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Is Dar es Salaam Dangerous? My 2 Cents

I’m definitely a city boy. I’ve lived in Rome, Athens, Toronto and Seoul. I like Paris, Hong Kong and Berlin. London and Bangkok…not so much. 😉

Scouting cities is a big part of traveling. We visit some cities because they’re full of natural beauty, like Istanbul. We visit some because they’re full of energy, like our very own Seoul, and we visit some just to take a respite and breathe.

And then there are those that serve very little purpose on a travel itinerary. They exist simply as a pit stop for better things to come. Dar es Salaam? Fits the last category.

Dar is the capital of Tanzania, but most travellers view it as a launching pad to the great plains of the Serengeti or as an overnight transit to the beautiful isle of Zanzibar. There’s not much to do in Dar, not much to see, not much to experience. It’s kinda hard to find a good restaurant and difficult to find a decent cup of coffee.

The highlight was a fish market where fishermen auction their fish off, and the nearby street stalls where you can fry the fish you just bought. The city is run down, dark at night and very poor. One thing it is NOT, however, is dangerous. At least we didn’t think so.

Countless posts on Dar talk about how poor and dangerous it is, and how you should be careful roaming the streets at night. No one denies that there’s a lot of poverty in Dar. It’s obvious in the wear of people’s clothes, in the cabbies sleeping overnight in the back seats of their cars, and the dilapidated buildings.

Dar's skyline from the safety of the hotel room

Dar’s skyline from the safety of the hotel room

Because of these things, people jump to the conclusion that the city is dangerous by default. And it’s simply not so. Everywhere we went, we were greeted with genuine smiles and courtesy. We were even approached by strangers who simply wanted to talk to us out of genuine curiosity.

I even braved the streets at night a few times in search of better food, or a working TV that showed a soccer game. Ok mostly because of the soccer game. What can I say? The Euro Final was on. Yes, it was very dark and few people roamed the streets past dusk, but between the people going about their business, and despite the homeless on the ground, I never felt directly threatened.

The worst thing that happened to us was hiring a “history student” who was “about to” get his tour guide licence, but knew nothing of history and came with a wife in tow. But even that only cost 10 bucks and a couple of lunches.

An overpriced, but tasty fried fish

An overpriced, but tasty fried fish

So if you ever happen to find yourself in Dar, be cautious, but do give it a shot. It might not impress you with great architectural structures, churches dominating over squares, or waterfronts full of quaint coffee shops and restaurants, but it is a city where people actually live, and you’ll never get insight into the culture if you don’t step out of your hotel.

Likely the worst thing that will happen to you is overpaying for fried fish.

Have you ever been to Dar es Salaam? Did you feel afraid in any way? What were your thoughts on the city?

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15 Comments Post a comment
  1. Totally! Some cities are portrayed to be so dangerous, but in reality, if you exercise enough caution most cities are fine. Found it funny that you braved the ‘danger’ for the Euro finals, but hey – I will have probably done likewise 🙂

    November 17, 2014
    • Agri @ Travel-Stained #

      Yeah some things are sacred, football is one of them, at least for me lol. But yeah, we have heard so many horror stories about so many cities and when you actually visit them you’re surprised by how peaceful they are. We even stayed in a favela in Rio for a week and it was a great experience. Never ever did we feel threatened in any way. Still they do not compare to Asia though, Seoul and Singapore are on a whole different level of safety.

      November 18, 2014
  2. This is true for so many cities around the world. We come with our pre conceived notions and don’t give the place a chance to prove otherwise. I meet numerous travellers who come to Johannesburg enroute to Kruger or Cape Town and don’t even dare to step out of their swanky hotels. If only they wouldn’t believe all they read…

    November 17, 2014
    • Agri @ Travel-Stained #

      Yes JoBurg is one of those towns with a reputation for crime. Strangely enough I’ve heard locals “brag” about this though, which is kind of strange. You’d think they’d want to promote tourism. I’ve heard great things about Soweto though, there is some sort of a renaissance happening from what I gather.

      November 18, 2014
  3. wwalford #

    I have been there and caught the local taxis and spoken to the locals. The airport can be a little overwhelming as it is very run down and the locals all hustle to try get your business but you never feel threatened as you said they all just desperate for work. Thanks for highlighting this.

    November 17, 2014
    • Agri @ Travel-Stained #

      Oh the airport is definitely a mess. Not sure if you had a chance to read our blog about Landing in Tanzania a few weeks back, but we got scammed by customs there. And then the whole taxi ordeal was painful, but I guess that’s not unique to Tanzania, it happens in many third world countries. Everybody’s got to eat after all.

      November 18, 2014
  4. Sha #

    Have never been there but would you think the same if it’s a solo female traveller?

    November 18, 2014
    • Agri @ Travel-Stained #

      Would I recommend it to my wife and sisters??? That’s a very good question, obviously as a female traveler you always have to keep an eye out no matter where you are (except Singapore I suppose). But it’s not far different from India or parts of Indonesia. In all honesty during the daytime you’d be fine walking around, but it’s certainly a bit more shady at night. It is really dark out there. Not that there is anything to do in the evenings in Dar, everything is dead.

      November 18, 2014
      • Sha #

        LOL, I like how you threw Singapore in there..haha…Singapore is just…Singapore, I suppose..haha…but noted about it, I suppose it’s really all about perspective and your own personal level of comfort…and will also note that there is nothing to do at night. Good thing I’m a morning person…:)

        November 19, 2014
  5. The pictures you’ve shared are actually what makes a city for me. Even if a place doesn’t have many “attractions”, what I enjoy the most is seeing people going about their daily life. I’ve never been to Dar but I heard similar stories about Colombia before I went and had the same experience as you – everybody was lovely and so helpful!

    November 19, 2014
    • Agri @ Travel-Stained #

      Gosh Colombia was our favourite country in our Round the World trip. Never mind the natural beauty, which is undeniable, but the people were so genuine and cheerful and….classy. Also they’re not jaded yet by hoards of tourists yet so they’re very welcoming as well. I’m itching to go back.

      “Colombia: The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay”

      November 26, 2014
  6. I lived my childhood and teenage life in an urban environment with somewhat like you described here. I’m very used to walking that kind of street. Then we, as a family, go to vacation every summer to province or pastoral areas. But now that I’ve grown, as much as I don’t want it to be, I admittingly am a city boy too. And then, dangerous places, perceived or not, I can’t help but be concerned. Either ways, I am most likely to do things anyways… for the experience. 😉

    November 26, 2014
    • Agri @ Travel-Stained #

      Yeah, most of us are addicted to the hustle and bustle of the cities and all the goods and bads that come with it. Obviously some places are a bit more dangerous than others, so you always have to keep an eye out.

      November 26, 2014
  7. Hi, what hotel did you stay at in Dar? Were there a lot of other westerners staying there? Would you recomend it for a solo female traveller?

    August 30, 2015
    • Agri @ Travel-Stained #

      Honestly I can’t remember the names of the places but we stayed in the center of the city and one was a bit more upscale, the other one was a bit more dodgy and cheaper of course but tgey were both very safe. I don’t think safety is that big of an issue in the city, it just looks more dangerous than it is.

      August 30, 2015

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