You’ve probably heard Africa being described as backpacker’s paradise because most African countries have everything a visitor wants at giveaway prices—hotels, meal, souvenirs, etc. all at chump change. Sorry to burst your bubble, there are a few exceptions and Dakar, Senegal, is one of them. The reason isn’t far-fetched, Dakar is a busy commercial city, and as with every commercial city, there are many people competing for little space and goods.
For the stress though, Dakar compensates visitors with a good time out at its vibrant seaports and nice beaches, its colourful art scenes, music and nightlife; add that to the city’s security and the chance to experience vibrant motherland, Africa, and you will love to join the next flight.
If you’re planning to visit soon but you’re worried about the cost, here are tips to help you get around the financial stress, especially if you are a backpack traveller like me.
FIND OUT IF YOU NEED A VISA
Dakar is in Senegal and Senegal does not require Visa from everyone visiting the country so you could save some money by finding out if your country is on the exemption list. Here is a tip, citizens of the European Union, United States, Canada, and countries in the Economic Community of West African States – ECOWAS do not need a visa, while citizens of Norway, Israel, Japan, South Africa and other countries can get visa on arrival. If your country is not on this list, try out a tourist visa; it is essentially free for tourists. But it helps to do a double-check because this is available as visa-on-arrival which is limited and has conditions attached.
USE TAXIS TO GET AROUND
For hard-core backpackers on as little as $15 to $20 per day, there is no chance you are investing $500-$600 on a rented car for a week timeout. So I will recommend the taxis for getting around; complement it with a fair share of walking. Within the city, the rail system is not an option and buses are not very good either. Taxis are cheaper compared to almost anywhere in Europe costing about $3 USD for a 15-minute ride. Be prepared for a slight discomfort at the airport though, especially if you are using a taxi, because you will come across people trying to sell all sorts of things to you.
LEARN A BIT OF FRENCH AND WOLOF
There is no beating around the bush here; far more valuable than your expertise in any language; French skills come in handy in Dakar. Well, adding that to good usage of a few phrases in Wolof would be priceless. A friend recently told me that “the problem is that, often, it is the people who come up and speak languages aside French and Wolof who try to scam you.” He might be right, but what I am sure of is that an understanding of either/both French and Wolof will help you get things done easier, cheaper and faster in the city.
CHANGE MONEY AT THE AIRPORT
The Central African Franc, CFA, is the local currency and it is pegged to the euro. Bitter truth; if you are travelling to Senegal, your US dollars may be useless except you change it before getting in. In any case, if you need to change money, it is safer to do so with the vendors just outside the airport. You will get a fair rate, (fairer rate actually) if you use French or Wolof. Just don’t pass yourself off as a novice and be ready to haggle.
GET TO DAKAR BEFORE BOOKING A HOTEL
If you have the money, it is advisable to book a hotel in Dakar before your trip—a good one may go for $60 per night. However, for a trip on backpacking budget, your best bet is to get to the city first. There are cheaper accommodations in the city many of which have no presence on the web. If you budget around $20USD a day for lodging in Dakar you should manage just fine. You help, speak with Afro Tourism.
DON’T BE SHY
You will miss out on a lot by being shy. Everybody is minding his or her business so it is not your business worrying about who is looking at you or what anyone will say or if you appear out of place; you are tourist, you are supposed to look and act differently from the residents. Act cool and ask questions if you need to, if the first answer you got is not convincing enough, ask someone else. Don’t be shy to bargain either; just don’t be rude about it. Senegalese are very outgoing and friendly; you will not get the best out of them by being shy. Be free and you will enjoy yourself much more.
Venturing to Africa is good, but being adventurous will make the trip even more interesting. You might be used to processed food in your home country, while in Dakar however, try eating local delicacy, like mussels. Don’t be put off by the colour and chaos, part of the adventure in Dakar is its assaults on your senses with colourful street designs, and nourishment of your soul with good music like the distinctive mbalax sound which fuses African and Cuban rhythms with rock, funk and reggae.
DON’T FORGET YOUR MEDICATION
Mosquitoes could be a menace in Dakar and the weather sometimes may not be friendly. Investing in mosquito nets is a good idea, but don’t forget to check the weather before embarking on the trip. This should help you make adequate preparation that will aid your stay and your health. In all of these, don’t forget to come with your medications.
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