Tanzania is a country that has it all. Wild animals, beaches, Mt. Kilimanjaro, friendly people and fascinating cultures. And guess what? It’s also home to some fantastic cities.
For pretty much any safari or wildlife conservation encounter, you’ll begin your adventure in one of these cities - which are worth spending a few days in to get a taste of Tanzania’s urban life.
Today I’ve outlined the five cities that are most popular with those travelling on a gap year in Tanzania. There's something here for every dedicated urbanite.
The large and lively city of Arusha is generally regarded as a transit stop. However, it’s worth considering a longer stay here, as it provides a nice break from being on the road and features a number of great places to stay, namely in the semi-rural districts around the city.
Explore the surrounding villages, visit coffee plantations and shamba farms, pick up a few souvenirs at the busy central market or simply relax by the pool with a good book. I would also recommend a visit to the Ngurdoto Crater located within Arusha National Park, which, like the famous Ngorongoro, is an extinct volcanic caldera that makes for a thrilling tourist attraction.
It’s 3km wide and 400m deep and, although visitors are not permitted to go there, it has a ring road that offers breathtaking views down into the crater floor. You can also expect to see large herds of buffalo, black and white colobus monkeys, warthogs and leopards here.
Dar es Salaam
Dar es Salaam is another big city and the main port of entry for international flights to Tanzania. It is home to a variety of cultures, such as Arabic and South Asian communities and expats from Britain and Germany.
This diversity is reflected in the city’s culture, such as the cuisine, which ranges from traditional Tanzanian food, to American grub, to Thai and Chinese restaurants. Dar also has a vibrant music scene – wherever you go, you’ll be sure to hear Bongo Flava aka Tanzanian hip hop. Whilst here, be sure to do a day trip to Bongoyo Island, situated 2.5km north of the city, where you can visit the magical beaches of Bongoyo Marine Reserve to sunbathe, snorkel and explore its diverse marine wildlife.
You can then enjoy some fresh fish in the shade of the little huts known as ‘shade bandas’, which are available for just a couple of pounds, before returning to the bustling city.
Once the last stop for Arab slave traders, Bagamoyo is now a small city set on a beautiful mangrove roughly 45 miles from Dar es Salaam. Most of the city’s residents make a living from fishing, so you can watch local fishermen set sail in their dows and, a few hundred yards down the beach, there is a fish market, where various different types of fish are smoked or fried.
Just south of Bagamoyo are the atmospheric Kaole Ruins, which are considered to be the first Arab settlements and feature a 13th-century mosque, one of the oldest in East Africa. There’s another mosque that dates back to the 15th century and a small museum housing remnants from the same period. It's a fairly off-the-beaten-track destination, so it’s perfect if you’re looking to escape the hordes of tourists found in other parts of the country.
As capital of the densely populated Kilimanjaro region, Moshi may be small but it’s a thriving market town, which makes for a good introduction to the north of Tanzania. It is situated at the foot of the mighty Mt. Kilimanjaro, meaning most of its visitors are here to prepare for their climb (or recover after having already completed it).
But there are plenty of other activities that can be carried out in and around Moshi, such as hikes to waterfalls and rice field walks. It is also the perfect place to unwind, with its mellow atmosphere and friendly locals. Approximately fifteen miles from Moshi, you’ll find the Kikuletwa Hot Springs, which consists of two water holes and a stream that appears at the surface. The main hole is ideal for relaxing and enjoying the warm water.
Zanzibar city is comprised of two main parts: Stone Town and Ng’ambo, which are renowned for their spice markets, farms, cuisine and cultural entertainment. The city is also dotted with cultural sights and natural beauty, such as pristine coral beaches, which are accessible from the port of Stone Town, and deep blue lagoons, where you can carry out a variety of water sports.
Don’t miss out on a trip to Nakupenda Beach, aka the beach of starfish, where you can go snorkelling to see these remarkable creatures. While the fishermen cook crayfish, lobster, squid and shrimp, you can relax on one of the many beach chairs with a cold drink and soak up the rays, or hire a raft and drift out to sea. With so many things to do in Zanzibar, it’s not surprising that the city is fast gaining reputation as one of the best destinations in East Africa.
Interested in Visiting Tanzania?
Sign up to do The Leap’s 10-week volunteering placement in Tanzania and you’ll get to enjoy all these wonderful cities (with the exception of Bagamoyo). The placement begins in Arusha, where you’ll spend a couple of days settling in and exploring the local highlights, before getting started on projects that include teaching local children, renovating schools and planting trees.
Then you’ll head to Moshi, where you’ll work alongside a primary school to help with deforestation and from there, it’s on to Dar es Salaam to carry out similar projects at a Montessori school. The placement ends with a 4-day break on Zanzibar Island, where you can visit the beaches or head to the spice markets of Stone Town.
Have you visited Tanzania? What was your favourite city? Tell us all about it by posting in the comments box below.
on 30 / 06 / 2015