Dakar is Senegal’s capital, and the West African country’s largest city. Its strategic location as one of the regions’ main seaports means that it attracts a large number of business men and women. The westernmost point of Africa, Dakar has a population of over 1 million people, while its metropolitan areas are home to an additional 2 million. A French colony up until 1960, Dakar is now a bustling cosmopolitan city where street markets still flourish in the shadow of modern high-rise buildings.
Anyone who has been to the Radisson Blu Hotel will tell you about its spectacular seaside location. While true, its beautiful location is not the only reason it tops our list of recommended business hotels. The Radisson Blu is centrally located between downtown and the main city center, making it ideal for getting around if you have meetings across the city. Free Wi-Fi access is offered in all areas of the hotel including the business center that is equipped with all of the usual services like fax, photocopying, etc. Request a business classroom – they tend to be larger in size. You also have the high-end Sea Plaza Centre just adjacent to the hotel should you wish you do some shopping or try one of their many restaurants. The Radisson’s late 6pm check out (subject to availability) is a bonus if you want to catch a nap before your flight out.
Number two on our list of places to stay while doing business in Dakar is the King Fahd Palace (formerly Le Meridien President). The palace is large, with a resort-like feel – it boasts a 6000 sq. meter conference facility along with a golf-course. The hotel offers a business center and other usual services like currency exchange and an on-site ATM. Though the hotel offers free Wi-Fi in rooms and public areas, it is not always reliable.
In the heart of the business district, just a few minutes from the iconic Freedom Square, is where you will find the Novotel. Its central location and modern facilities puts it at number three of our list of recommended hotels. The hotel offers more than a dozen meeting rooms that are able to cater up to 160 people. Standard business services include copy/print services and a fax machine. Secretarial and translation services are also available upon request.
Navigating and leaving Dakar’s Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport is a fairly straightforward matter. There is a tourist help desk at the arrivals gate, and you can arrange for a private airport transfer when you arrive. We have used the private airport transfer several times, and have found it to be both reliable and cost-effective. You can also arrange for an airport transfer with your hotel as many of the hotels listed above provide such a service. This option may appeal especially to first-time visitors to Dakar and non-French speakers.
For getting around Dakar, we recommend taking taxis, which are either black-yellow or blue-yellow in color. Taxis are reasonably priced and numerous in Dakar. Be ready to negotiate the fare before taking off if you opt for a Gypsy cab as they don’t have meters. We do not recommend driving in Dakar, as it might be overwhelming for visitors. To name one example, turning signals are used by drivers in Dakar in ways that differ significantly from Western driving practices.
Credit cards are accepted in all major hotels, as well as in establishments that cater to tourists in Dakar. Upon leaving your hotel and other tourist-friendly zones, be sure to carry cash. The most recognized credit card is American Express – Visa and Mastercard are also widely accepted. As a precaution against credit card fraud, ensure that you can see your credit card as it is processed, and monitor your bank statements.
Senegal’s currency is the Franc CFA (Communauté Financière d’Afrique or “Financial Community of Africa”), which is used across West Africa. At establishments catering to tourists, most major currencies are accepted. We advise travelers to bring a decent amount of cash along with them in a variety of bills. Local currency comes in handy when purchasing from smaller shops and/or tipping taxi drivers.
ATM machines are widely available at all major banks in Dakar, but are less readily available outside of the capital. They are a safe and affordable way to get local currency. Travelers’ checks can also be cashed in Dakar.
The major cellphone operators in Dakar are Orange, Tigo, and Expresso. Though all three operators provide great service, due to its expansive coverage in the country, Orange is the most popular.
When traveling in most major cities in Africa, Dakar included, you have a choice of a) using your cell phone and phone number from home and making roaming calls or b) buying a local SIM card, thus operating with a local number, charging it with airtime locally. The difference in price is huge.
For international calls to the US, Europe, etc., we highly recommend using Skype or Google voice. You should set up these accounts before you leave home. If, for example, you are in a hotel with free WiFi, a Skype account that has been set up for unlimited calls to US phone numbers for a flat $4/month, will allow you to dial any number in the US with unlimited talk time. This is the best way to stay in touch with people in the US, Europe, South Africa, etc.
For local calls, we recommend purchasing an inexpensive cell phone that is “unlocked” before you leave home (or using an old cell phone that you no longer use). Unlocked means that the phone can take a SIM card from any carrier. If you have a US or European phone that is locked (i.e., tied to a carrier), you can ask the carrier to “unlock” it. Alternatively, there are a number of websites that for a small fee of under $10, will provide you with specific instructions on how to “unlock” your cell phone. Simply Google the words “unlock cell phone” and you will find a large number of choices.
Is it safe to travel there?
While petty street crime is fairly common across parts of Senegal, we consider Dakar to be a safe city. For the latest updates on safety and travel news, we recommend visiting the British government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office page HERE.
Another useful source for assessing safety and security is the Ibrahim Index, founded by Sudanese businessman Mo Ibrahim. The Ibrahim Index ranks African countries relative to one another, and ranks Senegal’s personal safety as 16th out of 52 countries (1 being best, 52nd worst). You’ll find more information on the Ibrahim Index score for Senegal HERE.
French is both the official language of Senegal, and the primary business language. Though, Wolof is the most widely spoken language, most cab drivers, hotel staff, etc. speak French.
Senegal is influenced by western business attire. Expect to see both men and women dressed up in suits and formal business attire
It is customary to greet people using their titles and last name in Senegal. After familiarity and trust has been formed it is not uncommon to be invited to call someone by the first name or nickname. Be sure not to maintain direct eye contact during conversation, as direct eye contact is a sign of arrogance. The Senegalese tend to lower their gaze while conversing, especially when speaking with someone senior to themselves, in age or position. Avoid hard selling and controversial conversation- Senegalese dislike confrontation and will avoid it at all cost.
Electrical Outlet: Voltage: 220-240 Volts
The Type C plug, popularly known as the Europlug and the Type D plug, otherwise known as the Indian 5 amp, are both used.