Malls, Markets and Mitumba: A Shopper’s Guide to Dar es Salaam

If your idea of holiday heaven is a spot of sun, sand and shopping Tanzania’s largest city, the exciting and exotic, Dar es Salaam, could be your dream destination. A fishing port in the nineteenth century, Dar es Salaam has gradually expanded to become a twenty-first century, multicultural metropolis brimming with modern offices and apartments, luxury hotels – witness the stunning waterfront-situated Hyatt Regency Dar es Salaam, for instance – and, of course, gleaming shopping complexes.

In fact, Dar es Salaam offers exciting and unique opportunities for the dedicated shopaholic, bargain-hunter and credit-card basher thanks to its abundant and lively markets, traditional and modern shops and swish retail plazas.

Dar es Salaam’s Markets

Offering a golden opportunity not only to pick up some bargain souvenirs but also to immersed in the local culture, Dar es Salaam’s markets are a colourful melee. Kariakoo Market, the biggest street market in Tanzania enjoys a love/hate reputation amongst visitors. Anything and everything is available for sale in this hectic and sprawling mass of stalls in central Dar es Salaam and if you’re prepared to haggle, locally made jewellery and handicrafts can be bought significantly cheaper here than in the city’s shops. You’ll also find beautiful African fabrics, hand-woven baskets and furniture among the mountains of tools, domestic housewares and countless other items that Kariakoo offers.

Mitumba, in case you were wondering, is a Swahili word for second-hand clothes which are imported from more prosperous countries for sale in Africa. Mitumba is also used generally to refer to second-hand goods and Dar es Salaam’s Ilala Market is a treasure trove of such items. Besides clothes, bags, shoes, jewellery and other pre-loved items can be picked up inexpensively here if you’re prepared to spend a little time picking out the diamonds in the rough.

Where to buy authentic African artworks, carvings and handicrafts in Dar es Salaam

Mwenge, a district slightly to the north of central Dar es Salaam hosts the Mwenge Carver’s Market. As the name suggests, this is the place to buy traditional wood carvings, and the market provides the opportunity to watch the carvers at work. Tribal masks, bowls, animal carvings, wooden utensils and other hand-carved items can be picked up inexpensively here and haggling with the vendors is expected. The best time to visit the Mwenge Carver’s Market, which is open every day, is just before sunset as business is winding down and stall holders are eager to secure those last few sales at bargain prices.

Tanzania has its own unique style of painting, known as ‘tinga-tinga’ after the artist who developed it, and tinga-tinga paintings make excellent gifts as they are not found anywhere else. The Slipway Market in the former boatyard at Msasani Bay is an excellent place to find tinga-tinga artists selling their paintings, and the Slipway and its surrounding streets offer plenty of interesting and colourful independent shops selling a variety of local crafts, clothes and souvenirs.

Also unique to Tanzania is the blue/violet precious gem Tanzanite. The purest Tanzanite (‘AAA’ – grade) is extremely expensive, but affordable examples of this rare stone, which resembles sapphire, are readily available as gifts and souvenirs and are normally set in earrings or pendants. To ensure that you are buying the genuine gemstone it’s best to shop in Dar es Salaam’s numerous reputable jewellers rather than risk buying tanzanite items from a market.

The modern shopping plazas of Dar es Salaam

Not only can Dar es Salaam lay claim to the largest market in Tanzania, it also boasts the country’s largest shopping mall. Mlimani City, opened in 2006, follows the model of modern shopping centres the world over. Light, spacious and air-conditioned, Mlimani City offers a range of clothing stores, mobile phone shops, restaurants, supermarkets, banks and a large cinema complex.

Mayfair Plaza, on Old Bagamoyo Road, is the place for upmarket clothes and accessories stores, jewellers, shoe shops and pharmacies and for those who’ve shopped until they’ve dropped there’s also a coffee shop and food court. A short distance away, Shopper’s Plaza features hair and beauty salons, nail parlours, a large supermarket and a good selection of smaller shops as well as an opticians and a travel agency.

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