I have always, ALWAYS, wanted to go to Senegal. The beaches, the monuments, the HISTORY! Senegal was once the economic and capital of franco-phone West Africa. Dozens of Africa's future Presidents and revolutionaries went to the historic Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, making it the education capital of franco-phone Africa as well. From the famous African Renaissance Monument, the historic Ile Goree, the pink lake, Dakar has everything that makes my little African heart sing. So if you are considering visiting Dakar, here are some (hopefully) helpful hints:
First, I stayed at the BEAUTIFUL Radisson Blu Hotel (I could only afford it because I was there on business). Now mind you, its pretty pricey (about $250 per night for a standard room), but it is so worth it. Its right on the water, has a gorgeous infinity pool, amazing food, and is attached to one of the best malls in Dakar the Sea Plaza Mall. The staff are so friendly and most speak english so they can also set you up with a taxi for your stay in Dakar, as well as scheduling all your outings to see the city.
The FIRST thing I wanted to do in Dakar was see the African Renaissance Monument. I have seen photos and videos of the massive statue for years and years and was so excited to finally see it in person. It is really as breath taking as the photos. It is the tallest structure in Africa, and is the first monument that really captures the magnitude of Africa for me. From the Radisson Blu Hotel/Sea Plaza, it was about a 20 minute drive along the coast line of Dakar. With every minute you get closer and closer to the 160 foot monument, and the thing gets bigger and bigger until you are standing at its feet with your mouth open in awe. After snapping out of my trance, my friend and I went up ALL THOSE STEPS and began our $10 tour of inside the monument.
The inside of the monument gave some history about how it came to be (a project of Senegal's former President, took over $30M to complete, constructed by a North Korean company, supported by many heads of states in Africa). There were some Senegalese art, some statues, but all in all the best part of the tour was taking the elevator to the very top and being able to see not only all of Dakar, but the faces of the statues up close and personal. The female statue's face was AMAZING:
Another important stop to make in Dakar is Ile Goree. From the 15th to the 19th century, the small island about two miles from Dakar, was THE largest slave-trading post on the African coast. To get to the island, you'll need to go to the Dakar port, and get in line to buy a round trip ticket on the 20 min ferry to the island. There are ferries every hour until 6pm. I would of course avoid going on a weekend as schools like to take students on field trips to the island (same goes for the African Renaissance Monument!) When you get off the island you'll be bombarded with kids trying to ask for money, women trying to sell you the same jewelry, and older men trying to be your tour guide on the island. Ignore them all, and find the men/women with the official tour badges, they speak english and are trained in the history of the island.
The island is beautiful, baobab trees, beautiful ocean views, cobble stone paths,; it is like you are in southern Spain or something. But the real reason to visit the island is to see the slave houses. From your tour guide you will hear about the history of the slave trade and how the French, Portuguese, and English were all fighting for the island so that they could control the lucrative international slave trade. You'll also get to visit authentic slave houses, where 50 Africans were "housed" in 8 foot square cells with slits for windows and no way to relieve themselves. The island is a moving reminder of the African and African American experience. You get to see not only the slave houses, but the door of no return; the door where Africans used to enter the slave ship with no hopes of ever seeing their continent again. WHEW, lets just say this, and Robben Island in South Africa, were the most emotional sites I've visited and had me shedding more than a few tears.
Our final stop in our week long tour of Dakar (sigh, I must return, a week was not long enough,) was the Pink Lake [insert 25 heart eye emojis.] This was a last minute trip, as my friend and I had already spent all our coins on hookah lounges, dinners by the ocean, and jewelry at the local market, we were unsure that we could make it the hour long taxi trip to the lake. Because we are both resourceful black women, we were able to haggle a price with our taxi driver to get us there and back for $25, plus the $15 for the half an hour pirouge ride around the lake.
For you to see the real PINK color of the lake (its pink because of its high salt content) you must arrive after 12pm so the sun can hit the lake at full force. IT. IS. AMAZING. I can not stress this enough, floating through this warm lake (so much salt your body floats right to the top) was hands down the coolest experience I've ever had in the 28 years I've graced this earth. It is something that I do not think anyone should miss if you are in Dakar. Also, the village surrounding the lake is where you should buy your souvenirs: masks, jewelry, African trinkets. Everything is half the price it is in Dakar! I scored a beautiful black and white mask for $5, where as masks at the market in Dakar were starting at $10.
Update: I recently visited another part of Senegal, a sleepy beach town an hour outside of Dakar called Saly. The beaches are beautiful, the coast line surreal and the prices are good! I stayed at the relatively swanky Lamantin Beach Hotel, a beautiful place with sea breezes, bungalows, and a private beach for $180 per night which includes a breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffet (the BEST buffet I've ever had in life.) I would definitely suggest taking a trip to Saly while in Dakar, the taxi should be about 20,000- 30,000 fcfa from the Dakar airport ($40-50 USD) They also have amazing artisan markets/villages where you can find art, sculptures at much better prices than Dakar.
I can say that, of all the countries I've visited in Africa, Senegal is hands down in the top three. I highly recommend this gem of a place.