Planning a Trip
By Air -- Situated 12km (7 1/2 miles) southwest of Dar es Salaam, Julius Nyerere International Airport (tel. 022/284-4212, -4371, -4372, or -4224; www.jnia.aero) is served by flights from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and all across Africa. Upon arrival at Terminal 2 (used for most international and domestic flights), you will first pass through an unsophisticated health screening point where you'll fill in a form relating to the H1N1 virus; if you're arriving from Kenya, you'll be required to produce your yellow fever vaccination certificate (have this ready). If you haven't arranged your entry visa in advance, you must fill in a form and hand this in, together with your passport and $50. Visa processing time is usually quite speedy, but it does help if you can arrive ahead of everyone else on your plane, so don't dally. Once you have your visa, it's a swift march through baggage claim and into the arrivals hall. A taxi into the city from the airport costs Tsh25,000; if you're going to the expensive hotels in town, you'll be charged $25, while a trip to any of the hotels on the Msasani Peninsula is $35. A taxi directly to Bagamoyo will cost $120. If you can't be bothered putting up with the slightly seedy attitude of the drivers who congregate around the airport arrivals doors, a number of transport companies will do the same transfer for more or less the same price -- simply arrange this in advance, and a driver will be waiting for you at the arrivals terminal. If you have the good fortune to be staying at the Oyster Bay Hotel, your transfer will be waiting with a nameboard in hand and drinks in the car.
There are several ATMs that accept Visa credit cards on the concourse outside the terminal; remember that one U.S. dollar is the equivalent of around 1,300 Tanzanian shillings (Tsh), so don't be afraid to withdraw 100,000 or even half a million shillings for incidental expenses. Remember that when you pay in foreign currency, you'll inevitably be given a poor rate of exchange, so it's useful to have some local cash in hand. Terminal 1, which serves as the main base for charter flights, is located some .8km (1/2 mile) from Terminal 2.
Any local tour or travel agency will book onward flights for you within Tanzania or farther afield. There have been reports of travelers having difficulties using online booking services (even for large, reputable airlines) for flights out of Tanzania, so (as always) it's advisable to make your international flight arrangements well ahead of schedule so that you can turn to an agency if you have difficulties online. If you wish to book your internal flights without the aid of an agency or tour operator, Coastal Aviation (tel. 022/284-3033 or -3170; www.coastal.cc) is the first choice, with a wide range of scheduled services to prime safari and beach destinations (including Zanzibar and Pemba and Mafia islands) within Tanzania, and also offers private charters. Note that some of their flights operate only if there are sufficient passengers to cover costs. Coastal Aviation has offices at J. K. Nyerere International (Terminal 1), at The Slipway, and in the city center. Indigo Aviation (www.indigoair.co.tz) is a new airline servicing Dar, Zanzibar, Selous Game Reserve, and Mafia Island.
By Boat -- There are seven to eight daily ferries between Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar; these depart every hour or two and take anywhere between 90 minutes and 4 hours (in the case of the late-night "overnight" boat). Tickets costs $20 to $40, depending on speed and level of comfort. The Zanzibar ferry launch is on Sokoine Drive, near the Old Boma; do not confuse this with the Kigamboni ferry (Tsh200 per pedestrian), which does the 5-minute hop across the mouth of the Kurusini Creek, linking Dar with its southern beaches.
By Road -- Any of the travel agents or ground operators mentioned below can arrange chauffeured overland transport to Dar from just about any other part of Tanzania; some may even be able to make arrangements for you to travel from Kenya, although this is seldom recommended. Road transfers from Dar to any of the coastal destinations recommended in this chapter can also be arranged directly when booking your accommodation.
As with many coastal cities, Dar isn't planned so much as fanned out around its port. Most points of interest in the city -- a beak-shaped spit of land that hooks around to form a natural harbor -- are within easy striking distance of the Kivukoni Front, a waterfront boulevard that culminates in the ferry launch for boats to South Beach and the nearby fish market, both key sites in a town that owes its existence to its people's relationship with the sea. Kivukoni itself is where many of Dar's colonial-era buildings -- now mostly government and administrative offices -- as well as the National Museum and Botanical Gardens, are located. West of here, moving inland, sprawls the city center, a bustling muddle of congestion incorporating all kinds of exotic styles, sights, and smells that may entice more adventurous travelers. Deep into this colorful stew is where you'll find Kariakoo Market -- at the heart of the lively, down-home Kariakoo neighborhood -- where locals go to buy just about anything.
Running in a roughly northwesterly direction from the Kivukoni ferry launch is Ocean Drive, a broad boulevard that follows the coastline (and a wide swath of beach) toward the Msasani Peninsula. Msasani, heavily concentrated with foreign embassies, expatriates, and white Tanzanians, is Dar's most prestigious finger of real estate. Although it's located just a few kilometers north of the city center, it feels like a destination in its own right, closer in spirit to the beaches of Dar's north coast (such as Kawe, Jangwazi, and Kunduchi, which have been developed with a string of resorts) than the downtown business district; Msasani, with its members-only Yacht Club and expansive high-security mansions, represents the other end of Dar's social spectrum, where the best shopping centers are found and where the small, excellent Oyster Bay Hotel and some wonderful restaurants serve as social magnets for the privileged classes.
Back in the city, ferries regularly make the 5- to 10-minute crossing from Kivukoni to Kigamboni at the southern end of the harbor into which the Kurusini Creek flows. From Kigamboni, the road (the first part of which is sealed) stretches south, leading to vast tracts of virgin beaches -- locals refer to this as South Beach, although the luxury retreats of Ras Kutani and Amani Beach are nearly an hour's car drive away (or a 10-min. hop in a light aircraft).
To get between the city and the beaches north or south of Dar, or to explore the Msasani Peninsula, you'll need to hire a cab or get a car and driver for the day. Dar's taxis are white with a thin stripe (usually green) and are ubiquitous; if you don't see one when you need one, you can be pretty sure that a taxi driver will make himself known to you (even when you don't need one). Traffic within the city can be a little hectic, so consider self-driving there only if you've plenty of patience and are accustomed to a chaotic driving culture. With good directions (and a decent map), you should be able to negotiate the coastal roads north and south of the city, but you'll want off-road capability for inevitable stretches of dirt road when you venture off the main highway. A novel way of seeing the city -- if you can deal with the traffic fumes -- is by tuk-tuk, the motorized three-wheeler that's ubiquitous in Asia; they're officially banned in the city center, but Afric'Aventure (tel. 022/270-0606; www.africaventure.net) offers a tour of the city's main attractions using a specially designated tuk-tuk. Although you can wander about the city's central hub with little difficulty (apart from incessant offers of a taxi ride), Dar tends to feel very spread out, and if you're in any way nervous about being here, you'd do well to hire a car and driver for the day or join a tour.
Moving to a Local Rhythm -- There's a special language defining the various modes of transport used by the locals and available to you at a fraction of the cost of any taxi or pre-arranged transfer. A dala-dala is the ubiquitous minibus taxi (known as a matatu in Kenya) that is the principal mode of transport for ordinary people. These potentially hazardous and inevitably claustrophobic vehicles are everywhere. Those servicing the city tend to be well organized and operate without squashing in as many passengers as possible, but once you journey beyond the city limits, all bets are off and you've as much chance of standing as you have of practically sitting on someone's lap (don't, though, as that would be considered impolite). Your incredible proximity to fellow passengers makes this sardinelike environment an excellent place to strike up conversation, but be warned that your life is always in the hands of the driver -- and the Divine. In spirit more akin to a private taxi, the tuk-tuk is a three-wheel cross between a scooter and a miniature car; if you're been to Asia, you'll be familiar with them, although they're not nearly as popular here in East Africa just yet. You should ask for a helmet when climbing on the back of a pika-pika, the cute name for a "motorbike taxi." These are usually stationed at major dala-dala drop-off points, ready to take passengers to more specific destinations; they're very useful along the coast, where public transport works only along main roads and the motorbikes do all the side-road transfers. The pika-pika drivers will happily adjust their speed according to your comfort level, and most will take two passengers. Finally, if you're in no particular hurry, the boda-boda is a bicycle taxi, mostly useful for very short distances (the name derives from the fact that they were originally used to ferry people across borders) or if you're simply too lazy, or lethargic, to walk.
Your concierge or host will give you the lowdown on developments in the local scene. If you want to surf the Internet for interesting tidbits, consider the offerings at www.my-daressalaam.com -- it's not in the least bit opinionated, but it does list forthcoming events and has Google maps for all the places listed on its pages. There are various advertorial-style publications promoting Dar's businesses and social calendar, but they're far from discriminating; you'd do well to consult a real person (in conjunction with this chapter) rather than picking through the blurb. One look at the website of the Tanzania Tourism Board (http://tanzaniatouristboard.com) is enough to convince you that there's no point visiting them in person; nevertheless, their Information Centre is on Samora Avenue, on the ground floor of the Matasalamat Building (tel. 022/213-1555) -- occasionally, their enthusiasm spills over into something approaching meaningful assistance. A website worth looking at is Kiu (www.swahilicourses.com), a Swahili language and culture training organization -- their list of do's don'ts on their "Intro to Tanzania" page is as amusing as it is enlightening.
Check Your Dollar Bills -- Tanzanian banks accept only U.S. dollars printed in or after the year 2000. If you are carrying any notes printed earlier than 2000, they will not be accepted for payment anywhere. Some vendors like to give you a really dirty look -- as if you are a counterfeiter trying to hustle them -- so best to check your notes before leaving home. You might also be interested to know that when you exchange dollar bills for Tanzanian shillings, you usually get a better rate for higher denominations; notes with a value of $50 or more attract the best rate.
Hide Your Shame -- Nude or topless sunbathing is illegal in Tanzania and will offend the predominantly Muslim population found along the coast. While Western beachwear is generally tolerated in areas where there are resorts, it's only polite to respect local customs and laws.
Travel Agents & Ground Operators
If you've arrived in Dar without having prearranged all your travel plans, you'll find scores of agencies looking for your business. It's worth shopping around, but for a touch of class, Dar-based Savannah (tel. 022/213-9277; www.savannahtz.com) is the high-end tour company I'd recommend; Cliff D'Souza's team can put together just about any kind of itinerary you desire. Besides taking you on extended safaris, Savannah will provide transfers to any destination in the country -- the level of luxury you enjoy depends on your budget, but they're fairly adept at arranging ultra-luxurious trips or having vehicles waiting for you in the bush after a charter flight. Based at the Sea Cliff Hotel on the Msasani Peninsula, TravelMate (www.travelmate.co.tz) can assist with flight bookings, car rentals, and bespoke safaris. Besides their flight operations, Coastal Aviation runs a full booking service for accommodations, transfers, and overland safaris, and can assist with itineraries and trip planning; be warned that their level of helpfulness isn't always that great when it comes to dealing with walk-in clients, so keep your options open. The other respected agency with offices in Dar is Kearsley Travel & Tours (www.kearsleys.com). You'll find them in the business center at the Southern Sun hotel (tel. 022/213-1652, -1653, or 022/211-1146); while you can probably engage them for transfers and such, I've found some of their staff pretty scatty (not to mention rude), so you may need to check everything before accepting any of their arrangements. Safari Solutions (tel. 022/212-0892 or -0893; www.safarisolutionstz.com) is one of several travel operators offering a Dar city tour during which you get to visit what precious few sights there are with a guide; these run from 8:30am to 1pm. The same company also offers full-day tours of Bagamoyo, as well as day trips to Zanzibar (bearing in mind that no one should visit Zanzibar for just 1 day).