Updated: Jul 6, 2020
Using taxis in Dakar is a huge challenge - especially if you're used to Uber, or something like it. With no charging meter or official pricing, limited or no French, limited knowledge of official addresses and street names, and problems with cash and change, there are plenty of anxiety-causing hurdles in getting from Point A to Point B. It's all pretty much a skill - or art! Use this handy guide to help you the next time you hail a cab, to avoid the headaches.
1. How to Calculate a Fair Rate
I once overheard two taximen laughing about how one of them charged a foreigner more than 10,000 CFA ($20) to go 3 kilometers, (it should have been no more than 1,500 ($3). Apparently the passenger felt guilty about negotiating with him. We don't need to feel this way! On the contrary, we earn respect when we know and insist on local prices. But this is a topic for another day.
Most times you need to haggle, whether at a market or for a taxi, it helps both confidence and fairness if you have a good idea of a fair price before starting your negotiation. Never let the vendor or taximan start the process!
Many people will advise you to simply "divide by 3" or by "half" of whatever the taximan will tell you. This is a decent rule of thumb; however, what if (a) The taximan is aware of this rule, and compensates by giving you an even higher amount? or (b) they are actually giving you an honest price -- I know, rare, but can happen!
So what do you do? Fortunately, I've put together an *average price/kilometer, based on our time-tested and locally-vetted knowledge of taxi prices.
Here it is: ~300 CFA/kilometer
Use Google Maps to search for your destination and location, and press "Itinerary/Directions." This will give you an idea of how many kilometers you will need to travel. Multiply this number by 300 CFA, and voila! You should have at least a starting point before hailing a cab. Then you can negotiate with confidence, and know how reasonable the driver is being with you.
Of course there are a few exceptions: if you are located anywhere in midtown Dakar (from Medina, Mermoz, Mamelles, Almadies, Ngor, or Virage) you should never pay more than 2,500-3,000 CFA to go either downtown (Plateau) or uptown (Pikine, etc.) So this becomes ~200 CFA/kilometer for longer distances.
*If the Taximan doesn't accept your price, don't feel bad about hailing the next cab! Sometimes they will make you feel guilty for staying firm, and rejecting the trip. Don't let them! You may have to hail 2-3 cabs before getting your fair price.
2. Google Maps is Your Best Friend
In recent years, Senegal as a whole - and especially Dakar - has really "gotten on the map." Before, satellite representation of streets and addresses was completely blank. Now, even streets without a name are shown, and even Google Business listings for many establishments, with reviews and photos available. You can easily draw up a Directions itinerary from wherever you are in the city, to wherever you are going.
The bad news is, that most taximen have not heard of Google Maps -- and most do not have a smartphone. Their knowledge of the city streets are based on experience, and to whatever extent they have a photographic memory. Taximen also do not know addresses or street names, as a general rule - and especially for anywhere north of Medina.
Because most taximen will never say to you, honestly, "No, I do not know where that is. Sorry!" -- it is up to YOU to guide them. Often, you will find that you are driving around in circles, or on a completely opposite end of town, before you realize the taximan is lost - or didn't know in the first place, where you were going.
Avoid this problem by downloading the Dakar map in Google Maps, to be available offline. Especially if you are here for a short enough time not to need a mobile data plan, Google Maps populates street names and landmarks with an internet connection -- so be sure to download the map when you're in a Wi-Fi zone, so that you can easily navigate while in the taxi. FYI - showing the taximan the map on your phone screen will NOT be useful, generally. Most taximen are illiterate, or have never read a map, so they won't know how to translate what they see into what direction to take. Use verbal commands to help guide them.
Fortunately, taking a taxi in Dakar is safe overall, with respect to its drivers. Dakar taximen are much more trustworthy and calm than, for example, New York cabbies. They (at least try) to get you where you're doing -- unless they get lost! But there have been barely ANY incidents of any sort of crime, assault, or worse in Dakar taxis from drivers.
If you are a woman (especially of lighter-skinned origin) be prepared for some shockingly bold "flirting," even from older -- married -- men. They do this to tease you, and try their chances, not to be dangerous. So don't be afraid to answer them frankly and curtly, that you are married, not interested, etc. - or not to answer at all.
The true safety concern might be more related to the physical state of taxis around the city. As you may have noticed from the moment you left the airport, many Senegalese taxis are in very precarious states of disrepair, and are "hanging on by a thread."They emit loads of smoke, make strange noises, many features no longer work properly (windows, locks, handles, etc), and have had most parts replaced over the decades. The Senegalese government does not enforce its own emissions laws or minimum safety measures, so taking the bus, taxi, or even a rental car (most of which are salvaged from abroad) are sometimes risky.
Try to wait to flag down a taxi that inspires confidence; with less scratches, without making strange noises, and seems newer. This will make you more comfortable getting in, and peace of mind makes a huge difference.
Also - not matter how good of friends you've become during your taxi ride - it is highly unrecommended to give out your phone number.
4. Pay with Small Change
Just like in most cases in Senegal, you don't want to make a habit of carrying and paying with large bills (10,000 CFA and above). The exceptions to this rule are in a Western-style grocery store, at a nice restaurant, or at a shopping center like Sea Plaza where your bill warrants paying with larger bills.
But for most other everyday exchanges, such as taxi rides, boutique trips, buying phone credit, or paying for items at the market, most people do NOT have change for you. Locals are not in the habit of making transactions on this scale -- so as a foreigner, there are two reasons to carry small change on a regular basis.
(1) Try not to bring more attention to yourself. You will already constantly be battling the stereotype of the "rich foreigner." If you break out the wads of 10,000's that your bank or the machine gave you, when paying for an item that costs 2,000 CFA, you will not only attract eager eyes, potentially of thieves, but also swarms of other vendors wanting to sell you more items, annoyed vendors that have to find change, and just people around you who may feel jealous that they do not have this kind of money on-hand. Try to plan ahead for the day before going out, and take only a reasonable amount in smaller bills. It's all about modesty, and sensitivity to those around you! Imagine where you are from, that someone only paid in $100 or 100 Euro bills!
(2) Practicality. Because people don't pay these kinds of amounts regularly, the people you want to pay will probably have a hard time giving you change. This means they will try to increase the charge at the end of the trip (often the case with taxis) above what you had originally negotiated to, or they will waste your time stopping at multiple gas stations to find change. This is the case with most places.
Avoid wasting time and finding yourself in a sensitive spot, by planning ahead and bringing bills of 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 -- and plenty of coins! -- before you start your day.
5. Negotiate in Wolof
Most foreigners negotiate in French, or their native language, hop into cabs and pass the ride in silence. This is what is normal back home, most of the time -- and granted, some days you just won't feel like making small chat with anyone. Living in Senegal can be mentally and emotionally exhausting!
Negotiating in Wolof as much as you can will make a WORLD of difference:
- "Salam Aleikoum Pa bi, nanga def?" (Hello sir, how are you?)
- "(Place de la Renaissance) laay dem." (I am going to the Place de la Renaissance.)
- "Niata le?" (How much?)
- "Dafa bari."(That is a lot/expensive).
- "Meun nga wagni?" (Can you go down?)
- "(1,500) laa beugg fey." (I would like to pay 1,500).
- "Jeurejef" (Thank you)
- "Yendul ak jamm." (Have a good day).
Thanks so much! Let us know your own experiences with taxis in Dakar, in the comments! We'd love to hear from you.