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Dakar is and has for centuries been a vital hub for travel and commerce, connecting Africa, Europe and the Americas. Once an important point for the Atlantic slave trade because of its strategic location, it still holds an important position for trade, transport and communication. Dakar's rich cultural heritage and a diverse and often difficult colonial history have bred a unique social blend that incorporates European, North African and West African elements, but stands out from all three. It is a blossoming city with a vibrant art scene, exciting diversity and enough natural wonders in the vecinity to warrant a few day trips. The mix of cultures is clearly visible in every aspect of the city, from the art and architecture to the cuisine and religious practices, and every quartier holds new things to discover.
Giant bronze statues, fantastic art museums, mosques, cathedrals and tons of fascinating history mean that you're sure to find plenty to do in Dakar. If you feel like exploring a bit further outside the city, attractions like the vibrant pink Lake Retba, the Village des Tortues, and the nearby Goree Island make for great day trips.
Like its people, Senegal's cuisine draws from North African, French and Portuguese influences, all mixed with local ingredients and the gastronomic traditions of the country's diverse ethnic groups. Fish is an important part of the food here, as are lamb, peas, peanuts, cous cous and lentils. Also, be sure to try some of the delicious fruit juices, such as mango, soursop and buy, the fruit of the baobab tree.
Coffee culture in Dakar has its quirks. There's nothing quite like buying a tiny plastic cup of extra sweetened coffee from a street vendor. But as the city has become ever more cosmopolitan and worldly, and as international influences have become more and more a part of life in the Senegalese capital, Western style cafes have been popping up throughout the city. Below are some suggestions for those wanting to escape the hustle of the city to enjoy a hot coffee, a quick snack or a creamy dessert.
Dakar boasts some of the best, liveliest and most varied nightlife in West Africa. Bars serve cool and refreshing drinks, and nightclubs keep the crowds dancing till morning. Additionally, the selection of musical and cultural events is staggering, and concerts, cinema and different kinds of performances are always available throughout the city.
The best shopping to be found in Dakar is at the abundant and colourful markets found all around the city. Some specialize in certain types of products, like fabrics or produce, while others seem to offer anything and everything you can think of. Be sure to haggle to ensure getting the best possible price, and beware of pickpockets, who tend to prefer the hectic bustle of markets to find easy prey.
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