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Tuesday, 01 March 2016

Destination Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Written by Meredith Chait
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Dar es Salaam, Tanzania is known for its airport. Many foreign travelers come to Dar es Salaam only to connect to their next flight, usually to a national park for a safari or to Zanzibar. 

But during my months of volunteering in Dar es Salaam, I found that the city of 4.5 million people has a lot to offer itself. 

Markets 

One of the more popular places for tourists to shop is Mwenge Craft Market. It is a little courtyard area surrounded by stalls of people selling artwork. Watch people carve wood on the outside of the courtyard. The market is famous for woodcarvings and ebony. However, beware of shoe polish cans that the sellers use to color other wood to make it look like ebony. 

 

Woodcarver at Mwenge 

 

A place the locals go to shop is Karume clothes market. However, beware that these clothes are not perfect. I bought a pair of Adidas pants. One of the pockets was sewn in backwards. 

Kariakoo market, in the Kariakoo district, also sells household items, food, and kanga cloths. However, Kariakoo is much bigger in area. I suggest going to Kariakoo market just to see the sheer number of people and stalls.  

Beware for pickpockets. I was told not to bring any valuables to Kariakoo market. 

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Kariakoo Market

 

Tourist Attractions

National Museum and House of Culture has some interesting artwork and artifacts. It is definitely worth the visit.

The British built Karimjee Hall in 1916. It is where President Julius Nyerere was sworn-in as the first president of independent Tanganyika. Not worth the visit.

The Germans built St. Joseph’s Cathedral from 1897-1902. It is worth the trip to see the building. It is interesting to see and think about the significances of German architecture in Tanzania, as they were the colonial power in the region.

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St. Joseph’s Cathedral


 

The Clock Tower was built in 1961 to commemorate independence. It can be skipped. It is a crumbing cement tower in a roundabout circle. 

The Uhuru Monument is dedicated to Tanzania’s independence. It can also be skipped. 

Slipway is on the Msasani Peninsula. It has a restaurant, a café, and shopping. “The Peninsula,” is the “nice” area where many of the tourists to Dar stay. 

Sea Cliff, which is also on the peninsula, is a good place to relax. Sea Cliff is at the top of the peninsula and includes a small shopping mall and an expensive upscale hotel.

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Part of Slipway

There is a fishing village on Msasani Peninsula. It is on the site of one of the oldest Arabic settlements along with Swahili Coast. It took about an hour of being lost to find it. It is off the beaten path but definitely worth the find. I highly recommend going.  

Tingatinga art market is a must-see!  Tingatinga is a style of art that started in Tanzania. This is a place to buy a souvenir. 

The Tanzanite Museum is worth the trip to learn about Tanzanite. Tanzanite is a gem only found in Tanzania. Tanzanite is considered 1,000 times more rare than a diamond. 

The Germans built Azania Front Lutheran Church in Bavarian style.

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Azania Front Lutheran Church

The downtown fish market is a definite must-see place. Watch the fishermen come back from fishing with their catch and then sell it at the auction tables. It is a very busy place that is bustling in the mornings. 

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Women waiting at the fish market to take the fish and sell them around town.

The State House is where the president lives. It is a beautiful building. I would recommend visiting. 


 

Askari Monument is in downtown Dar es Salaam and is a must-see for history buffs. 

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Askari Monument 

Makumbusho Village Museum has about 20 different styles of houses found in Tanzania. This outdoor museum is a definite must-see. 

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Makumbusho Village Museum House

University of Dar es Salaam is a nice oasis within Dar es Salaam with hills and grass. However, skip the University unless you want to see a building that is on one of the Tanzanian Shilling notes. 

Tazara Train Station is still used today. The trains run to and from Zambia. It was built to help the land-locked country of Zambia. It is worth going to see it. It is large and appears out of nowhere in the flat city. 

White Fathers’ Mission House, Missionaries of Africa can be skipped, especially if you visit Zanzibar. This building is in the same style as buildings in Zanzibar. The old post office is right next door to it. The post office can also be skipped. There is nothing special about it. 

 

Tips and Helpful Information 

Transportation 

Traffic is frequent. A person could easily sit in a car, not moving, for an hour. Buses and other vehicles use the sidewalks at times to get around traffic. 

A bajaj is basically a rickshaw but with a scooter instead of a bike. It is more dangerous than buses or taxis. But, it is cheaper, can get around the traffic easier, and is more fun to ride in. 

While Bajaj, or bajaji as they are called, are exciting to ride in, buses (or dala-dala) are the best transportation to take if you can. They are a bit confusing to figure out the routes, but you can experience and learn a lot about the culture of Dar. Plus, they are much cheaper than any other form of transportation. For example, a dala-dala is 300 Tanzania Shilling (TSH), a bajaji is 5,000-10,000 TSH and a taxi is 10,000-15,000 TSH depending on how good your negotiating skills are. The buses have a beginning point and an end point. However, sometimes the route they take to get to the last stop changes. If there is bad traffic, the bus will use a different road to get to the final destination. 

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Bajaj

The motorcycles (Pikipiki in Swahili) that people ride on the back of are dangerous. But, they are an option to take if traffic on every street is at a standstill. The pikipikis drive in-between the cars. 


 

Negotiations 

Some of the negotiations at the markets and for taxis and bajajis are difficult. Always agree on a price with the driver before the ride. Sometimes people set the price very high and do not negotiate. I was told they did this because people thought I was rich since I am white. 

On one of my bajaj rides, I was stopped in traffic when this well-dressed man squished in front with the driver of the bajaj. We drove and stopped at this building. It turns out we were at a police station and the well-dressed man wanted a bribe. Maybe it was because the bajaj was in the city center, which as per a new rule, they are not allowed to be. I gave the driver 5,000 TSH to help him pay the bribe. Everyone involved seemed to know what was happening with giving the man money; but everyone still tried to be discrete throughout the situation. In the end, I was allowed to get into another bajaj and leave. 

Food

Ugali is the national food. It is served with lunch and dinner.

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Ugali, a few minutes after being cooked.

In Dar, there is a readily available supply of fresh fruit. I enjoyed buying fresh mangos, pineapple and oranges from street vendors. 

It is very easy to find and buy sodas and water. Boys walk around with baskets of drinks on their heads.

There are many different ethnicities and religions in Dar, including a whole Indian area with delicious authentic Indian food. 

Perceptions 

Almost everyone I met in Dar said they think all Americans are rich. 

A few people asked me about United States’ foreign policy. However, most people I talked to understood that a government’s views and actions can be different from the citizen’s views and actions and what the citizens want the country’s foreign policy to be. 

In general, most people I met in Dar es Salaam would go out of their way to help a person. 

Weather 

I was there from September to November. Most days were high 70s, low 80s Fahrenheit with 100 percent humidity at times. In November, it was getting hotter and was starting to rain more frequently. 

Place to Stay

I highly recommend staying at St. Padre Pio Centre within Msimbazi Centre. Not only is it clean and has western-style toilets, but the nuns who run it are some of the nicest, most helpful, and welcoming people.

It costs about $16 U.S. Dollars (USD) a night, including breakfast, dinner, and a bottle of water each day. The rooms are always very clean, since the hostel cleaning lady comes most days. The hostel, which is attached to the nuns’ convent, has electricity and backup solar power electricity in case the power goes out in the whole city, which happens a few times a month. 

Breakfast and dinner are eaten with the other guests of the hostel. Having lunch at the hostel (or “The Convent” as it is called) is an option but tell the head nun the day before you want to have lunch.

I always enjoyed my time at the hostel and it was a nice getaway from the hectic city of Dar es Salaam.

 

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Part of the Hostel


 

Side Trips from Dar es Salaam

Bagamoyo

Bagamoyo is a Tanzanian town approximately 60 miles north of Dar es Salaam. It was the German headquarters when German East Africa was its colony. It took approximately one hour and 40 minutes to get there.

There are a few old German buildings still in Bagamoyo. The Catholic Mission compound is home to the oldest Catholic church on mainland Tanzania. 

The Kaole Ruins, built in the 13th century, are a must-see. It includes ruins of a mosque, the ancient port of Bagamoyo, and different graves, depending on the occupation and marital relationship of the deceased. My guide was very knowledgeable. Admission to the Ruins is approximately 20,000 TSH. (Other buildings in town also have 20,000 TSH fees).

 

Kipepeo Beach and Sinda Island

Kipepeo is a nice beach to visit, relax on, and swim in. There is also a restaurant and campground at Kipepeo. It is approximately a 10-minute ferry ride to get to the Kigamboni district of Dar es Salaam. Then, take a taxi or bajaj to get to the beach. 

From Kipepeo, you can book and take a tour with Dekeza Dhows. Sail to nearby uninhabited Sinda Island. The tour includes walking around the island, snorkeling, and lunch. 

Parts of the coral are dead where I went snorkeling. But, I still saw some interesting sea life, including something that looked like a tomato with moving hair.

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Sinda Island, my own private island.

 

Ruaha Safari

I went on a 3-day/ 2-night safari to Ruaha National Park, in Tanzania. Since I was going alone, I went with Coastal Aviation. They have a package, $750 USD for 3 days/ 2 nights at Mdonya Old River Camp with airfare, food, and safari with a guide and driver included. What a great deal!

I had an amazing time. I saw many different animals and made some new friends. (I was paired with other people, who also booked the deal, for our safari drives). The one problem with the whole experience was that there are no rhinos in the park, as poachers have killed all of them.

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Giraffes in Ruaha 


 

Zanzibar, Tanzania 

I went to the island of Zanzibar for 3 days/ 2 nights. It was about a 20-mintue flight from Dar es Salaam. Taking a boat to Zanzibar form Dar es Salaam is also a possibility; but it takes a few hours. 

I stayed in Stone Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. My top three favorite activities to do in Zanzibar are 1) walking down the small alleys looking at the architecture and at buildings’ doors, which have contributed to making Stone Town famous. There are many distinct types of architecture, including Indian, British, and Omani Arab, which blend together to make a Zanzibar style, 2) seeing the very large and very old turtles on Prison Island, and 3) seeing the monkeys in Jozani Forest.

 I also enjoyed the flights to and from Zanzibar. I took ZanAir. It is one of the more expensive ones, $150 USD round-trip. (ZanAir and Coastal Aviation, the one I took to get to Ruaha, were both great and had experienced pilots. Each plane I flew on held about 6-12 people.)

One major aspect of Stone Town I did not like was the people who follow the tourists around (and there are many more tourists than in Dar), trying to sell them items or show them around the city. At first, I said “no thank you” or greeted them in Swahili, but they kept walking and talking with me. Finally, I figured out I had to ignore them and they would go away. 

I took a city tour from one of the people offering on the street.  Not knowing what to expect from an unofficial tour guide, the tour was actually very informative. We stopped at a few “off the beaten path” attractions. I recommend taking one of these spontaneous tours if you can find a knowledgeable guide. My tour guide and I did not set a price beforehand, but he said I could pay what I wanted. (I ended up paying him 10,000 TSH). 

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Stone Town with a mosque and a church in close proximity to each other. The church on the left is the Catholic Cathedral of St Joseph. Zanzibar is approximately 90 percent Muslim. But, like in Dar, which is more like 40 percent Muslim, 60 perfect Christian, I found people are indifferent to what religion other people practice, including Islam, Christianity, or something else. 

 

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Black monkey in Jozani Forest. There were also Zanzibar Red Colobus Monkeys, which can only be found in Jozani forest.

 

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Mangrove Swamp in Jozani Forest

 

 

©Meredith Chait

 

Last modified on Monday, 07 March 2016