Beggars and Sellers
Before traveling to Dakar, I had read about the prevalence of beggars in the city, including small children, which will hound you until you give them money. Daughter-in-law showed us several areas where this frequently occurs. However, during our entire stay in Dakar, we were never approached by someone who just wanted a handout.
However, we were frequently approached by sellers wanting to sell us something. You see them coming, often with wares in hand. They come up to you and greet you with, “Hello. How do you like my country?” or “Where are you from?” I noticed that Daughter-in-Law, who is of African descent, would be treated different; she would be asked her name and then referred to as “my sister” by the sellers who would plead with her to help them make a living, trying to make her feel guilty if she didn’t buy something. They want to simply “show” you what they have or lead you to their shop (at which time you get the hard sell). Say no firmly, but be prepared to continue this for a long time since they do not take that answer well. We can say that we never bought anything we did not want to buy and turned these people away each time, although often after a long process while walking away.
On Goree Island, we had a lady shopkeeper eye us on the ferry over, invite us to her shop, and three hours later she remembered us. After saying no several times, she actually came to the restaurant we were having a drink in and sat beside us to continue her sales pitch. Her necklaces started at €20 each, quickly dropping to €10, then €5 for two, with one final grasp at €4. At that point, I wouldn’t have bought her stuff if she had offered to pay me to take a necklace! I realize many will get tourists to relent and buy something just to get them to go away, but I was not willing to do that.
But, just as the taxi drivers, there are many shopkeepers that don’t give you a hard sell and are simply trying to make an honest living. It is those entrepreneurs I would prefer to deal with.
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Scams – Taxis
Unsuspecting tourists can be scammed into paying a lot more than normal for a taxi ride. We found that it was easier to negotiate with a solo driver than a driver who is parking at a taxi station or around other taxi drivers. In some places, there are unwritten rules that drivers for certain locations will only accept fares starting a specific price, no matter how short a distance the passenger may want to go. The drivers tend to all be in on the negotiation so the driver you barter with will not go lower than the “group rate.” However, flag a taxi from the road and things go easier.
Another issue with group taxi stations is the language barrier. Many drivers speak only Wolof, the native language of Senegal, and others speak French and Wolof (a few have some English). Sometimes a French or English speaking driver will translate for your driver, but the translation is not accurate and the driver demands more money than you agreed to with the interpreter. Again, try to flag your taxi down from the road.
Not all drivers scam; in fact, my guess is many are trying to make an honest living. However, it only takes one dishonest one to jade you about the rest.
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General safety tips Dakar and outside Dakar
Dakar felt more of a hassle than violent. Coming from New Orleans, where we have been robbed at gun point and had a man shot to death outside our back fence, we probably viewed Dakar a little differently. However, being pick pocketed in Senegal is a major possibility- my husband was pick pocketed in the mosque in Touba while he prayed sitting on the ground- it was during a major celebration, so many more people than normal. He had a money belt, but had 80 bucks in his zipper pants pocket because the belt was hot and he did not want to use it that day. ALWAYS keep your big money in a hidden belt or pouch under your clothing. Don't even bring a purse with you. Just keep 2000-5000 CFA in a buttoned pocket for incidentals. Keep your camera strapped across you with a neck strap.
Credit cards and money machines- don't assume they will work with your card, even if you have confirmed with your bank your travel. It was a crapshoot whether my Chase debit card would work at Ecobanks. Citibank cards worked each time I made a Visa charge and wish I had gotten a cash number from them. As far as US cards go, Citibank is the only one that does not charge a 3 percent overseas percentage. You do not want to be in Dakar/Senegal without cash, so plan very well with this. We brought a little of everything- US cash, cards and Amex travelers checks. The travelers checks were useless. Only Ecobank would take them, but they wanted the receipt of purchase, which we did not have.
Get a room with a safe. We ended up keeping our room in Dakar even when traveling for a day or two outside of the city. That was not our plan, but it was worth the investment in not worrying about bringing everything we had to smaller towns where hotels were a bit sketchier.
To me, downtown St. Louis had a scarier vibe than Dakar and was the only place we felt a little threatened when out alone.
We were mainly traveling with a friend from Senegal, and I would suggest that you ask your hotel if they can arrange for someone to walk around with you for a small fee if you feel uncomfortable. You will be helping yourself and helping a person in Senegal earn some money. Walking around with a local makes things a lot easier, particularly if you are going to the markets.
And finally, take a day off and just chill in your hotel and watch movies or read. Get a hotel that is near the majority of the things you plan to do so you can scoot back in when you feel stressed out. We stayed at the Farid and felt quite safe there. We were less inclined to go out a lot late, though, as we only speak a little French and do not have the best sense of direction. Keep a little map folded up in a pocket. We got turned around a couple of times, which was a little scary for us.
Don't fall for scams- read up on them- a few were tried on us, but we were prepared. Do a google search for Senegal or Dakar scams.
The people of Senegal are for the most part very very kind and helpful, though, and it was a great experience. There will be moments of chaos- just stay calm and try to find the humor in those moments- even if it is in retrospect.
Be Careful of Hokkers
I am leaving in Dakar since last one year. When you walk down on streets, please be careful of hokkers hanging arround you and offering many things. Never show any interest at time if you don't buy they create troubles. Locals always take their side if there is trouble and they will advise you to pay him some money so ultimately you lose.
While driving car do not leave any valuable on dashboard and side window glass open. Mobile phones, Ladies bag or vallet are easy object and they will be out of your sight in a second.
Parking cars in busy street is main problem and you will find many men standing with sign of "Parking Reserve" They will offer that place for money but if you are stranger they ask very heavy money up to 5000 F CFA but never offer more than 100 to 200 F CFA depend on how much time you used that parking area.
While walking on busy street, some one will try to touch you and than come and dispute with you that why you touch him. Be careful at the first instant you just say Pardon Me and move fast from him or enter some shop near by quickly.
Be careful of Police man asking for bribe. Even if you have all papers, driving license they don't shy of asking money in the name of "Coffee" or "Ciggarate" etc. They often try to find out small fault. Be careful and be firm if you have no fault than you can avoid giving any bribe.
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Alot of women think they will be safe. Especially in crowded areas. Dakar is NOT safe for an unescorted woman. ESPECIALLY AT NIGHT.
ALSO: HEALTH: YOU MUST PROTECT YOURSELF AGAINST MALARIA AND DENGUE FEVER. THERE ARE BOTH IMMUNIZATIONS AND MEDS FOR THIS. I contracted malaria 3 times when I lived there. Besides the water, it is mosquitos. Very bad with the mosquitos.
BE CAREFUL FOR TEENY JELLYFISH IN THE OCEAN. It looked like a piece of blue bubble gum. And I thought the clear threads were some sort of fishing line. So I just tried to pick it off and throw it. Then the pain came. HUGE red welts on my arms from the tenacles. And the burn that would not quit. I almost died. My breath quickened, and I could hardly move. YOU MUST BE CAREFUL.
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Pens and things to give
There is a lot of people asking things in the streets. Some of them are handicapped people. Avoid giving anything with lots of persons around or you could have a problem. You could do it away from the crowds… Don’t worry you will have the opportunity!
Marchander, marchander, marchander
In Senegal, evrything can be haggle over (wahalé in wolof or marchander in french), and it is a essencial element in every transaction of goods or services. As a reference, the price must come down to one third of what the salesman asked initially.
While strolling around, the toubab (european) must be ready to deal with certain dirty tricks. For instance, if after an unsuccessful sale the salesman offers anything, the best thing to do is not to accept it, or else, in the last minute he will come and claim his money.
When walking around the town, make sure if you do not want anything from what the people are hassleing you to buy... DONT SAY ANYTHING!!! If you say no or no merci, they will follow you for a long time!!! Seriously!
I had been in Dakar now for about 2 days and ventured out of the hotel to get a bottle of water. Walking there was not the problem. It all started as I was walking back. Not down an "alley" as you might think, but off the main road. I see two men approaching me and one turns to the other about 20ft. before we meet. I know what is going to happen at this point! "I am from Chicago!" I think to myself as I get prepared. The one man asks me to buy a bracelet and when I did not answer him, the other one grabs my pant leg and starts shaking it saying "nice shoes, nice shoes!" Well, I punched his hand away and grabbed the other one's hand as it was coming out of my pocket with only 1000CFA in his balled up hand. He twisted away and the two of them take off.
My advice... don't travel alone... EVER! This happened to me during the day!!!
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