Dakar is the capital and largest city of Senegal and is often regarded as the cultural and commercial center of French-speaking West Africa. The metropolitan area is home to about 2.4 million people and lies on the end of the Cap Verte peninsula, which marks the westernmost point on the African mainland.

Dakar is often the first stop in exploring French-speaking West Africa because it has good flight connections with Western Europe, whereas the other main French-speaking West African city, Abidjan, does not.


The Senegalese are very proud of their reputation for "teranga"—hospitality. Locals are extremely friendly and helpful, but as anywhere else, watch out for scams and pickpockets. Petty crime here is relatively high, be cautious.


The peninsula was settled by the Lebou people, closely related to the Wolof people, when the Portuguese first reached it in 1444. The original villages: Ouakam, Ngor, Yoff and Hann, still constitute distinctively Lebou neighborhoods of the city today. The Portuguese were repulsed by the locals initially (the first Portuguese ships were slave-raiders), but peaceful contact was made in 1456. The bay would serve as an important stop for the Portuguese India armadas of the early 15th century and Portuguese armadas en route to Brazil. It is believed that during a stop here in 1501, when an armada returning from India and one heading to Brazil met, an explorer with the latter—Amerigo Vespucci—compared notes with explorers returning from East Asia and realized that Asia & the New World couldn't be the same continent (it was a letter published upon his return that is heralded as the first postulation of America as a separate continent).

The Portuguese established a settlement on the island of Gorée in the early 16th century and, on the mainland, the Lebou established the town of Ndakaaru to service the needs of the Portuguese. It would be captured by the Dutch in 1588 and switch hands several times between them until the British captured the island in 1664 and the French gained control in 1677. The settlement would mostly support the slave trade. The infamous House of Slaves was completed in 1796.

In 1795, the Lebou revolted against Cayor rule and established the Lebou Republic with Ndakaaru as its capital. In 1857, the French established a military post on the peninsula and annexed the Lebou Republic. With slavery outlawed, the French supported peanut cultivation. Gorée island proved ineffective as a port, and so with the booming peanut trade, the French supported the growth of Dakar and its port. Dakar replaced Saint-Louis as the capital of French West Africa in 1902. During this heyday, the city was one of the most important cities in the French empire (comparable to Beirut or Hanoi).

Between 1959-1960, Dakar served as the capital of the Mali federation and, upon its breakup, became the capital of Senegal in 1960. The city still maintains strong ties to France and boasts a large French expatriate population and hosts offices for many French businesses involved in West Africa.


 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Daily highs (°C) 25 24.6 25 25.3 26.3 28.9 30 30.1 30.4 30.4 29 26.5
Nightly lows (°C) 17.4 17 17.4 18.4 20.2 23.1 24.5 24.6 24.4 24.3 22.5 19.6
Precipitation (mm) 2.1 1.3 0 0 0 10.2 83.4 184 156.5 51.6 2.6 2.6

Source: Spiegel Online Wette

Dakar is warm and humid year-round with a rainy season that lasts from July–October. Temperatures are warm, but moderated by cool sea-breezes and not as hot as inland cities in the region (like Bamako or Ouagadougou). The warmest months are Jul–Oct with highs of 30 to 31°C (86 to 87°F) and lows of 24.5°C (76°F). Jan–Mar are the coolest months, with highs around 25°C (77°F) and lows around 17 to 18°C (63°F).

Average yearly rainfall is 495 mm (19.5 in), of which just 19 mm (0.75 in)) falls outside the rainy season! During the rainy season, roads around the city can turn into rushing rivers and without proper sewers in some parts of the city, standing water is contaminated and not safe to walk through.

Dakar mean sea temperature
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
21 °C (70 °F) 20 °C (68 °F) 20 °C (68 °F) 21 °C (70 °F) 22 °C (72 °F) 25 °C (77 °F) 27 °C (81 °F) 28 °C (82 °F) 28 °C (82 °F) 28 °C (82 °F) 27 °C (81 °F) 24 °C (75 °F)

Get in

By plane

Dakar Airport

The city is served by Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport (IATA: DKR), located a short drive north of Dakar in the town of Yoff. Dakar is a major West African hub, so there are lots of flights coming from and going to Europe and other African cities. The airport had been an important stop on flights between the US and South Africa as recently as 2009/2010, but most of these flights are now non-stop, with only South African Airline's Johannesburg-Washington and Johannesburg-New York (JFK) flights stopping in Dakar and allowing passengers to leave or join the flight. Be prepared to arrive and leave at any time of the night or day - many flights arrive and depart in the middle of the night. The airport is relatively small and can be bustling if more than one plane arrives at a time. When departing, do not be fooled into thinking that with so few terminals you can arrive later than usual—emigration can be very slow, and you should leave as much time as you would at any airport.

The airport is in poor condition, crowded, and dirty. There is a small hotel in the airport. Taxi rides from the airport to the centre of Dakar are XOF3,000 during the day and XOF4,000 to XOF7,000 at night. Be prepared to negotiate with taxi drivers. A bus ride from the airport to Dakar is XOF160.

Be prepared to refuse touts and taxi drivers. See Stay safe for details.

From Europe: Brussels (Brussels Airlines); Lisbon (TAP Air Portugal); Madrid (Air Europa, Iberia); Milan (Air Italy, Meridiana, Neos); Paris-Charles de Gaulle (Air France); Paris-Orly (Corsair International) and Istanbul (Turkish Airlines)

From North America: New York City-JFK (Delta Air Lines, South African Airways); Washington-Dulles (South African Airways)

From Asia: Dubai (Emirates, triangle route flying Dubai-Conakry-Dakar-Dubai)

From West Africa (note: some airlines fly multi-city routes and therefore direct flights are only available in one direction to or from Dakar and the listed city): Abidjan (Air Côte d'Ivoire, Gambia Bird, Kenya Airways, Senegal Airlines); Accra (Gambia Bird); Bamako (Air Burkina, Air Mali, ASKY Airlines, Kenya Airways, Senegal Airlines); Banjul (Arik Air, Gambia Bird, Senegal Airlines); Bissau (Senegal Airlines, TACV); Conakry (Emirates-inbound only, Gambia Bird, Mauritania Airlines International, Senegal Airlines); Cotonou (Senegal Airlines); Freetown (Arik Air, Gambia Bird); Lagos (Arik Air); Lome (ASKY Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines); Monrovia (Gambia Bird); Niamey (Senegal Airlines); Nouakchott (Mauritania Airlines International, Senegal Airlines); and Ouagadougou (Air Burkina, Gambia Bird, Senegal Airlines).

From North Africa: Algiers (Air Algerie); Casablanca (Royal Air Maroc); Tunis (Tunisair)

From Eastern Africa: Addis Ababa (Ethiopian Airlines, via Lome); Nairobi (Kenya Airways, via Abidjan and Bamako)

From Southern Africa: Johannesburg (South African Airways)

From Central Africa: Douala (Senegal Airlines); Libreville (Senegal Airlines)

From Cape Verde & Canary Islands: Gran Canaria (Air Nostrum); Praia (Senegal Airlines, TACV)

National carrier Senegal Airlines operates domestic flights from Dakar to Cap Stirring & Ziguinchor in the western part of Casamancethe fork of Senegal beneath The Gambia.

A new airportBlaise Diagne International Airportis being built in the town of Ndiass, 40 km southeast of Dakar. The most recently announced date of opening is November 2014, but opening has been pushed back several times (it was first scheduled to open in late 2011). At a cost of €566 million, it should offer a dramatically different experience compared with the current airport. Most airlines will likely transfer operations to the new airport, although Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport will remain in operation—probably for regional flights on local airlines.

By rail

Dakar Railway Station

A commuter rail line Petit train de banlieue (PTB)connects the Dakar railway station with Thies, 60 km to the east.

The Dakar-Niger Railway connecting Dakar and Koulikoro, Mali (near Bamako) has not operated since around 2009/2010. The line hasn't had significant improvements/repairs since its construction in 1924 to carry freight from the Niger River to the Atlantic Ocean. The line operated sporadically in the 2000s decade, with services at times running on a regular schedule and at other times operating on an erratic schedule (2–4 weeks between trains, delays of several days between scheduled/actual departure). The tracks in some places are so bad that trains on the line were limited to 20 km/h! The ride from Dakar to Koulikoro took 36+ hours. In 2009, four passenger cars derailed, killing 5 people. Even if the line reopens, unless there is a major overhaul, traveling by road is a much better experience.

By road

The main method of travel around the country is by sept places (French for "seven seats"), questionable station wagons in which they will pack seven people so that you are basically sitting on the next person's lap throughout the journey. You can also come with a group and rent out an entire sept place, but this will be expensive. If you are obviously a tourist, they WILL try to rip you off, so make sure to set a price before you agree to a driver. There are set prices to often-travelled locations. The main sept place station in Dakar is Gare Routieres de Pompiers. Watch out for pickpockets!

By boat

The Dakar-Ziguinchor ferry, currently the Aline Sitoé Diatta.

A state-owned ferry runs between Dakar and Ziguinchor in Senegal's Casamance region (below The Gambia). The Joola, one of the former ferries on this route, capsized in a storm while overloaded in 2002, regarded as the second deadliest maritime disaster in recent history. The actual number of passengers aboard is unknown, but 1800-1900 people are believe to have died while only 64 survived (the ship was built to carry 580 people!) and the disaster remains on the minds of many Senegalese. The Aline Sitoé Diatta, built in 2008, is the current ferry. Changes have been made to ensure a disaster such as the Joola never happens again, so travellers shouldn't feel too worried boarding the ferry.

The ferry runs overnight and takes around 16 hours in each direction. A seat costs XOF15,000. Cabins are available with 2-8 beds, but are more expensive (around €100) and are fully booked in advance, especially during tourist season. Departures from Dakar are Tuesdays & Fridays. Departures from Ziguinchor are Thursdays and Sundays (arriving in Dakar on Fridays & Mondays, respectively).

Get around

By bus

The Dakar bus system, known as Dakar Demm Dikk (Dakar coming and going), is fairly dependable. Fares are XOF150 and there are no free transfers permissible with each ticket. Unfortunately, for newcomers, there's not much in the way of a map of the bus system, so you'll have to figure it out on your own. The number 10 bus runs along the Corniche de l'Ouest and turns into the suburbs at Rue Aime Cesaire. The number 1 bus runs along the VDN.

Cars Rapides. These are the usually blue, yellow or white mini-buses that careen through Dakar and some of Senegal's other cities. There are somewhat fixed rates for certain distances, but you need to check with a Senegalese beforehand. As of 2011 XOF150 would cover most destinations. To find out where one is going, flag it down and shout out your destination at the apprenti, the boy in charge of collecting fares who hangs out the back. If she shouts back at you the destination you want, signal it to stop and hop aboard. To stop, bang loudly on the side of the bus, on the roof or signal to the apprenti you want off. Apprenti's don't always speak French, so be prepared to communicate otherwise if you do not speak Wolof. Be careful about asking for your destination, as the apprenti will often tell you it is going there just to get you on the bus, no matter its actual destination. If possible, ask where it is going rather than if it is going to your destination.

By taxi

Cheap and safe and everywhere. Just don't mind the broken windshields. All taxi fares are negotiated beforehand and will require bargaining. If you're not from Senegal, you will probably have an outrageous price proposed, so check with locals before to get an idea of what they pay, in order to know what you will be able to get. Even if you have negotiated a price, once you arrive your taxi driver will pretend he has no change on him, even if he previously assured you he had.


Paris - Dakar Rally

For many years Dakar was the end point of the most important off-road rally in the world. The competition had three classes: motorcycle, car and truck. It began in 1979 and ran to Dakar until 2007. The 2008 Dakar rally was cancelled due to terror threats by Islamists. The unstable situation in Mauritania and Mali led to a move to South America; since 2009 the rally has taken place annually there. Attempting to follow the rally route today is definitely not recommended.

Place de l'Indépendance
Goree Island


Beer and Music


Souvenirs in a street market.


Sunset over Dakar from Hotel de l'Indépendance


Gazelle is the local favourite beer - it comes in serious bottles, or Flag, which is stronger and more expensive.


There is a wide selection of hotels, from the basic to the best 4 star chains. Many first time visitors stay at the expensive Meridien. There are, however, some good and reasonably priced places to stay.


Mid range


Stay safe

Petty crime in Dakar is relatively high; crime against tourists is common, even around Place de l'Indépendance. Use common sense: women should not walk around alone after dark. Watch your pockets in crowded places, such as Sandaga, and keep a close eye on your belongings. There are many different scams to get money from tourists, so be wary. The African favourites "I work at your hotel and have run out of fuel, please can I borrow €10", etc. are common, so don't be fooled.

Crime around the airport is extremely high. Do not change money at the airport. Con artists wait inside the arrival terminal by the baggage carousel. They inform you that they work for the airport and that they do not need any money from you. They snatch your bags out your hands, and lead you to a restaurant where you are told the kitchen is closed. They will all sit around you and demand money before they let you or your bags go. Some may offer to take you to "an affordable hotel" such as Hotel Tahiti. They then lock themselves in the room with you and demand money. They do not settle for anything less than USD10-25. They do not care if you have enough money for food or to get back to the airport. They will threaten you. Be warned.

Avoid the beaches at night. Try not to wear any outwardly expensive items of clothing or jewellery. In generally the Senegalese are not violent. Some people turn to stealing so that they can drink and eat. Overall, though, the Senegalese are an incredibly friendly and hospitable people and you will meet many people who are interested in talking to you.

Senegal is one of the most politically stable countries in Africa. The police force is useless for your safety, although they all speak French, and hence are helpful with directions when asked.

You should particularly avoid walking in the evenings (or nights) along the Corniche, particularly the stretch between the International School of Dakar and the Club Olympique.


There are many beggars in Dakar, and so this can be an uncomfortable situation. One way to handle it is with a simple, polite "ba BEN-een yohn" ("next time" in Wolof). They may be persistent, but be firm without being rude. Another option is to give the talibes food. Also, keep in mind the Islamic tradition of giving daily - after you've given once, you can say, "sah-RAHK-sah AH-gah-nah," which means "charity has already been done."

Embassies & Consulates

BBC World Service radio broadcasts in English and French in Dakar on 105.6 MHz.

Go next

Travelling outside of Dakar can be manic and harrowing but is definitely worth it.

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