I had been so pleasantly surprised by Air Senegal’s Flight HC408 JFK-DSS route 5 months ago while on my way to Cape Verde, I felt confident enough to book the very same flight again this time to visit Dakar itself. Senegal has been high on my list for awhile and it’s a shame it took me this long to finally visit.
Quickly changing after my work’s holiday party last night, I arrived at around 10:30pm to try to skip the loooonnnng check-in line again. Although online check-in seems to always work, I recall from my prior flight with them that they still require paper tickets from Air Senegal passengers at JFK security. The good news still is that if you don’t need to check in any bags, you can still skip the line and get your tickets immediately.
To mix things up I upgraded to Premium Economy seats for $200 extra:
The seats allow for an extra 2 inches of recline (5 inches total) with an ankle rest to take the weight off your derriere. They also provide a simple yellow amenities kit containing socks, earplugs, an eye mask, a hair comb, a toothbrush and toothpaste.
I guess I lucked out last time I flew Air Senegal 5 months ago; we were delayed for an hour at the gate due to refueling issues, and then another 2 hours on the tarmac before finally taking off nearly 3 hours late at 2:42am.
On the bright side, I got in 7 hours of sleep during that time and the food wasn’t that bad.
After another 8 hours in the air, I landed at noon local time and experienced confused ground staff who seemed to be arguing over which exit we needed to walk to for baggage claims after disembarking. One seemed to know better than the rest, and we then proceeded through immigrations for visas on arrival, which was otherwise seamless.
They also didn’t check for COVID vaccine proof or proof of onward travel (you may have to if you’re only connecting in Dakar airport).
After finding the only ATM in the airport by baggage claims that seemed to have cash (the rest in the airport were totally dry), we were picked up by our driver for the week, Kemo Manjang of Gambia Taxi & Excursions, whose contact I found from the overwhelming recommendations by my friends in Every Passport Stamp. He’s also famous having been recently mentioned on the NY Times!
It then took us an hour to drive into the city with some traffic, where we checked into our lodgings at the charming Nyéléni maison sahel, north of central Dakar in the Yoff district.
Trying to get in before they closed at 6:45pm, we waited for the rest of the group to arrive (Evan, Ihita, and Noeleen had arrived the day prior and were wrapping up a late lunch) before heading back through rush hour traffic for a visit to the controversial African Renaissance Monument that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.
The statue was at first designed by the Senegalese architect Pierre Goudiaby and then outsourced to the North Korean construction company Mansudae Overseas Projects to complete in 2010.
Entry to the base is free, but it costs around $10/pp to enter inside the statue for views above Dakar.
After an hour here we drove down 5 minutes for a visit at the photogenic Mosque of the Divinity:
We then drove another 5 minutes down the coast for a stroll at Place du Souvenir Africain, an oceanfront plaza and exhibition space featuring a monument to all of Africa:
After half an hour here, we drove back up towards the northwest coast for a late dinner at La Mer a Table by the waves.
The next morning after breakfast we drove 40 minutes through morning traffic for a 11am ferry ride from Port de Dakar for the UNESCO World Heritage site and 45 acre Gorée island, located about a mile off the coast from Dakar. Their ferry leaves approximately every 1-2 hours.
Once you reach the port you have to show a copy of your real passport for some reason (so don’t forget to pack it) to enter as a foreigner, pay 500 CFAs for the port tax and 1500 CFAs for the roundtrip ticket.
It’s a 30 minute ferry ride each way:
Gorée Island is home to a population half the density of that in Dakar, as well as the controversial Maison des esclaves, a former holding center for enslaved people to be exported to Western countries.
Academic debate continues over on how many enslaved persons were actually held in and passed through this building, hence the relative importance of Gorée Island as a point on the Atlantic slave trade.
Nevertheless its “door of no return” remains as an emotional and heartbreaking memorial to the countless enslaved people, whether they passed through here or not, and those who lost their lives because of a barbaric practice that remains an everlasting stain on humanity.
It’ll take at most another hour to walk around and see all the crumbling colonial architecture of Gorée Island.
Dodge the souvenir shops lining the gravel path to the top of the island and you’ll arrive upon a memorial and cannons that look like they belong to WW II.
We had enough time to have lunch at one of the numerous Chez [insert restaurant name here…who all seem to be run by the same guy] by the island’s port before taking the ferry back at 2pm.
Since the port to Goree is located in the “city center” of Dakar in the Plateau district, we grabbed a quick drive-by photo of the Palais présidentiel.
…and the Place de l’Independance, finish line for the former annual Dakar Rally from Paris.
If you had to choose any mosque to visit in Dakar, I recommend going off the books (wasn’t mentioned in any of the guidebooks!) for a walk inside The Massalikoul Djinane Mosque:
One of the most splendid and best kept secrets in Dakar.
After about 20 minutes at the mosque we drove back to Place du Souvenir Africain to confirm the rumors of where there was a market here (there isn’t), and then kicked back for a mid-afternoon snack at the adjacent Radisson Blu Hotel.
By 6:30pm we drove down back to Plateau for dinner by the coast at Restaurant Le Lagon 1:
With extra time on our early return from Saint Louis and third day in Dakar, we first had lunch at the scenic Lamon Art Gallery.
As the girls and Sameer went shopping, Evan and I took a cab to Les Almadies, the westernmost point of the mainland continent of Africa.
To reach it, the best way is to approach the point from the north, and walk 10 minutes south from the public beach of Plage de la Pointe des Almadies. Evan and I learned the hard way when our driver tried to drive us directly there from the south, after which we were turned away by guards saying it was private property. So we paid the driver to leave and walked the circumference around the US Embassy to reach the public beach north of the embassy.
Once we got to the beach, we approached the stores at the end of the road past the taxi stand and headed deep into the market on the right side (closest to the coast).
At the end of the market, we turned right to see a small little door down the steps. I made a little infographic:
We exited the door outside again onto the beach and crossed/hopped the stone fence.
Assuring the guard there we wouldn’t take pictures of the ruins of the former Club Med (shame on you Evan for taking one anyway) . . .
. . . we then hugged the coast to reach the signpost indicating we were at the extreme westernmost point of Africa.
Another end of the world just got served, again.
Afterwards Evan and I hailed a cab up for 2000 CFAs for dinner and scenic views with the shopping contingency of the group at the lighthouse of Phare des Mamelles:
We arrived just in time for sunset…
…but 2 days late celebrating Sameer’s 21st birthday; he even forgot it was his birthday until now!
But we wouldn’t let him forget:
Tomorrow we head south to The Gambia!
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- At time of posting in Dakar, it was 26 °C - Humidity: 77% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: Clear