Say the word “Tanzania” and the connotations are many: safari, beaches, history. And that’s a good prompt from which to ponder what to expect from a first trip to East Africa.
Tanzania sits below Kenya, and is the largest country in Africa comprising both the mainland and the Zanzibar archipelago. A roughly five and a half hour flight from Cairo, getting to Tanzania was easier and faster than I expected when visiting in late June. A night flight on EgyptAir direct to Dar es Salaam had me arriving early morning ready to start my day after a short nap.
Tanzania has been receiving a lot of attention in Egypt as a ‘hip’ destination to visit. A newfound passion for summiting mountains and safari trips has spurred interest in the country as a holiday hotspot, particularly by cosmopolitan 20-somethings seeking an experience that would yield great stories and unique photos.
Tanzania offers a bit of everything with Africa’s highest mountain peak Kilimanjaro up north, both a northern and southern safari circuit and tropical beaches with azure waters.
Besides tourist traffic, business between Tanzania and Egypt has grown in recent years, prompting EgyptAir to reinstate a direct flight from Cairo to the country’s capital Dar es Salaam last year after having suspended flights in 2004. Egyptian companies including Sewedy Cables, Citadel Capital and Mantrac Egypt are among the companies with investments in Tanzania.
The Mövenpick Royal Palm was my home for five days and it was in the lobby and during breakfast that I met and spoke to several Egyptians there on business. They also choose to stay at the Mövenpick because it caters to business guests so well, with several meeting rooms and a large hall suitable for conferences with a capacity of 600 people.
“It’s the major commercial capital of Tanzania, all the companies have their headquarters here, and a lot of NGOs, so there is a lot of business travel and conference travel which is all in Dar es Salaam. It’s by the nature of the demand that we are a business hotel,” says General Manager Hans Peter Duerr.
That’s not to say that the hotel is cold or austere, as many business hotels tend to be. On the contrary, it is a perfect reflection of my overall experience in Dar es Salaam: friendly, relaxing and as warm as its people. Outside guests who come to dine at the hotel share a common sentiment about Dar es Salaam: it is an interesting city to live in.
Fourth and fifth generation Indian and Arab families have an established presence in the country, adding flavor to the language and culture. Swahili has a lot of Arabic words, and the local’s relaxed attitude felt, for lack of a better word, quite Egyptian.
Dar es Salaam can work as a short holiday getaway or post business respite now that EgyptAir operates four weekly flights. Upon landing in Dar (as locals like to call it), I checked in with friends and ate a quick breakfast in the Serengeti restaurant, taking full advantage of a fruit buffet. There is nothing quite like a Tanzanian pineapple, or passion fruit or sweet papaya for that matter. Dining in Tanzania was one of the trip’s highlights, I will admit.
I would suggest starting your first day with a trip to one of the small islands nearby to laze about in a hammock, eat fresh sea food and swim. Ask the hotel reception desk to arrange transport (a car will take you to a dock from which you can then take a small motor boat) to the island. Enjoy the breeze and sunshine and the simplicity of it all.
Fresh coconut milk is the perfect beverage to sip on, and I must clarify: coconut milk is simply coconut water. Never mind the con though, it is delicious. And my lunch of lobster and fries, a Tanzanian specialty, was caught a little while before lunch.
Head back to the hotel after you’ve had your fill of sand and sun to change before going out again to the many bazaar-like markets. Wooden wares, carved animal figurines and Tinga Tinga art (paintings done in a style so particular to Tanzania, profusely colored with images of wild animals and Masai tribesmen) make for great novelty gifts. The pleasure of shopping at the markets dotted all over town is that they are great opportunities to mingle with locals and people watch. Be prepared to haggle with vendors as you would in the Khan bazaar, it is a matter for the strong of heart.
The next day, plan on going on a safari with Leopard Tours who have an office in the hotel. With an established operation all over Tanzania, Leopard Tours are highly recommended. They provided a large safari jeep and a tour guide for the trip to nearby Mikumi Park, one of the smaller parks in Tanzania but the closest to Dar.
The trip starts early in the morning — the drive is five hours each way but well worth it. At Mikumi, you can watch giraffes, baboons, elephants, zebras and lions in their natural habitat. With each herd or pack spotted, child-like excitement got the better of me: my camera was clicking wildly.
Zanzibar is a must see, and just a three-hour ferry ride or a short 15-minute taxi flight —idea for a day trip. A visit to a spice farm and a walk through Stonetown, the old downtown area of Zanzibar recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, should not be missed.
The beauty of Zanzibar’s beaches cannot be articulated in words, and must be experienced firsthand to understand why locals proudly refer to it as Paradise Island. Once the capital of the Omani Sultanate, the country is predominantly Muslim and the architecture is an interesting blend of Arab and British motifs.
A four-day trip to Dar es Salaam is just a taste of what Africa has to offer, but undoubtedly, it will leave first-timers eager to come back.
Breakfast outside on the lawn amidst the palm trees and peacocks who strut over from the nearby State House made staying at the Mövenpick Royal Palm delightful.
Leopard Tours arranged a thoroughly enjoyable and safe safari experience.