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Flag Source: CIA World Factbook
Riding strong on a 60-year wave of population growth, Dakar, the capital of Senegal, is one of West Africa’s largest cities. Its metropolitan area is home to more than 2.4 million people. Although a lack of infrastructure in some areas is a symptom of the city's growing pains, Dakar is also home to a fantastic music and arts scene, charming neighborhoods, and wonderful beaches and nightlife. French influence lingers in the city's infatuation with patisseries and the arts, but Dakar also has a vibrant culture all its own, and is a must-visit for anyone who wants to truly understand West Africa.
The Top 5: What to Do in Dakar
Note: For excursions outside of Dakar, including Gorée Island and Lac Rose, see our Top 10: What to Do in Senegal
1. Arts Festivals:
Dakar seems to be holding one festival or another all year-round, and people in the city take them seriously. Some of the best are Jazz à Dakar, the dance festival Kaay Fecc, and the Dakar Biennale, dedicated to contemporary art.
2. African Renaissance Monument:
This towering monument, taller than the Statue of Liberty and located in the middle of the City Centre, was unveiled in 2010 and has been a source of controversy in Dakar since it was announced. The statue is meant to celebrate Senegal’s independence from France and encourage pride in traditional African culture, but some view it as anti-Western, largely because it was built in North Korea and its artistic style evokes certain Soviet sculpture. The statue’s $27 million price tag and the short skirt of the female figure have also been targets of criticism.
3. Institut Français Léopold Sédar Senghor:
This enormous complex features a rotating series of exhibitions in many different types of art, as well as a café, film screenings, and glass-painting workshops.
4. Pointe des Almadies:
This neighborhood, the westernmost point in Africa, offers superb surfing, but is also a good place to stroll along the beach and stop in one of the numerous seafood restaurants. The neighborhood is also home to a number of high-end nightclubs.
5. Marché Sandaga:
If you want a taste of the “real Dakar”—literally—head to this indoor food market. A twist on the city’s open-air markets, this anarchic building is primarily a place to buy food, although vendors will try to sell you everything from clothing to used electronics. Meat and fish are sold on the first two levels, with restaurant stalls on top.
When to Go
We recommend visiting Senegal during its dry season, between December and April. Timing your visit this way is not as important if you plan on staying within Dakar, but this dry, pleasant time of year is still preferable to the heavy rains and humidity between June and October.
When planning your trip, you will want to take Ramadan into consideration. While the evening festivities are among the most exciting and memorable experiences available to visitors, most restaurants are closed during the day, and the country’s nightlife goes dormant for the month-long fast. The dates of Ramadan are based on the lunar cycle, and vary from year to year. Check here to find out when Ramadan is this year.