesus on the wall ✊🏾 and has been recently renovated. Edouard my guide who looked like he could be a GQ model 🤩, was super friendly, real chill and the epitome of a spiritual minimalist as he spoke fondly about the simple pleasures of living on a small island community of Christians and Muslims. Even in the cemetery they are buried side by side. I saw a moringa tree and a cotton tree not a plant but a tree that was above my eye level which was surprising because I didn’t know they grew that tall. The tour ended with me eating at a local restaurant where I had a Senegalese dish with rice/vegetable/ fish called chepu djen which was tasty. Real talk, this tour was really expensive $175 because I had a private driver. However it is not worth that, so my recommendation is to take the bus tour as it cheaper ($50) and the tourism bureau charges an additional entrance fee of 11,000 ($18) cfc for entrance to the island and the guide. Edouard is the only English speaking guide at this time so he may get lots of requests in the future 🤷🏾♀️.
Lake Retba is a beautiful saltwater lake, turned pink in some places and almost orange in other areas because of the algae in the lake. The color is dependent upon the temperature and wind pattern but we were lucky to catch it on a good day🙂. The boat tour consists of a short ride to the other side of the lake where you get to see the salt mining area. I saw the men standing chest deep in the lake collecting salt from the bottom of the water and filling up their boats. On the shore there were several small huts that served lunch for the workers as well as women selling jewelry and sand paintings. Surprisingly there are fresh water sources 😲 next to this salt lake where the workers can wash their hands after work and so grass grows on this side of the area where cows can graze. Such a small place but filled with nature’s magic 🤩.
I really enjoyed Dakar, driving through neighborhoods and seeing the creatively designed buildings, driving down a highway with the ocean on one side. It was disappointing to see so much trash on the beaches so there’s work to be done in educating the community on how to take care of the beaches. Yes the city can be difficult to navigate if you don’t speak French. Unlike Abidjan there is no taxi app so someone needs to communicate for you 🤦🏾♀️ which can be challenging and misunderstandings happen. Luckily I had the number of the hotel and called for directions both times I took a taxi. I certainly look forward to returning to Dakar in the future to explore the beaches. I will also check out the museums which I was too tired to do on Sunday because I didn’t realize they are closed on Mondays 🤦🏾♀️.
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