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Dakar has experienced rapid change, and while much of West Africa is struggling with the Ebola crisis and the presence of Boko Haram, Dakar is the region’s most stable city and has transformed into a sprawling, multi-ethnic metropolis offering an eclectic mix of religious architecture, a thriving creative scene and colourful nightlife.
At Yoff Beach on the outskirts of Dakar, a white mausoleum and its bright green dome is juxtaposed with tousle-haired surfers riding waves as modestly dressed people stroll along the sandy beach. At the other end of town, which makes up most of the Cap-Vert peninsula, another architectural highlight is the white-tiled grand mosque with its pale green floors, ornamental arches and square minaret. But it’s after the Muezzin has made his last call to prayer that the city really comes to life and Mbalax beats – think catchy African tunes mixed with jazz, blues and reggae – pump out from rooftops, cars and clubs around town.
Further afield, the colourful western coast is said to have some of the best reef breaks, which draw in a varied crowd of locals and visitors alike. Home to the successful Dak’Art Biennal, one of the most prominent platforms for contemporary African art, and cultural centres and artist residencies such as Thread, the creative scene here is really flourishing. Thanks to individuals such as fashion photographer Omar Victor Diop, Dakar is increasingly gaining attention on the global circuit, while you’ll also meet some of Senegal’s most promising painters, sculptors and multimedia artists at places like the Village des Arts.
When to go?
Who to take with you?
Someone who’s up for anything, from touring religious sites to getting sweaty to African beats.
Most likely to bump into?
Global creatives, gnarly surfers and curious travellers.
After you’ve explored the traditional medina quarter with its colourful houses and lively markets, as well as danced the night away, take a day trip to the islands of Goré and N’Gor. With calm beaches on the bay side and some great surf on the northern coast, it’s ideal place to escape the busy capital and chill out with lunch at one of the many waterfront restaurants.
For history buffs, Ile de Goré hosts the rusty pink House of Slaves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was one of the largest slave trading centres until about 1810. Now a museum, it serves as a sobering reminder of West Africa’s colonial past.
Be sure to get stuck into Senegalese cuisine. Fresh seafood, samosa-like pastries and brochette lette (monkfish skewers with vegetables), are all local specialities. Dine on one of the breezy waterside decks or hit up the street-food stalls.
How to get there
There are currently no direct flights from the UK, with Iberia, TAP Portugal and Royal Air Maroc requiring one stop.
Essentials to bring with you
Visit with an open mind and your best dancing shoes, as well as some modest clothing for the day – as much the Senegalese like to party, religion and beliefs occupy an important place in their daily lives.
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