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Dar es Salaam History

Spritely and sun-scorched, Dar es Salaam is the fishing village that came good. Founded by Sultan Majid of Zanzibar in 1862, the earliest buildings were constructed close to Mzizima, a tiny Indian Ocean fishing port. Named Dar es Salaam, Arabic for ‘Haven of Peace’, the city had a natural harbour and was expected to expand through coconut plantations and passing caravan trade.

Teething problems, among them a lack of labour, meant it was still unfinished when the Sultan died in 1870, while an outbreak of smallpox, a hurricane and a famine in subsequent decades kept the population small. Salvation came in the shape of the German East Africa Company, which established a trading station in the city in 1887, overthrowing the Arabic rulers and extending the German colonisation of the East Africa coast.

Dar es Salaam grew into the administrative and commercial centre of German East Africa, before eventually being made its capital. Increased immigration helped the population grow and Dar es Salaam began to sprawl away from the harbour. New train lines were completed but, just as plans had been passed to extend the capital even further, WWI broke out.

This turned the city on its head. As a German stronghold, Dar was targeted by the Royal Navy with HMS Astraea and HMS Pegasus turning their guns on the city in 1914. Two years later, the British forces occupied the city. Soon after, German East Africa ceased to exist and the British renamed the area Tanganyika.

Tanganyika attained independence in 1961 and joined with nearby Zanzibar to form Tanzania in 1965. Despite its size and strength, Dar es Salaam lost its title as the country’s capital city in 1973, with the central city of Dodoma preferred instead.

Today, Dar es Salaam is still expanding rapidly. Religious and political unrest may have led to attacks on local churches and the bombing of the US embassy in recent years, but the little fishing village is finding its feet again.

Did you know?
• Dar es Salaam was originally called Mzizima, which means ‘Healthy Town’ in Swahili.
• The soldier atop the Askari Monument faces Dar es Salaam harbour as did its predecessor, a statue of German Major Hermann von Wissmann that the British removed in 1916.
• The oldest building in the city, Old Boma, was built for guests of the Sultan in 1867.

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Featured Hotels


Hotel Nikko Tower

Just a short walk to the ferry terminal, Hotel Nikko Tower is great for either a swift stay before heading to Zanzibar or for a longer budget break in Dar. Clean and colourful rooms have large TVs, free Wi-Fi and decent double beds and there is a simple fitness centre on the top floor. The on-site sports bar has a decent happy hour and shows live games on a large screen.

Hotel Sapphire

Centrally located, the Hotel Sapphire is a clean and pleasant budget option with 63 rooms to choose from. All come with either queen-size or twin beds as well as cable TV as standard. Marble floors help cool the sleeping quarters, while large bathrooms, Wi-Fi and coffee and tea making facilities ensure guests have everything they need. Best of all though are the extremely helpful staff and the rooftop bar, which gives great views across the city.

Tiffany Diamond Hotel & Spa

This clean and airy hotel in the centre of the city has much going for it. Spacious air-conditioned rooms come with complementary Wi-Fi satellite TV and great showers while suites have more room and large Jacuzzi baths. The Shaba Lounge on the 10th floor has views of the harbour and a small but fully-equipped gym sauna and spa are good for unwinding.

Hyatt Regency Dar Es Salaam, The Kilimanjaro

Providing a slice of serenity in this busy and bustling city, the 5-star oasis of The Kilimanjaro offer views over the open Indian Ocean as well as an affable, rooftop infinity pool if the beach seems a little too far away. The 180 large rooms mix African and European features and come with refreshing rain showers, king-size beds, satellite TVs and high speed internet. There are also two excellent restaurants on-site that dish up international fare and local specialties, as well as a lively lounge with an outdoor terrace. Its luxury wellness centre offers spa treatments, saunas, steam rooms and a gym.

DoubleTree by Hilton

In the chic Slipway section of the city, the DoubleTree by Hilton is a wonderful waterfront stay that overlooks Oyster Bay. Its spacious, regal-looking rooms are styled with African art and aristocratic furnishings, and all come with complementary internet, LCD TVs, refined bathrooms and the finest Egyptian cotton sheets. With a swimming pool and three restaurants on-site, the whim of every guest should be catered for.

Dar Es Salaam Serena Hotel

The Arabic touches and European elegance of this 5-star palace are just a few meandering minutes from the city centre. Its 230 rooms offer luxury in abundance with king-size beds, much needed air-conditioning, cable TV and separate sitting areas. The hotel also has enough bars, lounges and restaurants to form a break away village, but visitors are usually too busy relaxing in the swimming pool and wellness centre to worry about such fantasies.