Do Dar es Salaam
Dar es Salaam may not be awash with activities but quick getaways to islands, mountains and game reserves are just a stone’s throw away.
The Short List
- See the real side of “Bongo”
- Help hawksbill hatchlings
- Peruse the farmers’ market
- Learn to kitesurf
- Explore the Southern Circuit
- Swim with giants
- Work on your tan lines
See the real side of “Bongo”
Dar es Salaam’s often not-so-affectionate nickname is in reference to the use of one’s wits to survive the gritty, urban center. The daily, fast-paced hustle that is “Bongo” is largely absent in the areas where foreigners frequent, but tours through local neighborhoods can be organized with a number of companies. Afri Roots arranges guided bike, bajaji and walking tours focusing on the local, entrepreneurial-side of the city. The company is African owned and run, and organizes a number of additional bike tours and safaris throughout Tanzania. Kiroyera Tours also organizes a number of full and half-day tours of Dar, although it worth noting the sparse feedback on their newer Dar city tours.
Want to see more of Dar? See Afri Roots’s Dar Reality Cycle Tour in photos.
A trip to a local market is another way to experience a taste of local life. Kariakoo is the largest and includes a covered, concrete bazaar bearing its name and blocks of small dukas (shops), roadside pop-up vendors and hawkers carrying everything from mihogo (cassava) to buckets on their heads. Similar products are clustered together and it takes a familiar shopper to know where to go for something specific.
Kivukoni Fish Market, next to the Kigamboni Ferry Terminal, is the largest fish market in Dar and another popular excursion. There is a smaller fish market is on the Msasani Peninsula (down the same road as the Cape Town Fish Market restaurant) for an alternative, and less crowded, peek. Market trips are a DIY excursion that can be arranged with a reliable taxi driver willing to drive through the often impassible streets and wait for, or accompany, you in the area. (Bajajis are not allowed in Kariakoo.) Dress appropriately (read: plainly and fully covered) and carry nothing of value.
See Know Dar es Salaam for more about dress and safety.
Help hawksbill hatchlings
The critically endangered hawksbill turtle nest in the southern beaches of Dar es Salaam and eco-tourism is a recent initiative aimed at saving these beautiful creatures. The non-governmental organization Sea Sense and safari company Authentic Tanzania offer excursions to help hawksbill hatchlings journey safely from sand to sea. The half-day experience includes transport from Masaki, a private guide and snacks. Forty-percent of all proceeds go directly to fund Sea Sense’s turtle conversation programs. Details on prices and how to sign-up can be found on the Authentic Tanzania website.
Peruse the farmers’ market
The Oysterbay Farmers Market is a joint World Food Programme-CEFA endeavor to promote locally grown produce and products in Tanzania. Once a month agriculturalists and other small, Tanzanian-based producers sell goods ranging from Iringa cheeses and Kilimanjaro coffees to moringa powder and hand-pressed coconut oils. The market, held the last Saturday of every month in the Oysterbay Shopping Center, is one of the only opportunities to taste, test and purchase a wide variety of natural products in one venue.
Learn to kitesurf
Tanzania is a warm water destination for kitesurfers and the eastern coasts of mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar are seeing more and more colorful kites launched every year. The small fishing village of Paje on Zanzibar is the favorite for seasoned boarders and learners alike, but there are a number of kitesurfing spots in Dar, particularly if you have your own gear. Kunduchi Kite School is the only center in Dar that offers IKO courses, in addition to equipment rentals. Lessons are tide and wind dependent, and the school is only open a few months a year.
Interested in Paje? See The Eastern Jewel of Zanzibar for more.
Explore the Southern Circuit
The national parks of Mikumi, Ruaha and the Selous Game Reserve are Tanzania’s lesser-known wilderness areas known as the Southern Circuit. Thanks to low visitor traffic, the experience with wildlife in any of these parks is extraordinarily intimate and – considering that Ruaha is Tanzania’s largest national park and Selous the largest game reserve in Africa – uniquely private. Weekend safaris and longer trips can be easily arranged from Dar in advance or upon arrival. All three parks are accessible by small plane or car, but most will drive to Mikumi and fly to Selous and Ruaha. (Worth noting, the latter two are also among the few places in the world to spot the African wild dog.) Book with companies that are based and operated in Tanzania, like Afri Roots or Authentic Tanzania, rather than companies that organize safaris from abroad. Advertising Dar is a good resource for finding local safari companies, many of which will publish safari deals in the weekly paper. The flying safari company Coastal Aviation also organizes trips (including last minute deals) to the Southern Circuit in addition to being the go-to company for flights within Tanzania.
For more Southern Circuit see Mikumi National Park in photos.
The Udzungwa Mountains National Park is also considered part of the Southern Circuit and is a bit of hiking paradise. The park is accessible by car and has a limited number of lodges. Accommodations and tours can be found through Advertising Dar or online.
Swim with giants
Every year between the months of October and March whale sharks surface off the shores of the Zanzibar archipelago to feed on the plankton rich waters of Mafia Island. It is pure magic to swim with these solitary, gentle giants and all resorts on Mafia will organize trips to observe or snorkel with these magnificent fish.
Support the Whale Shark Migration Project by booking a responsible whale shark encounter with Kitu Kiblu.
Work on your tan lines
Dar es Salaam is bordered by the warm, clear waters of the Indian Ocean and there are a number of white sand beaches ideal for spending hours in the sun.
Coco and Bongoyo
Coco Beach and Bongoyo Island are the easiest to access from Msasani Peninsula. The former is on the peninsula and a popular choice for locals, particularly on the weekends. Most foreigners who venture to Coco Beach do so to (kite)surf and SUP (with their own gear), or enjoy a few beers at the local bar around dusk.
Bongoyo Island is an uninhabited marine reserve (although the term should be loosely interpreted) a short trip by traditional wooden boat from the dock at The Slipway. Departures follow a schedule and the ride can be rough, particularly when the tides are turning. Boat traffic and strong tides have washed away much of Bongoyo’s beach but a trip to the island is still a nice reprieve from the scorching, Tanzanian sun. Bandas (roofed huts) are limited but there is a small makuti (thatched roof) restaurant on island serving somewhat cold beers and fried food. There is also a small hiking trail to the end of the island. Hire a “guide” at the restaurant. Although the trail is easily navigable thieves do target foreigners walking on their own.
Kunduchi and Mbduya
North of the peninsula, the beach at the Kunduchi Beach Hotel and Resort is a stretch of tidal sand about a 35-minute drive away (without traffic). The beach is open to the public and is a favorite among the kite surfing crowd. Non-guests pay a fee (around 10,000 Tshs, cash) to use the beach. Bandas, cocktails and food service are available and Kunduchi Kite School offers kite lessons seasonally. The beach is typically packed on the weekends but virtually empty on weekdays.
East of Kunduchi, Mbudya Island is another uninhabited marine reserve. The “official” island boat leaves regularly from Hotel White Sands but boats can be organized from Jangwani Sea Breeze and The Slipway. Compared to Bongoyo, the beach on Mbudya is larger and better preserved, with more bandas, chairs and hammocks. Lucky visitors can even catch a glimpse of the largest land-living arthropod in the world, the coconut crab. An on island restaurant serves fried seafood and chipsi (french fries) but do not go hungry; preparation can easily take an hour or more.
Referred to as South Beach, Kigamboni is a coastal sub-district of Dar es Salaam known for its seemingly endless strip of white sand. The beaches are considered the best in Dar and a trip to South Beach is typically an all- or multi-day affair. The closest beaches, like Kijiji just over the Kurasini Creek separating Kigamboni from downtown Dar, are roughly an hour and half from Masaki. The more secluded beaches, like Kidagaa Beach, are more than two hours away.
Kijiji Beach, Sunrise Beach Resort and Kipepeo Beach are among the beach hotels nearest to the ferry. Live music is common on weekends and non-guests can access the beach for a fee. A number of water-related excursions and activities can also be booked including day trips to nearby Sinda Island. Ras Kutani, Protea Hotel Amani Beach, Kasa Beach Hideaway, Siri Yetu Villas and Lighthouse Beach Lodge are among the more secluded beach cottages and hotels. Spend at least a night if making the trip this far south.
Regardless of where you sunbathe, avoid bringing anything of value with you. While most beaches have some sort of “security” guards have been known to “disappear” when bags have gone missing.
See Know Dar es Salaam for more on getting to Kigamboni being safe in Dar.
Although they may be on sightseeing lists, reconsider the following activities during your visit to Dar es Salaam… Especially if you are crunched for time.
The few museums in Dar are in desperate need of repair and, despite best efforts, leave many a traveler disappointed or underwhelmed. Reconsider a trip to the Village or National Museum for a city tour with Afri Roots instead.
Once the capital of German East Africa, Bagaomoyo is a historical town roughly 65 km (40 mi) northwest of Dar es Salaam. The town comes “alive” every year for the annual Bagamoyo Festival of Arts and Culture but is otherwise sleepy with (severely) limited accommodation, restaurants and activities. Consider getting your cultural fix in Stone Town instead. Or, forego the history entirely for a long weekend on Lazy Lagoon just southeast of Bagamoyo… We won’t tell!
Last updated April 2018.