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With busy fabric markets, towering mosques and sandy beaches that border the Atlantic Ocean, there’s something for everyone in Dakar, Senegal's capital. It's best known as a hotspot for surfers, with large waves off the west coast as well as gentler waters along the northern, palm-lined beaches. In the heart of the city, both cars and horse-drawn carts vie for space on the streets, which are filled with the sounds of local Mbalax music and the scent of freshly caught fish or steaming Mafé curries.
Stay in a Dakar hostel near the northern beach in an effortlessly fresh, modern building. On warm evenings, relax outdoors on the terrace as the sun sets – some hostels in Dakar even have rooftop areas that look out over the city and ocean. Or for a quiet base away from the bustling city, take a boat to one of the island hostels. Here you can wake up to a free breakfast surrounded by palms, before walking only 50 metres down to the beach.
To experience Dakar’s traditional side, wander through the Médina neighbourhood. Here, the narrow crisscrossing streets are lined with stalls selling everything from rice dishes to homewares, and you can see the city’s Grand Mosque with its towering minaret. This is also where you'll find the Soumbédioune market, which specialises in handmade crafts. If searching for relaxation, head to Plage de Yoff beach and its two long stretches of soft sand peppered with straw umbrellas.
Any trip to Dakar should include a visit to the Deux Mamelles. These twin hills offer majestic panoramic views, and one is topped a 49-metre-tall bronze statue, known as the African Renaissance Monument. There are also small golden beaches tucked down the back, complete with comfortable hammocks and laid-back bars. For a day trip, hop on a boat to the calm Île de Gorée, an old slave-trading centre turned UNESCO World Heritage Site, or escape to the crystal-blue coves of Île de N'Gor for diving and relaxing on a tranquil beach.
As Dakar's main airport was moved in 2017 to the modern Blaise Diagne International Airport, you'll need to catch a bus or taxi into the city itself. The journey should only take about an hour on a Dakar Dem Dikk service. These buses can also be used to explore Dakar, or you can flag down one of Senegal's many Ndiaga Ndiaye minivans for an unforgettable experience. If in doubt, hop in a taxi as these are abundant and prices can be negotiated with each driver.