Located on the Swahili Coast, Dar es Salaam is the jumping off point for those traveling to Zanzibar or Pemba by ferry; while Julius Nyerere International Airport is Tanzania’s biggest port of entry. Dar es Salaam served as the country’s capital until 1974, and remains its premier center for arts and entertainment. Those that stay longer than a few hours in transit have the opportunity to discover excellent global restaurants, fascinating museums and art galleries and a collection of beautiful offshore islands. Wherever you go, the city’s cultural diversity shines through — the result of Arab, German, British and Indian influences mixing with its own Swahili heritage.
Note: Dar es Salaam has a high crime rate and travelers should be aware of their surroundings at all times. Make sure to stay in a reputable area and never take an unlicensed taxi.
Stock up on Souvenirs at the City’s Craft Markets
Tanzania is home to many skilled artisans. If you want to take their work home with you, plan a visit to at least one of the city’s numerous craft markets. In the northeast, Mwenge Woodcarvers Market specializes in traditional African sculptures carved from local timber. Most vendors create their masterpieces on-site, and you should be able to see them at work. If you don’t have time to get out to Mwenge, head to the smaller craft market at waterfront shopping centre The Slipway. For those with a sense of adventure, Kariakoo Market is the largest (and most chaotic) market in Tanzania and sells everything from spices and vegetables to clothing and crafts.
Discover Tanzanian History at the National Museum
Although the exhibits at the National Museum have seen better days, they cover a wide range of topics including archaeology, ethnography, biology and the arts. The ethnographical artifacts are particularly worthwhile, affording an insight into Tanzania’s kaleidoscope of different cultures — from the Shirazi traders who brought Islam to the Swahili Coast, to colonialists from Britain and Germany. Look out for archaeological finds from the digs at Olduvai Gorge, where Louis and Mary Leakey unearthed the origins of mankind. These include a replica of the hominid skull known as the Nutcracker Man, discovered in 1959. The museum is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and costs Tsh6500 per adult.
Experience Traditional Life at the Village Museum
A 20-minute drive northwest of the city center takes you to the Village Museum, an open-air re-creation of the traditional homes of Tanzania. The site is spread across 15 acres and gives you the chance to explore more than a dozen different types of ethnic homestead, all with authentic furnishings. The huts are surrounded by indigenous crops and occupied by costumed craftsmen who demonstrate traditional weaving, carving and pottery skills — all of which makes for an interactive experience that’s especially popular with kids. If you’re lucky, you may catch the daily tribal dance and drumming performance for an additional Tsh2000. Regular admission is priced at Tsh6500 per adult.
Be Part of the Action at Kivukoni Fish Market
The waterfront suburb of Kivukoni is home to the famous Kivukoni Fish Market, where local fishermen arrive early every morning to offload the catch of the day from their traditional dhows. Restaurateurs, hoteliers and members of the public gather at around 7:00 a.m. to bargain fiercely for the best seafood in a raucous auction — providing a fantastic opportunity for photographers and the chance to see an impressive range of Indian Ocean species. Throughout the rest of the day, you can purchase fresh fish or seafood that has already been cleaned, cooked and prepared. You’ll need a strong stomach for the smell, and haggling is expected. The market opens at 6:00 a.m.
Head to The Slipway for Boutique Shopping
For a more sedate shopping experience, head to pedestrianized expat hangout The Slipway. This peaceful enclave is home to a range of boutiques selling stylish clothing and quality (but pricey) Tanzanian artwork. There’s also an excellent bookshop, a hotel and a supermarket that sells international and gourmet ingredients you’ll struggle to find elsewhere in the city. When you finish shopping, regroup with sundowners at The Waterfront, an open-air bar and restaurant with a global menu and beautiful Msasani Bay views. The Slipway is also a popular departure point for fishing charters and excursions to the islands of the Dar es Salaam Marine Reserve. It’s located on Yacht Club Road.
Add to Your African Art Collection
If you’re especially interested in African art, there are plenty of opportunities for expanding your collection in Dar es Salaam. The Tingatinga Arts Cooperative Society (located between Msasani and Oyster Bay) houses more than 100 artists dedicated to preserving the legacy of Edward Saidi Tingatinga. In the 1960s, Tingatinga’s distinctive painting style became a national emblem and the artists’ colorful renderings of people, plants and animals are uniquely Tanzanian. In the north of the city, Nafasi Art Space is a haven for contemporary art with 37 studios offering work across all mediums — and the chance to see it being created. It also hosts regular workshops, art lectures, exhibitions and fairs.
Shop for Unique Tanzanite Jewelry
Found only in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, the tanzanite is unique to Tanzania and considered one of the rarest gemstones in the world. It was discovered in 1967 and named by Tiffany & Co, who described it as the “loveliest blue gemstone discovered in over 2,000 years.” One thousand times rarer than diamonds yet more competitively priced, these breathtaking violet blue stones change color in the light and make for a particularly impressive memento of your time in Tanzania. There are many places to buy them in Dar es Salaam. One of the most reputable jewelers is The Tanzanite Dream, located on Mataka Road in Upanga and open every day except Sunday.
Enjoy a Family Day Out at Kunduchi Water Park
If you’re traveling with kids or have a soft spot for water rides, make time for the 30-minute drive north of the city to Kunduchi Wet ’n’ Wild Water Park. There are more than 29 slides and several well-maintained pools (including a play pool for smaller children). You can spend the day floating down the Lazy River or plunging down slides that tower some five stories high. The park is also home to a go kart circuit and is the largest water theme park in East and Central Africa. There are several restaurants and bars on-site. The park is open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Join the In Crowd at Coco Beach
The most popular of Dar es Salaam’s city beaches, Coco Beach is located on the Msasani Peninsula in the upmarket neighborhood of Oyster Bay. With its golden sand and palm-fringed shore, it’s a favorite spot for affluent locals, expatriates and travelers in the know. Come to cool off with a swim on a humid summer day, to people watch or to soak up the vibe created by lively street food vendors and buskers. The beach is lined with trendy restaurants, bars and clubs and the weekends offer regular beach parties. Combine your visit with a tour of nearby Oyster Bay Shopping Center, known for its art galleries and produce markets.
Sample the City’s Global Restaurants
This cultural diversity is also reflected in the city’s cuisine. Hole-in-the-wall spots like Grace Shop serve up Tanzanian specialties such as ugali and mchicha for a few shillings; while Mamboz Corner BBQ is a top choice for African-style grilled chicken. You can also find Chinese, Indian, French and Italian restaurants to suit every budget, while Addis in Dar is the city’s most popular option for authentic Ethiopian meals. Dar es Salaam’s expat community can usually be found dining on pizzas at fashionable Zuane Trattoria or queuing for pain au chocolat, eclairs and tiramisu at European bakery Epi d’Or. Check Lonely Planet’s restaurant guide for the best places to eat in Dar.
Admire Colonial Architectural Landmarks
Dar es Salaam became a major city in the 19th century under the auspices of the Sultan of Zanzibar. Later, it was the administrative and commercial center of German East Africa, and then of British Tanganyika. Its colonial heritage is evident in landmarks like the Gothic-style St. Joseph’s Cathedral (built at the end of the 19th century) and the Azania Front Lutheran Church (built in the Bavarian style around the same time). Both places of worship are still in use today and were constructed by German missionaries. The official residence of the Tanzanian president, State House, was built for the British Governor in 1922 and blends African and Arabian architectural styles.
Head Out For a Night on the Town
Whether you prefer glossy nightclubs or backpacker watering holes, Dar es Salaam has the right nightspot for you. Put on your dancing shoes for an evening at trendy Havoc Nightspot on the Msasani Peninsula, or head to rooftop bars like Rouge and High Spirit for cocktails and panoramic Kivukoni views. Sports aficionados head to the Slow Leopard to drink imported beers and watch the game on big screen TVs. If you’re traveling around East Africa on a shoestring, you’ll find cheap drinks and good music at O’Donovan’s Reggae Bar in Masaki. Wherever the night takes you, walking after dark is not advised so be sure to organize trustworthy transport.
Explore the Dar es Salaam Marine Reserve
If you’re looking for a respite from city life, book a day trip to the idyllic, uninhabited islands of the Dar es Salaam Marine Reserve. Of the four islands, only two are frequented by tourists (Mbudya and Bongoyo). Both offer pristine white beaches, clean turquoise water and safe swimming. On the eastern shore, several dive sites await, giving the opportunity to spot an array of tropical fish and colorful corals. You can hire a thatched beach banda for the day, and feast on grilled seafood sold at the islands’ waterfront shacks. Excursions leave from Dar es Salaam harbor, The Slipway and Kunduchi and cost around $20 for four people.