Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory- Dr Seuss
In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t returned to Dar es Salaam as the little I saw of the city the first time around was very promising and showed an African city with life and fun to be had. My journey to Dar es Salaam was meant to be just a means to an end i.e. to get me to Zanzibar and the Seychelles (and back) especially since my Tanzanian colleague had imprinted on me that “there’s nothing to see in Dar es Salaam”. Hence, I wasn’t expecting much.
The journey to Zanzibar from Dar es Salaam was seamless. I arrived 7:55am at the Dar es Salaam International airport and was able to clear immigration, get my bags, clear customs and make it to the Local airport in time to make the 9am flight to Zanzibar. Within 20mins, the plane touched down at Zanzibar airport.
The journey from Zanzibar back to Dar es Salaam on the other hand wasn’t smooth sailing. We took the 12.30pm ferry from Zanzibar and whilst the wait to board the ferry and the first 15 minutes on the ferry was truly the VIP experience we paid for, the sea sickness that followed is a caution to all travellers to consider taking the plane for this transition (seriously!). The sea was beyond rough and for the first time in all my years on earth, I experienced sea sickness. My travel partner was equally sick but brave enough not to throw up. In fact, about half of those in the cabin were sick (just to emphasise how bad it was).
We arrived at Dar es Salaam around 2:30pm and chaotic is the best way to describe the experience. From trying to get our luggage bags from the cage they had been stored in, to different “official taxi” guys
pulling dragging us from every corner to patronise them at “a good price”. In my irritation, I was rolling my eyes whilst insisting that I didn’t need their services (and in my mind thanking God that I had pre-arranged my transportation). I could have kissed and hugged our driver when we finally found him but first, we had to verify he was the correct guy.
Our driver passed the “verification” test and it was a short drive to the Hilton DoubleTree in Oysterbay (a highbrow area of Dar es Salaam). When we got to the Hilton, we were welcomed with a cool refreshing drink and warm, supposedly freshly baked cookies. I thought this was a really cool touch despite me thinking that the cookies were rather tasteless. We stayed in a room on the Hilton floor although I am not quiet sure what privilege this floor provided as opposed to other guest rooms/floors. The room was a good size and the bed was very comfortable perhaps slightly on the soft side. The highlights of the hotel were the food (heavenly) and the surrounding. The ambience was really good and you could feel and see the classiness of the hotel. Check out the video tour of the Hilton DoubleTree, Dar es Salaam and our room here.
We didn’t do much touring of Dar es Salaam on our first visit due to circumstance (my colleague, a local, that was supposed to show us what the city had to offer was away on a business trip and we were too tired to brave the city ourselves). The next day we had to abandon our plan to see a bit more of the city as we had to rush to the airport after realising that we had miscalculated the flight check in and boarding times. The traffic encountered on our way to the airport helped graduate our rush to a panic. Thankfully, we got to the airport on time.
Our return to Dar es Salaam from the Seychelles removed all previous desire to explore the city. Our lack of touring this time around was out of choice! First, the experience at the airport at arrival was sluggish, processing of the visa took longer than I expected and to top it up our pre-booked hotel shuttle did not arrive (this was after 2am at night!). Luckily, we were able to negotiate an airport taxi and a short 15mins drive got us to the hotel, Greenlight hotel.
From the outside the hotel looked decent. I was chuffed thinking what a great choice I had made for a transit hotel and was glad that my stubborn self disregarded my colleague’s earlier advise to avoid hotels near the airport as they are all in a “slump” area. Little did I know that the night had masked the unfortunate location of our hotel and the surrounding didn’t look that pretty in the morning. As it was a cheap transit hotel (a steal at just $60 per night), we had excused a lot of things upon arrival e.g. mosquitos bites as we entered our room and not being able to adjust the AC since the employee that took us to our room took away the AC remote after putting the AC on for us (this made us to conclude that there was only one AC remote for the whole hotel).
The convenience of the hotel was at the time of booking more important to us than little comforts. However, the poor service received during our stay and the heavy traffic in the area quickly made the proximity of the hotel to the airport irrelevant. We couldn’t eat the breakfast provided as it just didn’t look appealing and we saw just one person eating in the breakfast room (not a good sign). In the afternoon, we asked the receptionist to help organise a car for us so we could go to a nearby shopping centre to eat lunch but the price quoted was an obvious overcharge and we were forced to make alternative transport arrangement ourselves. The auto rickshaw we eventually used for our journey to the shopping centre ended up being a blessing in disguise cause the traffic we saw on the way there and back was a complete standstill (if we had taken a car it was likely that I would have missed my flight for later that afternoon!).
My destination verdict: Given that I didn’t really see much of the city, my verdict on Dar es Salaam cannot be complete. You don’t need to go far if the sea and beach is what you are after since the city is surrounded by water! Dar es Salaam also looked like any other busy African city including bottleneck traffic (do not underestimate the traffic!); it discouraged us from exploring the city and is probably worse than the traffic in Lagos, Nigeria which has a larger population of over 17.5 million people.
Accommodation wise, I felt that the Greenlight hotel was desperate to make money from its guests in anyway possible. Apart from the attempt to overcharge us for transportation, we were charged for two nights despite me requesting early check in at the time of booking and the manager agreeing to it via email without any mention of additional payment or condition. It was only after checking in and in the afternoon the next day that he mentioned the two days charge which I thought was a deliberate attempt to mislead and extort money from us (normal check in at this hotel is meant to be 7am and my travel partner was to check out by 2am the next day).
If you stay away from the Greenlight Hotel and its neighbourhood and instead stay in hotels closer to town particularly, Oysterbay area then I think you are bound to have a much more enjoyable time in Dar es Salaam. The city was also not too pricey but you always need to remember to bargain prices given by local merchants.