THE LAY OF THE LAND
Arusha, and Dar es Salaam are the two cities in which we run our Tanzanian programmes. Both offer the opportunity for adventure, diverse local culture, and rich history. It’s no wonder people find it hard to decide which to visit.
Dar es Salaam
Dar es Salaam — ‘Dar’ for short — may not be the capital, but with 5.5 million inhabitants it does claim the title of largest city in Tanzania. It’s a 24-hour metropolis with cosmopolitan diversity, great nightlife, lavish restaurants, street food vendors, museums, shopping malls, cinemas and most other things you’d find in any other big city. The city is on Africa’s East Coast, meaning there are some beautiful stretches of coastline complete with beach huts, luxury resorts, bars, restaurants, and seaside promenades. There’s even an international shipping port.
Much like Southeast Asian countries such as The Philippines and Cambodia, Dar es Salaam’s climate is tropical. There are dry seasons and rainy seasons — both are worth experiencing, each for their own unique characteristics.
Dar es Salaam isn’t exclusively African when it comes to culture. Indian and Middle Eastern influences are obvious in the architecture, music and food.
Arusha is a totally different beast. The city is inland, and with 500,000 inhabitants it has 1/10th the population of Dar es Salaam. If you happen to visit both destinations you’ll feel the difference in scale and atmosphere right away.
Arusha is a land of wild savannahs, great lakes and tribal African tradition. Being more rural, you can expect a laid-back local culture. Being from a smaller community, Arushan people are more likely to wave hello, or even stop for a quick chat. Whereas in Dar people are more likely to leave you to your own devices.
The city sprawls out from the central clock tower, which makes navigating a breeze. There’s plenty to do in Arusha city: shop for handicrafts in the local Maasai tribe market, attend drum making sessions where you’ll learn how to play the drum you make and even keep it when you’re done. Learn how to create ‘Batik’ art — the local artist will help you produce an amazing piece of art even if you’ve no artistic talent at all. There are still restaurants and bars, but they’ve got a more chilled-out feel than those in Dar.
The climate here is still warm and tropical, but because the city’s at a high altitude, mornings and evenings are slightly cooler than they are in Dar.
BEYOND THE CITY
Dar es Salaam
If you head past the city limits, which is easy to organise, you’ll find all kinds of opportunity for a real African adventure.
Island hopping is a local favourite, and because this is a coastal city, boats are always nearby. Slightly further away you can visit Zanzibar, which has pristine tropical beaches and is renowned for its lively beach parties.
Prison Island is… well it’s an island with a prison on it. The prison is no longer operational, but a tour around the disused cells makes it worth the trip. The real draw is the giant tortoises that roam the island. They’re rare to find in the wild outside of the Galapagos Islands, so be sure to visit.
At Bagamoyo Town you can learn about the history of the slave trade in the region. Seeing the buildings where slaves were kept and sold is a raw experience, and not for the faint-hearted.
It’s also possible to go on safari from Dar es Salaam, and we can organise this for you. Commonly sighted animals include elephants, lions, giraffes, zebra, and hippos among others.
Arusha and the surrounding areas are a dream for anyone interested in adventure. Scale mountains, go on big game safari, relax in hot springs, swim in waterfalls — you name it, Arusha’s got it.
Lake Natron is an absolute must. It’s an expanse of salt water that gets as hot as 140 degrees celsius. What's more, it is deadly. The high salt content means that anything coming into contact with it crystallizes, leaving what looks like a stone statue of its victim. It’s an amazing spectacle, just don’t get too close.
Ngorongoro crater is another one for the bucket list. It’s a dormant volcano crater covered in lush greenery, and is home to an abundance of wildlife. Arusha is known as the gateway to the northern safari circuit, this means you can go on safari in the surrounding grassy plains.
Mt. Meru is the local sacred mountain. You can, of course, hike up it for breathtaking 360-degree panoramas of the region, and can even see Mt. Kilimanjaro from the summit.
Dar es Salaam
— Ugali, fish and greens is a typical East African dish —
In Dar, you’ll come across spicy, curry-like dishes as well as more traditional Tanzanian barbecued meat and fish with garnishes. If you’re missing home, Western food is easy to find.
'Addis in Dar' is a great place for a taste of Ethiopian food. It’s widely regarded as having the best Ethiopian food outside of Ethiopia itself.
Cape Town Fish Market is another must. Interestingly, it has nothing to do with Cape Town or fish markets. By all accounts it’s a relatively luxurious restaurant, but it’s reasonably priced and its outdoor area looks directly over the Indian Ocean.
If you’re not into red meat you’ll easily find seafood and chicken dishes. More traditional dishes like ugali and beans are also common.
— Kidney Beans in Coconut Sauce is a classic Tanzanian dish —
The cuisine in Arusha is a different story entirely. While you might not get the diversity offered in Dar, you’ll get traditional Tanzanian specialties cooked to perfection.
The people of Arusha love a good barbecue. Barbecued beef, barbecued goat, barbecued chicken. Chicken is less common than the red meats, and is considered something of a luxury being a little more expensive.
Khan’s BBQ should be at the top of your list. This place is a motorbike repair shop by day, and a barbecue restaurant by night. It takes over the whole road, so you can’t miss it. As Arusha is on a backpacker trail, people who are travelling come to the restaurant every night, so expect a diverse crowd.
‘Police Officer’s Mess’ is another place well worth trying despite the interesting name. The place is so named because local police canteens are so large that they can sell extra food they make to the public. They then use the profits to help fund the police force. Here you’ll get food like barbecue chicken pieces, chips, rice, beans, onions and spinach. It’s a bit like an enormous Tanzanian tapas — a traditional local-style feast.
So. If you like the hustle and bustle of a cosmopolitan coastal city with easy access to white sand tropical island beaches at the weekends, Dar es Salaam is perfect.
If you want a more ‘traditionally African’ experience with easy access to safaris and some of the most stunning natural beauty you’ll ever see, Arusha is your best bet.
Each location has its own charm, and they’re both equally exciting. It just depends which sort of setting you prefer.
You can read more about the unique experiences each city offers by clicking here for Arusha and here for Dar es Salaam. But it’s best to have a quick chat with one of out Elective Consultants. They’ll be able to give you a better overview of each city than a blog post ever will, and they’ll answer any questions you might have there and then.
Regardless of which destination you choose there are clinical opportunities in abundance. We have close, long-standing relationships with local hospitals and clinics, which means we can offer you a highly tailored placement suited to your individual needs and objectives.
Deep-dive into the clinical opportunities an overseas placement offers below
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