The ultimate guide to solo travel in Dakar, Senegal
Africa is a continent often overlooked as a possible tourist destination. West African countries, in particular, have hugely impacted the continent. From cuisines, music to clothing, and much more and Senegal is no exception.
Senegal is situated on the coast of West Africa. Its neighbouring countries are Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Mali and Mauritania. This country is by far one of my favourite African countries and one of those African countries that feels a lot like Europe. Dakar is a beautiful, bustling city, with so many cool places to visit. With frequent public transport, google maps will be your best friend in finding your way around the city.
Backpacking in Senegal is definitely doable as there are hostels that you can stay in to meet others and transport is cheap, but you won’t find that many people backpacking in Senegal.
Senegal is a safe west African country to visit. Especially for solo female travellers. Though no country is 100% safe, Senegal is one of the safer African countries. If you’re in the capital Dakar, it’s best practice to always walk with a purpose (don’t look like a tourist or lost), If you are lost always go into a shop to ask for directions rather than strangers on the street. As a solo female traveller you should also be mindful of your things, whether that’s your bag at a restaurant or drinks at a bar, never leave your things unattended.
If you don’t look Senegalese you can get unwanted attention from people especially beggars. It can also be a hassle trying to get a taxi as the drivers may inflate their prices, that’s why it’s handy to read my tips mentioned below.
With the rise of tourism to the country’s capital, Dakar has a lot of cheaper accommodations are now available. An average night in a hostel will cost around $5 per person per night with 5-star hotels costing around $150 a night.
The best area to stay in Senegal depends on what type of experience you are looking for. I’d advice staying in the Yoff or Ngor which are the suburb regions of Dakar. They are more upscale with a lot of nice bars, restaurants and shops without the noise of the bustling city centre
Dakar also has a lot of hidden gems such as dream park in the southern part of the city. Make sure you ask some locals, hotel staff, ex-pats etc. to fully get to see what this city has to offer. In the meantime, here are some must-visit sites
- Goree Island
If there’s one must visit place in Dakar, this is it! Just off the course of mainland Senegal, Goree Island offers a better understanding the transatlantic slave trade and Senegalese history. From museums to well preserved buildings, this UNESECO World Heritage Site truly feels like you’re stepping back in time. This island is a chilling reminder of the scar of slavery many African countries still carry. I advise going with a tour guide, you can hire them before you get at the port where you buy tickets to the island or on the island. (Senegalese and Africans get a discounted rate onto the island)
- The African Renaissance Monument
This is the tallest African statue and an undeniably breathtaking copper statue in the capital. A must-see in Dakar. This monument celebrates not only Senegalese liberation but African liberation from colonialism. This magnificent statue was created in hopes of becoming an international tourist attraction like the statue of liberty. I hope you like stairs because just like the road to freedom, it is a long climb up.
- Niokolo-Koba National Park
This is a UNESCO World Heritage site is Senegal’s largest national park. This protected area is home to some amazing biodiversity. This is a great place for bird lovers who’d be able to get close up views of flamencos, pelicans and even elephants!
- The IFAN Musuem and Museum of Black Civilizations
These museums are great places to go to explore more of West African culture. With a hundred of artefacts, from African clothing styles to traditional armour dating back hundreds of years. A must visit if you’re in Dakar. Henriette Bathily museum is also worth a look for those who’d like to know how Senegalese women live their daily lives.
- The stones of Senegambia
Though not technically in Dakar, these stones are still worth the trip. Scattered around Senegal and Gambia, these UNESCO World heritage sites date back to the 3rd century BC. and are historical landmarks. Whilst some speculate these stones to be a burial ground, others believe the stones were placed there by Gods and have spiritual meaning. Either way, they sure are an archaeological wonder.
- Visit Fathala
For those adventure seekers, why not visit Fathala Wildlife reserve. This reserve is home to hundreds of animals including endangered animals such as rhinos, warthogs, buffaloes and more. You can even get the unique experience to walk with lions. Bet you don’t have the opportunity to do that every day.
- Djoudj National Bird park
This national park is the 3rd sanctuary in the world and a paradise for bird lovers. With over 350 different bird species migrating to and from this park, don’t miss out on a chance to see some beautiful birds such as pelicans and flamingos. But if birds aren’t your thing, this park is also home to other animals like monkeys, warthogs and even crocodiles.
- Chill in N’gor
N’gor is an upscale part of Dakar and is the go-to area for parties and bars. With amazing rooftop bars, good music and cheap drinks, you’re bound to have a great time here.
- Village des Arts
This gallery is perfect for art lovers as it showcases some amazing art pieces from local Senegalese artists and painters.
- Head to the Beach
Dakar has some undeniably great beaches with neighbourhoods like Ngor being notoriously loved by surfers. With amazing sandy beaches and great local food close by, you definitely won’t be disappointed making Dakar your next holiday destination.
– Take a boat ride across Lac Rose
Also known as Lake Retba, This is a beautiful lake located 45km from central Dakar and is naturally pink due to the high salt content. Though when I went, it wasn’t particularly pink, it is worth a visit if you have extra time on your trip as the landscape and area alone are very different from inner-city Dakar.
– Marvel at the Mosque of divinity
This mosque is located in Ouakam, a neighbourhood in Dakar, and stands tall on the edge of the Atlantic ocean. Why not take a trip to see it and marvel at the amazing architecture.
– Try their renowned rice
Wolof rice also commonly known as jollof rice is a popular staple dish across west Africa which has existed for centuries! It is said to have originated in Senegal. This dish can be commonly found in most restaurants and is typically served with meat or fish and salad. Why not try it out and tell us what you think?
– Head to Marche Sandaga
This local market is home to some amazing Senegalese artwork. Located in the Dakar-plateau (southern part of the city) You can walk around this market to find textiles, home wear, African printed clothing and much more! Even if you don’t plan on buying anything, It’s well worth a look around.
Senegal has relatively good year climate all year-round with temperatures rarely dipping below 20 degrees. But the winter dry season; from November to March is probably best as there’s a guarantee of sunshine with minimum humidity and rain.
- Learn Wolof!
Transport may be your biggest expense here as taxi drivers are often opportunists inflating the prices for tourists. Especially at the airports so I recommend getting the coach to downtown Dakar. In Dakar, haggling with taxi drivers is a must, even for locals, and knowing a bit of Wolof can help with this. Busses are cheaper but often confusing to navigate for a non-local as bus stops are not clearly marked so you’re better off practicing your negotiation skills.
- Be Modest
Senegal is a very relaxed and liberal country but is still an Islamic country so modesty should be taken into consideration.
- Pack some tissue
As Senegal is an Islamic country, their toilets often look different. Some places have squatting toilets whilst others have normal toilets but it’s very hard to find toilet paper. This is as they often use a hose in the stall to clean themselves rather than toilet paper. I recommend trying it out for a new experience but also keeping some pocket tissues to hand too.
- Get a sim
If you plan to stay in the country for a long time, it may be useful for you to get a sim card, these can easily be bought in phone shops. Public WiFi is not really common. Though some upscale restaurants do have WiFi, it may be safer as a solo female traveller to stay connected on your go throughout the city too.
- Stay in a hostel. I’ve found that staying in hostels really helped me to meet new people and go on adventures together and Dakar was no different. With so many cheap hostels around, it’s more than worth a try.
- Take a tour. There are so many experiences and tours in Dakar which will not only help you see the sights of the city but are also a great way for you to meet fellow travellers.
- Joining some clubs. Now I didn’t personally use this method, but I did hear from other travellers that this is a good way to meet people. Using sites like Facebook and joining groups is a great way to get the ball rolling.
Senegal has 14 international airports and domestic airports. The major airport in Dakar is Dakar Blaise Diagne International Airport
Depending on your itinerary, I’d say 5 days – a week in Dakar would be enough to really see what the capital has to offer.
- Can I drink the water? No
- Is tipping expected? If you’re happy with service 10% is acceptable for restaurants, taxis and tour guides.
- Fixed price or barter? Fixed Price except at markets.
- Any ATMs? Yes in the main cities.
- Which side of the road do they drive? Right.
- Good for vegetarians? They do love their meat but it’s okay for veggies.
- Any seven wonders of the world? No.
Budget – £50 a day (based on traveling on a budget and staying in hostels and budget accommodation Senegal)
Capital – Dakar
Population – 16.3 million
Language spoken – French and Wolof
Local Currency – West African Franc (CFA)
Do I need a visa? – Yes, for British citizens
Flying time to Senegal– 6 hours
Did you know? Senegal is set to be the first African country to host the Olympics!
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