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Dar es Salaam, the Swahili Capital

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The true capital of Tanzania. The largest city of Swahili culture. Africa's fifth most populous megalopolis, growing at a dizzying rate. Home to fishermen and lovers of seafood. Home to the colorful Tinga Tinga painting style. This is all about Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's beautiful metropolis.

Panoramic view of Dar es Salaam
Panoramic view of Dar es Salaam

Dar es Salaam, Harbor of Peace  

On the eastern coast of Africa, in a beautiful harbor 40 kilometers south of Zanzibar, lies sprawling a large city, the largest one in this part of the continent - Dar es Salaam (Arabic for "harbor of peace" or "house of peace"), or simply Dar, as the Tanzanians refer to it. Its shores are washed by the Indian Ocean, and green areas surround the city and its suburbs from the mainland side. Dar es Salaam is an important ocean port on the international maritime routes. It is Tanzania's largest and most developed city, and it used to be the capital almost until the end of the 20th century.

Once (not so long ago, just a century and a half ago), it was a fishers’ village. Nowadays, the country's main metropolis is actively expanding and densifying, having made its way into the list of the world's fastest-growing cities. While the historic buildings in the city center reflect the colonial past, the chaotically scattered high-rises and all the new neighborhoods indicate a rapid industrial-style development.

It is essential to acknowledge that Dar, being a typical African city, does remain quite poor. Here, one will find no glitter of glass and concrete grandeur in the city panoramas, no modern architectural fineries, or colorful evening illumination typical of Dubai or Shanghai. There are a lot of high-rise buildings, but they are primarily dull rectangular residential boxes. The beauty of Dar es Salaam is contained elsewhere.

Strolling through East Africa’s Largest Metropolis

For starters, let's have a stroll through the streets and embankments of this city, catching the breath of the Indian Ocean as it splashes nearby, feeling the amazing mix of cultures: traditional African, influential Arab, Asian, and, of course, the German and British heritage. After that, we'll see how Tanzania's largest city is built, delve into its fascinating history, and discover the interesting facts, that travelers love so much, along the way. 

Arrival at Tanzania’s Major City  

You are most likely to arrive at the city by plane and turn up at the Julius Nyerere International Airport. This name will come into view, written on one of the airport terminals. The name Nyerere will sure pop up every now and then if you stay in Dar es Salaam for a while (e.g., the central thoroughfare leading from the airport to the ocean shore in the center is dubbed with the same name).   

A bird’s-eye view of Dar es Salaam
A bird’s-eye view of Dar es Salaam

Julius Nyerere was Tanzania’s first president who, in the early 60s, gained the independence for Tanganyika from Great Britain and, later, the unification with Zanzibar that also won its independence. The united republic got the name we know nowadays – Tanzania - and the new capital in the city of Dar es Salaam.   

If you travel by land, it is most probable that the bus will take you to Magufuli Bus Terminal. This brand-new international-class terminal is a beautiful modern complex that connects Dar es Salaam with almost all parts of Tanzania and even with neighboring countries. Several hundred bus companies operate many intercity and international runs from here. Heading from the new bus station, you can reach Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Malawi and other neighboring countries. There is yet another way to get to Dar: by water. Some tourists, having extra days to spare and tired of the monotonous beach vacation in Zanzibar, travel to mainland Tanzania. Unlike travel by air, the ferry ride takes less time (just over an hour and a half), and the comfortable ferry arrives straight at the heart of Dar es Salaam.

We will leave the railroad out of the story - although locals actively use it, it is just a waste of time for tourists.

In Dar’s Heart

Wherever you start your journey around the city, you are bound to come to the Kivukoni Ward. It is located at Dar es Salaam’s historical center; there, you can see with your own eyes those buildings that decorate the postcards with Dar’s panoramic views and appear in the majority of video and photo captions.

This is here where the Azania Front Lutheran Church, probably the best-known building in the entire metropolis, is situated, with its pretty white walls and red Bavarian-style tiled eaves.  The church was built by the Germans in the late 19th century. Over more than a hundred years, it has been standing there side-by-side with the shore, facing the bay and showing off for the tourists, lit by bright sun, embraced by palm trees. 

Azania Lutheran Church
Azania Lutheran Church

Nearby is the Askari monument, which marks precisely the center of Dar es Salaam. The pedestal is topped with a bronze statue of a soldier holding a rifle with a bayonet.  Askari stands for “soldier” in Swahili.  It is a memorial to the Tanzanian Army privates who fought as part of a British battalion in World War I. If you've ever been to Kenya's Mombasa or Nairobi, you may have seen the local Askari monuments, which all together form a conceptual trilogy.

Askari soldiers monument
Askari soldiers monument

Not far away is yet another historical monument, Clock Tower. It was erected to commemorate the Tanganyika’s attainment of independence in 1961. This monument is another hallmark of the city.  

Kivukoni is one of the most modern and developed areas. Here is not only the residence of the president but also almost all state institutions of the country and foreign embassies and offices of major Tanzanian companies. The city of Dodoma is considered the official capital of Tanzania, but Dar es Salaam remains the political and business center of the country.

The Streets of Dar es Salaam  

And now - a word to the city walks fans. The first thing you have to bear in mind is that in Tanzania, they pay almost no attention to pedestrians in the sense the Westerners put in these words: a rare town or city may boast of pavements or even asphalted sidewalks. The center of Dar is a commendable exception. You can have a comfortable walk through beautiful blocks with many office and governmental buildings, restaurants, shops, and (of course) hotels. Walking the long promenades along the Indian Ocean is also lovely, where a slightly refreshing warm breeze blows.

The further you move away from the city center, the fewer the signs of urban development are. You’ll have to walk either on the road shoulder or on a curb. Even in spots where the pavements exist, those may be crammed with cars or littered with sundries that the enterprising locals have for sale and lay out right on the ground.   A feature of Dar es Salaam is that it’s a million-plus city, and thus its roads are jammed during the rush hours. So don’t be amazed to have to give way to motorcycle drivers from time to time. 

Keep in mind that Dar lies 6.5 degrees south of the equator: the sun here is scorching unless it rains during the short rainy seasons. Stick to the streets with trees along the houses because it's much nicer to walk in the shade. Don't forget to use sunscreen to protect your skin, and have sunglasses, hats, and drinking water with you.

The streets of Dar es Salaam
The streets of Dar es Salaam

In busy streets, you often come across vendors selling refreshments and fruit. Don't deny yourself the pleasure of replenishing your body with life-giving moisture and something revivingly tasty, like a juicy watermelon, passion fruit, or mango. And be careful not to overpay - a cup of sliced fruit typically costs no more than 1000 Tanzanian shillings. Find more details on local currency and where and how to exchange money in our short guide here.

If you want to have a more wholesome meal, look among the many local cafes for one that the locals favor, and ask for a menu. The more tourists hang around in the area, the wider choice of dishes is and the less obscure names are. To understand the national cuisine and get some useful gastronomic tips, read our article on food in Tanzania.

The Dwellers of Dar es Salaam

There are ca. 7 million residents in Dar es Salaam; the more precise number depends on whether you take suburbs into account.  Anyway, it’s worth knowing that Dar closes the top five of the African cities with the biggest population. As of the population growth rate, this Tanzanian metropolis is among the 15 fastest growing cities (by the way, all fifteen cities on the rating are African, and three of those are situated in Tanzania).  

English and Swahili (both are official languages in Tanzania) are spoken in the city, but you might also hear some Arabic. Christianity and Islam (most Muslims are Sunnis) are common here. In the streets, you can see people in traditional Muslim clothing. But compared to neighboring Zanzibar, the tradition of Islam is not so pronounced here.

What looks exotic in the streets of Dar es Salaam is that many people carry something on their heads: bags, crates, baskets, and other containers. It is the most common sight in the market area.

Tanzanian women in the vicinity of Dar es Salaam
Tanzanian women in the vicinity of Dar es Salaam

In general, people in Dar are friendly, and walking around the city is safe. Although, like in every city of the world, some careless tourists occasionally get into trouble here. To avoid getting in such a situation, read our special feature on safety in Tanzania.

Remember the basic rules of a prudent tourist: do not unnecessarily show large sums of money or other expensive things, be careful with motorcycles (thieves often ride them snatching valuables out of hands and leaving rapidly), call only official cab services with the help of the hotel staff, change money only in banks or exchange offices, refrain form sole walks in the city at night, especially on the outskirts.

Public Transport in Dar es Salaam 

The roads of the Tanzanian metropolis are filled with cars, vans, motorcycles and three-wheeled covered cabs. In general, the situation with public transport in Tanzania is not good: people are mainly transported by small buses and converted trucks acting as shuttle buses. These are called dala dala. Interestingly, the name comes from the English word “dollar”. These minibuses are the basis of public transport in the city. They are convenient and remain maneuverable and nimble in the traffic due to their small size, and drivers drop off passengers not only at stops but at any place convenient.

Dar es Salaam is the only city in Tanzania that can claim to have a developing network of urban passenger transport. In recent years, the metropolis has managed to launch a system of high-speed public transport. Stations are actively built on busy highways, and designated lines appear on the roads. Large, modern buses travel quickly, and in many areas, they have already spared the city's residents the need to languish for hours in traffic jams in stuffy da­la dalas. Dar officials have a plan to equip the city with six lines of express buses by 2035, having built more than 200 stations for those by then.

A true tourist is surely beckoned by the most exotic way of getting around in the city: a ride on a three-wheeled bajaj. This kind of transport is characteristic of many Asian countries. Usually, they are called auto-rickshaws (motor-rickshaws), motorcycle cabs, or tuk-tuks. Their name exists in many variants, but the word "bajaj" is most commonly used in Dar. It comes from the name of the Indian two- and three-wheeler company, Bajaj Auto Limited, founded in the 1940s by Jamnalal Bajaj, an associate of Mahatma Gandhi.

Another important means of transportation is ferries. Modern Dar es Salaam is divided into two parts by a wide bay. The important southern district of Kigamboni is cut off from the main and most developed part of the city by water. A few years ago a bridge was built across the bay, the Nyerere Bridge, but it is, firstly, lies further to the south, and secondly, there is a toll to pass it. So the ferry between Kivukoni and Kigamboni remains a demanded means of transport for the locals. Ferries to Zanzibar also depart from the pier in Kivukoni. 

City Architecture

Many guidebooks relate to the architectural heritage of the colonial past. In fact, there are not so many colonial-style buildings, and those can easily be lost amidst the sporadic housing development of the last several decades. We recommend you to give up all expectations concerning the appearance of Dar and get ready for free-format walks and rides in the metropolis. If you do, the city will surely fascinate you in the places most unexpected. 

Dar es Salaam is being actively developed
Dar es Salaam is being actively developed

Old stone buildings from the late 19th century and the first third of the 20th century can be found in the very center near the bay. At a cursory glance, they are lost against the backdrop of high-rise buildings decorated in light beige and blue tones. A few Art Deco buildings are reminiscent of the '70s and '80s. A little further away from the coast, modern buildings with simple rectangular shapes and no frills on the facades grab your attention. They house city institutions, company offices, small shopping centers and one-story shops, and residential high-rise buildings.

Walk even further, and the poverty of the African city will be striking: sidewalks disappear, building fences are not quite neat, residential neighborhoods lose height, and in the poor southern part of Dar es Salaam and on its outskirts, the main type of development is the private housing. It is not uncommon here for the urban landscape to change into an almost rustic panorama: huge puddles on dirt roads after the rains, some single-story houses not even surrounded by fences, and summer kitchens, backyards, plots with fruit trees and free-ranging poultry are open to the public eye.

Perhaps this is what makes Dar unique: in one day you can walk through the prestigious European neighborhoods of Kivukoni and Oyster Bay with their beautiful promenades and white sands of the Coco Beach, the busy highways of Morogoro Road and Kilwa Road, the big bustling local markets in the center, and the poor rural areas within the city, planted with fruit trees.

If Arabic architecture, with its elegant mosques and numerous arches and arabesques, appeals to you more, take a trip to Zanzibar. The Arab and Indian architectural heritage is much better preserved there. In Dar es Salaam, mosques are often lost against the background of poorly organized dense urban development. However, we recommend finding the very beautiful Khoja Shia Ithna-Ashari Masjid, Masjid Maamur, Masjid Hakimi, Sunni Mosque, and, for example, Masjid Qiblatein in the center. 

What Is Worth Visiting in Dar es Salaam  

Now that you have an idea of the most densely populated city on the entire Swahili shore in East Africa, let us check the list of exciting places and separate beauty sights recommended for visiting. 

Best Spots in Dar es Salaam  

For those who want to enjoy the city to the fullest, we recommend checking out the authentic neighborhoods, which are always crowded and filled with interesting goods, as well as a lot of small cafes aimed at locals. One such place is Kariakoo Market. It is the largest market in Dar es Salaam where city life is in full swing and you can feel the pulse of a real Swahili town.

продавец овощей на рынке в Дар-эс-Саламе
A lady selling fruit in the African market

Kivukoni is deemed to be a touristic district, and you will likely stay in one of the hotels located there. At the very least, you will take a walk in this district, with its beautiful buildings and kempt streets. Kivukoni’s largest markets are Msasani and Mzizima. By the way, Mzizima was the name of that fishers’ village, which stood there where today’s Dar es Salaam was founded.  

Mzizima market (or simply Kivukoni Fish Market) is an absolute must-visit for those who love fish and seafood. It is said that you can find fish of all tastes here. And you can buy both fresh fish and fish cooked directly at the market, a little farther from the coastal rows. We advise you to go to the market for fish in the morning or in the evening when fishers deliver fresh catch.

For hiking enthusiasts, we recommend walking along Barack Obama Drive, which winds around Kivukoni along the sea. The white sandy shoreline is just around the corner. In the morning, you can watch the beautiful sunrise over the vast Indian Ocean.

Museums of Dar es Salaam

Also, in Kivukoni, there is the National Museum of Tanzania. It is considered to be the oldest and largest in Tanzania. We recommend starting all museum excursions and visiting the permanent/temporary exhibitions from there. It’s likely that the information this museum can provide you will be sufficient; if not, a visit to this museum can help you prepare an individual program based on what interests you most.

The National Museum of Tanzania
The National Museum of Tanzania
  • National Museum and House of Culture: museum of Tanzanian history dedicated to the times of slave trade and colonial period of the country’s past; the exposition includes the most ancient examples of the local culture — ethnographic collections gathered from the Tanzanian tribes, artifacts from the ancient and once powerful trading city of Kilwa (nowadays, there are only city ruins on the isle of Kilwa), unique fossils from the Olduvai Gorge discovered by the legendary archaeologists and anthropologists Mary and Louis Leaky.  
  • Village Museum: permanent exhibition of this museum dedicated to the rural life of the Tanzanians (Makumbusho) is an open-air site, which includes over 30 traditional huts of three different types – msongo, tembe, and banda (until recently, these could be seen over the major part of Tanzania’s territory, but now, these wooden edifices are only used in the hardest-to-reach and the poorest villages, where semi-tribal communities reside) 
  • National Natural History Museum: the permanent exhibition of this museum is situated in the town of Arusha and demonstrates the finds of archaeologists and paleontologists discovered at different times in various parts of Tanzania, as well as several animals and plants, including endemics of specific regions.   
  • Arusha Declaration Museum: It is in fact a museum of the contemporary political history of Tanzania, which began after the independence from Great Britain was obtained (in 1967, a meeting of historical significance took place in the building of the museum. During that meeting, a declaration by president Julius Nyerere was proclaimed and adopted. The document declared a course towards ujamaa, African socialism which was based on the human dignity protection, elimination of poverty, ignorance and diseases, collective economic activity, reliance on own resources under the minimal influence of foreign capital).
  • Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere Museum: This museum is essentially dedicated to Tanzania’s first president, Julius Nyerere and his home village of Butiama located in the north of the country, between Lake Victoria and Serengeti National Park. The politician returned there shortly before his death and was buried there (the museum exhibits include Mr. Nyerere’s personal belongings and a number of political artifacts related to him. The mausoleum of Baba wa Taifa, that is, “The Father of Nation” is also located in that village.)  
  • Maji Maji War Memorial Museum: A museum situated in the city of Songea; it is dedicated to Maji Maji Rebellion – a series of heroic uprisings during 1905-1907. During that time, the local peasants were economically stifled and brutally terrorized by the German colonizers; then rebelled and gave their lives in the struggle for freedom (tens or even hundreds of thousands of Tanzanians died, and 67 Maji Maji heroes were executed in public in the place where the memorial now is).
  • Kawawa Memorial Museum is dedicated to Rashidi Mfaume Kawawa, another Tanzanian politician in the ‘60s and ‘70s, a deputy of Julius Nyerere and the first prime minister of the country.   

All of the above museums are part of a single museum complex, some individual fragments of the exposition can be found in the Dar es Salaam National Museum, but most of the museum artifacts from points 2-7 are represented in the branches.

Makumbusho huts
Makumbusho huts

Of all the individual museums, Makumbusho, alias the Village Museum, is definitely worth your attention and visit. The tree branch huts which until recently were commonplace in mainland Tanzania, carry the spirit of the simple African life that is now increasingly difficult to find even in the outback. In addition, demonstrative ritual dances and other events demonstrating the tribal culture are often held on the territory of the museum.

In addition, the National Museum of Tanzania has a gallery of modern art, and you can also see images of cave paintings found not only in Tanzania but also in other parts of Africa.

Parks and Conservation Areas

Next to the museum, there is a small botanical garden. It is more of a cozy green park with a collection of trees and other plants typical of Tanzania. You won't find much botanical information here, but you can take a nice walk in the shade of the sprawling palm trees and relax on a sultry day on the benches under the trees.

Tourist area in Pugu Hills
Tourist area in Pugu Hills

There are many small parks in and around the city for comfortable walks, as well as nature reserves such as the Pande Game Reserve and the Pugu Hills Forest Reserve. The former is right in the city, in the northern part. You can hike, bike, and explore the local butterflies and birds, as well as the plants that are abundant there. The latter is an hour and a half drive from downtown and includes a small lake. Pugu Hills command a beautiful view of Dar es Salaam. Entrance into the protected forest costs little money, and for informative walks, you can hire a guide who will tell you about the local trees and the history of the area where the Zaramo tribes lived.

Both conservation areas are the remnants of Tanzania's dense coastal forests, which are now being actively cut down for more and more space that people need to live comfortably in the big city. As a result, every green space in the Dar es Salaam region is now more highly valued. It's great that there are still places in Dar es Salaam where you can breathe fresh air and enjoy nature in its pristine form.

The nearest national park to the city is Saadani National Park, a hundred kilometers north of Dar es Salaam. It is also the only national park along the Indian Ocean coast. Its territory is almost completely covered by mangroves inhabited by elephants, antelopes, and lions. A river runs through the park, which attracts hippos and crocodiles. You can take a boat ride on the river with a guide who will show you both large predators and monkeys descending towards the water and many birds that settle in the trees of the park. The treeless area is home to warthogs, water goats, giraffes, and buffalo. Beautiful green turtles live along the coast. Saadani is one of Tanzania's most modest-sized parks because of its atypical proximity to the ocean and the presence of human settlements nearby.

When you are finally and fully tired of the city noise and the grip of the concrete hammerlock, it would be time to study all options for a safari in Tanzania and trips to the major reserves and national parks.  Contact our managers, and they will find the most convenient and exciting routes for you. Dar es Salaam is a very logistically favorable point on the map with various connections to popular parks and reserves such as the Selous, Lake Manyara and Serengeti, and the Kilimanjaro and Meru volcanoes so famous among the climbers.

Ancient Ruins near Dar

If you have a day or two to spare, you can go to places where ancient ruins of medieval cities remain. There are a few on the Swahili coast, so you can find fascinating spots with ruins relatively close to Dar es Salaam.

The most famous is Kilwa Island, 250 km south of Dar es Salaam. There is an archeological monument - a complex of stone buildings built in the 13th-18th centuries. These are Kilwa Mosque, Husuni Kubwa and Husuni Ndogo palaces, and Gereza Fort. They are on the UNESCO World Heritage List and are the monuments of the bygone Swahili culture, a powerful city-state that traded with many cities in what now belong to Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, as well as the island city-states of Madagascar, Zanzibar Archipelago, and Comoros. It is believed that most of the artifacts and structures of Kilwa-Kisiwani are still waiting for their pioneering archaeologists.

Kilwa-Kisiwani ruins
Kilwa-Kisiwani ruins

Nearby are the ruins of the 14th -16th  century stone city of Songo Mnara, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here are the remains of residential quarters and public buildings, including six mosques built from coral, a typical material for medieval coastal cities. Songo Mnara was also once a trading town that did business with China and India. The trade relations are indicated by the numerous coins and pottery found in ruins, which served as exchange goods.

Fifty kilometers north of the center of Dar es Salaam lies the small town of Kaole. On its territory, there are also the ruins of the stone city of Kaole, dating back to the 13th -16th  century. To this day, the remains of two mosques and tombs of noblemen have survived. The artifacts found on the territory of Kaole indicate trade relations with China. Kaole means "go and see" in the Zaramo language. Now you know what you need to do once you are in Dar.

The largest number of stone buildings and evidence of medieval cultural life in the region are preserved on the main island of the Zanzibar archipelago (although excavations have also been successfully conducted on the neighboring Pemba). The Stone City of Zanzibar preserves an impressive historical legacy. But this is yet another big story. If you can't wait to visit it, head to the Zanzibar Ferry leaving for the island four times a day.

City Beaches

For those who stay in Dar es Salaam and intend to get their share of beach vacation joy without going out of town, there is a list of the most popular beaches in Dar es Salaam. It is always a hot topic because the city is in the subequatorial climate zone, which means it's always hot and humid. The average annual temperature ranges from 23.3 to 28 °C, i.e., 73.94 to 82 °F, with the thermometers only reaching the lows a couple of months a year, in July and August, when it’s winter here.

Perhaps the most famous and attractive beach is the Coco Beach. It is quite a long stretch of shore with pleasant light sand and slowly rolling waves of the sun-heated ocean. You can wander barefoot on the sand, swim, get a little sun, sit under an umbrella in one of the bars, drink a soft drink, or have a snack. The beach is public, so it's always crowded. Be also prepared that you might be unlucky with the timing of your visit and catch too much trash on the beach (seaweed and bottles left behind by people).

Coco Beach
Coco Beach

North from there, there is a narrow strip of Kawe beach, and even farther are the Mbali Public Beach and Ndege Beach. If you move from the central Coco Beach along the ocean coast to the south, you can soon find a spot to relax in the small Palm Beach, Tanzanite Beach Resort (here you can meet fishing dhows - we recommend taking pictures against their background), Bakhresa Beach.

Much farther southwards, there is a special beach for Muslims: Islamic Club. It is stunningly beautiful, totally uncrowded, with very warm water (many say that Dar beaches’ water is warmer than Zanzibar resorts). If you are looking for a simple cozy spot on the Indian Ocean coast within Dar and are willing to abide by the Islam rules of beach etiquette, this might be the perfect place for you to relax on the beach.

All the beaches listed above are public and are accessible to everybody. One of Dar's elite beaches is Yacht Club Beach, next to which the Dar es Salaam Yacht Club is located. Those accustomed to relaxing in style can enjoy elite watersports here and meet a luxurious sunset on the clean beach of the enclosed area or taste the delicious food in the restaurant. Club membership is required to enter this beach.

Within the city limits, at the southern end of the bay, you can relax at Kijichi Beach. You will be surrounded on all sides by Dar es Salaam. This is probably the most suitable beach vacation option for the locals who do not have time to travel to the coast properly. And if, on the contrary, you want a little seaside adventure for a day, you can get out to the nearby islands: Bongoyo and Mbudya.

Island Beach Resorts: Bongoyo and Mbudya    

We have already said that if you just let your expectations of what modern wonders you might get from Tanzania's largest metropolis step down a notch, the city will start to surprise you in the most unexpected places. Among such places are the islands near the city, where you can find yourself in the middle of a conservation area.

Dar es Salaam operates the Dar es Salaam Marine Reserve System, or simply DMRS. This includes five uninhabited islands south of the city and four more north from there. Only two of those nine islands, Mbudhya and Bongoyo, are of interest to the tourists. They are the only ones with sandy beaches that can be reached by boat from Dar within half an hour or even faster.

Bongoyo Island is the most popular beach vacation spot outside Dar es Salaam. The boat leaves from the Bongoyo Island Ferry Terminal on the Msasani Peninsula. There are a couple of beaches on the island and a dense forest in which you can wander along the paths. A challenge for the curious: try to find the remains of a small German colonial-era building in the forest on the island without any hints or prior googling,.

Bongoyo is a great place to spend a day: beachcombing on the sand, swimming, snorkeling, hiking on the trails and along the shores - to put it short, there's plenty to do on the island.

A bird’s-eye view of Bongoyo Island
A bird’s-eye view of Bongoyo Island

Mbudya Island is another nature preserve with a beach, white sand, wild growth, and no crowds of tourists. You can also wander around the island just strolling, relaxing in the sun, or snorkeling, observing the coastal underwater world. Both islands have local vendors for drinks and unsophisticated food, and sun loungers and umbrellas are available for rent. It's best to spend one day on each of the islands if the goal is not to rush but to enjoy peace and serenity in the equatorial waters of the Indian Ocean. But you can also combine visits to both islands - in one day to look at the shores of both Bongoyo and Mboudia.

Unfortunately, frequent visits to these tiny islands by tourists deplete the resources of the conservation areas, and the excessive activity of fishers reduces the population of fish living here. All of this affects the flora and fauna of the marine reserves negatively. But this impact of human activity is apparent in almost all of Tanzania's conservation areas. We hope very much that the local ecosystems can be restored by joint effort and that our children will inherit a world of fauna and flora that is still full of diversity.

Recreation with Children

For travelers with children, Dar has several kinds of family recreation in stock. Below are some of the places in the city that may be of interest to small kids.   

First of all, these are the Water World and Kunduchi Wet "N" Wild Water Park. The youngest guests of Dar es Sallam will find a load of water amusements there, such as pools and waterslides of many kinds. These places are bright, colorful, and jolly – just the thing for kids. Dear parents, please look up the attendance rules on Google in advance (i.e., child’s height, acceptable attire, etc.), and consider googling the charge capacity acceptable for you; otherwise, be aware of too many children. It is a place quite favored by the city dwellers for holding children’s birthdays and arranging overall recreation for kids.     

Children can look at the animals and learn more about their habits in the large Dar Es Salaam Zoo. It is a bit far off, on the city's southern outskirts, but small children will definitely find it interesting. The zoo contains several dozen species of wild and domestic animals.

In the northern part of the city, there is the Bahari Zoo. It is much more modest, and adults will almost certainly feel sorry for the animals contained here. But perhaps this is an optional part of the program for those who can't afford a trip to a real nature reserve or a national park.

Shopping in Dar

Finally, let's discuss what you should buy in the local stores and souvenir shops to have a nice memory of Dar es Salaam.

Fish or seafood in the local fish market is not likely to be brought home, but buying a curious trinket in the Kariakoo market is more realistic. More so, if you pay attention not only to trinkets but the things that will stay with you for a long time, such as a bright piece of clothing.

The best and definitely the most relevant gift for yourself or someone you love will be a piece of tanzanite, a mineral mined only in Tanzania. This beautiful mineral is of blue hues, from sapphire-blue to ultramarine blue and sometimes purple. One can buy individual stones as a keepsake, as well as finished jewelry pieces with the minerals for gems. In case of poor understanding of what a jeweler’s tanzanite looks like, please look up Tiffany collections with those stones on Google, or search the Web for the pics of Elizabeth Taylor, the Cleopatra of Hollywood. She adored the jewelry and was all in favor of tanzanite once it had been discovered in the 1960s. Tanzanite, when deftly faceted, and then worn by girls, has an exquisitely simple and elegant look.

Tanzanite, a hallmark of the country
Tanzanite, a hallmark of the country

Another exceptionally successful piece to be purchased in Dar es Salaam would be a painting in the Tinga Tinga style. You will surely recognize this style even if you haven't heard the word for it before. Tinga Tinga is derived from the last name of a popular Tanzanian artist of the 1960s (his full name was Edward Saidi Tingatinga), who began painting for his soul’s sake at the age of 36 rather than after attending an art school. He painted simple African landscapes or animals in a style close to naive on square canvases and on house walls. His were always flat images, made in enamel used to coat bicycles and cars, in bright colors and depicting as simple the subjects as it was possible.

A Tinga Tinga style painting
A Tinga Tinga style painting

The Europeans who lived in Dar es Salaam at that time paid attention to the distinctive artist and began to buy his works and arrange exhibitions. Shortly after, Tingatinga's life ended tragically, but his friends and followers developed the artist's original style, which became famous by his name. Now it is a very popular direction in contemporary art, known far beyond the borders of Swahili culture and even all of Africa.

Buy a colorful painting made in the Tinga Tinga style by a contemporary artist from Dar es Salaam, and it will be recognized as a sign of good taste among tourists looking for an opportunity to touch the culture of Tanzania and contribute to its development. You can find interesting pieces in the gallery of the local Tinga Tinga Arts Cooperative Society, located in the heart of the Oyster Bay neighborhood.

A Glimpse into History of Dar es Salaam

Strictly, this could be the end of the story about Dar es Salaam, but the picture would not be complete without at least a brief dive into the city's history. In addition, it is now even more interesting to know what causes Dar to be not only the most populous city in Tanzania and all of East Africa but also one of the fastest-growing cities in Africa and the world. 

The Heart of Swahili Coast  

Dar es Salaam lies in the heart of the Swahili Coast (even if we look at it as broadly as possible and include the southern coast of the continent and part of the coast of the Arabian Peninsula). The main activity here was trade. This is only logical since there have always been sea trade routes along the eastern coast of Africa. The northern territory of the East African coast is part of the maritime Silk Road.

Trade relations with Arabs and Asians strongly influenced the Swahili culture in many different aspects: language development, the rapid growth of education, access to many vital resources through trade, extreme wealth for local elites, borrowing of religious practices, and new types of craftsmanship. These phenomena rapidly developed among the Swahili Coast peoples giving them a tremendous advantage over the continental African population, which traditionally continued to live a tribal way of life and engage in hunting, cattle breeding, and farming. The coastal peoples put themselves above the continental Africans, considering the latter to be uncultured (which explains well the participation of the Swahili peoples in the slave trade with "their fellows," i.e., Africans from the inland).

The greatest influence on Swahili culture was that of the Arab world, which greatly enriched the local language and brought Islam along. Thanks to excavations in ancient Swahili towns, we know that stone mosques were built here as early as the 8th  century AD. The influence of Indian and Persian cultures is noticeable, and the fact of the influence of German culture and later the British culture (colonial period) is undeniable.

Fishers at the Dar es Salaam city coastline
Fishers at the Dar es Salaam city coastline

City Founding and Colonial Capital  

Until the middle of the 19th century, a small fishers’ village of Mzizima ("Healthy Town") stood by the bay that now surrounds the metropolis. In parallel, on the neighboring island of Zanzibar, there was a struggle for liberation from Oman, which succeeded in the 1850s. After wresting Zanzibar from the clutches of the Omani Empire and becoming its first sultan, the ruler Majid ibn Said decided to strengthen his position and build a city on the coast of Africa. Thus a new city called “Harbor of Peace” or “House of Peace” appeared under the name of Dar es Salaam.

The rapid development of the city as an important port as well as a starting point for the new Tanganyika Railroad was greatly influenced by the German Empire, which from 1884 began to colonize East Africa.  Following the defeat in World War I, Germany ceded the territory of its colony to Britain and Belgium. Thus, Dar es Salaam came under the British influence, becoming the capital of Tanganyika, considered after World War I as a League of Nations Mandate Territory and after World War II as a UN Trust Territory.

A large number of people came to the city during British rule from British India, as well as from Britain itself and partly from other parts of Europe. Most of them settled in the Oyster Bay area (aka Coco Beach, where the city's best beach, Coco Beach, is located). That is what made the area the most Europeanized and furthermore,  attractive to tourists.

Oyster Bay
Oyster Bay

The Capital of Independent Tanzania  

After World War II, the city started to grow rapidly, and when Tanganyika gained independence and was soon united with Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam began a new growth spurt, becoming the capital of the United Republic of Tanzania. The city slowed down its development a tad during the period of the socialist experiment (the ujamaa of Julius Nyerere), as the government encouraged people to stay on their land and farm together. The era of rural lifestyle had definitively passed, which is true about our world on a global scale; so, the Ujamaa was forgotten in the 1980s, and the coast was flooded with young people in search of a better life.

In the 1990s, another attempt was made to balance the overpopulated Dar es Salaam and the emptying center of mainland Tanzania: in 1996, the capital was officially relocated to the city of Dodoma. Virtually all government offices, embassies, and businesses refused to move to the underdeveloped city and remained by the Indian Ocean coast. Thirty years later, we can see that Dar remains the most developed city in the country and the de facto capital in terms of culture, economy, and even politics.

Dar es Salaam, a Universal Hot Spot

The megalopolis’ rapid development is best evidenced by the Tanzanian National Bureau of Statistics’ report:

  • in 2002, Dar’s population was 2,487,288 people;
  • in 2012, it amounted to 4,364,521 people;
  • in 2020 (preliminary calculations are outdated since there was no new census), this number reached 5,401,814 people (but we already know from indirect data that reality is far ahead of projections - according to the UN, in 2020, the city had 6,702,000 people).
Panoramic view of Dar es Salaam
Panoramic view of Dar es Salaam

In all likelihood, Dar es Salaam will remain the most populous city in East Africa, at least until the middle of the 21st century. It means further rapid development of all infrastructure - Dar authorities have a bulk of development plans, which are already successfully implemented). The city is going to become even more attractive and convenient for tourists because Tanzania lives by tourism, investing in this industry.

All indications are that Dar is surely worth visiting on a Tanzania holiday, particularly if you plan to head for the nearby Zanzibar resorts. The 21st century is going to change Africa beyond recognition, and it's already happening. So it looks like a trip to the Capital of the Swahili Coast should definitely get a move on

Revised on 03 June 2022
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