Senegal’s dazzling capital of Dakar is relatively off the beaten track from the mainstream tourist crowd, and now is the time to visit. The West African country, which was a former French colony, is known for its colorful, French-colonial architecture, lively atmosphere, and incredibly warm people. Walking its hot and dusty streets, it’s impossible to not be enchanted by the city and its people, who can often be seen in clothes that are equally colorful to the city’s houses. The country has a rich, and harrowing, history: from finding out more about the Atlantic slave trade through to viewing African art and exploring its lively markets, here are the top things to do when you visit Dakar:
1. Explore the IFAN Museum of African Arts
The Musée de l’Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire, or IFAN Museum of African Arts, is one of the oldest art museums in West Africa. It’s a beautiful showcase of African art, set in an early 20th-century building. The museum houses some of the most important collections of ancient artifacts from West Africa and it also promotes the works of contemporary African artists.
2. Take a Trip to the Ile de Gorée
If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of Dakar’s dusty streets, a thirty-minute boat ride away you’ll find the beautiful Ile de Goree. It’s a car-free island that’s filled with beautiful streets lined by French-colonial houses and has an incredibly slow pace of life. On the island, you’ll find quaint restaurants and cafes where you can unwind, alongside the House of Slaves museum, which is one of Dakar’s most important sights to see.
3. Visit the House of Slaves
The House of Slaves is a museum dedicated to the Atlantic Slave Trade. It’s set in a former slave-holding house that was constructed in 1776 and was used as a place to process and export African slaves. The museum offers a sobering reality on the history of the slave trade, which for many, is a topic confined to history books. During its time as a slave export base, conditions in the house were so horrific that many slaves died before even being placed on boats. Today, the museum serves as a monument to those who perished and offers a harrowing reminder of the cruelty of humankind. The House of Slaves is located on the Ile de Goree.
4. Shop in Kermel Market
Kermel Market is an explosion of colors, smells, and noises. The market, which lies near the port, was originally built in the 19th century, and today you can put your haggling skills to practice and experience a traditional West African market. At the market, you’ll find stalls selling everything from food to hand-crafted furniture.
5. Swim in the Pink Waters of Lake Retba
Due to a high salt content, the waters of Lake Retba are a stunning pink color, and it is a top destination for those looking to relax during their time in Dakar. The lake is less than a 19-mile drive from the Dakar’s city center and a worthy day trip. At the lake, you can swim and canoe in its rose-colored water. Be sure to bring your camera fully charged.
6. African Renaissance Monument
The African Renaissance Monument is a 160-foot bronze statue that depicts a woman, man and child looking out to the sea. It was erected to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence from France. It’s one of the tallest monuments in Africa and a worthy visit.