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A Week of Pink Lakes and Baobab Trees in Dakar

“The energy isn’t frenetic here like most cities.”

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photo: Peju Famojure
Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photo: Peju Famojure

Everyone knows that person who spends weeks sniffing around travel blogs, going deep into Tripadvisor rabbit holes, collecting Google Docs from friends of friends, and creating A Beautiful Mind–style spreadsheets to come up with the best vacations/itineraries possible. In this recurring series, we find those people who’ve done all the work for you and have them walk us through a particularly wonderful, especially well-thought-out vacation they took that you can actually steal.

Peju Famojure, a New York City–based stylist and creative consultant, had been dreaming of Dakar ever since her years living in Paris. “I made so many Senegalese friends there who would share their stories about the country’s rich culture and beauty,” she says. “It had been at the top of my list for years.” The secluded beaches, world-famous surf breaks, and incredible street food, along with cultural attractions like Dak’Art and Black Rock Senegal, were just a few things that drew her to Dakar. In January 2020, just months before COVID hit, Famojure booked her trip. What surprised Famojure most about Dakar, though, is how laid-back it is. “The energy isn’t frenetic here like most cities. There’s a calm and a slowness in the day-to-day that I really appreciated.” Here, she shares her favorite local dishes, textile shops, and nearby island excursions.

Day 1

8 a.m.: Check into your beachfront hotel

Delta has direct flights from JFK to Dakar that take about eight hours. I arrived in the morning and had a taxi waiting for me (I called ahead, and the hotel booked it). Dakar is four hours ahead of NYC, so I was ready to start the day after decompressing in my room at Terrou-Bi (Boulevard Martin Luther King), which a local friend recommended for its proximity to the city center. It also has its own private beach as well as a casino (which I didn’t use).

1 p.m.: Take a speedboat to Ngor Island

On my first day, I made my way to one of Dakar’s local islands, Ngor. I took a 20-minute taxi ride (the hotel coordinated this) to the Village de Ngor on the northern tip of the peninsula. Once you arrive at the beach, you’ll see boats lined up waiting to take you across the turquoise-blue waters. When your boat is full, the ride will take about 15 minutes and costs about $1. Before getting on the boat, I met a local guide, Papa Samba, and hired him to be my tour guide for the day. You can find guides near the drivers handing out life vests before boats are boarded.

Ngor is known for its landscape — lots of bougainvillea, volcanic rock formations — as well as its art and surf community. Surfers from around the world come to catch the waves or learn at the surf schools. (Fun fact: The island is electricity-free and runs mostly on solar power.) Here in Ngor, you can walk almost endlessly to explore the island, and you’ll find a lot of local street art honoring important African figures. Papa Samba told me that from the western part of the island during the winter, you can watch dolphins migrate from Europe to South America. Also, part of ’60’s surf doc The Endless Summer was shot here.

7 p.m.: Order wok-tossed langoustines 

I visited Alkimia (Route des Almadies), a restaurant and music venue, which is located in the nightlife area of the city. I chilled on the terrace, ordered the tataki de saumon and wok de langoustes and a glass of wine while I watched the performers get ready for the evening’s performance. There are both English- and French-speaking bands that sometimes do covers, and other times there will be an original set with an orchestral blend of West African soul and jazz sounds; thankfully, we got the latter that night. This place is definitely on the pricier side.

Day 2

8 a.m.: Visit Lake Retba

The next day, I woke up early to travel to the famous Lake Retba, or Lac Rose, which translates to “Pink Lake.” I had the hotel book me a taxi, and it was about an hour’s drive. It’s suggested that you get there early, as the sunlight has an effect on how pink the lake will appear to the eye. The lake’s color is attributed to microalgae, called Dunaliella salina, which makes it the perfect shade of blush pink. It also has very high salinity, more than the Dead Sea, and the salt is mined and sold. At the lake, you are allowed to swim after using some shea butter like the local miners do to protect the skin from the drying effects of the salt water and also from long days in the sun. Or you can take a rowboat out over the lake.

Noon: Shop the local markets

Near the lake, you’ll stumble across a local market that is filled with treasures made by local artisans: sand art, malachite sculptures, masks, bowls, and more.

3 p.m.: Pick up souvenirs for friends and family

I bought some textiles and clothing for my parents from a shop called In Africa (Boulevard Canal IV). I also ended up buying traditional Senegalese day clothes called mbubus (more commonly known as boubous) from a small shop nearby. They’re traditional kaftan-style robes worn by men and women and made from a single piece of rectangular fabric with a neck opening. Typically, they’re hand-dyed or embroidered.

Day 3

Noon: Order poulet yassa

We had lunch at Lagon 1 (Route de la Petite Corniche Est), one of the most delicious and popular seafood restaurants in Dakar. It’s located on a beach with this amazing kitschy design — the tables are decorated with all kinds of boat paraphernalia and shells. The menu is extensive, and the portions are huge, so brace yourself! Some traditional Senegalese highlights from the menu are the maffe, which is a lamb or chicken dish with peanut butter and tomato sauce, and the poulet yassa, which is chicken in caramelized-onion sauce. But I wanted something light, so in the end I ordered the fried shrimp and snapper, which I highly recommend.

3 p.m.: Visit a very large baobab tree

After lunch, we went to check out one of the many baobab trees, often referred to as the “Tree of Life,” that reside near the beach-top restaurant. At this point, I was with friends, so they drove me around the bend to check it out. Baobab trees are famous in Africa. They’re a succulent, so they store water throughout rainy seasons in order to produce nutrient-rich fruits in the dry season. This one we encountered was enormous, and they can grow up to 75 feet.

6 p.m.: Grab an early beachside dinner

Before dinner, we visited Galerie le Manège, which is located at the Institut Francais (89 Rue Joseph Gomis), because I really wanted to see more pieces by designer Ousmane M’Baye. I first discovered his work, an incredible sideboard made of welded iron in primary colors, at Alára boutique in Lagos, Nigeria. In the courtyard of the gallery, you can find a few of his pieces, providing a balance between the former military building they are housed in and the curated exhibitions indoors. For dinner, we went to a quiet beachfront restaurant called Le Cabanon (Corniche des Almadies, Dakar, Senegal). The ambiance is upscale, so it’s perfect for a romantic dinner. It felt like a restaurant you might see in Malibu. The entrance is decorated in planks of beachwood and stone. Having dinner with the backdrop of a starry sky and waves crashing against the shore is a win in my book.

Day 4

10 a.m.: Take a ferry to Goree Island

We caught an early ferry to explore the Island of Goree. The ferry is called Liaison Maritime and leaves every two hours from Dakar to Goree. African passport holders pay $5 for the ferry, and all other international travelers pay $10. Goree is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is incredibly picturesque and almost feels like the countryside compared with Dakar.

Here, you can see the architectural colonial influences of the Portuguese, Italian, and French. The streets are lined with colorful homes painted in sorbet tones of pinks, yellows, and greens with vines or local textiles covering the walls. It’s a must visit not solely because of its beauty but because of its historical importance.

Goree is home to IFAN Museum of African Arts (Rue Place 18), the Henriette Bathily Women’s Museum (Place du Souvenir Africain et de la Diaspora), and the House of Slaves or Maison des Esclaves. The last is a sobering experience, where, with a guide, you can learn about humanity’s greatest atrocity: the exploitation, enslavement, and torture of millions of West Africans for the transatlantic slave trade. Thousands of Black Africans were forcibly removed from their homes and sometimes families and brought here to cross through what is called a “Door of No Return,” where ships docked to load the captured for a life of forced servitude.

3 p.m.: Visit local artists before heading back to the mainland

Beyond its historical significance, the island is quite beautiful. Order a chicken-and-rice dish at Anne Sabran (Isla de Goree Sur le Port), located right near the docks, before heading back into town. Or visit Malian-Senegalese artist Boubacar Dia in his studio, where he produces art sourced from sand all over Africa, such as Niger and Mauritania, to name a few. The best way to locate it is to follow a tour guide — they are all waiting at the dock wearing crossing-guard vests. We gave ours about $40, since it was two of us, but it’s up to you and the guide to find a price you agree on. The tour does not include the entrance fee for the House of Slaves. The entry there is $1 for non-Africans and 50 cents for Africans.

8 p.m.: Have dinner at L’Avenue 

After a full day, it was time for dinner. I met with Sarah Diouf, founder of the fashion line Tongoro, who suggested the Radisson Blu (Avenue de la Corniche Ouest Radisson Blu Hotel, Dakar Sea Plaza), which has a beautiful restaurant called L’Avenue, which you can just drop into without a reservation, and also a pool bar for after-dinner drinks. We ordered chicken hassan, a specialty in Senegal, and grilled grouper. We shared a bottle of red wine. Later on, the pool is illuminated to an Yves Klein blue and a local band plays into the warm summer night.

Day 5

11 a.m.: Lounge at the hotel beach

At my hotel, the Terrou-Bi, there is a small private beach with white sand, thatched umbrellas made from dried palm fronds, and calm translucent water, which I hadn’t yet taken advantage of. So with a fresh bissap in hand (hibiscus juice and the local nectar), a book, and a playlist, I took some time to relax and lock in my tan. Terrou-Bi is a small resortlike property with plenty of spots to just watch the ocean and relax. The beach is small and quiet, never crowded.

3 p.m.: Order thieboudienne before the flight home

For lunch, I wanted to check out some of the other local hotels because I’m curious and always want to see what other spots are like for future trips. So I headed to the Teranga Lounge & Restaurant at the Pullman Dakar Hotel (Place de l’Independance, 10 Rue PL 29). Walking through the lobby, you realize it’s designed as a gallery space featuring local artists. The restaurant sits above the private beach, so you can enjoy your meal with views of the Atlantic or, from the right spot, see Goree Island. Since it was my last day, I had to make sure to order poulet yassa, one of my favorite Senegalese dishes, made with marinated chicken, sauteed onions, and olives, and, even though the restaurant is known for thieboudienne, a savory tomato rice dish. It’ll be a must on my return.

Peju’s Packing List

A kaftan

This breathable cotton kaftan dress by Nigerian brand Nkwo was created by local artisans using innovative waste-reduction practices. It’s perfect for a day exploring Dakar and easily transitioned for a night out.

Some clogs

Love this clog by Shekudo, a Lagos-based brand. A great elevated basic for just about any activity in Dakar.

A night-out outfit

This crochet number is ideal for a warm summer night out.

A small bag

A chic pouch to carry all of my travel essentials.

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The COVID situation there: Senegal requires a negative PCR test to enter the country for travelers over the age of 2 years within three days of arrival. All travelers must also complete a passenger location form for public-health officials, in accordance with recommendations from the International Civil Aviation Organization, that will be collected on arrival. There are no quarantine restrictions or curfews currently in place, and all businesses are permitted to operate as usual while maintaining social-distancing measures and facial coverings. Use of facial coverings is mandatory in public places.
A Week of Pink Lakes and Baobab Trees in Dakar