By Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack, Borderjumpers
If you haven’t been to Senegal, stop reading this post immediately, and book your flights (direct on South African Airways from New York [JFK] and Washington DC [IAD], approximately $1,250 USD roundtrip). Seriously, go and book this trip.
We know you’ll in love with Dakar, a vibrant — and safe — city filled with friendly people decked-out in incredible fabrics. Make your first stop at the L’Institut Français where you’ll also find the incredible Beedow restaurant, which offers great vegetarian options and tons of amazing ways to interact with both Senegelese and French culture. In one week at the Institute we were able to catch an African modern dance troup, a photography exhibition, and a local music trio.
In terms of nightlife, you will find few places rockin’ with more intensity than Dakar. The most famous spot is Youssou N’Dour’s nightclub, Thiossane, but the city is filled with tons of places to go dancing. Make sure you nap before heading out; most clubs open their doors around 2:00 am, and people only start arriving after 2:30. Dakar’s nightclub goers are all dressed to impress; lucky for me, we were still warmly welcomed despite my sneakers and wrinkled clothes from the road.
Unless you have $350 USD a night to crash at the incredible Radisson Blu – also the site of Dakar’s largest swimming pool overlooking the Atlantic — we recommend a great budget hotel, and one we weren’t able to find in any guidebooks. The Kingz Plaza ($30USD night for a double), located just 3KM outside the city center, offering free WiFi, satellite TV, fridge, air-conditioning, hot showers, and 24 hour security. And the best part: if you stay at Kingz Plaza, you can still enjoy the Radisson’s pool for a more affordable $20USD.
Make sure to visit Ile de Gorée, an incredible island with cobblestone roads lined by colonial buildings, and only a short 20 minute ferry from Dakar (only $10 dollars roundtrip). Ile de Gorée has a neat (albeit expensive) crafts market that offers tons of incredible souvenirs, such as sculptures, musical instruments, beads, and jewelry. We also visited “The House of the Slaves,” another important reminder of how millions of Western Africans were forced to leave behind their homes, families and freedom to sail to the United States and Europe against their will. We spent the afternoon reflecting on the past as we gazed out at the Atlantic Ocean wondering how such a dark part of our history could have happened.
Another must-do is a visit to Saint-Louis, an amazing town about seven hours north of the city (private taxi $120USD roundtrip, buses and shared taxis range between $7-25USD). We traveled there to meet with the Africa Rice Center, and along the way enjoyed the incredible fish markets, adorable town (lots of neat patisseries, souvenir shops, and great restaurants), and even a cool boat ride.
At the Rice Center, we learned how farmers and consumers in Senegal are working hard to rely on more local varieties of rice, rather than importing it from other countries. Many Senegalese consider local rice to be inferior (lower grade, containing stones, etc) and often import European brands, which can sometimes cost them four times as much. The Africa Rice Center is working closely with farmers across Senegal to not only improve not the processing and quality of the rice, but to also helpwith marketing local rice farmers and improving their incomes.
BorderJumpers Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack will be blogging here as part of a weekly series documenting their travels around the world. In every country starting with Africa, they’re highlighting innovations working to alleviate hunger and poverty.