If you find yourself with some free time to explore Dar Es Salaam and are wondering what to do, read on for my best Dar Es Salaam recommendations and itinerary! From visiting a nearby desert island to partying with the locals, to catching great sunsets or visiting the local markets – there is enough here to keep you occupied for a day or two that’s for sure! Karibu!
Where is Dar Es Salaam?
Dar Es Salaam is Tanzania’s largest city, located in East Africa along the Swahili coast.
What are the people in Dar Es Salaam like?
Dar has a fascinating and diverse mix of people and cultures – it is common to see traditional Maasai tribesmen in their red robes, carrying long sticks typically used to herd cattle. You will also see Tanzanians of Indian and Omani descent, as well as Africans. About one third of Tanzania is Muslim, with the majority of Muslims living along the coast, and the name Dar Es Salaam actually means ‘haven/house of peace’ in Arabic. Swahili is the official language of Tanzania, with a lot of the vocabulary actually coming from Arabic origins due to the contact with Arab traders in the past.
Things to bear in mind when visiting Dar Es Salaam
Bring insect repellant for the evening as malaria is a real risk! Also female travellers try to dress respectfully to respect the Muslim population here (and also to avoid any unwanted attention). Apart from when going to the beach or out partying of course. Click here to read more about visiting Muslim countries.
Traffic can also get pretty congested so take this into consideration when to the airport, although with the opening of the new flyover it has eased the problem significantly.
Tourist attractions in Dar Es Salaam
There is not too much to see in downtown Dar for tourists, except for The National Museum to learn about Tanzanian history and culture (6500TSH entry). Also the Village Museum is worth exploring, where you can see traditional tribal huts and tribal dances.
If you can, make it to the Kivukoni fish market in the morning (try to get there before sunrise if possible, when things start to get busy, as by 7am it’s packed already) when they bring in the fresh catch and auction and sell it off. The market is located next to the Kigamboni ferry pier for the ferry to Zanzibar. Visiting the market is a great experience but if the crowds, the loud voices and the fish smell is getting too much for you, head to the main market building and go up to the second floor for a nice view of the action below.
Best Sunset Restaurants in Dar Es Salaam
What Dar lacks in terms of tourist sights, it certainly makes up for in terms of its super sunsets, great seafood restaurants and cool nightlife! For a great evening with an unparalleled sunset view, head to Cape Town Fish Market restaurant for fresh, tasty food (there is lots of choice for non-fish lovers too), whilst watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean and listening to the live band playing. I really recommend this place, there is a lovely atmosphere here and it is busy every night!
The Waterfront is another fantastic sunset restaurant with great fresh seafood just across the water in the upscale Slipway area. Also try and make it to The Karambezi Cafe at the Sea Cliff Hotel: a great place to enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner or drinks (open from 6am til late) with again, fabulous views of the Indian Ocean.
Life is slow here on the Swahili coast, particularly in cafes and restaurants, with no rush (well, why should there be?!) so just bear this in mind if you are planning to eat something if you are clock watching (for your flight, boat etc) – always best to inform them first if so. Just enjoy the view, learn to be patient and understand other cultures’ way of doing things: this really makes travelling much more pleasant and less stressful!
Nightlife in Dar Es Salaam
If you want to see how the locals enjoy and have a good time in the evenings, get over to Buckets bar and Samaki Samaki, just across from each other on Haile Selassie Road and just a short taxi ride from the restaurants mentioned above. They are both really fun bars popular with locals, playing really good upbeat local music, as well as international chart music. They are full most nights, especially weekends, and you are guaranteed a fun, wild night at either of these places!
What to do if you just have one day in Dar Es Salaam
Whilst there are several nice beaches in Dar such as Coco Beach, these are not really advisable to swim in (nor are they regarded as the safest beaches). If you want to swim or snorkel in the sea and relax on a pretty secluded beach a world away from the hustle and bustle of Dar, head to Bongoyo Island: a beautiful uninhabited island located in the marine reserve. It is a nice easily accessible day or half day trip from Dar, only 2.5km away from the mainland (30 minutes away by boat).
How to get to Bongoyo Island
Take the boat from the pier at Slipway shopping centre. There are 4 boats per day and they depart every couple of hours starting from 09.30, and they leave promptly! The boat does only leave if there are 4 or more people though – if there’s not then you will need to pay the price of 4 people, or wait for the next boat. If you take the morning boats across, you will be ok – I went there on a Monday at 11.30 and we had about 15 people on our boat. Go during the weekdays when it is quieter, as weekends tend to get a lot busier.
Don’t be put off by the small and super low boat you will get into: you take this little boat just for a few minutes, to get to the bigger boat that is moored in deeper water, then transfer onto a bigger boat for the journey, and then again transfer the same way at the island. Enjoy the boat ride, and make sure to get photos as you come near to Bongoyo Island – the sand bar looks incredible from here.
The cost of the return journey is $20USD, and you can even camp overnight for $50 per person. The sun is strong here so hire a Banda (thatched umbrella) for just 5,000TZS ($3) for the day, relax on the beach, have some drinks and fresh seafood at the beach shack, and go swimming and look for starfish and other marine life.
What to do on Bongoyo Island
The beach is beautiful: not quite Zanzibar but still really nice! Apart from the beach where the boat drops you off at, the rest of the island is pretty much covered in forest. If you’re feeling adventurous walk the Shark’s Lagoon Trail. It’s a pleasant 1 hour round trip along a rocky trail with lots of coral. The path isn’t marked very well but it was easy enough for us to find our way round.
Shopping (buying gifts and local products) in Dar Es Salaam
If gifts and local artisan products is what you’re after, head to the Slipway shopping centre. It is a really relaxing area with some lovely boutique shops in the souk area selling local handmade products. Just behind these stores there is also a bunch of artisan market stalls along the waterfront with an amazing variety of handmade products, such friendly locals, and lower prices than in the souk. You can pick up some really cute souvenirs, paintings, dresses, bags etc – I could have spent all day here! Don’t be afraid to haggle a little if you want to get the best deals.
Another more well known market in Dar is Kariakoo market – a much larger, chaotic but exhilarating market. This market is the best place to search for great bargains, or to experience authentic local style Tanzanian shopping. As with any crowded place, be mindful of your belongings.
How to get to Zanzibar from Dar Es Salaam
If you are planning to go to Zanzibar from Dar Es Salaam, you can either fly (20 minutes flight) or take the ferry (2 hours). The ferry costs 35USD (recommended to buy the day before), however the flight can be just as cheap if you buy it in advance. There are lots of flights every day, from first thing to just before sunset. The sea can get pretty rough, so you may want to fly if you are sensitive to motion sickness, however the plane is a really small propellor plane!
You will need to catch the flight from a different terminal in Dar Es Salaam’s Julius Nyerere airport so make sure you have local money as you need to take a taxi. Please also remember if you are heading to Zanzibar to bring appropriate respectable clothing as 99% of Zanzibar is Muslim. Also if you are coming on the ferry have your passport handy too as immigration will check it!
Visa for Tanzania
Visas for Tanzania, if needed for your specific country, should be obtained before arrival. They are usually valid for 90 days. Passports should have at least 6 months validity, and you may also need to bring a Yellow Fever Certificate with you, particularly if you are entering Zanzibar. Just check on official websites for information specific to you.
Money in Tanzania
The Tanzanian shilling is the local currency of Tanzania however it is advisable to carry both Tanzanian Shilings and USD as USD is widely accepted. The cash machines often run out of cash, so just try another one if one doesn’t work, and try to always carry cash as card isn’t always accepted everywhere.
Do many tourists visit Dar Es Salaam?
People usually just fly in and straight out of Dar Es Salaam: to go on safari in the Serengeti National Park to see the ‘big five’, to climb Kilimanjaro: Africa’s tallest mountain, or to relax on the brilliant white sand beaches of Zanzibar Island. Whilst Dar Es Salaam isn’t particularly touristy, it is certainly worth spending some time here and planning at least a one day itinerary if you can! I actually liked that it wasn’t too touristy, which makes a place feel so much more authentic to me.
Is it safe in Dar Es Salaam?
During my time in Dar Es Salaam I felt safe. I was with a couple of male and female friends, however I think female solo travellers would feel safe here providing they are sensible and take precautions.
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