If you’re like most travelers and are planning a trip to Tanzania, chances are that you will at least once use Dar Es Salaam airport, the Julius K. Nyerere International Airport. That’s where the similarities with mainstream tourism should end, though, as most people don’t even leave the airport and jump straight onto their next flight.
Whether your plan is to head north towards a once-in-a-lifetime safari experience or across the sea to sunbathe in Zanzibar, we encourage you to invest some time into exploring Dar Es Salaam.
In exchange for extending the time between your flights, you will enjoy an enchanting harbor, relax on stunning beaches, and explore lively markets. Not to mention the vibrant atmosphere of a city that blends traits of African, Muslim, and South Asian cultures. Not bad, right? Keep reading for our top list of things to do in Dar Es Salaam.
1. Get Yourself a Bargain
Need the ultimate souvenir? Are you always on the lookout for local art pieces? Or maybe you just want some freshly-caught fish for tonight’s barbecue? You’re in luck because Dar Es Salaam is home to a plethora of markets for your shopping.
Kariakoo market is a great place to start for a true Tanzanian shopping experience. It’s one of the largest markets in town and many locals’ go-to place for their purchases. Take your time browsing several shops and don’t be afraid to compare the merchandise: bargaining is a must!
If you appreciate art and culture, you can’t miss the Mwenge Carvers’ Market. Here you can see the local artists in action and buy stunning crafts for a fraction of the price. And if you fall in love with a specific style or pattern, you can even ask them to custom-make your own unique artwork.
There is nothing quite like the buzz of a busy fish market in the morning. Be an early bird and show up at the Dar fish market at around 6:30 AM to score the best catch of the day. And even if you don’t end up buying the goodies, the morning fish auctions are a show worth the early rise.
2. No Sweat, We’ve Got Water
It’s not rare for the temperature in Dar Es Salaam to reach 86°F — pleasant for a pool day but not the best for walking around the city center. Fortunately, taking a swim in the Indian Ocean is one of the perks of visiting Dar Es Salaam.
Although urban beaches are not ideal to get in the water, there are plenty of idyllic seaside destinations just a short ride away. If your idea of paradise is a tropical beach with white sand, palm trees, and warm waters, then South Beach is the place for you. Before driving there or getting on a dala dala minibus, you’ll have to cross to the Kingamboni side of Dar Es Salaam by ferry. Take in the view and enjoy the ride!
If instead, the beach means music and party to you, the famous Coco Beach (also called Oyster Bay) deserves to be checked out. Head there during the weekend and join local Tanzanians and Asians who gather to socialize and enjoy live music concerts, parties, and street food stands.
3. Breathe the Culture In
Dar Es Salaam is a cosmopolitan city with much history and culture to offer. The different traditions coexisting in its streets turn an unassuming walk downtown into an interesting experience.
Create your own itinerary or sign up for one of the many history walks running every day in the city center. Make sure to visit Temple Road, a street hosting a number of religious temples of different faiths. You will have the chance to explore the temples and get an idea of the many realities making up Dar Es Salaam.
A must-see to understand tribal Tanzania is the Village Museum. Visit traditional huts and learn about different tribes and their lifestyle. Ask for a live dance and drum performance — it only costs a small extra fee on your ticket.
The national museum has a more classic approach to historical divulgation, with interesting archaeological exhibits, fossils, and reads on the past of the country.
If you can spare the time for a day trip, the Swahili town of Bagamoyo will not make you regret it. An ancient East African trade port, Bagamoyo is just north of Dar Es Salaam and will make you fall in love with its unique atmosphere — the result of centuries of Arab and Indian influence. Take your time discovering its ancient ruins, churches, and mosques.
Finally, if you fall in love with Tanzania — we have no doubts you will! — and are interested in humanitarian work, keep in mind that Dar Es Salaam is home to most international NGOs’ headquarters and the ideal place to look for volunteer opportunities.
Ready for your Tanzanian adventure? Get your Tanzanian visa, pack your bags, and start exploring!