Visit this Tanzanian metropolis for its own charms, as well as on your way to the country’s other attractions
Dar es Salaam has come a long way from its origins as a fishing village. Strategically important for major sea routes up and down the East African coast, it is now Tanzania’s largest city and commercial centre. Being at a crossroads, the different architectural styles in evidence are not surprising – African and Arab designs being relatively predictable, with English, Indian and German structures in the mix as well.
Fresh from the sea
If your only interest in fish is what it tastes like, you’ll be happy in Dar – it’s tough to get it fresher than it is here. If you’re ok with the pungent aroma and are up for a bit of culture and history to go with the meals, the Kivukoni Fish Market is impressive for its bustle and industry, an assault on the senses that also involves the back-and-forth thrill of the fish getting auctioned off. There are a number of restaurants in the area, as well as beaches for a scenic walk, or craft markets for souvenir seekers.
While in that frame of mind, set time aside for Kariakoo, a huge market taking up several city blocks and selling everything from spice to socks. As in most African markets, haggling is allowed and even encouraged, but do be reasonable and respectful – for most stallholders, what is sold provides their only income.
Reachable via a short ferry ride from the port, the islands of Bongoyo, Mbudya, Fungu, Yasini and Pangavini all fall within the Dar es Salaam Marine Reserve and are open for tourists, who can spend a restful day sunbathing, swimming and exploring the underwater world with a snorkel or scuba tank. On Bongoyo and Mbudya, you can buy food and drinks – otherwise, pack something to take with you. If you prefer your islands bigger and more famous, Zanzibar is in easy range for a day trip, also via ferry. Tours take in Stone Town, spice farms and Prison Island, as well as all the beach- and ocean-related activities you might want to get up to.
Architecturally, much of modern Dar is dotted with humdrum high-rises, but there are gems worthy of attention for the visitor who enjoys striking design. St Joseph Cathedral features beautiful stained glass – visit in the afternoon, when the angle of the sun shows it off best. State House, the official residence of the president, has all the gravitas of a seat of government, surrounded by landscaped gardens and with fine views of the sea. You can’t go in, but it’s an impressive sight as you pass by.
Tanzanian coffee is some of the best in the world. In town, it’s made in the traditional way – fresh beans from the country’s high-altitude plantations, ground using a pestle and mortar, then roasted early in the morning. Brewing takes place over hot coals on a metal tray that the seller can carry around, looking for customers. These entrepreneurs don’t provide packets of sugar, but many offer peanut brittle, which can be used to sweeten the deal if their brew is too strong for you.