The African Sun, unlimited supply of Bissap and infinite Blackness.
I dedicated my first trip to the motherland to Senegal. Contributing factors for the choice included: reuniting with good friends who live in Dakar, its enduring political stability and Delta‘s direct flights that are a manageable 8 hours long.
Even with all this convenience I was not about to make this a beach bum trip. So during my two week stay, I explored as much of the country as possible and enjoyed stints in Saly, Saint-Louis, N’Gor Island, Lac Rose and Ile de Gorée.
Dakar is the capital of Senegal and the nation’s most vibrant city. You can liken it to a New York: modern infrastructure, plenty of nightlife, restaurants, hotels and shopping. I stayed in Fenetre Mermoz which is about a 15-20 minute drive to the “downtown” area of the city (traffic permitting). Mermoz is peaceful and although the neighborhood boasts housing the president of Senegal, it does not come across as pretentious. As I got more comfortable with the location, and if the sun wasn’t too hot, I would occasionally walk to the Radisson Blu, the Sea Plaza Mall or Hotel Terrou-Bi for light shopping and panoramic pool views.
I wasted no time my first day in Senegal and tried my hand at surfing. The lesson cost me 10,000 CFCA (the equivalent of $20) at Plage de Virage for an hour. At the close of my session I was initiated to my first Attaya – a ceremonial tea break – courtesy of my instructor Elyman. It would also be my first, but definitely not last, run-in with Senegalese “Teranga” – a Wolof word for hospitality. The countrymen’s warmth, humility and eagerness to share their culture was not lost on me and I am super grateful I was surrounded by this spirit throughout my stay.
Surf break to rehydrate w/ my ataya #squad In Senegal, it's not just afternoon tea—the ceremony called ataya (sometimes spelled attaya) can take place any time of day, and just about anywhere and is an integral part of Senegalese social life. There are three stages to the tea-brewing, each of which takes place in a kettle that continuously boils on a stove. Chinese green tea is brewed strong and bitter, then poured into tiny glasses called kas; the tea's then poured from glass to glass to create a thick foam on top. The higher up you pour from, the better. The subsequent stages follow the same practice but add fresh mint leaves and more and more sugar as you go.
It’s hard to ignore The African Renaissance Monument. Standing at 49 meters tall this symbol of black excellence on top of one of the twin hills known as Collines des Mamelles, is powerful. Although it’s been met with criticism (namely the cost and slight resemblance to the President who commissioned it) the statue is awe inspiring. And as a young black woman it made me feel both proud and validated.
Saly is kind of like the Hamptons of Dakar; city dwellers plan a staycation when they’re looking to get away from DKR’s bustle. It’s about an hour and a half car commute and is mostly made up of small boutiques, restaurants and pretty domiciles. Driving there is seamless but better done during the day as roads outside the city aren’t illuminated. Plus you get to see rows of Baobab trees, livestock and watermelon merchants on your way there.
I highly recommend Safari Beach Saly for dinner and play – the seafood options are amazing and if you’re lucky you’ll catch a wrestling session on the beach.
With its crumbling colonial architecture, horse-drawn carts and peaceful ambiance, Senegal’s original capital has a unique historical charm – so much so that it’s been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2000. My motivation for enduring the four and half hour car ride to Saint-Louis from Dakar? Senegal’s national dish: Thieboudienne. Many argue that you can only experience the veritable rendition of the meal Saint-Louis.
Thieboudienne includes fried fish, steamed vegetables, short grain rice and a tomato marinade that is so well seasoned you’ll wish you could swim in it. It was DELICIOUS and exceeded all expectations.
Another must in Senegal gastronomy is drinking Bissap. The hibiscus based juice is refreshing, sweet and a great source of vitamin C. I had a glass every day.
Saint-Louis is also home to a lively fishing community and there is no shortage of boat sightings and fishermen throughout the mainland. The smell is pretty repugnant though – dried salt fish – but the boat-deco really compliments the natives amazing street style.
Senegal has a very active and serious surfer community and for many of them their hub is N’Gor Island.
Fun fact: cult classic “The Endless Summer” features cameos of N’Gor Island.
Getting to N’Gor is a quick 5 minute boat ride and costs 2000 CFCA – roughly $5 – per person.
My motivation to visit the small island was meeting famed artist Abdoulaye Diallo and touring his colorful studio. The talented painter is welcoming and some of his artwork is larger than life.
ILE DE GOREE
Gorée is a tiny, car-free island off the coast of Dakar. It’s known for its role in the 15th- to 19th-century Atlantic slave trade. On the narrow streets, colonial buildings include the House of Slaves, now a museum. Of course no trip to Senegal is complete without visiting the former concentration camp.
#TheDoorofNoReturn is believed to be the point out of which millions of Africans took the final step from their home continent and onto the slave ships. Recent historical studies suggest otherwise but no one denies the symbolic importance of this site. “You’re a descendant of slaves” is what my guide told me. I’ve always known this but for the first time I felt it.
Lake Retba or Lac Rose lies north of the Cap Vert peninsula of Senegal. Its distinct pink color is caused by the Dunaliella salina bacteria, which is attracted by the lake’s high salt content. Unfortunately I did not get to the salt lake in time to see its bright pink color. You’ll have to face the high sun in the earlier part of the day to do that.
Yes, I was a little disappointed I didn’t get to see pink but…
riding a quad on the sand dunes by the beach immediately made up for it.
KEY TAKEAWAYS IF YOU’RE PLANNING A TRIP TO SENEGAL:
- The dollar doesn’t really stretch, be prepared to spend some money on food, shopping and activities.
- NEGOTIATE EVERYTHING! They will try to take advantage because you’re a foreigner.
- Plan to have a chauffeur or rent a car if you’re confident. Driving in Senegal is a little tricky.
- People are really friendly and welcoming.
- Mosquitoes are a b**** – bug spray and malaria pills are a must.
- EVERYONE EXERCISES – you will be the only fat person in Senegal.
- Merchants are aggressive and someone is always trying to sell you something.
HERE IS A GOOD CHECKLIST FOR YOUR FIRST TIME IN SENEGAL:
Things to do/see in Senegal:
o African Renaissance Statue – head up to Les Mamelles
o Ile de Goree – House of Slaves + Beaches
o Isles de Madeleine
o Petit Cote – Espace Sobo-Bade
o Musee Theodore Monod
o Institut Francais Leopold Sedar Senghor
o Lac Rose / Retba
o Village des Arts
o Saint Louis
o Layen Mausoleum
o N’Gor Island w/ Abdoulaye Diallo
Beaches in Senegal
o Tama Lodge
o Toubab Dialaw
o Sobo Bade
o Plage de N‘Gor
Surfing in Senegal
o Plage de Virage
o N’Gor Island Surfcamp
o N’Gor Right
o Malika Surfcamp (as seen in Conde Nast Traveler)
o Plage de Yoff
o Cabane du Surfeur
o Marche Kermel
o Marche des HLM
o Marche Sandaga
o Villae Artisanal Soumbedioune
o Marche Tilene
Where to eat in Dakar:
o Le Lagon I
o Le Djembe
o Just 4 U
o Le Bideew
o Cabane du Pecheur
o La Pointe des Almadies
o La Maison de Celine
o Le Cozy
o Pause Douceur
Bars/nightlife in Dakar:
o Hotel Fare
o Little Buddha
o Black & White
o New Africa
o Le Patio
o Cabane du Surfeur
o Le Viking