Dance 'til Dawn in Dakar

Lonely Planet Travel Editor Tom Hall is on a mission to discover 52 of the most awe-inspiring places to visit across the world. This week he discovers the birthplace of mbalax in Dakar.

Dakar, Senegal

Africa’s mega-cities are often overlooked by those in search of adventure out in the wild. If you stay in town, however, you’ll find an energy and buzz as locals head out to let their hair down. Nightlife in cities from Cairo to Cape Town is legendary. The pick of the bunch, though, is Dakar in Senegal.

Many visitors to Dakar stay for just long enough to see the grisly sights related to the city’s notorious slave trade, then flee for southern beaches. But those who spend a night or two here will see what really makes the city tick.

Why Dakar is worth a visit

Dakar is more than the capital of Senegal, it’s the cultural hub of West Africa and the birthplace of mbalax. This upbeat, soulful and jazzy music made musicians like Youssou N’Dour and Orchestre Baobab world famous. Dakar’s clubs throb to mbalax beats and draw in revellers to drink and dance. Visitors are more than welcome to join in.

How to make the most of Dakar's nightlife

Experiencing Dakar’s nightlife needs a shift in attitude – nothing gets going until well after midnight. Start your night with a leisurely meal or a nap after having spent the day snagging recommendations on the best places to hear hot live acts.

The best place to get tips is on the street – start by asking at your hotel and follow a trail to get some good suggestions. Take taxis between venues and dress to dance. With any luck you’ll have a hot, sweaty and utterly unforgettable night and stumble home around dawn with the sounds of young Africa ringing in your ears.

Planning your trip to Senegal

Dakar is one of the best hubs for getting to West Africa and flights generally start at around £400. In winter, expect to pay more. Eating and entertainment are cheap, though most clubs ask for a cover charge of a few pounds.

Further information

Senegal Tourism has good information and links on visits to the country.

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