A Double Visit to Dar es Salaam (Or, a Zanzibar Sandwich)

We received no shortage of warnings about Dar es Salaam. Like Johannesburg (and many other large African cities), it has something of an unsavory reputation, at least amongst travelers. The warnings we had received in advance of our trip to Jo’burg were largely generalized, stock warnings (“don’t carry unnecessary valuables,” “don’t walk around with a bag,” “don’t walk around at night”) – the warnings we received about Dar, however, were disturbingly specific first-person accounts: a couple who had stayed at Mayoka Village in Nkhata Bay at the same time as us had been robbed by their taxi driver; a group of Peace Corps volunteers we met in Iringa warned us about aggressive thieves at the bus station.

Consequently, we arrived in Dar es Salaam with our guards up. I’m pleased to report that we had no problems whatsoever in Dar. We walked around downtown, used taxis, and rode the pubic minibuses without having a single incident.

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Panorama of Dar es Salaam from the rooftop of the Holiday Inn.

Our visit to Dar was split in two parts (Dar I and Dar II) and sandwiched our trip to Zanzibar.1

Dar I was a short stay, less than 24 hours. We were in town just long enough to head downtown from the bus station, check into a nice hotel, have a hot shower, go out for a drink and some Thai food, and get a good, long night of sleep before setting off in the morning for the ferry to Zanzibar. (Moreover, the day of our arrival was a holiday – Saba Saba Day – so Dar was especially quiet.)2

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
View of downtown Dar es Salaam from our hotel during Dar I.

At two nights, Dar II was a slightly longer stay, although not by much. While Dar I was about positioning ourselves for the morning ferry to Zanzibar, Dar II was about visiting with one of Marc’s friends from high school who was living in Dar3 and soaking up some big city amenities before heading off into Tanzania’s interior.4

On the afternoon that we returned from Zanzibar for Dar II, Marc’s friend picked us up from the ferry, introduced us to another one of his friends, and took us out for a late thali lunch, followed by a cup of chai in a local tea place. Marc’s friend’s friend graciously offered to let us stay in her apartment while we were in Dar, and we used that as a base for wandering around the city. It was really nice to stay in someone’s home again, something we had not done in over two months since leaving the flat we rented in Cape Town.

Dar es Salaam doesn’t have a lot of traditional “sights.” Whenever we met people who lived in Dar and asked them what they liked to do there, the answer was uniformly “eat” – so we did plenty of that, while we planned our next moves.

Where We Stayed:

☆ Tanzanite Executive Suites. Four goats. After over a month of basic accommodation across several countries, we decided to splash out for a night in a fancy hotel. The bed here was amazing; I could have slept all day. Also, the shower was a delight. Breakfast was a little weird and the instant coffee was disappointing, but the juice they give you upon check-in nearly made up for that.

Where We Ate:

☆ Holiday Inn. The Peace Corps girls we met in Iringa (the ones who warned us to be extra cautious with our bags at the bus station) suggested we have a drink on the roof of the Holiday Inn. The suggestion sounds a little silly, but it was a fun place with a great view and tasty complimentary spicy peanuts.

Celebrating Saba Saba Day at the Holiday Inn.
Celebrating Saba Saba Day at the Holiday Inn.

☆ Sawasdee Thai Restaurant. Located in the New Africa Hotel, the food is just okay but the views over the water are amazing.

☆ Chapan Bhog. We went to this Indian place with Marc’s friend for lunch. Good, fast thali.

☆ KT Shop. The little tea counter we went with Marc’s friend, a local institution for a reason, great chai.

☆ Mamboz. Marc’s friend recommended this place for dinner, and it was fantastic. On his recommendation, we ordered the gajjar chicken, which was spicy and the best chicken we had had since Mozambique. We also had shrimps pilipili, which initially alarmed us when they arrived and were clearly meant to be eaten shell-and-all, but were delicious, and fantastic, fresh garlic naan.

☆ Subway. After a fruitless, hot walk around downtown looking for breakfast options on Sunday morning, we ended up at Subway, and I’m not even a little bit embarrassed about it. We had an egg-and-cheese sub with mugs of coffee, and it was perfect.

Subway, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Breakfast at Subway.

☆ Epi d’or Cafe. We enjoyed our lunch at this delightful outdoor Lebanese cafe (I swear my falafel had cinnamon in it, so delicious, and the fresh vegetable juice was a godsend) – not to mention the fast, free 4G wifi.

☆ Jashini. Marc’s friend and his friend took us to the typical neighborhood bar for dinner. They told us it was the sort of place that you had to be taken to, not the sort of place you could just go on your own – and they were right. It was dark and menuless, but we really enjoyed the shared plate of bbq beef, chips, and grilled bananas.

1 This makes practical sense: the ferry to Zanzibar leaves from Dar es Salaam.
2 “Saba” means “seven” in Swahili. Saba Saba Day is celebrated each year on July 7th.
3 For those not keeping count, this was the fourth time we had met up with friends from home during our adventures in Africa. While the first meet-up, in Maputo, was premeditated, we have Facebook to thank for the last three – with friends who, unbeknownst to us, were already in Africa reaching out to us after seeing one of our travel posts.
4 With a population of over 4 million people, Dar was the largest city we had seen since leaving South Africa.

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