Situated on the Cape Verde Peninsula and boasting more than 27 miles (43 kilometers) of coastline, Dakar is a cultural blend of West African, French, and Arabic flavors. A vibrant city of striking contrast, here local markets sell secondhand wares in the shadow of towering office buildings while horse-drawn carts intermingle with newly imported European vehicles on dusty, African roads.
For Senegal residents Gabriel and Sarah Sams, there’s always something new to see and do. Their favorite way to explore Dakar? From the backs of their motorcycles. Join them as they take you on a ride through their Dakar.
Sights, smells (both good and bad), and sounds are amplified when you are on the back of a motorcycle. Because there is nothing to separate you from the environment, you’re able to experience a place more intimately. That’s why it’s our transportation of choice.
We start the morning ride in Hann Maristes, our quiet neighborhood in the southern region of Cape Verde and home to Dakar Academy (DA), where we work and play. It is a tight-knit community and as we straddle our motorcycles, we watch our favorite fruit vendor push his cart into view. We greet one another and grab a few crisp apples from his selection. They will make a nice snack, later in the day.
As we weave our motorcycles between car rapides (the brightly colored mini-buses that are iconic of Dakar), we turn onto the Corniche, a seaside highway that runs along the peninsula’s edge. From here, we catch a glimpse of the shoreline.
Today, only a few brave surfers bob on the choppy sea, waiting to take on the daring breaks. But surfers of all ages and skill levels can be found catching waves along the Almadies Peninsula from November to March, when conditions are more consistent. Beginners should start on the northern side at Yoff Beach, where waves are more tame. Intermediate to advanced surfers will find more challenging swells at N’Gor and Ouakam, which is also a great location for barrels.
Shop like a local
Further down the Corniche, we stop by Soumbédioune (the artisan’s market) to pick up a birthday gift for a friend. As we enter the open air market, the familiar voices of our favorite craftsmen call out to us, drawing us into shops and tempting us with their newest masterpieces. Here, you’ll find anything from colorful wax fabrics to boubous, miniature car rapides to home décor, custom-made silver jewelry to traditional djembe drums. After stretching our legs around the market, we settle on a handmade, engraved leather journal. Remembering we are on our motorcycles, we sadly decline other tempting, larger treasures. We can always come back for them later.
Uncover Senegal’s history
Up ahead, we see the African Renaissance Monument grow larger as we start the gentle incline towards Collines des Mamelles, the twin hills located just outside of the city. Erected in bronze on the crest of the eastern hill, the 160-foot (49 meter) tall monument overlooks greater Dakar as Africa’s tallest statue. It was built in 2010 to commemorate Senegal’s 50 years of independence from France.
History buffs wanting to dive deeper into West African history should visit Gorée Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site off the coast of Dakar, where the ruminants of one of the last standing slave houses remains. Here, an estimated 20 million slaves passed through on their way to the Americas from the mid-1500s to mid-1800s. Sobering, it is a dark but momentous piece of Senegal’s history.
Go on a culinary excursion
By late morning, we’ve worked up an appetite and decide to curve inland towards downtown Dakar, where intimate restaurants feature Lebanese, French, and Senegalese cuisine, along with a myriad of international flavors. Eric Kayser, an artisan boulangerie, catches our eye and we decide it sounds perfect for brunch.
As we park our motorcycles, the smell of warm, buttered croissants beckon us through the doors. Inside, glass display casings are illuminated by a soft light, revealing rows of tartelettes, éclairs, croissants aux amandes, and other sweet treats. Lining the walls behind the casings are shelves of freshly baked breads—everything imaginable, from golden baguettes to brioche, pain de campagne to pain brié.
We resist the urge to start the meal with dessert and opt instead for a jambon omelette, basket of warm bread, and the yassa bagel—a spin on one of Senegal’s renown dishes. Traditionally, yassa features grilled or baked chicken in a citrus onion sauce that is both tangy and sweet. Inspired, Eric Kayser improvised the recipe to highlight a hot chicken salad with melted cream cheese and sweet onions, sandwiched together on a fresh bagel.
Want to try a more traditional version of yassa poulet? Our favorite place to snag the dish is Pizza Rocket, a small café in Hann Maristes.
Find your personal paradise
Feeling drowsy from our savory meal, we decide to spend the afternoon relaxing by the beach. We head to Bel-Air Pointe, located along the southern shoreline of the Cape Verde Peninsula. Only a five-minute drive from Hann Maristes, its convenience and white sandy shores make it a favorite. Here, we often run into friends on the beach or see students skimming the water on jet skis. With more than 335 days of sunshine per year, Senegal provides ample opportunity to enjoy its sun drenched beaches. Many are lined with palm trees or feature beachside cabanas for a reasonable cost, making it possible for the sun-sensitive to also enjoy Dakar’s endless summer.