Travel Diary: Getting More Than Our Fair Share of Big City Life in Dar es Salaam

Dar es Salaam skyline

Hot, loud, dirty, polluted, crowded and extremely chaotic. It’s safe to say that Dar es Salaam didn’t steal my heart – far from it. After that introduction it might sound surprising that I’m still glad I went. For me, it felt really important to see more of Tanzania than just pretty national parks and instagrammable tropical islands. Dar es Salaam might be far from picturesque, but it’s a fascinating place with citizens from all over the world and it’s also Tanzania’s commercial hub. Here’s a post about our stay in Dar!

From Island Vibes to Big City Life

Visiting Dar es Salaam
Fumes, traffic, noise and chaos. Dar es Salaam seemed to have everything I don’t like about cities times a hundred.

I’m not going to lie. My first impression of Dar es Salaam wasn’t good. After spending weeks in beautiful natural paradises as far away from cities as possible it was a bit of a shock arriving in this gigantic metropolis.

With around 4,3 million inhabitants Dar es Salaam is East Africa’s largest city and the seventh largest in Africa. It’s not laid-back, it’s not easy-going and it’s not friendly or welcoming.

Busy is an understatement. There are crowds everywhere, crazy traffic jams, horns honking, people shouting at you and that general chaotic feeling of a huge city.

No matter where you look someone is selling something. Fruits and food, children’s toys, shoes, chargers – I even saw a guy running alongside two businessmen trying to sell them ties. And sometimes they’re not even selling anything, just demanding money (but I guess this only happens if you look like a tourist).

City of Contrasts

Visiting Dar es Salaam

Although crazy and chaotic, Dar also proved to be fascinating. Dar es Salaam is Tanzania’s commercial hub. It has East Africa’s second largest port and it’s an enormous and fast-growing city.

As a result Dar’s citizens come from all over the world and the city is an interesting mix of different cultures. This can be appreciated for example in the city’s wide array of restaurants offering international cuisine. The impact of different culture can also be seen for example in Dar’s architecture – you’ll find African, Arab, Indian and European influences.

It’s also a city of contrast.

High skyscrapers tower over traditional markets. Businessmen hurry past beggars and the street fashion ranges from burkhas and saris to the latest Western fashion.

In a city like Dar you never know what you’ll see next. One of the most random things I saw was a woman balancing 48 eggs on her head whilst dodging tuk-tuks, expensive cars and jam-packed dala dalas! And in every street corner there are people selling stamps. What’s up with that? I still haven’t figured out why.

Budget Living and Bugs

Kisutu market in Dar es Salaam
Kisutu Market was located right by our hotel. It’s worth visiting if you’re in the neighbourhood.

After having travelled fairly comfortably for the first part of our Tanzania trip, my brother and I had agreed on sticking to a tight budget for the rest of our trip. With plenty of choices regarding accommodation and restaurants, Dar es Salaam seemed a good place to try to save a few bucks.

We tried to find accommodation that would be as cheap as possible, yet still with a good location close to the main attractions and in a relatively safe area. We opted for Safari Inn, nestled in between the Mchafukoge and Kisutu quarters.

For 20 euros a night we got two beds, bathroom, wifi and that much missed air conditioning as well as a light breakfast. It felt like quite a good deal within that price range, although service was what it was at times.

As expected there were bugs in our budget room, but turns out there were other bugs present as well. I’d caught some kind of a stomach bug on Mafia Island and wasn’t feeling too great.

Learning About Human Evolution

The National Museum of Tanzania in Dar es Salaam
For 6500 TZS, the entrance to the National Museum of Tanzania is definitely worth the price.

Braving whatever stomach bug I had, we decided to make the most of our stay and explore the city. As we’d missed the museum in Ngorongoro Conservation Area I was really keen on visiting the National Museum of Tanzania, located in Kivukoni district.

Good thing we did  –this became one of my absolute highlights in Dar es Salaam! The museum has a great exhibition about the evolution of mankind, including fossilised skulls and pre-historic tools.

Laetoli footprints National Museum of Tanzania
The National Museum has a cast of the Laetoli footprints. These footprints, found in Ngorongoro, prove that man walked upright as early as 3,6 million years ago.

A Different Perspective

Taking the ferry over to Kigamboni costs only 200 TZS (like 0,80 euros) and you’ll have nice views of Dar’s skyline.

After visiting the museum we also checked out the Botanical Garden. In case you ever visit – the man who seems friendly and comes to chat with you will expect money. The harsh reality in Dar is that everyone just seems to be after your money. It gets kind of exhausting and eventually you just keep your guard up all the time.

To see the city from another point of view we decided to take the ferry over to Kigamboni. It also allowed us to catch a nice cooling breeze (Dar is insanely hot!).

Why Visit Dar es Salaam?

Dar es Salaam

I’m definitely not a city girl and I prefer being surrounded by nature over skyscrapers, concrete and fumes. Obviously I wasn’t expecting I’d fall in love with Dar es Salaam.

So why head somewhere I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like? Tanzania is more than just beautiful national parks, safaris and Zanzibar. Most travellers only see this side of this incredibly diverse country. While that’s perhaps understandable if you only have two weeks, spending over a month in Tanzania and not getting to know a city somehow just felt wrong, almost arrogant.

Although the experience was far from enjoyable, I’m really glad I went and got to know this side of Tanzania as well. It’s all about trying to really get to know a country, not just the touristy spots or the most beautiful places.


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