“Maisha marefu!” Here’s to a long life. We toast with icy glasses of pressed sugarcane juice spiked with fresh ginger on the pavement outside Mamboz Corner BBQ (3 Libya Street, +255 683 626 269). It’s a balmy evening in Dar es Salaam, and the charcoal grills are packed with sizzling chicken and nyama choma (the ubiquitous local barbeque) basted in a spicy marinade. Vendors park their carts adjacent to our table, selling ripe mangoes, watermelon wedges and pineapple chunks from Bagamoyo.
Our friends suggest we try the tandoori chicken and masala chips, evidence of the decades of cultural mingling and trade exchange in Tanzania. Beyond the notorious traffic jams, skyscrapers and peninsula with imposing homes and private schools that serve the large expat community, Dar, as the city is affectionately called, is back roads that weave around vibrant communities,
side-street fruit and coffee vendors, outdoor music venues and polite voices saying “Karibu” to strangers. Commonly a layover for tourists going on safari or to the beaches of Zanzibar, Dar is fascinatingly complex. These are my picks for 48 hours in the city.
UNDERSTANDING THE CITY
Mejah Mbuya, the founder of Afriroots, a tour and community upliftment organisation, says Dar is a “dynamic city representative of most of the culture in Tanzania”. “There’s a lot to see, but Dar has been underestimated for a while,” he says. An African Development Bank report expects the population of almost 5 million to grow by 85% in 2025, leaping into “megacity” status by the early 2030s.
The once stagnant port city, called the House of Peace, is under-going rapid urbanisation. Transitioning from the late Julius Nyerere’s failed system of African socialism in the 1970s, Dar, on the Swahili coast, remains a product of its mercantile and slave trade years, and the economic and social heart of the new Tanzania.
Catch a dala dala (minibus taxi), baijaj (tuk tuk) or cab south of Samora Avenue to the Kivukoni waterfront along the harbour. Walk along the shaded paths flanked by imposing government buildings, many from the colonial period. Pause at the Azania Front Lutheran Church and the St Joseph’s Cathedral. Then, head up to the National Museum and House of Culture (houseofculture.or.tz) and lunch at the no-frills Patel Brotherhood, serving authentic Gujarati meals (Patel Samaj, off Maktaba St).
To party with the locals, book an ever-changing Dar By Night tour with AfriRoots that covers a slice of nightlife across demographics. Dance to hip-hop beats
with music students and artists at the Alliance Français and sip beers while dissecting the country’s political situation at Samaki Samaki (samakisamaki.co.tz) a small chain run by a Swahili-speaking, eye-patch wearing Spaniard, where expats and high-income earning locals hang out. Close the night in the wee hours at a “backyard” club in Tandale, a low-income suburb. Here the rhythm of the popular Twanga Pepeta band (African Stars) vibrates though the open yard and you can dance or sit it out, admiring the energetic on-stage performers.
After a late breakfast, visit the much-loved Msasani Slipway Market, which sells designer clothes, beauty products and homeware (Green Room: thegreenroomtz.com), premium local coffee blends (Msumbi Coffee: msumbi.com) and artisan chocolate (Choco Mama: chocolatemamas.com). If you stay until the late afternoon, the Terrace Restaurant and Bar (Msasani Slipway, +255 755 706 838) is where Dar gathers to welcome the sunset.
Poolside cocktails, live DJs and a sophisticated MTV Base vibe are served up here. If you have a little more energy, start the day at the sprawling Kariakoo market, offering everything from vegetables to kanga and kitinga fabrics and
handmade crafts. If crowds and chaos aren’t your bag, you’ll have to steel yourself – but it really is worth it. For dinner, book a table at Alcove Restaurant (alcovetz.com) at the historic Sea Cliff Hotel, which serves Indian and Chinese fare with nice crockery, views and service.
Embrace the day with an early-morning visit to the fisherman’s market, off Ocean Road, and watch as the fresh catch is auctioned to restaurants and housewives. There’s a section serving freshly fried fish too. To better understand the city, embark on a tour that covers the architecture and political history or one that touches on modern-day life, where you can interact with locals (AfriRoots runs both).
The latter will have you walking or cycling (70% of locals walk or cycle as a means of transport) through the side streets, chatting to coffee sellers plying tiny cups of cardamom-infused kahwa, herbalists, second-hand clothes merchants and street food vendors. After a walk down Mosque Street, join the patrons who fill the old diners that haven’t changed much over the years, like Chef’s Pride (Chagga St, +255 222 134 491) serving inexpensive Swahili and local food like briyani, pilau rice and coconut fish. Book a table before sunset at Akemi, an upmarket revolving restaurant for drinks and dinner (akemidining.com).
Sea Cliff Hotel: hotelseacliff.com