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5 Unexpected Things about Dakar, Senegal

Rachael Cullins of Girl, Guy, Globe shares some unexpected experiences while living in Dakar, Senegal as an expat.

The city of Dakar, Senegal is often called the “Paris of West Africa.” But don’t let the (nick)name fool you – I’ve been to Paris and I live in Dakar, and Dakar is no Paris. This crazy, fun, loud, dirty burg perched on the Atlantic Ocean has plenty of excitement and surprises for travelers – but the City of Lights it ain’t. Here are five unexpected things about Dakar that make it a destination all unto its own.

1. The absolute giganticness of the African Renaissance Monument

The stats help tell the tale of its size – 160 feet tall, bigger than the Statue of Liberty, the tallest monument in Africa – but they still don’t compare with seeing the monstrosity in person. The statue is perched on top of steps on top of a hill, and in a city with virtually no other tall structures, it stands out, to say the least. Climb to the top to get some fantastic breezes.

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Set on a hill overlooking the ocean, the huge African Renaissance Monument looms over the city

2. Driving is some of the world’s worst in Dakar

You’ve been white-knuckled in a taxi in Boston, you’ve battled the streets of New York – but the driving in those metropolises is nothing compared to the danger-filled roads of Dakar. Cars swoop through roundabouts without so much as a sideways glance at oncoming vehicles, taxis honk incessantly to sell their services, exhaust-spewing car rapide buses enter and exit traffic at will. Traveler beware, lest you end up on the wrong side of a balingd Senegalese tire.

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One of the many casualties of Dakar

3. Things aren’t cheap in Dakar, Senegal

Travel to a third-world country often equates with mega-affordable prices. Not so in Dakar, where restaurant prices are comparable with Europe and the United States and grocery prices can be especially high. Take a head of broccoli, for instance, which will run around $12 USD at most chain grocery stores.

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One way to combat food costs: grow bananas in your backyard. We’re doing it, courtesy of these surprise trees we found at our apartment

4. Animals roam the streets in Dakar

By African standards, Dakar is a modern, upscale place. But that doesn’t mean all is glittery and westernized, and one of the most glaring (and entertaining) examples is the street animals. Groups of goats are shepherded from one lot to another, even in the most affluent of neighborhoods, and it’s not uncommon to see a skinny steer tied to a building or a horse-drawn cart cruising the streets alongside an expensive sports car.

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Goats and other farm animals roam the streets of Dakar. For the photo-snapping traveler, be sure to ask permission before taking a photo of an animal that obviously belongs to someone

5. Fitness is king in Dakar, Senegal

“Athletic” is perhaps the top adjective used to describe most Senegalese men. They’re tall, lean and muscular – and they work for it. Running is huge in Dakar, with big groups of guys taking to the roads in the evening after some of the day’s high humidity has dissipated. They often jog in tattered shoes and without any special, moisture-wicking clothing – an inspiration for us spoiled expat runners and a great reminder that the best reason to run is simply for the love of the sport.

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The beautiful Corniche, a boulevard that runs along the city

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Jane says:

Senegal, particularly Dakar is one of those places you either love or hate, and we really enjoyed the experience. We travelled through the country by car, and although the driving can be hair-raising we found the people to be friendly and welcoming, and it is interesting how you picked up on the ´running´ .. must be the fittest nation in Africa.

Si says:

Dakar is definitely a city I want to revisit. Having driven the length of Senegal I can confirm the driving leaves a lot to be desired.

Have added a link to this post on The Travel Bloggers Guide To Senegal I’m developing. Hope you don’t mind.

Kind regards, Si

Randy says:

Fantastic piece! As someone who has just gotten back into running, I really dig that large groups take to the streets simply for the love of the run.

Melvin says:

I still have to make it to Senegal… I wouldn’t mind to get there by bike & then the same route like the Rally Paris – Dakar is going! :)

Hadji says:

If you plan on an having an extended stay in Dakar: you should get a power generator because Senelec is useless.

The animals on the road are harmless (usually sheeps, or goats, chicken, dogs, cats and sometimes even cows but mostly sheeps).

Phil says:

Great observations. I was just in Dakar a couple of months ago and noticed some of the same things. Many are shared by other cities in West Africa, but the fitness one is definitely unique and I also find Dakar to be more expensive than other cities in the region. I think you could also mention the issues with senelec; the extent of power cuts is also unique to senegal, although it seems like it is getting better than it was in may/june. The Renaissance Monument … I don’t even want to talk about it.

Rachael says:

So true about the electric, Phil! We’ve definitely experienced our fair share of random sitting-in-the-dark moments.

Alexandra says:

Interesting stuff, hope never run into all those animals on the road :D

Hadji says:

So true! And all authentic…very good observations on Dakar.

Even though I’ve lived there for 22 years, it is difficult for me to give it such a compelling “out of the box” comparison.

Thank you

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