Dakar, Senegal

“The gracefulness of the slender fishing boats that glided into the harbour in Dakar was equalled only by the elegance of the Senegalese women who sailed through the city in flowing robes and turbaned heads”

Nelson Mandela

dak monument crop

With my lack of French, I decided that the best use of my time was to do a city tour on my first day in Dakar. It’s a large city, so to get around, you definitely need some form of transport and I felt it would be too difficult to find a taxi driver that spoke English and thus could get me to what I wanted to see and would be happy to wait for however long I needed elsewhere.

As I was the only one on my tour, I could dictate what we saw to some extent and as I didn’t want to go shopping, this was factored in. There were some things that I wouldn’t have gone to, such as the shopping mall but was impressed by the multi-coloured map of Africa and the photos of people who have been important to the people of Senegal which are situated behind it. As the tour lasts for a couple of hours, there would be time to go back and see anything that you wanted to spend more time at.

dak pointe des almadies

The must-do’s in Dakar for me where the African Renaissance Monument (pictured at the top) and Pointe des Almadies, the western most point of Africa. The African Renaissance mounument is situated outside of Dakar on one of the surrounding hills and is the tallest statue in Africa. There are good views from the top and interesting art exhibitions on the lower floors. To be honest, there is not much to see at Pointe des Almadies (pictured far left of the photo above), hence choosing a photo taken from a distance, but I have now been to the what are generally regarded as the most south and west points of Africa.

I also enjoyed just chilling out on the beach at Yoff, which is where I was staying. The Senegalese are very keen on exercise so regardless of the time of day, but more commonly in the evenings, there were loads of people jogging up and down or doing various exercises. I was also lucky enough to watch some traditional fishing.

For me, the main highlights of visiting Dakar are found well away from the city itself and are Ile de Goree and the Lake Retba (the pink lake).

Ile de Goree

idg from boat crop

Ile de Goree is a district of Dakar but on an island located 2-3km away. It is famed for its reputation for being involved in the slave trade and so my first stop was the House of Slaves, a museum and memorial to the Atlantic Slave trade. I thought it was nice that it was almost the colours of the Senegal flag, with red stone pillars and stairs, yellow walls and green doors. The ‘door of no return’ is said to be where millions of enslaved Africans passed through as they left the continent. Of course there is some controversy about this as slaves left from many other points of Africa and the building was built relatively recently, however it is a thought-provoking museum and it is said that when Nelson Mandela visited, he needed some time alone as it reminded him of his own imprisonment and all that he had fought for.

idg slave house stairs

idg statue

The rest of the island is great to stroll around, with very pretty cobbled streets, old fashioned lanterns, flowers and palm trees. It is peaceful and calm. On the top of the hill is an artists community with a variety of pictures and sculptures, as well as views across to the mainland. It was so relaxing that I decided to stay for dinner with a view of the sea and the approaching ferry. Of course, I opted for poulet yassa and a beer!

idg boats

It is well worth the 20 minute ferry ride (CAF5200 return) but check the ferry times in advance as they only run every 90-120 minutes! I was dropped off at the ferry terminal but found it very easy to buy my ticket and get around the island on my own. Finally a bit of independent travel!!

Lake Retba

Lac Rose or the pink lake is 30km away from Dakar and is named for its pink waters caused by the type of algae. It is also known for its high salt content, which is up to 40% in some areas. It was really interesting to watch all the hard work that goes into collecting the salt from the bottom of the lake.

pink lake salt

Sadly, the lake doesn’t always look pink and on the day I visited, it only really looked pink when you looked directly from above. We arrived at around 12noon and when we were sitting have lunch an hour or so later, it was already looking a bit more pink. I visited on a tour which included a boat trip – with retrospect, I probably could have managed to visit here on my own also. There is the option of hiring a dune buggy or a camel ride but having done both on travels elsewhere and being short of time, I didn’t do either.

pink lake

Overall, I only had 2.5 days in Dakar but think this is about right as I got to see everything that I really wanted to and as it was light until about 7pm, I also had time to chill out at the beach too. I stayed at La Villa D in Yoff, which was clean and quiet, close to the beach and provided dinner each night if desired, at an additional cost.