Vacationing/Staycationing in Dakar

My friend Angie, a missionary in Thies, wrote this post on vacationing/staycationing in Dakar and I thought it had some great tips. She’s kindly agreed to let me share it with you here on Dakar Eats, just in time for the Toussaint holiday in early November!

I love Dakar. We spent our first three years in Senegal living in Dakar’s Liberté VI neighbourhood and since moving to Thiès three years ago, I’ve considered each visit to the big city a real treat. Recently, our family took a brief vacation in the capital and we had a blast. Some like to get away to Saly or some other beach town, and those places are fine, but this city girl gets bored with nothing to do all day but sit by the pool or swim in the ocean. Dakar offers you great beaches and so much more. So, I thought I’d pass on some tips on how to vacation (on a budget) in Dakar.

1. Buy or borrow The Dakar Guidebook of the Dakar Women’s Group. Sure, you could probably find some of the information it contains on the Internet, but why scramble to search for phone numbers, addresses and recommended spots when you can get this all on one handy location. I’m super frugal, and I found it to be worth every penny. (And, FYI, I did not receive remuneration for this plug!)

2. Consider your objectives. We have a five year-old and a 20-month-old, so we wanted to show them a good time without wearing ourselves out. While keeping nap times and bed times in mind, we planned strategic stops at kid-friendly places like Magicland, Zippyland, Hann Park Zoo trampoline and bouncy castle park, a friend’s house for a pool play date, the beach and Ngor Island.

TIP for missionaries: As missionaries, we have access to a few different inexpensive lodging options in the Dakar. The NTM guesthouse is a great option for those who want to be in the heart of the city (Point E) and in walking distance from several decent restaurants (not to mention in delivery range for several others). UWM’s Le Phare de l’Esperance in Ouakam is a nice option for those who want to relax in a quiet environment close to the beach and a short drive away from Almadies, Ngor, and the numerous restaurants on that side of town.

3. Plan your menu in advance. An advantage to guesthouses or renting a room with kitchenette is having means to cook or heat meals. This allowed us to save a bundle. I’m a big fan of canning and freezer batch cooking, so self-catering the majority of our meals was a breeze. On the eve of our departure, I packed up dry food goods like coffee, tea, powdered milk, sugar, “triangle cheese,” home canned salsa, pizza sauce, chili, and tomato soup, and homemade granola, crackers, and tortilla chips. I froze several plastic bottles full of water ahead of time, and the morning we headed out, I packed up our freezer and fridge goodies: blocks of cheese and tortillas, homemade raviolis and empanadas (Latino fatayas), and prebaked pizza crusts. We enjoyed a few meals out, including Planet Kebab (in Almadies) and Sunu Makane, Chez Seck (on Ngor Island), as well as a pit stop at Yum Yums for doughnuts. Yum Yum has high chairs now, by the way.) And because we planned ahead, we didn’t find ourselves stuck with a car full of hungry people and nothing to eat.

4. Make a party out of it! An older couple who served for over 30 years in Haiti recently moved to Senegal to join our team. It didn’t take long for them to become like grandparents to our daughters. That’s why I consider it a stroke of brilliance that it occurred to me to invite them to join us! 🙂 Not only were they a huge help when chasing after two active girls at the various kid-themed places we put on our itinerary, but they were also delightful company in the evenings after we got the girls down for sleep at 7 PM. For families with small children and early bed times, having friends to hang out with at night can really make the vacation memorable. We played board games, rolled paper beads, ate chocolate and other homemade treats and talked theology, and it was wonderful.

TIP for vacationers coming from outside Dakar: Make room in your schedule and your budget for shopping. This is probably a no-brainer, but I thought it worth mentioning that we can’t get all the cool stuff out here in Thiès that you can get in Dakar. A pit stop at the American Food Store, CityDia, Marché Kermel, Hypermarché Exclussive, and even a fëgg jaay (Monday Market being my swap meet of choice) are all well worth the effort. I should add that they’re not very fun places for kids (unless you want to listen to the usual, “Mom, can you buy me this?!” at nauseum!), so we split up: ladies shopped and men watched the kiddos. Considering the goodies we brought them, it seemed like a fair exchange!

5. Don’t hesitate to over-pack. When it comes to vacationing with kids, it’s best to prepare for every scenario. Sure, our little one didn’t end up soiling every outfit she wore, but if she had, I would have been ready. And while a high chair may be cumbersome to travel with, it made meal times a lot more relaxing, with her strapped into her baby jail! I can’t remember an instance in which I’ve regretted over-packing for a trip involving children, but I can certainly recall times where I was scrambling to figure out a solution for a problem that would’ve been solved if I’d only packed properly.

6. Have a Plan B in place for a rainy day. My husband and I recently planned a day by the coast. As we were packing up the car to head out, a huge storm rolled in. It nearly ruined our plans, as we knew that other than sitting by the pool or the beach, no alternative existed for a rainy day. This, of course, is not the case for those who choose to vacation or choose to make a day trip to Dakar. Kid-friendly options abound that offer shelter from the rain. Consult The Dakar Guidebook for more ideas.

TIP for a super-sunny day: Zippyland now has a fully covered play area in addition to the air-conditioned ball pit play area and movie theater!

I hope North American friends get a glimpse into our life from reading this, and that local friends find these tips helpful. And for you fortunate enough to live in Dakar, consider a stay-cation! People do it who live in gorgeous cities in N. America with great weather (like any coastal city in my home state of California!), so why shouldn’t we? I know it’s not exactly the same as getting away, but if your budget doesn’t allow for an extended stay at a resort in Saly, I hope you are able to enjoy all that your beautiful city has to offer.

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