Dakar is the most vivid and popular city in West-Africa. Francophone culture and traditional African roots combined together, Dakar has much to offer to visitors. Here are the top 12 places to see & visit in the capital city of Senegal.
Goree is a small island off the coast is Dakar which is primarily known for being largest center of slave trade in Africa between the 15th and 19th centuries. This small car-free island was also one of the earliest spots which was inhabited by European settlers. Well-preserved colonial buildings from French era, narrow streets, small beaches, vivid flowers&trees… Despite its sorrowful past, Goree is the most popular touristic attraction in Dakar. The island is a small paradise with so much to see and do in it! As locals say: “It does not count of you do not visit Gorée.
Pink Lake a.k.a Lake Retba among locals, is a vast natural salt lake in the color of pink located less than an hour away from Dakar. This unique lake is one of the biggest salt sources in the world. The density of salt per sq2 water is higher than it is in the Dead Sea. The color of pink is caused by a bacteria type due to high salt content in the water. The color of the lake fluctuates constantly, however the most vivid version of pink appears during the dry season between November-June. Salt workers extract thousands of kilograms of salt each year. This vast lake is the main source of income for many local Senegalese. More than thousand salt collectors work around the lake on a daily basis.
African Renaissance Monument is a 49 meter long bronze statue depicting an African man holding his child on his shoulder and a woman embracing the man. It represents the achievements of African people and rise of the nation after independence. African Renaissance Monument is constructed by a North Korean company and caused much controversies for 27 million USD was invested despite Senegal’s economical-crisis back then. Some see this as a glorious icon, some see this as the symbol of corruption. For non-African foreigners the entrance fee is 5000 CFAs, for African visitors and visitors from other countries with African heritage it is 1500 CFA’s.
The view that statue offers in amazing, Memalles Lighthouse on one side and the western-most point of Africa is on the other. Many visitors leave here without visiting the small museum inside the statue and going up to the observation point which is the man’s head in the monument. There you can learn about the history and the construction process of the monument.
Les Memalles is the oldest lighthouse in Africa. Cool breeze, squeaking seagulls and the taste of salt in the air… From the African Renaissance Monument, it is located at a 20 minute walk distance. The road leading to the light house curves around a steep hill multiple times so it is not an easy walk. On the way, you can take a quick stop at the small café Melo’s Patisserie aux Mamelles to snack upon and rest. The lighthouse building is quite old but well taken care of, it is covered with beautiful ivys and flowers with different colors. The entrance fee is 500 CFAs for tourists.
Mosque of Divinity, located on a beach in the area of Ouakam. It is known worldwide for its unique architecture in which traditional Islamic style and modern ornaments are combined. You can access the structure by taking the stairs from the main boulevard or taking a cab. There is an old fishing village abutting the mosque where you can find fresh fish in the afternoons. On the contrary to misleading information on internet, there are not any restrictions for people from different religions visiting the mosque.
The westernmost island of Africa
Ngor is a small island just off the coast of Dakar which is a great spot to get away from the busy city life. Frankly, in comparison to Goree, the island does not have much to offer. However, one might still enjoy the heavenly beaches, narrow streets abounding with flowers, stylish structures and beachside cafes. For the ones who are planning to spend more time in the island, there are a couple of guests houses.
Crossing to Ngor is quite simple and convenient. Always opt for Ngor Ferry Services which has very big boats and provides service for extremely reasonable prices. It is 500 CFAs per person for roundtrip. There have been some cases of private boat owners scamming foreigners and asking for 10.000 CFAs to take them back to the coasts of Dakar. Be cautious!
Hidden gem of Dakar! This place will marvel you with its uniqueness. Village of Arts is a small community built by Senegalese artists in Dakar. Upon reaching there I couldn’t believe my eyes due to the fact that these amazing geniuses actually established an art village in the middle of the bustling city. Each artist has his/her own small studio and some of them live there. They welcomed me very warmly, offered me coffee and one of them even invited me to his studio to listen to reggae music.
Works by these independent African artists are priceless. Especially the works crafted by Lassana Gassama blew my mind! Definitely visit his studio and take some of his works as souvenirs back home. I had unforgettable time chatting and exchanging words with the hospitable artists. This hidden gem is in a remote place in Dakar so it is not something you would easily notice. I luckily came across this unique place on Google Maps.
Park Hann is the “Central Park” of Dakar, a huge green oasis in the middle of the city. This vast park includes a lake, a big zoo and a botanical park. Park Hann is an open-air museum where a mini version of Senegal’s flora and fauna is displayed to public. Every corner of the park has different plants and animals from various parts of the country.
Upon following the road starting from the main entrance, you will see a big lion statue indicating that you have reached the botanical park. Visitors can see various trees and plants that are native to Senegal. Don’t forget to Pay a brief quick visit to Reptile House where you can see many lizards and reptile predators. The building is quite dirty and neglected however, it is very fun experience so just for a small ticket fee, cover this spot.
A small note:
Park Hann Zoo is a heart-breaking places due to horrific conditions in which animals live. Two hyenas and crammed into one small cage, 7 lions are put in a small and narrow room, chimpanzees have no proper shade etc. One thing I could suggest is that you can buy some food in advance to feed the animals, if you plan on visiting here. I myself bought some bananas and Pringles in advance and fed the monkeys. Subsequently, I managed to catch a great smile from one of my chimpanzee buddies. The entrance fee of the zoo is 5000 CFA’S for foreigners.
The final spot in Park Hann is the Lake. As you leave the zoo, go straight for a couple of hundred meters and you will reach the beautiful lake. There is also Restaurant Pelican near the lake, with a great terrace to sip some drinks and watch over the beautiful lake. What makes this lake unique is that it is a home to many different species and thousands of birds live in the bushes and trees nearby. Storks, seagulls, pelicans, geese, ducks..
Marche Kermel, is a unique 19th century open-air building which attracts both locals and foreigners due to its extraordinary ambience. Inside the building, there are food stalls only where one might find variety of food from fish to vegetables. The outdoor stalls surrounding the market building sell souvenirs and traditional Senegalese goods.
This long, bustling sea-side boulevard runs along the coast of Dakar and connects the north and south edges of the city. Route de la Corniche is perhaps the most opted road in Dakar for walks. From start to end, it is a 2.5 hours walk with the cool breeze accompanying you.
Museum of Leopold Sedar Senghor (the first president of Senegal) is one of the important attractions on Route de la Corniche. This is actually an old presidential residence open for public visit rather than a museum. Upon visiting, you see how the Senghor family lived. The façade of the structured is designed in the style of traditional African mud-brick homes however, inside the building is decorated in a very European way.
Since the Senegalese are very gym-oriented, along Route de la Corniche, in almost every corner, you see public sports areas and Senegalese working out. In addition, there are many stalls where you can find fresh cut fruits, coconut juice and quick snacks for extremely reasonable prices. There are many small beaches as well where you can sit on the sand and watch the beautiful view of the Atlantic.
IFAN Museum exhibits traditional & seminal art works and artefacts from chiefly West African countries like Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast, Guinea Bissau and Burkina Faso. The museum holds the vastest collection of the artefacts from Francophone Africa. IFAN Museum is a hub for African artists and West African studies. Moreover, Dakar Biennale is held here annually.
Cathedral of Dakar is an enormous structure with unique chapels and artisanal sculptures in it. Having been serving as the prime center of worship for the Christian minority of Senegal, Cathedral Dakar is one of the must-see attractions of the city. Especially on Sundays during the mass time, this cathedral is exceptionally vivid and beautiful.