Ask anyone about Dar es Salaam and even Tanzanians will tell you that it’s the capital of Tanzania. That’s because, although it’s not the capital, it’s the center of everything when it comes to culture and technology. Although Dodoma is the capital of Tanzania, Dar es Salaam is the commercial capital!
Dar es Salaam is notorious in Tanzania for three things: traffic jams, sunshine and shopping! If you have a reasonably full bank account, it’s easy to forget that you’re in a third world country. Dar es Salaam has everything you would find in a city in Australia. Reliable public transport, air-conditioned hotels, expensive shopping and KFC. But there are plenty of ways to enjoy the big city on a budget.
You can feel the magnitude of the city’s population before you’ve even reached the boundaries of the city. The roads where in gridlock an hour out of the city centre. Our bus crawled to it destination. This experience alone made me decide that if ever I had that extra cash to splurge on a plane ticket, do it! Once in the city I was overwhelmed by the change inn scenery. Was I still in Tanzania? The streets are back with cars, taxis, buses, dalla-dalla’s (local bus), bajaji’s (like the Asian tuk-tuks) and piki-pikis (motorcycles). In the inner city there are high rises on every street and billboards plastered with advertising. If you are a visitor to Dar es Salaam I would suggest you get to know a Taxi driver to take you around at least during the evening and perhaps even the day if your budget will allow it. If not then bajai’s are definitely the handiest and safest way to get around (although I always found myself on the back of a motorcycle. Not very safe but definitely still my favourite way to get around). The bus system is new and unlike any I’ve seen in Tanzania so the thought of navigating it alone is mind-boggling to me!
Tip: Unlike other places in Tanzania, when travelling anywhere you have to factor in some time to be stuck in traffic!
Getting out of the city
Dar es Salaam weather ranges from warm to melt-your-face-off hot. As a coastal city it’s a great place to experience the best of both worlds: city and beach! For a cheap beach getaway head to Kigamboni. A ten minute ferry ride from the main land, it’s a beautiful escape from the city! You can get the ferry from an area called ‘Ferri’ and it costs next to nothing. Once you alight from the boat, jump on a dalla dalla and ask them to drop you off at the nearest beach resort. In Tanzania the beach fronts are often owned by a resort, so you can’t avoid that. But, just walk past the pool and the bar and head straight to the sand! Sitting at a resort also means cheeky beers by the water are easy to come by!
Tip: although it’s a very tourist friendly city, like many coastal areas of Tanzania the population is predominantly Muslim. As such it is highly conservative. So, although the weather will make you long for shorts and a sleeveless shirt, please cover up! Ladies, opt for a flowy long dress with short sleeves and men, try not to wear shorts!
Where to go shopping
Hit the Mall
Dar is a great place to go shopping! Mlimani City will blow you away with its sparkling shop front, air-conditioning and range of fashion outlets. I wondered the building with my mouth open in awe. For a treat I had dinner at the popular Samaki-Samaki restaurant there. It’s the best place for fish and I was not disappointed at all. Although it’s a little more expensive than local restaurant food, it is delicious and the vibe is funky and youthful. Fish is a particular luxury in Tanzania as there are many places in land where fresh fish is hard to come by.
Markets in Dar
I personally loved getting lost in the markets in Dar es Salaam. In an area called Kariako there are streets with hundreds of alleyways filled with dresses, jackets, shoes and other random items sold a cheap prices. You can spend hours trawling the shops for fun outfits. But keep your wits about you please! Like any big city, pick pockets love a distracted tourist with an iPhone in their back pocket.
A relaxed night out
Night life here is great! For a nice place to spend the night by the sea, head to Oyster Bay, there are lots of upscale bars and restaurants here. There is also a great place called Coco Beach. This is a more relaxed spot where you can get some local food, smoke shisha and chill out while you listen to the waves gently breaking against the beach. They also have a huge screen playing music videos and, I’m pretty sure, they play karaoke some nights!
Clubbing in Dar
For the party animals there is also a huge clubbing scene in this city. There is an area in Dar called The Msasani Peninsula. According to locals this area has recently skyrocketed in the nightlife department. Here are just a few clubs you could check out: ‘Elements’ serves Lebanese food early in the evening and the place is so popular it accumulates a line towards midnight. ‘Trinity’ is an open plan club, great for socializing. They also offer food! (Food is important on nights out I think). For something a little bit fancy head to ‘Next Door’. This is the largest club in the area. It’s a little more expensive than other clubs however once you get there you will see why! If you want to see a different area, the club ‘High Spirit’ is an exceedingly popular place to go out with daily happy hour from 5.30-7pm. Unfortunately all clubs in Dar es Salaam have cover charges (usually not more than 10,000tsh) and they all play very similar music. If you don’t like Hip hop or clubbing beats then you will be out of luck here.
As I mentioned earlier, food is a very important thing for me when I’m our late! Once it hits 1am I’m usually looking for the nearest place to get a snack. Luckily, in Dar there are plenty of places to satisfy your late night hunger. I recommend Batmans Pizza, located at Coco Beach. This place never closes its doors and honestly, is there ever a time when pizza is not appropriate?
Tip: For those who want to experience the night life, make sure you take a taxi home, as well as to and from different venues! While walking around during the day is perfectly safe, walking at night is not advisable.
Dar es Salaam is a busy and hectic place to be, but it’s a city worth experiencing if you find yourself in East Africa!