Travel guide - Dakar

The capital of Senegal is a place full of contrasts. At the extreme west of Africa, Dakar will surprise you initially because of the frantic pace of its streets, where the modern buildings sit alongside those with a European influence. Then, because of the calm that surrounds it, where it blends into wild nature.

The history of Dakar can be traced in the Plateau, the oldest part of the city. Here busy shopping streets have grown up alongside the quiet residential streets full of French style houses. With its host of shops and restaurants, the Plateau has become the beating heart of the capital. The locals will be delighted to recommend one of the many fish based specialities, including thieboudienne, the national dish of Senegal.

The Medina district is the more traditional face of the city, with its old houses and the Grand Mosque, whose minaret is 67m high. Then head north towards the hills overlooking the city, which are know as the "Mamelles". On one of them there is the African Renaissance Monument, an impressive 52m high statue.

Leave the city for a while for a bit of peace and quiet with a trip to Gorée Island. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1978, here you can learn about the history of the country. The House of Slaves, dating from the 18th century, is a reminder of the island's history of slavery while the Senegal History Museum, in an old 19th century fort, retraces the history of Senegal, from its origins to independence.

Dakar has also managed to preserve its natural landscape. Enjoy some fresh air at N'gor beach and try your hand at surfing in the Atlantic waves. The sense of wonder continues at the city's gates with the mesmerising spectacle of Lake Retba (the Pink Lake). As its name indicates, the lake is well worth visiting for its pink water caused by micro-organisms. This natural phenomenon is at its best between November and June.

The face of Dakar has already changed quite a lot. But "the city the colour of red dust" as the author Boubacar Boris Diop called it, has managed to preserve its historical and natural heritage, while becoming one of the busiest cities in West Africa.

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