Experience the Senegal coast by car
Dakar, Senegal – — From dizzying Dakar to vibrant Saint-Louis, Senegal pulsates with rich culture, history and charm.
If you want to experience it all — from bustling cities to sleepy, seaside villages — hop in a rental car, charge up your favorite navigation device or app, brush up on your conversational French, and start your road trip across Africa’s colorful western coast.
Dakar for the music, art lover
Senegal’s largest city, perched on the tip of the Cap-Vert peninsula, is an ideal starting place for your journey.
Spend the afternoons filling your suitcases with trinkets and T-shirts from the capital’s many frenetic street markets. For a more serene shopping experience, head to La Galerie Antenna. This African art mecca boasts an impressive collection of sculptures, paintings, masks and jewelry from across the continent, galerieantenna.com/.
Rest up and head out after midnight to experience Dakar’s thriving music scene at a local bar or club. After your late night, regroup by the beach at one of Dakar’s luxury hotels: Terrou-Bi, terroubi.com/index-en.php, or Radisson Blu Hotel, radissonblu.com/en/hotel-dakar/.
While most of Senegal is surprisingly drivable, Dakar traffic is not for the faint of heart. Be prepared for a general disregard of road signs and discombobulating roundabouts. Some rental car packages include drivers or one can be arranged through your hotel. Or hop in taxis for short trips. They’re abundant and inexpensive. Be sure to check rates with a local before hailing a ride and negotiate the fare with your driver in advance.
Goree Island for the history buff
An afternoon (at least) spent exploring the history and architecture of Ile de Goree is a must when visiting Dakar. The UNESCO World Heritage site was a shipping point for African slaves during the 16th through 19th centuries. The island’s most famous and sobering attraction, Maison des Esclaves (Slave House), has had many high-profile visitors, including President Obama in 2013. It is now a museum and memorial site serving as symbol for the larger slave trade throughout Africa.
You can easily book a tour guide when you arrive, but the small, tranquil island is quite walkable on your own. Take in the scenic ocean views, colorful, crumbling architecture, shops and street vendors before dining on fresh fish at the hilltop restaurant, Dolce Vita.
Ferries leave regularly from Dakar’s main port and cost $9 roundtrip.
Saint-Louis for daytrippers
Craving a quick trip outside the city? Head 200 miles (320 kilometers) north to the French colonial settlement Saint-Louis.
This lively fishing community connects to the historic city center, a small island in the Senegal river brimming with colonial charm. Reminiscent of New Orleans, Saint-Louis boasts boutique hotels, trendy restaurants, galleries and an annual jazz festival.
Don’t miss Senegalese designer Rama Diaw’s boutique, which features colorful and wearable clothing and accessories for women, ramadiawfashion.com/.
If you have the time, head farther north to the lush wetlands of the Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary, another UNESCO World Heritage site.
On your way back to Dakar, stop by Lake Retba, Senegal’s “pink lake,” about an hour outside of the capital. The water may appear more murky than rosy, depending on the season and time of your visit, lakeretba.com/.
Glamping and wildlife
Fathala Wildlife Reserve, fathala.com/, offers glamping (glamorous camping), with three-course meals and luxury air-conditioned tents, near the Gambia border, about 160 miles (258 kilometers) from Dakar, depending on your route. Excursions range from jeep safaris to mangrove boat tours. The attraction started as a conservation project for an antelope, the Giant Derby eland, but animals from other parts of Africa can be seen here, too, such as zebras and giraffes.
The lone rhinoceros is known for his nightly pilgrimage to the smartly-placed watering hole in front of the dining area. It’s dinner with a show.