What do you do with twenty-four hours to kill in Dar es Salaam? The pseudo capital of Tanzania doesn’t normally feature on the tourist trail other than an entry, exit or transit point, a small blip on the itinerary in between safaris, summiting and sunbathing. It’s a dirty, hot, humid, chaotic conurbation; one of the world’s fastest growing cities. But behind this facade what does the metropolis offer the stranger on a layover? I’ve taken on this challenge many many times, so here are just a few suggestions of how to turn Dar es Salaam into a highlight of your trip.
The peninsula just north-east of the city centre is an expat enclave where there are plenty of activities all close by and easily accessible. A short ferry ride away, Bongoyo island is a jewel in the ocean. This white sand and turquoise sea oasis provides a welcome break from the muggy weather. It’s a pretty sweet spot to relax in the shade, swim in the bath temperature water and relish the freshest seafood you can imagine. Depending on the catch of the day, the lobster is the outstanding choice for lunch, two straight out of the ocean plus a portion of chips for around £10. Delish.
The snorkeling off the island is pretty fine too. Bongoyo’s waters offer a good selection of fish, rays, eels, and squid, as well as a shipwreck to dive down and around. Back on shore, the giant coconut crabs make you feel like you have landed in Gulliver’s Travels.
It’s the kind of place where you go with great intentions to catch up with some reading or plan more of your travels but end up lulled into a restorative afternoon nap. Life’s a beach!
As the return boat drops off at the Slipway commercial complex, it is a great excuse to pick up a truly unique souvenir. Tanzanite is a gemstone that is named after the only country where it is found and has a really neat blue-violet hue. One of the Slipway stores, URU, has made some stunning jewellery from rough cut Tanzanite stones which have featured in high-end fashion magazines and on international runways. Inspired by the local methods of weaving bracelets and using the old-fashioned explorer techniques to find the gems, URU is at the forefront of East African style.
After all that shopping and looking fabulous, it’s necessary to indulge in a spectacular seafront sunset whilst enjoying a cold drink. There are a couple of places at Slipway that ticks all those boxes, but the most simple and relaxed place is along the concrete jetty to the small shack next to where the ferry leaves. This laid-back joint consists of a few plastic tables and chairs, a hut with a waitress, a radio, and a fridge full of beverages. And a view like this:
One of the most inventive and interesting restaurants in Dar es Salaam is the Kind Earth Eatery. It can be challenging to consistently find ingredients in this African metropolis, but despite this problem, the creative forces behind this diner manage to pull some special dishes out of the bag. A mecca for vegetarians, vegans, and gluten intolerant people, Kind Earth has also managed to convert some hungry carnivores into plant lovers! With cashew nut cheesecakes, mock lobster salad and lentil nut loaf you won’t be disappointed.
Triniti is a popping bar run by three sisters who share Dutch and Tanzania heritage. Their joint also serves up a meat feast of giant steaks, chunky kebabs, soft fish skewers and daily specials, along with the most kick-ass chili sauce that side of the equator. The dynamic establishment hosts special events, from educating presentational talk evenings, to big sports events screenings and regular trivia nights. However, on Friday’s Triniti is the hottest late night destination for anyone looking for a bit of a boogie. The crowd is usually a mixture of more affluent Tanzanians, visiting short-term foreign volunteers and expat residents. They all have one thing in common – they love a great atmosphere to meet new people, have a few drinks and maybe catch the rhythmic fever to show off their most mesmeric moves. Luckily there is a dance floor where live bands and DJ’s fill the floor with anything from western R&B to afro house mashed up with the local Swahili music known as ‘bongo flava’.
If you need a break from busting out the robot or slamming down some shimmies there is a candlelit garden area with table service, which is one of the best ideas ever. And when everything gets a bit too much, Triniti is also conveniently a guesthouse!
Triniti’s Fish Mishkaki (skewers)
After a little lie in it’s a good idea to gently awaken the mind, body, and soul. Begin the day with a visual feast at the Vijana Vipaji Foundation’s gallery, a cute space that hosts exhibitions from both the local art community and neighbouring countries. The talent is evident, with lots of styles to choose from the works are influenced by traditional customs, rural scenes and, of course, use lot of colour. One of the popular painters is Salum Kambi, whose abstract style eloquently captures so many typical Dar es Salaam moments perfectly, from calm beach views to the energy of in-flight birds:
On the other side of the Vijana Vipaji Foundation building, Makuti Dar is bursting with a selection of fresh smoothies and brunch options to help jump-start the body. And if that fails, there is a giant trampoline! They have tummy pleasing wraps, scintillating salads, banging burgers, hangover-curing filled baguettes and moreish rice bowls. It’s a nice, restorative pit-stop before leaving the leafy peninsular suburb of Dar es Salaam behind.
Despite all of its brashness, Dar es Salaam can be charming to those who decide to stay, even if it is just for a little while. There’s far more to this mushrooming town than meets the eye, and a day only allows for a peek at what’s on offer. As the locals often remind you, “karibu tena”, which means sincerely, you are welcome back.