Dakar in Senegal has earned a bit of a dodgy reputation in recent years, leading many to ask – ‘How safe is Dakar?’ The truth, is that the city remains a relatively safe destination for travelers. However, petty crime towards tourists and foreigners is quite common, and scams exist.
But what about violent crime? And is Dakar safe for female travelers, or LGBTQ tourists? What about safety at night? Here’s our rundown of what you need to know when visiting Dakar:
How safe is Dakar: Crime
Pickpockets and petty crime in Dakar
Whilst violent crime against visitors is rare in Senegal and Dakar, it has become more common in recent years. Assault and home robberies tend to take place at dusk and dawn. Keep windows locked – not open – at night, and ensure doors and residences are secure. Even better if the place you are staying has security cameras, or security personnel.
However the main issue for tourists and travelers to Dakar is petty theft and pickpockets. Both are becoming a common problem in the capital. Areas to be especially vigilant include Place de l’Indépendence and Gorée Island.
Unfortunately, there’s been increased reports of thefts and muggings targeting foreigners in recent years. Bag snatching in particular is becoming a problem, and can happen either on foot, or now more commonly, through a thief stealing your bag as they race by on a scooter or moped.
There have been reports of individuals being held at knife-point (or with a machete) to hand over valuables. The victims almost always remain physically unharmed if they comply with the robber. Known spots where street robberies are quite common include the Corniche d’Ouest in the Fenêtre Mermoz, and Fann neighborhoods
Therefore be vigilant and take precautions. Keep bags secured and attached firmly to your person when out and about.
Mobile phones and camaras can also become targets, so keep them secure, and avoid using such items – and large amounts of cash – in busy areas such as markets.
Scams in Dakar
Scam artists operate in Dakar and are on the look out for foreigners. While there will be many friendly people in Dakar, and many opportunities to forge friendships, some scammers pose as potential friends, romantic partners, or business partners, with the aim of getting funds from you.
As such, you must be vigilant regarding people asking for funds, or personal donations. There are several great community-led charities in the city that do fantastic work, so if you wish to make a donation to help alleviate poverty in Senegal, rehabilitate child soldiers, and so on, it’s better to do so through these avenues, than directly gift cash to a person you have just met in Dakar.
Another scam that is known in Dakar is one involving the exchange of gifts. Scam artists will casually join a group of foreigners, make friendly conversation and then ‘gift’ some items – usually cheap fake jewellery. They will then demand a gift back – i.e. money. Such scammers can be quite aggressive.
The best course of action is to refuse any gift from someone you have not met previously, even if they insist it is against ‘their culture’ to refuse gifts. It is your right not to take something you do not want.
Is Dakar safe at night?
Violent crime and house robberies usually take place at dusk and dawn, and so walking alone at night is to be avoided. Female travelers in particular, must be wary, as sexual assault is a risk in Dakar.
It’s best to avoid walking alone in badly-lit areas of the capital at night, as well as areas away from popular spots. If you can avoid walking at night completely, that is even better.
Some areas that are known as crime hot-spots at night include: Ouakam, Fenêtre Mermoz and Fann neighborhoods
If walking around at night, it’s advised to walk in a large group, or if alone, a taxi is a good option. Ask your hotel, guide or a friend for a trustworthy taxi recommendation.
You can also ask any restaurant you are eating at to call you a taxi – this is usually going to be safer than taking one direct from the street.
How safe is Dakar for female travelers?
While Dakar is a safe city in general for tourists, females – especially when traveling solo – should take extra care. Street robberies, in particular, are becoming more common. Sexual assault also remains a risk.
Solo women should avoid walking alone at night (use a recommended taxi), and also be wary of drinks being offered by strangers.
Is Dakar safe for LGBTQ travelers?
Being LGBTQ is essentially illegal in Senegal and Dakar, and discrimination exists.
Therefore it’s advised to be discreet as Senegal remains very conservative in comparison to many Western nations.
Indeed in a 2013 Pew Global Attitudes Project poll undertaken in Senegal, 97% of respondents said homosexuality was something society should not accept.
As such, some risk exists for aggressive acts against LGBTQ travelers.
Terrorism in Dakar
A terrorist attack in Dakar is an unlikely event. However, the terrorist group Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeenn does operate in neighbouring countries.
Cities in the wider region have also experienced attacks at busy public spaces, such as football stadiums and malls, so terrorist activity can’t be completely ruled out.
Is water safe to drink in Dakar?
We don’t recommend drinking the water in Dakar or Senegal, but it should be fine to use for washing vegetables, dishes and so on. Instead buy bottled water, or boil tap water before drinking it. That way you will avoid an upset stomach.
How safe is Dakar to visit?
A visit to Senegal and Dakar is well worth it, but crime is quite common. Pickpockets and street robbers operate and so visitors must remain vigilant.