A year into the Covid-19 pandemic and I’m reminiscing about a past trip to the city of Dar es Salaam. I have been to the "Haven of Peace" several times over the years, usually on work trips. But I never did a proper city tour until just before the coronavirus pandemic broke out.
The trip gave me the opportunity to experience the place as a Kenyan tourist. While it is possible to use public transport to tour the city, my two friends and I decided to book a taxi driver for the day. We started off the morning with a trip to the Kivukoni Fish Market, a fascinating place if you can stand the intense fishy smell that hangs in the air. Our driver insisted it was worth a tour, and that it is popular with visitors.
Kivukoni is located near the harbour and here we found the fish sellers haggling away with restaurant owners and residents over the fresh catch of the day. Spread out over the auction tables were fishes of all sizes, octopuses, eels, lobsters, tiny silvery fish in colourful bins, shellfish and more. We did not buy anything, but just absorbed the animated atmosphere of the place.
Afterwards, we headed over to the Tinga Tinga Arts Co-operative, the most famous art space in Tanzania. Eponymous founder Edward Saidi Tingatinga only practised for a few short years before he was tragically killed in 1972. But his legacy of colourful artworks can be seen all over East Africa. It felt special buying a Tinga Tinga from its place of origin, and we got a chance to watch several artists busy at work painting in a range of Tinga Tinga styles.
Our tour took us past several old buildings and government offices, and along the way our driver filled us in on some history. Dar es Salaam was named by the ruling Sultan of Zanzibar around 1886, when it was still a small fishing village. Due to its convenient portside location, the town grew in stature during the German occupation and remains the country's centre of business and commerce.
We drove to Coco Beach, one of the most popular beaches in the city. Coco Beach is part of the Oyster Bay area where, our driver informed us, several diplomats and expatriates live. Being a weekday, the beach was fairly quiet but on the weekends it gets busy with beach strollers, swimmers, hawkers and customers dining at the numerous outdoor eateries.
The Slipway Shopping Centre had smart shops, craft stores and restaurants overlooking the marina where small boats were anchored in the calm ocean. It was the perfect place for us to stop for a cold drink and ice cream in the hot midday hours. From Slipway you can take a day trip by boat to Bongoyo Island, which is famous for snorkelling, followed by lunch under thatched bandas on the beach.
On my next visit, I would like to come back for an evening meal at Slipway and watch the sun set across the peninsula.
A well-known landmark of Dar es Salaam is the Azania Front Lutheran Church, built in 1898 by German missionaries, and overlooking the seafront. Today it is the cathedral of the Lutheran archdiocese of Tanzania. I admired its architecture of red roof tiles, bright white walls and bell tower, while inside, the heavy wooden pews and old-fashioned vaulted walls added to the peace of the sanctuary.
Another church worth visiting is St Joseph’s Cathedral, a structure of gothic architecture with a spired tower, erected in 1902 also by German missionaries. The church is still in use. Inside, the stained-glass windows behind the altar and overall architecture are impressive.
Across the road from the Azania Church is the Four Points by Sheraton New Africa, Dar es Salaam’s oldest hotel. The hotel was originally built in 1896 as the official residence of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Germany’s last emperor. It was transformed into a hospital during World War I, and when the British took control of Tanganyika in 1920 it transitioned into the New Africa Hotel.
Since becoming a Four Points by Sheraton in June 2019, the building has undergone major refurbishments turning it into a modern, stylish hotel.
It is here that we had our lunch, in the hotel’s main restaurant called Bandari Grill. Situated on the mezzanine floor, this contemporary designed restaurant faces the Azania Church with glimpses of the bright blue ocean in the distance. The tall windows are sound-proofed so we did not hear any noise coming in from the busy street below.
The cuisine here is a mix of seafood, Swahili and Indian cuisine. Though I’m more inclined to have wine with my meals, the maitre d’ convinced us to try their specialty craft beer made by Tanzania’s only microbrewery, Crafty Dee’s. The English Summer hybrid ale was a nice starter beverage and accompaniment to our appetisers of feta cheese and smoked chicken mini tarts.
With my skewered prawns on a bed of sticky coconut pilaf rice together with a Tanzanian hot sauce called chachandu, I had a slightly chilled Dee’s Blonde. This low-bitterness ale was a perfect match for the zesty prawns. The restaurant service was quick and friendly.
I found the people to be pleasant and welcoming. I also realised that my golden rules of foreign travel came in handy, such as respect of culture, a friendly attitude, learning some of the local language, openness to new experiences and putting aside any stereotypes.
For establishing new connections, it helps that Kenya and Tanzania share a common national language, even though the Tanzanians speak more Swahili than Kenyans.
“Settling in is easier than if you were to visit Thailand or some other foreign country,” said my Kenyan friend who is resident in Tanzania.
At the National Museum and House of Culture we took in some of Tanzania’s history, the colonial legacy and political chronicles. At the human evolution section, we found a collection of prehistoric fossils discovered at the famous Ol Duvai Gorge in northern Tanzania. There are few artefacts on display; mostly photographs and long texts to read. You come away with an understanding of Tanzania’s history like the German occupation and, before that, the slave trade and the city state of Kilwa. Among the vintage cars on display is a Rolls Royce that was used by Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s first president.
A large fig tree that is over 100 years old grows in the central courtyard of the museum. It’s part of the nearby botanical gardens. Here we found a mix of exotic and indigenous plants, and it was pleasant to walk along the wide paths and past the manicured lawns and trimmed hedges. Though it was a hot afternoon, it was cool under the trees and among the shrubbery.
Kariakoo Market was not to be missed, especially for those who wanted to browse the fabric stores. The market is actually a collection of streets in the Ilala district of the city. Here you can find almost everything — from household goods, to clothing, shoes, jewellery, cosmetics, fruits, vegetables, and much more at affordable prices.
The market is colourful and crowded, and well worth a visit. I bought several kitenge cloths, since there was a much wider selection than what I find in Nairobi, and the prices were at least one-third lower.
For evening drinks, the recommended destination was the Sea Cliff Village. At this small, upmarket shopping centre we found boutique shops, cafes, a children’s play area, spa and the five-star Sea Cliff Hotel. We had our dinner at the Spur Restaurant, where the marinated barbecue ribs and onion rings did not disappoint.
Dar es Salaam gets an upgrade
A few weeks after the late Tanzanian president John Magufuli upgraded Ilala Municipal to the new Dar es Salaam City, I visited various sites of the old Dar es Salaam.
Ilala Municipal Council is now the new Dar es Salaam City. It includes Dar es Salaam’s central business district, with most key businesses and administrative offices located there.
Creation of the new Dar es Salaam City Council in Ilala Municipality retained the former boundaries of Dar es Salaam City including its historical attractions.
Ilala Municipal is the oldest residential and business area in Tanzania, in place for about 155 years since the city of was established by the Sultan of Zanzibar.
The Askari Monument is one of the main attractions in the city centre. It is a statue of an African soldier dressed in World War I uniform, to commemorate the African troops who fought and died.
The Clock Tower along Samora Avenue is the another unique attraction in Dar es Salaam City Centre. It was built in 1961 to inaugurate Dar es Salaam's elevation to city status.
The Clock Tower is the “Point Zero” or the starting point to measure overland distance from Dar es Salaam to other parts of Tanzania and Africa.
The Tower stands in the roundabout that connects Nkrumah, Uhuru, Railway and India Streets.
The Botanical Garden is an ideal green area to spend time in a serene environment amid indigenous trees and grass. The Garden has a variety of natural trees and flowers. The Coco-de-mer palm tree that is native to Seychelles is grown here.
The Botanical Garden was set up by the first director of Agriculture during German occupation in Tanzania, Professor Stuhlmann. He planted the trees in 1893 for research work.