Dakar is a stunning city. Hugging West Africa’s coastline in the most wonderful way, the entire metropolis is transfixed by the sea. Both French and Islamic influences add to the allure of this city — there’s almost an air of the tease of seduction dripping from it.
There are definitely a set of things you have to do in Dakar — the African Renaissance Monument, Goree Island, eating Thieboduenne — but there are a few ways to explore that might not be on your radar. Here are our top picks:
Brunch and Dive at Île aux Serpents
Many people skip Îles des Madeleines altogether mostly because they don’t know they exist. The largest island in the archipelago, Sarpan, is one of the most picturesque places on the planet.
With the city of Dakar in the background and a deep turquoise sea surrounding it, the barren island looks like a magazine photoshoot location — and it should be.
Although it’s less than a 20-minute boat ride from La Corniche, many locals have never been to the island. Some of this is due to the air of mystery surrounding the island and the lore of local fisherman who considers the island a sacred place.
We love exploring the island as a diving spot (caution: the currents can be real here, don’t dive if you aren’t a strong swimmer). The nooks and crannies that can be explored from the swimmer's vantage point are borderline surreal.
If you’re hungry you won’t find anyone selling thiouf or acara around these parts, the island is closed for development. However, our friends at Pause Doceur will pack up a brunch basket for you that includes fresh-baked treats and some amazing herbal iced tea — easily organized in the TSTMKRS app.
Quad Race at Lac Rose
You’ve seen the photos, you’ve wondered if they’re photoshopped, and you’ve put Lac Rose aka the Pink Lake on your #AfricaTravelBucketList.
Well yes — it’s definitely pink…varying shades depending on sunlight, wind, and a dose of luck and either way you should make a trip of it. While most rent a car out of Dakar, have a driver pull up and walk them around, do it for the gram and leave — there’s a much cooler way to explore Lac Rose and Retba the village that surrounds it.
Head on over to Salim’s — a cute restaurant and hotel situation nearby and rent yourself a quad (this experience is best done with some homies). Your lead driver will not only let you tear it up alongside the entire lake, but you’ll also meet a few locals on the way to a secret yet stunning beach nearby.
There are a few sets of sand dunes that increase the thrill factor tenfold and the secluded nature of your soon to be discovered beach hideaway will be much needed.
Explore Somone by Ultralight Aircraft
Ultralights are tiny planes that pack a lot of punch. With just enough space for you and a pilot — an ultralight ride offers an insane flying experience that makes you feel like a bird.
Who knew that a military airstrip deep in the beach town of Somone had a set of ultralight planes ready to take you high above the Somone Lagoon and over to the pristine beaches of neighbouring Saly. Armed with a go pro you can replay this experience over and over again.
Explore Ngor Island with an Artist
The colourful island of Ngor is becoming a haven for all things surfing these days — with two surf camps on an island that’s a 10-minute boat ride from Dakar’s mainland, it’s a perfect getaway from the city with some well-known waves.
Ngor Right the most famous of them all was featured in the 1960s cult flick Endless Summer. Yet there is magic beyond the surf — with only 25 inhabitants, solar power, and no motorized vehicles permitted — Ngor Island is becoming a haven for artists. Akon has a home here and you can find batik artists and artisans all over the island.
Our favourite resident is Abdoulaye Diallo, you’ll see his studio as soon as you hop off the ferry from the mainland. It’s bursting with colour-drenched with red and yellow with the backdrop of the perpetually blue skies of the island making it even more beautiful.
Abdoulaye uses textures and depth to tell stories with his paintings. Black women are often his subject and he illustrates them as both powerful and vulnerable across his works. If you’re lucky enough to catch him in his studio you’ll almost certainly be invited up for a tea, just be certain to brush up on your French and Wolof first.
Connect with Colonial Resistance in Touba
In Arabic “tuba” means felicity or bliss and evokes the sweet pleasures of the afterlife. Founded by Cheikh Amadou Bamba in 1887, the city is both a holy site and evidence of the Senegalese resistance to French colonization.
Governed by the Mouride order, Touba is not your typical tourist attraction, although the Great Mosque is a stunning architectural attraction.
Touba has a special autonomous status in Senegal and every aspect of city life is governed independently — this might be seen as strict or rigid but what will surprise you about Touba is how authentically welcoming it is.
Hitch a ride on the back of a donkey cart or learn about the Baye Fall, a Sufi sect within the Mouride brotherhood dominated by young men. With few tourists making the four-hour journey from Dakar, those dare to venture to have a real opportunity to experience something special and transformative.