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Alluring and frenetic, Senegal’s capital, Dakar, was long a tiny settlement on the southern part of the Cape Verde peninsula. It now encompasses former colonial towns (it was once a French commune) and a handful of other villages. The hub is the Place de l’Indépendance, a buzzing square lined with both concrete-block and colonial buildings and from which streets with restaurants, shops and theaters radiate. Roads are often congested with buses, taxis and horse-drawn carriages, and the Medina quarter, home to the Grand Mosque and markets, is an explosion of color and commotion. The food scene has a lot of flavor, too, with influences from Senegal’s many ethnic groups, European past, and a large Lebanese expat community. Alongside trendy restaurants, you’ll find beachside night markets and traditional spots serving thieboudienne (seasoned fish served with rice and vegetables). Music makes up much of the pulse of Dakar—you'll hear the drumbeats of the local mbalax music emanating from the city's dance clubs—but there are more serene parts of Dakar, too. The streets of Île de Gorée, once a depot for the slave trade, can be hauntingly quiet, and an hour away, the pink-tinted Lake Retba offers a respite from Dakar’s never-ending sights and sounds.