Dar es Salaam is usually dismissed as a mere stopping off point for travellers en route to exotic Zanzibar or game viewing in the stunning Serengeti. But there’s far more to Tanzania’s capital than just an airport and a ferry station.
Dar es Salaam is one of the fastest-growing cities in Africa, with a population expanding faster than the infrastructure can handle. But you’ll figure that out for yourself when you sit in its notorious traffic jams.
The skyline is studded with glittering new malls, hotels and office blocks towering above peeling temples, mosques and churches in the old city. This is gritty rather than glamorous Africa, and the country’s beating economic heart. Once the day’s business is over, dining, dancing and music take over to create a sultry nightlife.
The currency is the Tanzanian Shilling and forex bureaus give faster service and better exchange rates than the banks. There are several in the city centre, particularly around Samora Avenue. The worst exchange rates are at the airport. There are ATMs all over the city, and in all major shopping centres.
The local language is Kiswahili, but you can get by in English in the tourist venues. March to May is rainy season with tropical downpours and high humidity.
Minibuses called dalla-dallas criss-cross the city and they’re cheap but insanely crowded. The bus system is being improved in DART, the Dar Rapid Transit system, with grand plans for 137kms of routes, 18 terminals and 288 bus stops. But right now, just catch a taxi.
TOP ATTRACTIONS & HIGHLIGHTS
Stroll The City
The architecture still carries the colonial touch of both German and British rule in St. Joseph’s Cathedral, the White Father’s Mission House, the old State House and the Botanical Gardens. The National Museum features exhibits of cultural, ecological and historical significance, and the building itself is a concoction of colourful tiles and intricate carvings.
There are plenty of lively neighbourhoods to explore and a harbour where liners berth alongside creaking dhows, fishing boats and high-speed ferries to Zanzibar. Next to the ferry terminal is a colourful and chaotic fish market, filled with lively action as fishermen haul in their catch.
The beaches on Ocean Road are busy on weekends and holidays, but best avoided after dusk because it’s not the safest part of town. The beaches at Bagamoyo, an hour north of the city, are the preferred less crowded option.
Hop on the ferry to Kigamboni and attractive South Beach. Kigamboni is still part of the capital but after the brief trip across the harbour mouth you’ll think you’re on a tropical island. The temperature drops a few degrees and the noise of the city centre disappears. Beachfront hotels provide good places to swim, eat and drink.
This is the place for spectacular views of the Indian Ocean. On its western side are booths and traders offering all kinds of water sports. Msasani Peninsula lies across Solander Bridge and harbours all the affluent hotels and homes in the suburb of Oysterbay, so it’s the best place to base yourself.
The city comes alive at night and dressing to impress is de rigueur. Dining, dancing and music flare up at open-air venues playing lively East African beats and vie for attention against clubs with DJs spinning the discs. Some bars and clubs offer monthly parties where a short boat ride takes you to a small island to dance till dawn. Every February there’s a music festival with local and international jazz artists playing at venues across the city.
This open-air village museum in well-kept grounds features 18 traditional houses from Tanzania’s different ethnic groups. There are traditional dance performances, craftsmen at work and agricultural demonstrations and a cafe. Makumbusho, the Swahili word for museum, is on New Bagamoyo Road.
Mwenge crafts market on Sam Nujoma Road specialises in intricate woodcarving, and haggling is the common currency. You can watch the carvers at work so you know exactly who created your souvenir.
Snorkelers and divers head to Bongoyo Island Marine Reserve for beautiful beaches and secluded islands. The uninhabited isle makes a great day trip via a 30-minute boat ride from The Slipway. Dense forest lies behind the beaches but there are few walking trails and the going is rough. If you want to play explorer, you can seek out the ruins of a German colonial building in the centre.
5 OF THE BEST
This laid-back, tourist-friendly shopping centre has grown up around a boatyard that still retains its original purpose, so you can book diving expeditions, organise sailing lessons or take a boat trip to Bongoyo and Mbudia islands. It’s a great place for drinks as the sun slips away into the harbour. A craft bazaar sets up in its plaza every weekend.
Dar es Salaam’s most popular seafront restaurant serves up lovely sunsets over the Indian Ocean. On the menu are seafood, grills and pizza from the wood-fired oven, and the bar is frequented by locals who are happy to share insiders’ insights with tourists. The Waterfront is at The Slipway. Tel: +255 2226 00893.
Nothing eases the stress of the traffic better than a refreshing Serengeti beer at Samaki Samaki. Collapse into a couch in the open-air lounge or opt for the coolness of an air-conditioned room. This bar and café often has live music, and has branched out to sell carvings, paintings and interior design accessories. Bagamoyo Rd. Tel: +255 7588 12224
The Oyster Bay Hotel
The Oyster Bay can send a chauffeur to help speed you through the airport and take you to its tranquil gardens where eight luxurious suites all face the ocean. It’s within easy walking distance of the Oyster Bay shopping centre. Tel: +193 226 0618.
For an unbeatable lazy lunch at the edge of the Indian Ocean, try Mediterraneo restaurant in the hotel of the same name. There are candlelit gardens on the other side of you, and waiters languidly offering Italian and Mediterranean dishes. It’s a favourite spot for affluent locals as well as tourists.
Kariakoo Market sprawls across several noisy, congested streets with traders selling everything from bootlegged CDs to Tanzanite jewellery, beautiful handcrafted souvenirs, gaudy clothing and fabrics. It’s reputedly the largest covered market in Africa. It’s also a favourite spot for pickpockets, so keep your wits, your bag and your wallet about you.
It’s possible, but not advisable, to visit Zanzibar in a day. It’s well worth spending a couple of days there. You can catch a 25-minute flight or the cheaper two-hour ferry to visit the crumbling ruins of Stone Town, which is a World Heritage site, and see the house where rock band Queen’s Freddie Mercury grew up.