Situated on the Cape Verde Peninsula and boasting more than 27 miles (43 kilometers) of coastline, Dakar is a cultural blend of West African, French, and Arabic flavors. A vibrant city of striking contrast, here local markets sell secondhand wares in the shadow of towering office buildings while horse-drawn carts intermingle with newly imported European vehicles on dusty, African roads.
Senegal, a former French colony, achieved its independence in 1960. Now, it has a democratically-elected government although there is still a strong French influence in Dakar, the capital city. Over 94% of the inhabitants are Muslim. The national mentality of Teranga (hospitality) allows for a blending and acceptance of cultures and belief systems unique to West Africa. The city and suburbs contain over 2.5 million people, although there is a strong sense of community. Public transportation is widely available and inexpensive.
Dakar has two seasons—one dry and one rainy, with city temperatures ranging from the high 90s to low 60s. With over 335 days of sunshine and a variety of restaurants, markets and entertainment options, there are always things to do.
A quiet neighborhood in the southern region of Cape Verde and home to Dakar Academy (DA), Hann Maristes is a tight-knit community. Here, neighbors know one another and call out greetings as they pass on the street. There are several restaurants within walking distance of DA, including The Spot—a popular hangout for students after sporting games or events. With multiple grocery stores also within walking distance of campus, and fruit vendors who push carts through the neighborhoods, it is a comfortable place to live.
Turn onto the Corniche, a seaside highway that runs along the peninsula’s edge, to catch a glimpse of the shoreline. Here, you might catch sight of a few brave surfers bobbing on the choppy sea, waiting to take on daring breaks. But surfers of all ages and skill levels can be found catching waves along the Almadies Peninsula from November to March, when conditions are more consistent. Beginners should start on the northern side at Yoff Beach, where waves are more tame. Intermediate to advanced surfers will find more challenging swells at N’Gor and Ouakam, which is also a great location for barrels.
Uncover Senegal's History
To learn more about Senegal's past, head towards Collines des Mamelles, the twin hills overlooking greater Dakar, where you can visit African Renaissance Monument. Erected in bronze on the crest of the eastern hill, the 160-foot (49 meter) tall monument is Africa’s tallest statue. It was built in 2010 to commemorate Senegal’s 50 years of independence from France.
History buffs wanting to dive deeper into West African history should visit Gorée Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site off the coast of Dakar, where the ruminants of one of the last standing slave houses remains. Here, an estimated 20 million slaves passed through on their way to the Americas from the mid-1500s to mid-1800s. Sobering, it is a dark but momentous piece of Senegal’s history.
Go on a culinary excursion
If you've worked up an appetite while exploring Dakar, curve inland towards downtown, where intimate restaurants feature Lebanese, French, and Senegalese cuisine, along with a myriad of international flavors. Eric Kayser, an artisan boulangerie, is a favorite for brunch.
The smell of warm, buttered croissants will pull you through the doors while inside, glass display casings are illuminated by a soft light, revealing rows of tartelettes, éclairs, croissants aux amandes, and other sweet treats. Lining the walls behind the casings are shelves of freshly baked breads—everything imaginable, from golden baguettes to brioche, pain de campagneto pain brié.
Try the jambon omelette, a basket of warm bread, and the yassa bagel—a spin on one of Senegal’s renown dishes. Traditionally, yassa features grilled or baked chicken in a citrus onion sauce that is both tangy and sweet. Inspired, Eric Kayser improvised the recipe to highlight a hot chicken salad with melted cream cheese and sweet onions, sandwiched together on a fresh bagel.
Want to try a more traditional version of yassa poulet? Head to Pizza Rocket, a small café in Hann Maristes.
Shop like a local
Continue down the Corniche and stop by Soumbédioune (the artisan’s market) to treat yourself to a shopping excursion. As you enter the open air market, you'll be welcomed by the voices of talented craftsmen calling out greetings, drawing you into shops and tempting you with their newest masterpieces. Here, you’ll find anything from colorful wax fabrics to boubous, miniature car rapides to home décor, custom-made silver jewelry to traditional djembe drums.
Find Your Personal Paradise
If you're looking to spend an afternoon relaxing by the beach, head to Bel-Air Pointe, located along the southern shoreline of the Cape Verde Peninsula. Only a five-minute drive from Hann Maristes, its convenience and white sandy shores make it a favorite of DA students and staff. Here, you're likely to run into friends on the beach or see students skimming the water on jet skis. With more than 335 days of sunshine per year, Senegal provides ample opportunity to enjoy its sun drenched beaches. Many are lined with palm trees or feature beachside cabanas for a reasonable cost, making it possible for the sun-sensitive to also enjoy Dakar’s endless summer.