Things to do in Dar Es Salaam Tanzania: Located on the Swahili Coast, Dar es Salaam is the jumping off point for those traveling to Zanzibar or Pemba by ferry; while Julius Nyerere International Airport is Tanzania’s biggest port of entry. Dar es Salaam served as the country’s capital until 1974, and remains its premier center for arts and entertainment.
Dar es Salaam was the capital of Tanzania up to 1974 when it lost the status to Dodoma. It remains more influential with most of the key administrative offices in the country. The city has a population of about 6 million residents and because of that, is a commercial and industrial hub. The main charm of the city is its history and location along the Indian ocean. The architectural style in the city has heavy German, British and Asian influence.
Those that stay longer than a few hours in transit have the opportunity to discover excellent global restaurants, fascinating museums and art galleries and a collection of beautiful offshore islands. Wherever you go, the city’s cultural diversity shines through — the result of Arab, German, British and Indian influences mixing with its own Swahili heritage.
Dar-es-salaam City Location
Best Spots in Dar es Salaam
For those who want to enjoy the city to the fullest, check out the famous Kariakoo Market: the largest market in Dar es Salaam. Here, city life is in full swing and you can feel the pulse of Dar es Salaam from dawn to dusk. You can buy nearly anything you can imagine in Kariakoo – from beautiful traditional fabrics, to the latest electronics or home decor.
Kivukoni is deemed the touristic district, and you will likely stay in one of the lovely hotels located there. At the very least, you should take a stroll through this district, with its beautiful buildings and well-kept streets. Kivukoni’s largest markets are Msasani and Mzizima. By the way, Mzizima was the name of the original fishing village, where Dar es Salaam stands today.
Mzizima market (or simply Kivukoni Fish Market) is an absolute must-visit for those who love fish and seafood. It is said that you can find fish of all tastes here. And, you can buy both fresh fish and fish cooked directly at the market, too. We advise you to go to the market in the morning or in the evening when fishermen deliver their fresh catches.
For hiking enthusiasts, we recommend walking along Barack Obama Drive, which winds around Kivukoni with the white sandy shoreline is just around the corner. In the morning, you can watch the beautiful sunrise over the vast Indian Ocean from this pathway.
Also located in Kivukoni is the National Museum of Tanzania. It is considered to be the oldest and largest museum in Tanzania. We recommend starting all museum excursions and visiting the permanent/temporary exhibitions from there. You can either visit the museum and enjoy the exhibits in general, or ask for an individual program if you have something specific you are interested in.
- The National Museum and House of Culture is Tanzania’s historical museum dedicated to commemorating the human lives stolen in the slave trade, as well as recognizing the historical colonial past of Tanzania. Here you will also see examples of ancient Tanzanian culture, including ethnographic collections from various Tanzanian tribes and ancient artifacts from the former trading city, Kilwa and Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania’s north
- Village Museum: this is a permanent exhibition dedicated to the rural life of the Tanzanians (Makumbusho). It is an open-air site, which includes over 30 traditional huts of three different types – msongo, tembe, and banda. Until recently, these types of huts could be seen over the major part of Tanzania’s territory, but now, these edifices made of natural materials are only used in the hardest-to-reach and the poorest villages, where semi-tribal communities reside.
- The National Natural History Museum is located in the town of Arusha. Its permanent exhibition showcases the various archaeological and paleontological discoveries made in different parts of Tanzania, as well as various animals and plants, including regional endemics.
- The Arusha Declaration Museum is a museum of contemporary political history of Tanzania, focusing on the period following the country’s independence from Great Britain in 1967. The museum is located in the building where a historic meeting took place, during which President Julius Nyerere proclaimed and adopted the Arusha Declaration, a document outlining a course towards ujamaa, or African socialism, based on the protection of human dignity, the elimination of poverty, ignorance, and disease, collective economic activity, and reliance on domestic resources with minimal foreign capita.
- The Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere Museum is a museum dedicated to Tanzania’s first president, Julius Nyerere, and his home village of Butiama, located in the north of the country between Lake Victoria and the Serengeti National Park. The museum exhibits include personal belongings and political artifacts related to Nyerere, as well as his mausoleum, which is known as the “Mausoleum of the Father of the Nation.”
- The Maji Maji War Memorial Museum is located in the city of Songea and is dedicated to the Maji Maji Rebellion, a series of uprisings that took place between 1905 and 1907. During this time, local peasants were economically oppressed and violently suppressed by German colonizers, leading to a rebellion in which tens or even hundreds of thousands of Tanzanians died, with 67 Maji Maji heroes being publicly executed in the place where the memorial now stands.
- The Kawawa Memorial Museum is dedicated to Rashidi Mfaume Kawawa, a Tanzanian politician from the 1960s and 1970s and a deputy of Julius Nyerere, who served as the first prime minister of the country.
All of the above museums are part of a single museum complex. Some individual fragments of the exposition can be found in the Dar es Salaam National Museum, but most of the museum artifacts from points 2-7 are represented in the branches.
Of all the museums, Makumbusho (the Village Museum), is definitely worth your a visit. The tree branch huts represent a simplicity and connection to nature which is speaks to the history of rural life in Tanzania. In addition, ritual dances and other events demonstrating the tribal culture are often held on the territory of the museum and are sure to enrich your experience in Tanzania.
The National Museum of Tanzania has a gallery of modern art, and you can also see photos of images of cave paintings found not only in Tanzania, but also in other parts of Africa for an all-around experience of art and culture.
Next to the museum, there is a small botanical garden which gives a sample of some of the trees and plants typical of Tanzania. You won’t find much botanical information here, but you can take a nice walk in the shade of the sprawling palm trees and relax on the benches under the trees.
There are many small parks in and around the city for comfortable walks, as well as nature reserves such as the Pande Game Reserve and the Pugu Hills Forest Reserve. The former is right in the city, in the northern part. You can hike, bike, and explore the local butterflies and birds, as well as the plants that are abundant there. Pugu Hills Forest Reserve is a bit further, located an hour and a half drive from downtown and includes a small lake. The Pugu Hills command a beautiful view of Dar es Salaam. Entrance into the protected forest costs little money, and for informative walks, you can hire a guide who will tell you about the local trees and the history of the area where the Zaramo tribes once lived.
Both conservation areas are the remnants of Tanzania’s dense coastal forests, which are now being actively cut down for more and more space for the expanding city. As a result, every green space in the Dar es Salaam region is now more highly valued. The nearest national park to the city is Saadani National Park, a hundred kilometers north of Dar es Salaam. It is also the only national park along the Indian Ocean coast. Its territory is almost completely covered by mangroves inhabited by elephants, antelopes, and lions. A river runs through the park, which attracts hippos and crocodiles. You can take a boat ride on the river with a guide who will show you both large predators and monkeys descending towards the water and many birds that settle in the trees of the park. The treeless area is home to warthogs, water goats, giraffes, and buffalo. Beautiful green turtles live along the coast. Saadani is one of Tanzania’s smaller parks because of its unique proximity to the ocean and the presence of human settlements nearby.
Dar es Salaam is a logistically favorable point, with many connections to popular parks and reserves such as Nyerere National Park (formerly, Selous Game Reserve), Ruaha National Park, with easy connections to Lake Manyara and Serengeti, as well.
If you have a day or two to spare, you can visit ancient ruins of former booming cities that speak to the importance of Tanzania centuries ago. You can find fascinating ruins relatively close to Dar es Salaam.
The most famous is Kilwa Island, 250 km south of Dar es Salaam. There is an archeological monument – a complex of stone buildings built in the 13th-18th centuries: Kilwa Mosque, Husuni Kubwa and Husuni Ndogo palaces, and Gereza Fort. They are on the UNESCO World Heritage List and are the monuments of the bygone Swahili culture, a powerful city-state that traded with many cities in what are now modern-day Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, as well as the island city-states of Madagascar, Zanzibar Archipelago, and Comoros. It is believed that most of the artifacts and structures of Kilwa-Kisiwani are still to be properly studied by archaeologists.
Nearby are the ruins of the 14th -16th century stone city of Songo Mnara, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here are the remains of residential quarters and public buildings, including six mosques built from coral, a typical material for ancient coastal cities. Songo Mnara was also once a trading town that did business with China and India, based on the artifacts found within the ruins, such as coins and pottery, which served as exchange goods between the ancient nations.
Fifty kilometers north of the center of Dar es Salaam lies the small town of Kaole. There, visitors will find the ruins of the ancient stone city of Kaole, dating back to the 13th -16th century. To this day, the remains of two mosques and tombs of noblemen have survived. The artifacts found on the territory of Kaole indicate trade relations with China.The name Kaole means “go and see” in the language of the Zaramo.
The largest number of stone buildings and evidence of a previous culture in the region are preserved on the main island of the Zanzibar archipelago (although excavations have also been successfully conducted on the neighboring Pemba). The preserved city of Stonetown has an impressive historical legacy in Zanzibar, easily reached by ferry from Dar es Salaam’s port.
For those who stay in Dar es Salaam, there are several options for beaches, right near the city. Dar is always warm (measuring from 23.3 to 28 °C, i.e., 73.94 to 82 °F for most of the year), so it’s a good idea to head to the beach to enjoy the sun and sand.
Perhaps the most famous and attractive beach is Coco Beach. It is quite a long stretch of shore with pleasant soft, white sand and gentle waves. You can wander barefoot on the sand, swim in the ocean and get a little sun (or, sit under an umbrella if you don’t want the sun). Enjoy a drink at one of the bars, or have a snack. However, the beach is public, so it’s always crowded and sometimes the crowds leave garbage behind.
North from there, there is a narrow strip of Kawe beach, and even farther are the Mbali Public Beach and Ndege Beach. If you move from the central Coco Beach along the ocean coast to the south, you can soon find a spot to relax in the small Palm Beach, Tanzanite Beach Resort (here you can see fishing dhows – we recommend taking pictures against their background), Bakhresa Beach.
Much farther southwards, there is a special beach for Muslims: Islamic Club. It is stunningly beautiful, totally uncrowded, with very warm water (many say that Dar beaches’ water is warmer than at Zanzibar resorts). If you are looking for a simple cozy spot on the Indian Ocean coast within Dar and are willing to abide by the Islam rules of beach etiquette, this might be the perfect place for you to relax on the beach.
All the beaches listed above are public and are accessible to everybody. One of Dar’s elite beaches is Yacht Club Beach, beside the Dar es Salaam Yacht Club. Those accustomed to relaxing in style can enjoy elite watersports here and meet a luxurious sunset on the clean beach. Club membership is required to enter this beach.
Within the city limits, at the southern end of the bay, you can relax at Kijichi Beach. You will be surrounded on all sides by the city of Dar es Salaam. This is probably the most suitable beach vacation option for the locals who do not have time to travel to the coast properly.
Now, if you want a little island adventure, you might enjoy Bongoyo or Mbudya Islands.
Dar es Salaam operates the Dar es Salaam Marine Reserve System, or simply DMRS. This includes five uninhabited islands south of the city and four to the north. Only two of those nine islands, Mbudhya and Bongoyo, are of interest to tourists. These are the only ones with sandy beaches that can be reached by boat from Dar within half an hour or less.
Dar es Salaam operates the Dar es Salaam Marine Reserve System, or simply DMRS. This includes five uninhabited islands south of the city and four more north from there. Only two of those nine islands, Mbudhya and Bongoyo, are of interest to the tourists. They are the only ones with sandy beaches that can be reached by boat from Dar within half an hour or even faster.
Bongoyo Island is the most popular beach vacation spot outside Dar es Salaam. The boat leaves from the Bongoyo Island Ferry Terminal on the Msasani Peninsula. There are a couple of beaches on the island and a dense forest in which you can wander along the paths. Visitors can try to find the remains of a small German colonial-era building in the forest on the island, but it isn’t so easy!
Bongoyo is a great day trip from Dar, you can go snorkeling, swimming or simply relax on the beach. The simple forest trails are great for hikes and the island is beautiful.
Mbudya Island is another nature reserve with a beach, white sand, but very few tourists. You can stroll around the island, relaxing in the sun, or go snorkeling..
Both islands have local vendors for drinks and simple food, and sun loungers and umbrellas are available for rent. It’s best to spend one day on each of the islands if the goal is not to rush but to enjoy peace and serenity in the equatorial waters of the Indian Ocean. But you can also combine visits to both islands in one day if you want to look at the shores of both Bongoyo and Mboudia.
Unfortunately, frequent visits to these tiny islands by tourists deplete the resources of the conservation areas, and excessive fishing reduces the population of fish in the area. All of this affects the flora and fauna of the marine reserves negatively. But this impact of human activity is apparent in almost all of Tanzania’s conservation areas. We hope very much that the local ecosystems can be restored by joint effort and that our children will inherit a world of fauna and flora that is still full of diversity.
For travelers with children, Dar has several kinds of family recreation in stock. Below are some of the places in the city that may be of interest to families with small children.
First of all are the fun water parks, Water World and Kunduchi Wet “N” Wild Water Park. The youngest guests of Dar es Salaam will find a load of amusements there, such as pools and waterslides.
Dear parents, please look up the attendance rules of these parks in advance (i.e., child’s height, acceptable attire, etc.), and consider how you will be able to mind your children, as it is a very popular place and there are sure to be crowds of kids playing at these water parks.
Children can look at the animals and learn more about their habits in the large Dar Es Salaam Zoo. It is a bit far from the city center, in the city’s southern outskirts, but small children will definitely find it interesting. The zoo contains several dozen species of wild and domestic animals.
In the northern part of the city, there is the Bahari Zoo. It is much more modest, and adults will almost certainly feel sorry for the animals contained here. But perhaps this is an optional part of the program for those who can’t afford a trip to a real nature reserve or a national park.
Finally, let’s discuss what you should buy in the local stores and souvenir shops to remember your time in Dar es Salaam.
Fish or seafood in the local fish market is not likely to be brought home, but buying a curious trinket in the Kariakoo market is more realistic. One of the things that will stay with you for a long time could be a bright piece of clothing or swatch of traditional Tanzanian cloth.
The best and definitely the most relevant gift for yourself or someone you love will be a piece of tanzanite, a gemstone mined only in Tanzania. This beautiful gem is blue-hued, ranging from sapphire-blue to ultramarine blue and sometimes almost purple. One can buy individual stones as a keepsake, as well as finished jewelry pieces from earrings to necklaces or rings. If you are unfamiliar with Tanzanite, look up a photo of Elizabeth Taylor, the Cleopatra of Hollywood. She adored the unique jewelry and was all in favor of tanzanite once it had been discovered in the 1960s. Tanzanite, when deftly faceted has an exquisitely simple and elegant look.
Another uniquely ‘Dar’ item would be a painting in the Tinga Tinga style. You will surely recognize this style even if you haven’t heard the name before. Tinga Tinga is derived from the last name of a popular Tanzanian artist of the 1960s (his full name was Edward Saidi Tingatinga), who began painting for the love of it at the age of 36. He never attended art school and was entirely self-taught. Tingatinga painted simple African landscapes or animals in cartoon-ish style. His were always flat images, made in enamel used to coat bicycles and cars, in bright colors and patterns.
The Europeans who lived in Dar es Salaam at that time paid attention to the distinctive artist and began to buy his works and arrange exhibitions. Shortly after, Tingatinga’s life ended tragically, but his friends and followers developed the artist’s original style, which became famous. Now it is a very popular direction in contemporary art, known far beyond the borders of Swahili culture and even all of Africa.
Buy a colorful painting made in the Tinga Tinga style by a contemporary artist from Dar es Salaam, and it will be recognized as a sign of good taste. You can find interesting pieces in the gallery of the local Tinga Tinga Arts Cooperative Society, located in the heart of the Oyster Bay neighborhood.